I did stop fighting. I had stopped after that one fight with Hendrik, at the beginning of our affair, back in June. That had been the last time, actually the last time until Samuel, almost one year later. And when H and I went our separate ways, I started stealing, and I didn’t have to do it anymore. I know, nobody believes me, but it is true. That thing with the rozzer in my mum’s flat that the judge got herself so worked up about, that doesn’t really count. I wasn’t trying to hurt her at all, you see, I didn’t even know she was there.
If Kreuzberg is one of the bad parts of Berlin, then SO36 is one of the bad parts of Kreuzberg. And the Kotti, the Kottbusser Platz, a market place, roundabout, and U-Bahn station, is the living, beating, rotted heart of SO36. At the Kotti it’s easier to find a pusher than a rozzer. At the Kotti German is barely recognized as business language, it is the sign of the outsider, the visitor, the tourist.
The Kotti is surrounded by tall, bleak, prefab tower blocks. And for as long as I can remember we have lived in a small, three-room council flat on the top level of one of those towers. My room had formerly been mine and ‘Nette’s together. Later I had to cede it to Lukas for a couple of years until he finally went away to join the military. The room was tiny and lightless, not much more than a walk-in closet. There was the mattress directly on the floor (it had been bunk beds while I shared with ‘Nette), a tiny desk, a chair, stacks and stacks of books and CDs, a rickety wardrobe, half of which was occupied by even more books and music, and still space enough left to turn around on your own axis without bumping your elbows or stepping on something – if you were careful and did it standing on one foot.
The only window was narrow and high on the wall. But that window was the best part of the whole room, and why I really liked living there. For the wall that window was set in for the most part separated our house from the next one, but ours was a few meters higher. The window was set so high because the roof of the next house ended just there. Which meant that through that window I could climb onto that neighbouring roof, a roof ten stories over the surrounding streets and courtyards, and watch all of Berlin spread out around me.
That roof has always been my favourite place in all the world. Whenever things got bad, I would get up there, smoke, drink, and let my legs dangle from the rim and my eyes travel over the skyline. Usually that alone would be enough to calm me down. And if it wasn’t I’d practice aikido during sunset or sunrise. Corny? Sure. But have you ever done it? Well, then don’t laugh. Just believe me, it feels great.
Of course the roof was also a great place to get away in the other, less metaphorical sense. There was a door directly to the staircase, and you could jump down to the roof of the next house and get into the staircase there. Lots of entrances and exits.
So when the rozzer came knocking that day that was what I tried to do – get away. Only she was much closer on my heels than I thought. Literally. When I kicked around to wriggle out of the window onto the roof she was just reaching for my ankle. Instead she got the sole of my trainer smack in the kisser. There was the crunch of cartilage and bone and a lot of blood. And the last black mark on a long list of such marks, convincing the judge that I was one pitch black sheep in dire need of separation from the flock.
Maybe it was an understandable mistake. Given my record why should anyone have believed my claim that I hadn’t intentionally hurt that lady copper. I was neither know for my pacifism or restraint, nor for speaking the truth. Especially not to my mum. But that one time it was the truth, goddamn it, it was.
It was only after I landed in juvie that they began to take note of my lack of further fighting. I was the model inmate. And they totally misunderstood that, too.
I only studied so hard for school because being inside was so mindbogglingly boring that even irregular French verbs were a welcome distraction. Also, I wasn’t stupid enough to go stealing from peeps I was locked up with. I mean, come on, folks. I was the bloody youngest bloke in there, by a margin of a whole year. And the others were there for stuff like drug trafficking, rape or assault – and not kicking a rozzer by accident during arrest but of the deliberate baseball attack sort.
Of course I was not going to steal from anyone there, I was not going to rip anyone off. And even I was able to discipline myself enough to not go psychopath on some bloke who would have been not only way stronger than me but who in all likelihood had a whole gang at his back, though there were times I had to walk away and beat my fists bloody on a wall to stay clean.
But none of that kept me actually on what the guards, the social workers, the shrinks, and my mum looked at as the straight and narrow. No, I just got along. I figured out the rules of the game and I played by them, not because I believed in them, but because it was the only way not to lose. When I saw a chance to bend or break those rules without repercussions for myself, I did so. Of course, there were less possibilities within the limited game of juvenile hall. But when I met Uncle Valya, I jumped at the chance to learn how to.
So maybe you could say that this was really where that path began, in Old Luisenstadt Graveyard, playing poker with my mates. Or by breaking up with Hendrik. Or I was pushed on it by whatever it was that made me fight and that could only be placated by becoming a thief.