Photographs by David Bacon
When I was a kid in high school, I'd play hooky sometimes and wander the streets in San Francisco. There was more life on the streets then than there is now. Today a lot of San Francisco's street life is made up of people living on the streets. They're the ones business owners want the police to push out, so that customers can rush into the stores without having to look at poverty.
I like street life, though, and the bigger the mix of people the better. Whenever I go anywhere, I look for it, trying to recreate that old feeling of freedom I used to get from cutting school. Berlin has a lot of it, and it often seems very familiar. Buskers play and perform in the S-Bahn and U-Bahn stations - one man playing a cello while his neighbor on the bench mimes an operatic accompaniment. Is he part of the act, or just inspired?
For all its German cleanliness and order, in Berlin people still beg on the streets and sleep in the parks. Turning a corner in the S-Bahn station tunnel, there's someone sleeping tucked up against a wall. In the park above, florescent graffiti spread across another wall, while someone has spread their blanket and mattress below it. A woman with a paper cup begs for change on a busy corner; well-dressed men and women look away as though she's not there.
The streetlife in Kreuzberg includes the elaborate Prinzessinnengarten community garden. On the weekend, people trying on used clothes at the booths set up along its pathways create a massive pedestrian traffic jam. Inside the garden they lounge at a cafe, check out the books at its library and celebrate feminist culture at the wall of women sheroes - artists Vaginal Davis and Christa Adamiec, poet Rery Maldonado, Mijal Bloch - a world traveler, and more. Berliners clearly can't help being organized - the garden's plants grow in rows of elevated bins, while water and nutrients flow down hoses from a wall of black plastic tanks.
It's not hard to find Berlin's street life. While in the old East Berlin the streets are pretty quiet, streets like Oranienstrasse are lined with outdoor tables. The people eating and drinking look like they come from all over the world. They shout. They laugh. They hug each other. It's what I was looking for when I cut high school, and took the bus to Grant Avenue in San Francisco to find the beatniks.