My Favorite Berlin Cafe: Cafe Kotti

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It’s 11 a.m. on a Tuesday and I am sitting here drinking an espresso at Café Kotti in Kreuzberg. This is my favorite café in Berlin. Right now it is relatively empty. There’s a Nigerian in headphones on the sofa to my right. Across from me there’s an old Turk wearing a doorknob-shaped lid and smoking a cigarette. And on a couch in the other room there’s an Arab in a black baseball cap drinking a cup of coffee and staring at his iPhone. The music playing is jazz. Not very good jazz. Though I confess the only jazz I like, with a few exceptions, is the late 50s early 60s stuff by John Coltrane and Miles Davis. A Love Supreme, Milestones, My Favorite Things, Kind of Blue and a few others. I can think no piece of music that goes better with being in a city on a rainy day than Kind of Blue. I’ve listened to it thousands of times and, like all songs with a hint of eternity in them, it never gets old.

I will now light this rolled cigarette to give accent to my espresso. I started smoking again just so I could have a cigarette here, though I must admit I’ve never really been a big smoker. I smoke when I drink, which some people say makes me a big smoker, but I’m not. I’ve always been able to quit whenever I wanted.

Okay, cigarette’s lit, and the music has improved. It’s Dave Brubeck, Take Five – not to be confused with Take That (boy band reference) – and the Turk across from me is beating time with his soft leather shoe.

I’ve heard this place gives free coffee and tea to refugees. That’s another thing I like about it. There’s usually a healthy mix of Syrians, Afghanis, Iraqis, Sudanese, and so on. No hipsters of the Starbucks variety. Pumpkin Spiced lattes and raspberry scones you will not find here. The sofas look like they’ve been left out in the rain after a yard sale, there’s a sign over my head that says Beware of Pickpockets, the walls and ceilings are covered with pamphlets and strange artwork, and on the mirror near the door there are two stickers that say #FREE AHMED. On the mirror closer to me there’s a sticker that advises you to SHAKE THAT ASS.

Well, now my cigarette’s done, and so is my espresso and it’s time to go back out in the sun. Sunny days are a rare commodity in Berlin, so I must take advantage. Not that I care that much about sunny days. I had enough in Florida to last me a lifetime. Blue skies can be depressing too, and nothing feeds my art like the dark and gloomy damp.

Here’s a poem of mine about this place that was recently published by the good folks at Red Fez.

Cafe Kotti

It’s best here in the early mornings
on an overcast autumn day.
Sitting on the plush orange sofa, in the semi-light.
Warmed by Turkish tea, smoking rolled cigarettes.
There’s only three of us here,
and the barmaid clattering dishes in the back.
An old French song tiptoes about the room.

It’s best here when outside the weather’s grim.
When there’s just a few yellow leaves left trembling on the trees.
Sitting in this dim, uncertain light.
Sitting under a sign that says Beware of Pickpockets.
Smoke curling from my ashtray. Mumbling as I write this.

It’s best here before the crowd comes,
when it’s gloomy and cold outside, the windowpanes
speckled with raindrops. A jar of sugar and a vase
of flowers on every coffee table.
And the barmaid who smiles every time I order a tea.

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Art for Art’s Sake

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You’ve barricaded yourself in this dim groundfloor unit, your broken swivel chair groaning under you like an old man, a bright white screen gaping up at you, the cursor blinking. Your gleaming altar. The Computer God. Hunched forward at eighty-five degrees. You feel a knot in your back, your legs cramp. You stretch them under your desk.

You have been here all day, gone into it, lost in yourself, departed from the world and fighting against the clock.

Isn’t there something else you could’ve gambled your life on?

You think about all the hours you’ve spent bent-backed in the infertile orchid of literature, sewing, reaping, your dreams bound up in the harvest, only to watch it fail year after year, only to start all over like a scorned lover who can’t take no for an answer.

You think of all you’ve given up for that elusive chimera, how you bankrupted yourself, how you pared your possessions down to a backpack, how you left everyone behind to follow the blackbirds and the notes of some beautiful ancient instrument.

Only to find yourself years later living under altered circumstances and diminished odds, surrounded by different faces on another continent, working the same old crops – sewing, reaping, harvesting – still failing regularly, and yet wholly incapable of falling out of love.