Berlin is a city of stories. There is one about the woman who sewed a hot air balloon out of rain jackets and used it to fly over the Berlin Wall. She lived near that corner. And the one about the man who snuck his girlfriend across from East Berlin in the back of his car. That way. And then there is the one about the man who hooked a self-made zip line from his office window to the wall, over there, and used it to zip over the Berlin wall.
My favourite, though, is the one about the man with the garden.
Osman Kalin lived in West Berlin when the city was divided in 1969. One day, adjacent to the wall, he noticed a piece of unused land, covered with garbage and waste. Officially belonging to East Berlin, the land had been left on the west side of the wall because, although there was a bend in the border, the wall had been built in a straight line to conserve materials. Realizing that their government had no authority over this pocket of land on their side of the wall, citizens of West Berlin had begun to use it as a landfill.
Frustrated with the waste, Kalin spent his weekends cleaning up the site. He planted a garden and used pieces of the garbage to build a small house. Doors were used to build a porch with a railing. Pipes were built from spare wood and metal. Old furniture was transformed into a kitchen. In and out. New and old. East and West.
Kalin had a few run ins with the soldiers who were guarding the Eastern side of the wall. They pointed guns at him and accused him of being a spy . He laughed. Then he bought them Christmas presents. They told him that his house could stay.
The wall has long since fallen but Kalin remains in the house. When I passed by a few weekends ago, he was gardening in the front yard. He invited me in.