2pm, Wednesday, Friedrich-Ludwig-Sportpark. My usual ten laps around the track. We all plug ourselves in, avoid eye contact, avoid body contact, avoid each other, spacing out at regular intervals around the track. Surreptitiously, I look at people’s running shoes and make mental notes: no tread, he’ll have back problems at the age of 65. She bought those because they look good, but they’re not really running shoes. I fall into the lazy, judgemental attitude of people out exercising, deciding who is doing it to be seen, doing it at the last possible minute in life, or doing it because they’ve always done it. When did it get so competitive? At the same time grey sweatpants went out of fashion? We keep catching up with the past, then it’s sold back to us as retro fashion. Grey sweatpants are back in. At the other extreme though you can also go high-tech: the girl gliding by with one leg clad in pink Lycra, the other in crocodile print, for example.
He stands out too.
From the very moment I catch sight of him, I know his gear is not from American Apparel, but JD Sports, circa 1992. Stonewashed red sweatshirt. Bunched-ankle blue joggers. I guess he’s in his mid-fifties, with closely cropped, grey hair, and a thick, silver man’s bracelet. There is nothing special about this. Except: he’s dancing, not jogging. Utterly lost in his own world, wearing earbuds and standing at the side of the cinder track, gyrating to his own music. It must be 1970s disco because he sways funkily, rhythmically, doing snaking, curving motions with his legs, and powerful sweeps with his arms. His face is serious, graceful. His moves are dated but his body is lithe; there is absolute conviction in his movements.
People avert their eyes as their legs pump past him like pistons. His movements couldn’t be further away from theirs. They have their eye on optimum movement: apps have charted their ideal time-versus-fitness ratio. The dancing man is unsightly – a leftover from times when people had time. He is not in it for the exercise. I feel the collective embarrassment: it passes over the bobbing heads like a wave. What is he doing? Who is he dancing for? Why not just dance in front of the mirror at home?
5pm, Saturday, Monbijou Park. A couple are sitting next to each other holding hands as I jog off to the left, passing close by; they are sitting on a bench behind the diamond-wire fencing. She is young, with long brown hair; he is young, with short black hair. Both in puffer jackets because the sun has disappeared. Hers is white; his is black. He wears hair gel and she wears lipstick. It looks like their first date. On my next lap I see that they are sitting a little closer together. Lap three, they’re holding hands. By lap four, they are at it with tongues. Lap five, she is straddling him on the park bench and they are writhing about. On my sixth and final lap, they are sitting a little further apart, texting separately on their phones.
12pm, Sunday, Kleingartenkolonie, Bornholmer Strasse. I have heard the blossom up here is pretty. First I have to risk my life crossing the dual carriageway. Then through the wooden tunnel and into another world. The urban landscape gives way to small gardens; each plot is a feat of inventiveness and derring-do. How the shacks and sheds manage to stay up is a mystery. They all bear the stamp of the individualist: blue painted roof here, a wheel for a window there. It’s warm. I see a tall, bulky man in his seventies, sweeping up leaves. He is wearing a lumberjack shirt rolled up at the sleeves. On his forearm is the remains of an old tattoo, greenish with age. He stops and looks off into the distance. A woman, also in her seventies, arrives on her bike with a basket; inside (I imagine) a picnic covered by a chequered tea towel. She kisses him on the cheek, slowly, lingeringly. They go into the lean-to hut holding hands. And there are some beautiful old cherry trees lining the path, with the promised blossom.