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Alex Villa

The Midnight Boat of The Landwehrkanal

June 12, 2021

A boat sailing through the Landwehr canal at night in Kreuzberg, Berlin

There is a boat that passes by our house every night at midnight.

This is a weird way to start a story. I should preface this by saying that we live in the shore of the Landwehr canal in Berlin. It's a dirty canal, but its waters are my favorite source of stillness, they hold a lot of stories on it.

It is in the waters of this canal that a boat passes by. Every night at 11:45pm, every working night because this is Germany of course, so this is never a weekend or holiday ocurrence.

It may be a cleaning boat. The canal holds a lot of dark secrets, it holds the lives of many swans and therefore, sometimes their lives pass away there as well.

It may be a guarding boat, for the canal holds the lives of many Berliners that surround it at night (the better the weather is, the more people that will surround it).

A beer standing diagonally in the edges of the Baerwaldbrücke while a group of friends walks in the background at night

This boat first showed up on my path one night on a walk after dinner, and there was an hypnotising force on it. It may not have been doing anything special, but it's existence draws smiles from people around it, its lights charge the place with a surreal aesthetic, and the dark figures of its navigators hold an untold story of midnight shifts as a boat worker in this capital.

There are nights where the canal is more alive than others. Particularly, some magical summer nights.

This was the case of a particular night of June. A Friday night. This particular Friday night, as I went for another midnight walk, the boat appeared with German punctuality. But there was something different about it. Its navigators were listening to something that resembled house, but was closer to disco. People in the shore screamed at them in celebration, turned down their own speakers and waved their arms at the crew of the boat, as the crew waved back.

And in that moment, life stood still. Then the city came back to life thanks to the afterglow of the sun that was still lingering around at midnight.

People in an improvised bonfire by the canal shore in Kreuzberg, Berlin

Then again, maybe the city has been coming back to life for a while, and now more than ever, as COVID-19 seems to be giving us a break, people are getting back to each other. Life feels more vibrant again.

And it's only in these snapshots of time that we can notice that the air of change is here. Even if for a moment.

The streets around here are a continuous celebration. We don't know if it's ephemeral, but this present is giving people enough reasons to take back the streets. To breathe the air, to talk to each other and to come back from hibernation.

This moment is giving us the chance to welcome the summer and the sun it brings.

We can then welcome the summer solstice, that celebration that happens as Spring leaves, when we welcome the warmest of the seasons of the year, that moment where the earth's declination of 23.4 ° favours the populations of either the North of the South, depending on whose turn it is.

A lifesaver hanging by the Baerwaldbrücke in Kreuzberg, Berlin

This is our summer solstice. Midsommerfest becomes a communal celebration, not one that follows specific rituals or a particular cultural tradition written in texts and repeated by generations. It is an improvised and instinctual bit of history in the making, a culture of many cultures finding its own way to welcome the sun.

For moments, this looks like this boat navigating the Landwehrkanal and celebrating with strangers. A few meters away, it looks like strangers lighting fires, sharing smiles, playing music. It feels like strangers of many skin colors, with different types of physical abilities, and more languages than I can distinguish, all of this surrounding this canal that contains so much darkness and light on it, simultaneously.

The boat passes at midnight around our house as we welcome the summer.

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