Literary field studies in Wedding
Heiko Werning is an expert in at least two things: reptiles and the residents of the Berlin district of Wedding. In his latest book of stories, he illuminates this Berlin subspecies in a very entertaining and warm-hearted way.
By Holger Moos
Heiko Werning was born in Münster, but thanks to many years living in the Berlin neighbourhood, he is now a recognised Wedding specialist. He has lived here for almost 30 years; looking out the window of his ground floor flat and exploring his immediate surroundings, he has been doing literary field studies for years.
Wedding sehen und sterben (Discover Wedding and Die) is his fourth book about Wedding. In spite of his fascination for reptiles, Werning seems just as fascinated by Wedding’s inhabitants as by spiny iguanas, water dragons, sailing lizards and “spectacular invertebrates,” about which he has also written books.
Sunny days pampering the bellyWedding is one of the districts with the highest proportion of people with “migration backgrounds.” Werning reports, for example, of the “Lebanese-backgrounded gentlemen” who initially took over the Sunny Days tanning salon and turned it into a late-night convenience store while retaining the name. Then they open a hairdressing salon in the house next door, which, for the sake of simplicity, they also call Sunny Days. When they also opened a casino next to the convenience store called Sunny Nights and the women of the participating families opened the Sunny Mornings bakery shop in addition to the late-night convenience store, it arouses suspicions in Werning of money laundering. His worries only dissipate after he, like many neighbours, leaves the key to his flat in the convenience store and notices how this popular place is used by people from the neighbourhood for birthday parties.
Werning also tells of wonderful examples of successful integration in Wedding, such as the Arabic snack bar Verwöhn dein Bäuchlein (Pamper Your Belly). The name sounds like a combination of Grimm’s wishing table and a tale from the Arabian Nights.
English-speaking beggar touristsWedding connoisseur Werning writes about his at times bizarre fellow citizens with humour and empathy, regardless of whether about a man who makes close-up photographs of a dead rat in the backyard, a DHL messenger with a rat phobia or a fully veiled woman he accepts a package for so she doesn’t have to go to the “Allah-cursed Müllerstrasse post office” where she “definitely does not want to die a martyr’s death.” As a thank you, she gives him a box of chocolate hearts.
As in many parts of the city, long-time residents in Wedding fear gentrification. Heiko Werning is also worried, but he assuages his and his readers’ fears by noting that since as early as 1992, city magazine Zitty has been asking, “Is Wedding coming up or not?” He is briefly vexed when, in the Seestrasse subway station, he meets a beggar who asks for vegan food in English. “Are our domestic beggars already being displaced by English-speaking beggar tourists?” But in the end, observing the station’s urban decay and groups of drunks howling at each other assures him that it will probably be a while before his neighbourhood becomes fashionably unaffordable.
Heiko Werning: Wedding sehen und sterben. Geschichten aus dem Bermuda-Dreieck Berlins
Berlin: Edition Tiamat, 2020. 208 S.