Every week I cross town on the train and we pass a tower block of identical grey-frame units which have grey balconies. One balcony, at eye level with the train, has a bright pink inflatable flamingo hanging like a lurid fern, I guess somebody went to Florida or Havana and brought it back with them to bring back the tropics. It doesn’t look tropical. It looks more defeated. The air has shrivelled out of it, or perhaps shrunk in the bitter chill of Berlin’s below-zero winter. The bird sags, motionless, its head drooping over its breast and hanging down to the shrivelling feet.
Poor tropical bird, alone trapped in glassy Berlin and its colourless end of year season, after all the other bright birds have vanished down to the southern shores to caw and preen.
Snow lies on the ground in greying patches. Hardened scars of black ice have been strewn with sharp pocks of gravel from the big grey plastic bins. This fake bird is the only pink thing. Apparently flamingoes, naturally flamboyant or perhaps insecure on their wavering stalk legs, will not make babies unless a crowd of other bright pink flamingoes stands round them watching.
Zoos have had to set up elaborate peacock tails of mirror to encourage them to breed. Gazing out at this sad blow-up bird sometimes I think about staging an intervention. What if every passenger put on a pair of Edna Everage sunglasses. What if we all stared out the windows and flapped our arms. Maybe the dying flamingo would stir on its still leaf of string. Maybe the neck would waggle and stretch, and the tiny head come up again to display proudly its improbable and superciliously curled coconut ice pink swan lip.
But Berlin’s trains are courteous and pragmatic. People stand back tiredly to let each other on. This week I’ve passed a junkie shooting up right into the arm, against a pillar at my nearest U-Bahn station; five people in a row who were all reading books but seemed unaware of each other; and a sturdy Polish tourist who rolled, under my nose, a plump head of ganja into his palm so that when we all got off the train, he could light it.