About five minutes from our place a squad of bulldozers and front-end loaders flattened a whole city block alongside the commuter rail line, leaving a huge pile of bricks at one end and an ugly wasteland on the rest.
Not so unusual, except that there was nothing there in the first place except a vacant lot covered in thick patches of blackberry bush. Every summer until this one we’d head over every two or three days or so dressed in old shoes and paint-stained jeans, heading home again with scratches on our arms and another load of what my mother used to call wild Himalayan blackberries. I’ve been picking them since I was old enough to pick up a pail.
There was also a great spot we used to have close to where I work, but last year they ruined half of it by making a park out of one side and putting up a two-metre-high fence around the rest, making it nearly impossible to get to the berries except in the evenings or on weekends, because you now to go through a schoolyard to get to them.
Now that our best places to pick have been obliterated, we’ve been forced to look elsewhere. It took a few spins on the bike, but I found a patch by a railway bridge and along a lane.
It’s not that Germans don’t know what blackberries are, because I do see people out picking from time to time, but this one patch, so full of berries, was left mostly untouched because it sits on a steep hill and most of the best were well out of reach.
So the other day I set to work getting to those rich, fat, black pieces of fruit that had been hanging there for days just waiting for someone like me to come along with a six-foot stepladder and a determination to make some blackberry pie.
I must have been quite a sight surfing atop the ladder along the upper brambles, because some Turkish kids came by and started throwing sticks at me. When I turned around to glare at them they scampered away.
When I left the ladder unattended for a couple of minutes at the bottom of the patch a couple of kids from the kindergarten across the street scampered over to grab it for themselves, but a teacher gave them hell for pawing after stuff not their own.
Later on a Turkish lady dressed in that grey, bell-shaped garb you often see floating along the streets stopped and, in the best German she could muster, gave me pointers on where to find the best ones and cautioning that I really should take care not to fall off my perch lest I end up in the thorns.
I’m not used to picking berries in public at all, and avoid being on a stage of any kind if I can help it, but with so little choice left in the area, I’m going to have to get used to it if I want any more before the short season is over.
The results are the same in any case: fresh-baked pie that doesn’t last long.