“Entschuldigung! Bitte, Foto!”
The high-pitched calls gradually broke through my focus. I was peering through my camera viewfinder, intent on capturing Winter in the shape of a snow-decked statue; the statue in question being one of Körner Park’s Latin-nomenclatured seasonal quartet.
I looked up to see a bunch of boys racing towards me from the other end of the park. They were furiously waving their arms. I looked around. The park was empty but for my husband and I.
I ignored them, thinking they were just fooling around. It was Silvester, a time of silliness and excess in Berlin. But the kids came up to me, stopping about a metre away, and between pants, repeated, “Entschuldigung! Bitte, Foto!”
I did not need further prompting. What a gift: kids who wanted to be photographed!
They numbered six, two older than the rest at perhaps 13 or 14 years old. The others looked between eight and ten. They posed happily, save for one. But after encouragement from me, he too joined in.
Each time I took a photo, the boys would rush over to look at the playback. Happy to share the shots with them, I asked them for an email address. But the question drew blank faces and a few shakes of the head. This was the first time I think I really realised what a poor neighbourhood we lived in, something easy to forget since the poverty was not obvious.
But the boys’ enthusiasm for being photographed did not abate, and they kept asking for more shots, rushing over to look at each photo before going off to strike another pose.
I determined to give them copies of the images and asked them for a postal address. I dug into my wallet for a piece of paper and they spotted my money. “Wow, Geld!” I ignored them. Finally, I located a receipt. As one boy wrote down his name and address on the back of it, another helpfully directed me to their home – it was actually round the corner from the park.
The address did not have a postcode and when my husband and I asked the boy for it, he became embarrassed and started to scrunch up the paper. I stopped him and gently took the paper from him. We could easily look up the address online and personally drop photo prints off.
Then another child asked me if they had to pay for the photos. I shook my head and told them it was a present.
Excited at the prospect of free photos, they scrambled to strike individual poses, each trying to get my attention with a “Jackie Chan!” A small altercation even broke out as to who should pose first and snowballs started getting chucked. I had to firmly tell them off. At the end, the child who was initally reluctant to be photographed, struck the most culitvated of boy-band poses.
Looking at the name written on the receipt and considering where they lived, we figured they were Eastern European and likely children of new economic migrants. Those being our early days in Berlin, I had struggled with my German in communicating with them, but their background gave them the empathy to make out very quickly what I was trying to say. The boy who wrote down the address even helpfully added that he could speak English, prompting a dig in the ribs from the others.
It worked out they were two sets of brothers and a friend.
At the end of the session, the two older kids said goodbye with smiles of thanks. The littler ones messed around a little more, then ran off. Incredibly, a repeat of this type of encounter was to happen two years later, this time with girls.