This month, Berlin Muse gets his Hemingway on with a road-weary account of his crisp Berlin morning routines with carry companion, the Archival Ranger Tan Waxed Twill Rucksack. Built just like Papa H himself, the Ranger Tan delivers with heritage aesthetics and understated resilience.
Faint light glistens in from the east. I wipe the sleep from my eyes as I engage in a psychological battle with the alarm, resisting further hits of the snooze button. The bed creaks as I climb out. The air is hot inside as it has been all night, our small and cosy apartment effortlessly heated by two, no radiator needed and no doubt a different story come winter.
The bathroom is long and slender with baby blue walls and a tiny mirror with Elvis Presley’s quaffed head printed on it that broods at you as you shower. There’s a roadmap of Berlin next to it, covering as far east as Kreuzberg, as far west as Charlottenburg, Tempelhof and the old airport to the south, Prenzlauer Berg, Mauerpark and the streets beyond in the north.
I eat, shave and pack the Archival, the rucksack that has fast become my trusty, everyday pack, a reliable workhorse, partner on my morning rides. It fits my 17-inch laptop perfectly, ample room for my morning pages and journals and two front pockets with brass-studded buttons for a Lamy pen and cylinders of ink refill. The bag is made of handsome, stout, closely woven waxed twill, built for understated resilience. I can’t imagine it would ever fall apart, or even look worn down. I pull the leather drawstring over my books and drape the outer denim fold over the books and the pen pockets too and slide the single brown leather strap through the heavy-gauge brass buckle that rests in the hold of an external studded strip that has been heat-branded with the unique number ‘2857’.
Archival have been dishing up charmingly durable carry offerings out of their factory in Eugene, Oregon since 2009. Dedicated to creating bags of simplicity, they employ lean, robust, locally sourced materials, free of complications, built for life. The Ranger Tan is a modern interpretation of the traditional canoe pack, rugged and American, a bag rich with heritage. It is in many ways the perfect backpack, one that says and does everything without needing to say much at all.
I peer out the window to the street below. The sun is misleading, clear sky a dead giveaway that it’s much crisper and colder out than it seems. I put on my blue leather jacket, grip the Archival by its neatly reinforced butter canvas straps where it sits snug on my padded shoulders, the straps easily adjusted through duel-brass buckles that look like gypsy rings or the eyelets of an old ship sail.
I unlock the apartment door. The cold stairwell smells like stale cigarettes. I summon the elevator, a tiny metal box running on a pulley that, when you get in, makes you feel claustrophobic with the sense that you aren’t moving at all until it shudders and the metallic doors slide across and you push open the security grill to walk out down a few stairs by the mailboxes at the heavy steel entrance door that groans when you pull it and you walk out into crisp morning.
When we first arrived in Berlin I used to ride east along Reichenberger over Ohlauer Strasse past the refugee school and the anarchist library and the old ‘kneipe’ pubs where the top halves of windows are hidden with white lace and in the evening you only see patrons’ hands and elbows and no faces. I would ride four blocks to Glogauer Strasse and turn north and turn left into the driveway at number ‘6’ to the rear carriage hall deep inside and up a flight of stairs. I would unlock another reinforced steel door and a studio where I’d sit in silence and write. I would make a pot of coffee and drink it and the hot caffeine buzz would wash through the front of my head. The studio was a space shared with a firm of young architects who were never there in the mornings, and a crew of visual artists who were never there at all. It was concrete, raw and cavernous and I found it hard to get work done there.
Lately I’ve been riding north up to Skalitzer where the overground U-Bahns glide gently across overground tracks like yellow Lego boxes past the Huhnerhaus chicken shack where Turkish men unravel corrugated roll downs to wash out their kitchen with hoses. All the while dealers rub weary eyes by the entrance ways to Görlitzer Park and further along Görlitzer Strasse where the light dapples through the tall oaks a woman bites into a warm croissant with deep intent as the sun washes over her on the corner. The sky above is rich and blemished by a solitary contrail and I think of past times living in New York City where the crisp air was exactly the same as it feels today.
I lock my bike to a tree and walk to Gipfeltreffen café. I sit at the table in the back room by a corner where I see out the front window to the graffiti-spiced brickwork of the park across the road. The waitress says ‘hallo’, lights a candle in a brass holder; I order a milchkaffee in my best, worst and only German. As I wait for it I unpin the gold latch of the Archival, glide the leather strap from its buckle, peel the outer flap over to expose my notebooks and pen and, if the pen is dry, replace it with new ink and I sit there for the morning drinking coffee and writing.
It’s grey out now and the pen silhouettes on the page in the candlelight as people come and go, but not many though, just a handful of early risers. Berlin is a night city and cares little for the morning. A familiar piano twinkle of a favourite old tune filters through speakers gently around the café as I polish pieces, finish letters, write about bags and travel and music and sometimes some poetry.
By midday I am hungry. I strap the Archival to my back and unchain my bike and ride home for a good lunch and maybe a little wine. When Berlin is wet the Ranger’s waxed canvas holds true and keeps everything inside dry without fuss. Then the day is free. HK and I might stroll to the Turkish market on the Maybachufer along the Landwehrkanal a block south and eat crispy hot gözlemes from the fellow with the ponytail and goatee; we’ll load up the Archival with fresh aubergines, fruits and herbs, fresh food for the week and return home with our spoils. We might ride to Tempelhof, shoot pictures, laze away in the sun on the grass by the tarmac and sometimes ride north across the Spree to Friedrichshain for a cold beer in a bar or further up to Prenzlauer Berg for coffee.
In time to come, when the mornings are no longer Berlin mornings, but Lisbon mornings or Paris mornings or even Melbourne mornings again, I’ll wake and ride and stumble on a little spot somewhere and sidle in and put down some words, the trusted Ranger Tan, effortlessly reliable, always by my side.