Early morning Kreuzberg, blowing with the late night detritus of winter weekend Berlin. The police huddle in a circle outside the chicken stand, nodding in unison to the background hum of sirens and the mutter of the radios in their belts, which spew a stream numbers and street names to no discernible effect.

The windows of the spati have lines of beer bottles outlined in white marker pen but everywhere I look, people aren't holding beer, but bottles of Club Mate, the highly caffienated beverage of choice for the clubbing set. From somewhere I can hear the soft thumping of Balkan house music.

A tall woman, taller than me in her moon boots, with a wild shock of red hair, grabs my elbow as I walk past. I pause, and she hits me with a stream of rapid-fire German. "I'm sorry," I say, "I don't have German." And it's true, increasingly I don't.
"So, English?" she asks. I nod.

"We have a problem," she says, pointing to her male companion, who is also tall, skinny, with a face full of metal.

"He is my coach, and we have training now in less than five hours."

"Training for what?" I ask.

"Volleyball. Beach volleyball. So, we have some differences in tastes. In friends, in music. So we are now having a verbal about where to go. Is this how you say in English. To verbal?"

"Maybe, 'to argue?"

"Ja, to argue. And so, we have argue about... I have forgotten what to ask you. What you can help," and then she lapses back into German. Coach makes a brusque comment and she nods and turns back to me to continue the interrogation.

But then the u-bahn trundles into the platform in its staid yellow majesty and unloads a full cargo of drunks, heaving up a great sea of stumbling, yelling humanity. I wave goodnight to the giants and step on.

As the train clanks into motion, I marvel at two of my favourite pieces of industrial design held in close proximity: the tiled Brandenburg gate iconography that tessellates across the windows and the ballpoint-pen pointillistic graffiti of the seat covers, a perfect mirage of shapes and colours that hides grime and tags better than the carpet of any casino floor.

I watch the volleyballers until they are out of sight. Their heads high above the swarming crowd of revellers, deep in the throes of a verbal, and with training only a few short hours away.