5 days in Berlin
My second stop this summer was Berlin, where I met up with Eddie. We had been dreaming about coming to the German capital for a while, and our expectations were high. Some were met, some were crushed. We saw a lot of amazing art and met many rude germans; the weather was pretty crappy, but we ate so much delicious food. There was a lot of improvisation and spontaneity, some hangry moments and lots of singing.
We rented a cute Airbnb a couple blocks away from Hermann Platz, in the Neukölln neighborhood, often described as “Little Istambul”. A lot of amazing turkish food, shisha bars with lively terraces, and cute cafés. If at first it looked a little rough, we quickly realized the neighborhood had more to offer than not.
First thing on our list was to rent bikes so we could explore the city on wheels. We found a great place with the most amazing deal: 4€/day, no deposit. Rent a bike 44 is a business based on trust. You pay when you return the bike and only provide them with an e-mail and phone number. It’s rare to find this kind of trust around nowadays. Even with friends. We have become such a selfish capitalist society… *le sigh*. While the bikes were definitely not the newest or most comfortable in the market, we had so much fun riding them around the different neighborhoods.
We took 2 free walking tours, and both were really great. We learned a ton and got some fantastic recommendations. First, we did a conventional tour of the emblematic sites of the city, where we learned a little about the dark history, the wall, the wars and anecdotes of a divided metropolis, still struggling to overcome the horrors of its past. Lynn, our guide, emphasized the fact that Berlin is an unfinished city, still very much suffering from the war. It’s true, Berlin doesn’t have the romanticism of Paris or the historic glory of Rome, but it has that je-ne-sais-quoi, a mesmerizing combination of eclectic architecture, vibrant culture, and rich historic past, that make Berlin a deliciously explosive cocktail. The abandoned building, squatting communities, cheap colorful buildings - leftovers from the post war era, that were supposed to be long gone by now - mixed with elegant classical architecture, all with flowery balconies make up a charming, rebellious, slightly chaotic city.
The alternative walking tour was even better and left me wanting to stay another week. Due to metro delays, Ru decided to improvise a tour on the spot, taking the group to some of his favorite places in town. We were able to experience Berlin in a more authentic fashion, no big plazas, no towers or popular tourist attractions. Ru took us to the Kreuzberg neighborhood, known for its many immigrants, great restaurants and alternative lifestyle. He showed us the squatter buildings, told us about how they got there, and how the office building next door gave up on construction because they kept getting their materials stolen by the neighbors. He introduced us to Osman Kalin and his epic tree house. In 1982, Mr. Kalin took over a little patch of land used as a dumping ground, and decided to clean it and make a garden to grow vegetables. What he didn’t know was that the piece of land belonged to East Germany, but was left on the wrong side of the wall. When West Germany police came to ask him to leave, as they believed he could be digging a tunnel, he offered them some vegetables. East Germany, amused by the quarrel allowed him to stay, just to annoy the West. When the wall went down, the city ended up redrawing its boroughs’s boarders to include Osman’s garden in the right neighborhood and allowed him to keep his land. An unbelievable tale of a Turkish immigrant winning every battle against all odds. This guerrilla gardener is now a legend in the neighborhood and him and his family can still be seen hanging out in the garden. Historically known as home of Berlin’s punk rock movement and other, Kreuzberg also houses the famous SO36 club, often frequented by Iggy Pop and David Bowie in the 70s, as well as many LGBTQ bars and locales. You can just imagine how cool this place was! We ended the walk at Urban Spree, an incredible space composed of old warehouses now turned into art studios, a gallery, a beer garden, a skate park and a rock climbing facility. And if you thought it couldn’t get better, they have an actual enormous above the ground bunker that is now a climbing wall. It also doubles as a giant canvas for urban and street art… Or the most amazing place ever! I left with a bag full of zines and prints, and a camera packed with photos of colorful murals. A must do for anybody visiting Berlin, if you ask me.
Though we encountered a lot of rude germans, including a very unpleasant police officer and obnoxious museum staff, my favorite thing about the city was its people. Berlin’s fauna is very diverse, vivacious and knows how to have a good time. They are colorful and eccentric, they dress to impress in the most effortlessly looking way possible. It was a constant fashion show of cool jean jackets, crazy patterns and funky shoes. They are not afraid to show who they are and express their creativity in every way. What also makes Berliners so unique, is the great mix of people from all over the globe. The immigrant population is very large, adding so much cosmopolitan flavors to the city’s culture. The cuisine has been so influenced by the Arabic and Turkish communities, that falafels and döners have almost become national dishes, and no good tourist should leave without having tasted them. It’s easy to hear tons on different languages when going to a bar or chilling at the park on Sunday. People are out an about a lot, wether in animated terraces, hanging out on tables set up right outside liquor stores, or enjoying the afternoon at the park. It is legal to drink on the street, and Berliners take advantage of this, bringing their delicious beers or wines everywhere.
We met up with Aimé and Lauren on Sunday for the popular Bearpit karaoke of Mauerpark, where the locals mix with tourists to sing popular songs and have a good time. The brave ones, like Lauren and Eddie, get up to sing while the rest of us clap, drink, smile and sing along to the tunes. Beers and gin tonics are served or you can buy your own drinks in a nearby store. The atmosphere smells like fun and the audience is very respectful. Surely my favorite part of the trip!
The German capital is also well known for its nightlight, insane party scene and legendary bouncers. We failed pretty hard at finding these, mainly due to a combination of laziness, Lollapalooza fatigue and poor choice of wine. Our apartment was so cozy, that we ended up feeling more inclined to stay home and chat, than venture into the night. I’ll have to come back and turn on my party mood to tell you more about it.
The city is probably most exciting for a local. It was the Berliner’s recommendations that I enjoyed the most: quirky bars, exhibition spaces and karaoke Sunday at Mauerpark. Living in Berlin, experiencing the every day, getting to know the people and the neighborhoods, I’m sure that’s how you best fall in love with the place. That’s actually how you best fall in love with anything, really. Taking the time and making an effort to understand it and digest it. Five days was not a lot to achieve all this, but we managed to have a great time. As always, in good company, even the lousiest days seem brighter.