Untamed, independent and eager to stay that way. It’s no wonder that the mayor once defended his city by saying Berlin is poor, but sexy.
Art, culture, individuality and freedom ripple through the streets of this city. And I’m not just talking about the graffiti and nightlife. Berlin is also home to the ultimate corporate rejecters, tech start-ups. While the rest of the world races to keep up with the Jones’, Berlin’s subcultures are carving out something a little more bohemian. Although it may be rough around the edges, this soulful city nurtures a peacefulness that keeps its streets safe from anything too criminal or mundane.
My time in Berlin was filled with intimate and unexpected encounters where I found gentle affronts to convention everywhere I went.
Cycling through Berlin I noticed wide pavements and well partitioned cycle lanes that governed more street space than motor vehicles! A stroll through Mauerpark for it’s funky Sunday market was the ideal locale to shop for vintage wares, picnic on the green that once served as no man’s land or partake in outdoor karaoke. Or for the ultimate in city beaches, layout in YAAM. This sandy oasis offers riverside views, volleyball nets, bars, DJs and even a jerk chicken shack. I would gladly spend an afternoon doing any one of these activities.
My favourite neighbourhood was Kreuzburg. Populated by Turkish immigrants, artists, writers and other creative types, the community fiercely protects its independent shops and distinct identity. T-shirts and graffiti tags depicting the local area code are a common site – SO 36 ’till I die! In fact, the community protests to keep large corporations out. And when large corporations open their doors, they employ the most effective protest of all – boycott. By simply not spending money with the unwanted retailers, SO 36ers were able to shut down a Subway within a year of it’s arrival.
Packed with cosy bars and restaurants, Friedrichshain is a great place to go out. I made my way to a place called Dachkammer. When you go upstairs, it feels like you’re in your grandmothers house. Pattern print wallpaper and old school couches in every room (the only thing missing were the plastic covers). Walk into the living room of your choice and meet your new family for the next few hours. It’s a great way to spend a night. Here, a girl born and raised in East Berlin told me that living in communist East Berlin wasn’t so bad. I found her perspective surprising. We’re now facebook friends and I’ve noticed that she doesn’t use her real name in any of her online profiles. Hmmm.
Mitte is the commercial centre of Berlin, so it’s lost most of its character. However, there are a few interesting finds. I had no luck, so I sought direction from a cute German guy working the front desk of Circus Hotel and was directed to the unbelievable Café Bar Bird. Step inside and you’ll find a massive staircase. Pick a level, take a seat or bust a move and enjoy the view over the rest of the bar.
What a great weekend. I’d love to do it again sometime. However, the city is changing at record speed, and large corporations threaten the very soul of the city. Thirty years ago, many of the places I visited were derelict and overrun by squatters. Let’s hope the next thirty years don’t introduce a corporate equivalent.