Berlin, Berlin - where to begin? What a city! You want architecture, churches, museums? Okay, you're set. How about nightclubs in abandoned train depots, artists' squats, amazing graffiti, cheap food, and a huge amount of diversity? Yep. It's all there. Turkish markets, Vietnamese take-out, crazy scrap-metal sculptures, all-night corner stores selling everything from beer to toothpaste and second-hand coats... We went on an Alternative Berlin walking tour and got the stories behind lots of the street art, checked out the market at Nollendorfplatz, had a drink at what used to be the first transvestite bar in Berlin (it's just a local pub now, but they have some paintings on the walls depicting its history), and had dinner at a restaurant where the owner asked all the best street artists to come and paint the place, inside and out. That was pretty cool. One day we rode all sorts of trains to the far South-East corner of the city and found ourselves in Treptower Park. We walked along the river, past a stall selling glühwein and bratwurst and some very funny looking boats for hire. These rental "grill-boots" (grill boats) are round, and have a little round BBQ in the middle, which can also be converted into a table or an icebox. You can rent them and have your BBQ and beer as you cruise along the river. But, it being November, it was much too cold for that sort of thing. We kept going and found the giant soviet war memorial a bit further on in the park. This place still has quotes from Stalin emblazoned all over it (in German and Russian), although his statue was taken down. The statues that remain are a woman, kneeling and looking unhappy (I'm not sure who she was, there were no explanations near her) and a huge Russian soldier, carrying a child on his shoulder and crushing a swastika with his sword. He's at least two stories tall, on top of a conical hill of carefully mowed grass, and very dramatic.
After the war memorial, we kept walking for about ten or fifteen minutes and found the fence around the abandoned amusement park. This was the only amusement park in the GDR, opened in 1969 under the name of Kulturpark Plänterwald. Click that link to read more about it on Wikipedia. It's been closed since 2001, and although I've read some articles about certain artists being allowed in and a festival of some sort that happened there this August, it's definitely abandoned for all intents and purposes. The forest is growing around and over it. The fence is badly mantained and lots of people sneak in, but there is at least one security guard there sometimes and there were rumours of the park's owner living there in a trailer after getting out of jail (he tried to bring some amusement park pieces back from Peru with cocaine inside them). I was wearing my bright pink hoodie, and didn't think it would be very smart to climb the fence, so we just walked around the outside and peered in at the derelict dinosaur statues and the giant ferris wheel. There was a sign on the fence which said something about Sunday from 11:00-15:00 - maybe the security guard gives tours at that time? There was a phone number, but it was Monday, so we didn't call. On the way back it was getting cold, so we stopped for the hot glühwein and bratwurst. Cheap and delicious!
The swans can't swim anymore, and the ferris wheel isn't turning.
Oh yes, and if you want cheap second-hand clothes, there are several shops in Berlin where you can pay for them by weight. 14.99 per kilogram, and 30% off during the "happy hours" (11:00-15:00). I dragged Jason to one of these stores because I wanted to see it, and I paid 2 Euro for a knit skirt. Berlin also has every kind of nightclub you could possibly imagine. We went on a pubcrawl last night because we wanted to see some of these crazy places up close. We went to a Flower Power bar (called "Yesterday"), a goth rock bar (The Last Cathedral), a ping pong bar (Dr. Pong), a chilled-out lounge all decorated in orange (Fire), and a "bombed-out" (I think they mean by graffiti) train depot which now houses several dance clubs (the one we went to was called Cassiopeia). The ping pong bar was especially fascinating - a grimy, flourescent-lit room with a ping pong table in the middle and chairs around the outside walls. You pay a 5 Euro deposit at the bar (where you can also get some beer) and get a ping pong paddle, then line up around the table. Everyone with a paddle circles the table, taking turns to hit the ball. If you miss, you're out and leave the queue until the next round. This way, with one ping pong table, everyone in the bar can play at once! As people miss and sit down, the ones left around the table have to move faster and faster, until just two are left to fight it out. I've never seen anything like it before. It's a great idea. And if you didn't know about this place, you'd never find it. Dr. Pong! Wow.
One of my absolute favourite Berlin stories, though, is that of the "Baumhaus an der Mauer," or the "treehouse on the wall." The Berlin wall, not being a straight line, had some interesting corners. One such corner, facing West Berlin, was used by the locals as a dump - it was a triangular piece of land which was technically East Berlin's territory (one meter out from the wall in West Berlin was still East Berlin), so the West Berliners felt they could just dump their trash there. No one did anything about this until a Turkish man living next door decided he needed to clean it up and plant a garden there instead. He cleared away the rubbish, built a ramshackle sort of house around two trees, and planted a garden. At this point, the authorities in West Berlin got upset and told him he wasn't allowed to be there. After a couple of warnings, he concreted everything in his house to the floor. You can still see a table and chair outside that are concreted to the ground. He was determined not to go anywhere. Since it was East Berlin's territory, the West contacted the East about this problematic gardener. East Berlin said, heck, let him stay. So he stayed. Later, after the wall came down, the city wanted to put a road through the house and garden, and tried to force the guy off the land yet again. The Catholic church down the street, however, looked at their records and discovered that the land there was historically part of the churchyard - and they decided that they'd rather have a Muslim gardener and his treehouse there than a road. So he's still there. Actually, he's too old to climb his treehouse stairs anymore, but he lives across the street and visits his garden every day. The ironic thing is that, after a dispute about the garden with his brother, they built a wall through the middle of it and now each brother has half. But I love this story - East Berlin helping a Turkish-West-Berliner, a Catholic church standing up for a Muslim guy, the garden instead of the trash, the whole thing is fantastic. The house has a Turkish flag and a German flag displayed proudly from its balcony. And that, right there, that's Berlin.
There's the Baumhaus an der Mauer. You can see the Catholic church in the background. It was getting dark by the time we got there, so my picture isn't the best. Still, there it is.