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Archive for October, 2010

Berlin Day 3

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Slept in a bit this day, since I’d been out so late the day before. Of course it wasn’t perfect sleep because the roommates were up and rustling around much before I wanted to get out of bed. After I rousted myself and got ready for the day, I went downstairs and had their paid breakfast. Typical hostel breakfast– couple cereals, meat and cheese tray (not the good kind), hard boiled eggs, bread, and strawberry yogurt. Enough to fill you up but nothing to get excited about.

After breakfast, I rode the tram over to Alexanderplatz to meet a group for a tour called the “Alternative Berlin” tour. We were going to see popular urban art, cultural spots, and other grunge not covered in the typical Berlin tour. I was excited to get on this tour because I’d been loving the graffiti in Berlin and wanted to see more. The tour company also led a graffiti workshop with actual Berlin street artists teaching it but that had already happened for the week. Put that on the “next time” list.

Anyway, I chatted with a few people in the tour group and oddly enough, ran into two people from the “Anti pub-crawl” group last night. It was cool to actually see some people I’d met before! It was a walking tour and we went through neighborhoods, looking at good street art while the guide gave us some background on the artists and art scene. Pictures are the best way to describe things at this point.

One stop we made was at this cool hangout spot called the “Youth African Art Market.” Probably half the size of a city block and mostly sand, the YAAM had a basketball court, skate park, benches, tables, an outdoor bar, and more that I didn’t get to see. We took a break there and sat down. The spot was right on the river too, so it was an awesome hang out spot. I’d definitely go there often if I lived in Berlin.

After that, we checked out the longest still standing stretch of the Berlin wall. It’d been decorated with art and was quite a popular spot with tourists. The art wasn’t too great in my eyes but whatever. I found a funny picture that somebody had painted on top of the art that elegantly summarized my feelings toward it. Wonder why they couldn’t tap into the great street art culture to paint the wall. Politics, I’m sure. Well, they’re taking it over anyway.

One of the coolest parts of the tour was the squatters settlements. These people had been living illegally in abandoned lots since the communist days. There were many more settlements like this under the communist reign and since the wall fell, almost all of them have been dismantled. The squatters embrace counter-cultural, communal, anti-capitalist, pro-art values and I think it’s a pretty cool thing to have, even if I don’t agree with everything they’re doing. Capitalism has a way of stripping raw, vibrant culture away and painting it over with glossy nothingness. These people, though maybe not producing anything of monetary value for society, still add a richness to the overall culture and it makes me sad to think that eventually they will all be forced to disband.

The next place we stopped was a bombed out train depot from WWII– the same place where I had been clubbing last night.  I learned the the complex had a bunch more than just a club. Indoor skate park, martial arts studio,  beer garden, outdoor movie theater, even the set for West Coast Customs Europe. We checked out the skate park. It felt kind of dumb to be in a group of gawking tourists but still cool to see the skaters. Lots of younger kids who must’ve been playing hookey. Way cooler than I ever was at that age.

Walked around after that, checking the place out. It was another place I’d definitely hang if I lived in Berlin.

After that, we went to the world’s first and only sticker museum. It was a small place but the walls and counters and cabinets were filled with stickers. Apparently it was only like 10% of the owner’s collection and they were currently looking for a bigger place. See the pics for some of the cool ones I spotted. No admission fee either, simply survived on donations. Neat.

So after the sticker museum, we took the train to Hackescher Markt. It used to be a grungy, artsy place but now it’s been gentrified. Except this one little tunnel and courtyard area where we were going. The area was filled with cool art and graffiti, even a giant metal sculpture under construction. There was a bookstore/art shop there and I got a book with tons of photos of the street art in Berlin. It’d be a great coffee table book for when I got back home.

The next and final stop on the tour was Tacheles, the place I’d been on the tour the day before. I was glad to go back though because I could get some pictures this time. Forgot to say before that Tacheles had a lot of tables and an outdoor bar and even a music stage where bands play frequently. They also had an organic garden but that was recently shut down because some of the plants growing there weren’t exactly legal…

After the group disbanded, I grabbed a quick dinner at a Vietnamese place. It wasn’t the best but filled me up a little. They had a clock in there, which was nice because I finally had a way to tell what time it was. I was shocked to see how late it had gotten and actually had to rush to finish because there was another tour leaving in less than an hour. Stress level was rising as I walked quickly back to the rail station.

The tour was given by Alternative Berlin, the same company that gave the other tour today and also the anti pub-crawl. Called the “Twilight Tour”, this one promised an edgy look into the Berlin nightlife, including graffiti raids and “mindblowing urban exploration of abandoned relics.” A reservation was required and they never emailed me back, so it was a long shot. I didn’t even know exactly where they were meeting but the website said “Alexanderplatz” (where we met earlier today), so I thought I’d be able to find them. Got there a little after 6 and went straight to the Starbucks where we’d met earlier. Hmmm, not there. Tried to check my email to see if the guy had mailed back. Of  course this Starbucks did their wifi different than every other Starbucks in the world and it only worked for T-Mobile customers or something. Lame. Walked around the area, looking for any group of people, but found nothing. Sigh. Either they left right at six or had a secret meeting place. I was bummed out to miss that awesome tour but oh well.

So I walked around the area for a bit, wondering what to do. I ran into a Japanese busker (street musician) doing an awesome set where he played various mouth instruments (like the mouth harp), recording, looping and re-recording until he built up a funky techno song. Actually bought a mouth harp from him and had fun playing around with it. They sound really twangy and are tricky to play right. You hold the thing between your lips and then flick this little metal piece that vibrates. Your mouth amplifies the vibration and you can control the pitch by moving your tongue closer to the instrument. The guy got some really cool sounds out of it. Check out a YouTube video of him playing it here.

Also saw some other dance troupe doing stunts. One of the guys in their group was super flexible and distorted his body in gross ways. The most unbelievable one was where he wrapped his body around the torso of some other guy, holding his feet under his chin. See the pic, it’s nuts.

Eventually, I decided to rent a bike and explore Berlin a bit on my own. It was like 15 euro until 11pm so that was a good 4 hours of riding. Rode down into the Kreuzberg area, which is supposedly the most hip and edgy part of town. Of course my bike was hard to ride but complicating things more was the fact that the headset was loose, making it so that my handlebars would turn without actually turning the bike tire and resulting in me having to steer right just to go straight because it would get out of alignment. Not too safe and I didn’t even have a helmet. Guess I like living dangerously.

Saw some cool buildings but then heard some loud rock music coming from a building down the street. Looked like an old high rise apartment complex so I curiously pedalled my way down the street. Got to the building and realized it was a squatter’s settlement. I was scared to go in because the tour guide earlier said they don’t like tourists taking pictures and that we shouldn’t even talk too much when we’re going by. But, he also said that Berlin has an open-door policy and their gate was totally open. What they hay, I thought, and walked in.

My heart was pounding as I walked past the metal gates and into the heart of the beast. It was super grungy all around, with tents and wooden boxes and old Soviet trucks used for shelter. The building had an open courtyard and there were about 10 people loitering around, all punked out with body peircings, tattoos, crazy hairstyles and tight black clothes. Some were standing and smoking, others sitting on the ground or in shopping carts drinking beer, half-watching the musicians.  Of course I stood out like Liberace on an Amish farm but I figured I could stay a few seconds without causing trouble. Next to the guys playing guitar and drums was some dude with a pink mohawk grinding away on a chunk of metal, throwing a rooster tail of sparks behind him. Plastered all over the building was colorful graffiti and art. It all was so freakin’ awesome. This was the universal center of all things grunge and punk. I wanted so badly to take a picture but wanted to make it out alive, so I tried my best to capture it all mentally.

I’d say I was there a total of two minutes before walking out. Never got a look from anybody, amazingly. Still was pretty scared the whole time and jittery after I exited the gates. But the rush made everything even cooler. Tried to take a picture then but my hands were too shaky and they turned out blurry.

After that, the rest of the ride wasn’t so intense. Saw a cool park next to the river, some interesting architecture, and enjoyed the city like a local would. Eventually, I stopped to get some food. Of course it was some kebap place. By the time I finished, the sun was setting and I pedalled back to the hostel. On my way, I ran into some huge, awesome street art pieces and also the filming of some kind of tv show. Their backdrop was a 6 story tall mural that covered two buildings, so I could understand the choice of location.

So I stopped back at the hostel for a bit, but forgot exactly what I did there. Oh that’s right, I changed out of my shorts into jeans. They’d be better for enjoying the nightlife in style. Dropped off my bag and coat and then headed back to return the bike. Tried to make it back to Alexanderplatz without checking a map and I almost did it. Just cause I was running low on time, I had to check to make sure I was going the best way. I would of made it eventually (hard to miss its 1200 foot tv tower) but didn’t feel like paying a late fine on the bike rental.

So I turned that road hog in and found myself looking for stuff to do. I wanted to go see the bombed out church tower so I headed down there on the s-bahn. Looked up the place online and followed the directions to find myself walking through a big dark park called the Tiergarten. Spooky, but I found the church on the other side.  This one looked perfectly fine though… Hmm. A quick check of the guidebook revealed that I’d gotten the name slightly wrong when I looked up the address. I wanted the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtniskirche not the Kaiser-Friedrich-Gedächtniskirche. Those damn German words are just too long. Back onto the s-bahn and before long I was looking at the shattered tower of the Kaiser-Wilhelm Memorial church. It was all lit up against the black night sky and I imagined snipers standing up in the towers during the war. Too many hours spent playing Call of Duty.

Anyway, I wandered around there for a bit. Picture record shows I went back to the hostel, though I can’t remember why. Got a few drinks from the nearby convenience store and decided to hit up the Berghain. It was only like 2am but I didn’t have much else to do. I got all nervous as I walked up there, as I stepped up to the ultimate test of cool. I figured if I didn’t open my English-speaking mouth, I might stand a chance of getting in. If the bouncer tried to speak to me in German, I’d be a goner.

This time, there was a crowd gathered outside the entrance as I rolled up. I nervously took my place in line, probably 60 people ahead of me. Lights and music pulsated from the tall windows of the four story warehouse. This was it– the clubbing mecca of the world (or so said the guidebook).  I watched some people get in– yes!– trying to gauge what got them the OK. Other people were unceremoniously rejected, forced to take the walk of shame back along the line. The bouncers looked evil, like soulless beings who took delight in ruining people’s self-esteem. One of them looked like a satanic pig on stilts– his fat greasy face and bloated belly teetering over a pair of black skinny leg jeans.

The intensity grew as I got closer to the door. Groups of English speaking people were turned away immediately, some returning to protest, always with no success. I saw the look of disappointment and defeat in their eyes as they walked back, trying to laugh it all off. They’d blown it with their drunken laughing even before they got to the door. Amateurs. Not me, I was a stone cold pillar of cunning and strategy.

The bouncer was speaking to each guest as they stepped up to the door. I panicked at first but figured out he was just asking how many were in the party. Easy enough– “eins”. My lack of German wouldn’t be the weak spot tonight. Just a few people left ahead of me and my heart was pounding– louder than the bass booming from behind the doors. A single guy ahead of me stepped up, replied to the bouncer’s question and was immediately turned away. My turn.

I stepped up confidently to the platform where he stood. I stared into his cold steel eyes as he surveyed me up and down. Never had I seen a man who looked this evil.  It seemed as though the only pleasure he took in life was in denying others of happiness. My fate lie in his hands and I could tell he would take no mercy in dealing judgment. He issued a quick flick of the wrist, pointing me away and to the side while muttering something in German. The hammer had fallen and I was not welcome there.

Disappointment mixed with relief and a chuckle of irony as I walked away. What I’d worried about the whole time– being a non-German speaking tourist– hadn’t even played a role in my dismissal. I had made no mistake yet I was still turned away. For some reason, it was easy to get over that. Those guys were just impossible to please and it wasn’t my fault at all. I was still disappointed that I didn’t get in but not crushed. The place had a reputation and I learned why.

So that’s my Berghain story. I exaggerated a bit about it being the epitomy of cool and crushing those who didn’t get in, but it still would’ve been a ton of fun to see. I had other clubs on my list and had been mentally preparing to go to them in the likely event I wouldn’t get into the Berghain. The first was a club right across from the hostel that was housed beneath the railway station so I walked there. Paid the cover and danced for a bit, but it just didn’t have the right feel so I left. I was looking for something like club last night, which just felt like a lot of people just having fun instead of trying to impress girls and ending up being creepy.

Next club on the list, Watergate, was only a couple blocks away. Despite it being 3 am, the sidewalks were alive with all kinds of people. The place was bumping with people and the club actually had two different levels with different music on each. There was also a cool waterfront deck that looked out on the river. I probably stayed there a couple hours and had good fun. But after that I was pretty beat and headed back to the hostel.

And that’s a day.

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October 16th, 2010 at 1:15 pm

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