Metropolis in Change. An Erratic Walk through Berlin.

This article is from August 2011. I was asked to write a guest post about Berlin, and there was no question that I would like to write about my adopted home. But when I started to think about that project I realized that it’s everything else than an easy task.
 paper on a wall, West-Berlin from above, the Gasometer in Schöneberg
3.471.756 people (and 108.784 (legal) dogs) are currently living in Berlin. They are spread over 95 quarters and 12 areas. Each of these areas is be a big city on its own, e.g. just in Berlin-Neukölln live 313.746 people. In 2010 457.806 foreign citizens from 190 different countries lived here.
Berlin has more than 2.500 public parcs (and 428.444 street trees) and 1.842 play grounds. There are 170 museums, 284 cinemas and 12.500 bars, cafés and restaurants. In 2009, 650 art galeries were counted in Berlin, there are certainly more today. In 2009 about 20.000 artists lived here and, I am sure, their number has certainly increased nowadays. According to a Berlin cluster study, 25.482 creative companies are based in Berlin with an average annual turnover of nearly 13 Billion Euros.
On the other side, 231.304 Berliners are unemployed (13,6%) and up to 440.000 people claim benefits (“Hartz IV“). And last but not least there are billions of guides for each target group which have already highlighted all interesting corners and exciting places of Berlin.

That’s why I asked myself: What should I talk about? Where to start and what to point out? After a short time of desparation I decided to dismiss the idea of a comprehensive description of places of interest and insider tips. Instead I would like to invite you to an erratic walk crosstown. I hope you enjoy it.

greengrocer and reading room Doyoureadme? at Potsdamer Street
Lost in Berlin
I was 16 years old when I visited Berlin the first time. That was 1988, one year before the wall came down. Of course me and my friends stayed in Kreuzberg, and I kept on being amazed in view of all these awesome looking people dressed in punk or goth fashion. Not to mention the bars, the street hawkers, the buskers and street art. I saw the first Graffitis in my life, watched Wim Wenders Wings of Desire” (Der Himmel über Berlin, 1986/87) and danced all night until dawn to the music of Nick Cave and The Bad SeedsEinstürzende Neubauten or Sisters of Merci. From that visit on I was lost in Berlin and came back as often as possible.
As I said before, back then Berlin was still a divided city. Therefore it was not that easy to reach. You had to take the transit route across the whole GDR and to wait for hours at the border control. And if you got a bad break the border police picked your car in pieces.
Andreas Murkudis Concept Store, Wittenbergplatz with Europa-Center, big wheel
The spirit of Berlin
After my first visit to the city 8 years had passed by. While Berlin became an undivided capital I had a baby and tried to ruralize. I gave up at this attempt 1995 and moved to Berlin. Since then we both – Berlin and me – have continued to change.
At the turn of the millennium Berlin dreamt the dream of the “New Berlin”. I remember a poster campaign that took place from 1998 to 2001: You could see terribly well-behaved young happy middleclass people in business dresses walking through new urban landscapes. The disputed Potsdamer Platz represents that dream at its best. But instead of becoming beautiful and young and successful, Berlin went bankrupt. All city-planning visions collapsed within short time. What was a nightmare for politicians and architects, became a great oppurtunity for young people, students, artists and creative people from all over the world: Berlin was cheap!
The Monumenten Bridge  interconnect Kreuzberg and Schöneberg
During my studies I occupied a 3 room apartment with 78 sqm in Kreuzberg and paid a rent of about 350 Euro per month (of course the living standard was equally low). This wide variety of cheap living space was one important reason why Berlin attracted artists from all over the world and became known as “poor, but sexy” – a statement originally uttered by our old and new Governing Mayor Klaus Wowereit in a press interview in 2003. But low costs was not the only reason for the attraction of Berlin. The main reason was (and still is), I guess, the spirit of the city. Nothing else could better express that spirit than Charly Niessen´s and Hildegard Knef ´s poem Berlin, dein Gesicht hat Sommersprossen:

Berlin, dein Gesicht hat Sommersprossen,

und dein Mund ist viel zu groß,

dein Silberblick ist unverdrossen,
doch nie sagst du: »Was mach‘ ich bloß?«
Berlin, du bist viel zu flach geraten
für die Schönheitskonkurrenz.
Doch wer liebt schon nach Metermaßen,
wenn du dich zu ihm bekennst?
Berlin, du bist die Frau mit der Schürze,
an der wir unser Leben lang zieh’n.
Berlin, du gibst dem Taufschein die Würze,
und hast uns dein »Na und« als Rettungsring verlieh’n.
Berlin, deine Stirn hat Dackelfalten,
doch was wärst du ohne sie?
Wer hat dich bloß so jung gehalten,
denn zum Schlafen kommst du nie.

Berlin, mein Gemüt kriegt Kinderaugen,

und mein Puls geht viel zu schnell,

nimmst du mich voller Selbstvertrauen
an dein verknautschtes Bärenfell.

Café/Bar in Kreuzberg, Artomat in Neukölln
From an Experimental Ground to a Creative City
From the 1990s until 2005/2006 Berlin could be called a huge laboratory. There was a lot of fallow land, a high vacancy and ruins in the inner city. These spaces were occupied and transformed by diverse subcultures searching for new means of living. It was the time of the Love Parade, of Techno, Drum´n´Bass and squatters (e.g. the Arthouse Tacheles), the Berlin Poetry Slam was born and half-legal underground-clubs springed up like mushrooms. I remember the Eimer in Mitte and many cellar bars in Friedrichshain with names I had never known.
Today, Berlin has developed from a laboratory to a creative city. Many experiments have made room for commercial enterprises (e.g. Pfefferberg) and experimental grounds are gentrified (e.g. Prenzlauer Berg). But at the same time new urban projects develop like the temporary use (Zwischennutzung), the urban gardening or the craft scene. They are mostly located in Kreuzberg and Neukölln, but more and more creative people discover the last untouched problem boroughs of Berlin like Wedding.

Flying, walking, driving: Airport Tempelhof, Yorckbrücken, urban freeway
Urban Pioneers and Transformations. My Favorite Places
In Neukölln for instance exist a lot of temporary use project galleries, e.g. the Art Space t27 in the Körnerkiez, the space for art and happings schillerpalais in the Schillerkiezschinken und klötze (art and space) and project space schwarz in the very hip and shriving Reuterkiez.
One of the most gorgeous urban gardening projects is the Prinzessinnen Gärten at the Moritzplatz in Kreuzberg. Apropos Moritzplatz: On Saturday October 1 the Moritzplatz has turned into the Makerplatz, “a hub of Making, Doing and Action”, […]a place where […]ideas, knowledge, skills in form of workshops, discussions and performances around making, crafting, gardening, street art, sewing, hacking are shared.

Besides these grassroots-movements a diversity of public and commercial acitivities shape the city. I recommend to visit the Airport Tempelhof with its breathtaking space and fantastic atmosphere as long as it isn´t yet covered with buildings. And do not miss the new Park am Gleisdreieck and the Naturpark Südgelände – both worth a visit and located on former railway sites.
If you are interested in art and design I recommend that you go to the Potsdamer Street which interconnects the two deprived areas Southern Tiergarten and Northern Schöneberg. A short while ago it was a really derelict street where prostitution, 1-Euro-Shops and greengrocer dominated. The prostitutes are still there but they are accompanied by more and more galleries and luxury stores beginning to settle in between.

Galerie Thomas FischerBlain|Southernmaerzgalerie and also Andreas Murkudi´s concept store are based in the former publishing house of Tagesspiegel. Within walking distance you find the Galerie Kuhn und ParterGalerie HerrmannGalerie Gilla LörcherGalerie Tanja Wagner, the Suomesta Galleria – Project gallery for Finnish Contemporary art, the Free Museum, the reading room do you read me? within the Krome Gallery and other art spaces. It´s a clash of cultures, a really intensive, oscillating and fragile situation.
And at the very end, when you are full of impressions and you want to sit down having a good meal or drink, come to rest at the Joseph Roth Diele next to the former Tagesspiegel building or take the bus number 48 or 86 to the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Platz – maybe we will meet in one of the restaurants and bars around Akazienstraße.

 Yours MiMa


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