Wenn man sich schön macht, auch wenn’s hässlich ist – Berlin, Berlin, Berlin
Und wenn Stefan plötzlich Steffi ist – Berlin, Berlin, Berlin
Wenn das alles geht und du dich fragst, wie das zusammenpasst.
Das ist Berlin, Berlin, Berlin – Berlin, Berlin, Berlin
I’ve returned from a journey. A long, exhausting, exciting, amazing 6-month long trip.
I started at Tegel airport. It’s where I landed to try and conquer the interview and the big, not so bad city of Berlin. In the beginning, the plan was to put one foot in front of the other, slowly, surely.
U-Bhf Seestr. From the airport to Seestrasse, which would eventually become my house for a few months. Not a home, but a good-sized house, shared with people who made me dread climbing those 4 flights of stairs. Its fair to say that I got off to a lukewarm start on my journey through Berlin.
U-Bhf Oranienburger Tor. Auguststrasse. As I walked around this neighbourhood, I could feel the creativity brimming through the dilapidated walls. Auguststr is unique because it was “overlooked” when renovations took place in the East, it was at one point taken over by squatters and artists, and a previously Jewish neighbourhood now has a whole new identity which isn’t yet quite defined. The gaudily painted wooden door frames leading to high ceilinged houses and over-expensive art galleries made me curious to explore how else Berlin combined its history with its future.
U-Bhf Turmstr. I was introduced to my first Spaeti, basically what normally would be an overrated or a well-stocked Kiosk, depending on your mood. However, this Spaeti stocked something much more fascinating than the normal range of products. It was run by a Sri Lankan Aunty and she had made samosas. Suddenly it made sense why my friend wanted to celebrate his birthday in a Kiosk! A good Spaeti around the corner has the advantages of your average house party, just with more alcohol options and less cleaning up after. We were even joined on the makeshift dance floor by Sri Lankan music and Aunty’s sons.
Bahnhof Friedrichstr. Murphy’s Irish Pub. As a drink with a colleague turned into a night of celebrating St. Patrick’s day until 5 am, I realised that this city would not let me sleep in my comfortable bubble. It would encourage me to push my wild side, to explore new things and to test my adventurousness. And that’s exactly what I did over the new months. All in English! Hours into the evening I appreciated just how easy it was to speak to anyone in the pub. Of course this illusion lasted only a few minutes until I figured out that drunk Irish people might as well have been speaking Greek for all understood.
U-Bhf Deutsche Oper. The opera is mind-blowing. I didn’t know what to expect, but I didn’t expect to be quite so swept off my feet. The power of song, human emotions and the very strength of the human body made the entire experience other-wordly. Berlin is called the cultural capital, and a visit to a performance of the Stadtliche Kunstschule or the Ballet explains why. It’s a city where dreams are made or broken. But slightly less pretentiously than in New York.
U-Bhf Osloer Str. I suppose its where the people whose dreams are broken go to. The underground is so full of homeless people that it’s akin to a living museum of drug addictions gone wrong. The middle-aged man drinking Sterni at 10 am sits side by side on the train with the young Tasmanian guy taking the ride home after his night shift. At Westhafen, by the beautiful river, under the majestic bridge is a whole lifestyle. One that I intruded on by accident and was surprised to see not only tents pitched up, but also swept out 2 x 2 m front yards, garden furniture and potted plants. It makes me wonder what else we don’t see behind the cloudy eyes of the homeless guy roaming the street. Does he also like to play checkers with his neighbours every Wednesday? I am not proud to admit that the entire civilised nature of this little hood I stumbled upon unnerved me more than walking through a slum in India.
Berlin Ostbahnhof. Standing in the fan block in the Mercedes Benz Arena, watching the Berliner Eisbaeren play against Munich with all the season ticket holders, I was proudly sporting my Koelner Haie scarf. Of course I got a little heckled in the beginning, but I knew ice-hockey wasn’t football and I definitely would not be killed. What I didn’t know was that by the end of the match I would have befriended my neighbours. They told me about the history of the team, and that they still identify with the old East Berlin team the Dynamos. They squeezed into my selfies and sent voicenotes to my Haie fans. And the entire time, the fan block was audibly cheering on the Dynamos the entire time, a team that technically doesn’t exist anymore.
U-Bhf Alt Tempelhof. That’s where the airlift of Berlin took place during the Cold War. When the Soviets blocked off all supplies into West Berlin to protest the release of the Deutsche mark. So the Allies airlifted supplies all year. Now the abandoned air field stands with its lonesome landing strip and gigantic administrative building. Sometimes its used for events but mostly its used by stoners, runners and picnickers. Its vibe is a little similar to Mauerpark, where the wall used to be but now its where one goes to buy weed or to look at the latest artistic expressions on the longest standing part of the Berlin wall. On the way, if one looks carefully, one sees little, round copper memorials in the sidewalk on the spots that attempted escapees were shot.
Just like that, history hits you like a bullet to the brain in Berlin. Because its not really even history there yet. Its living memory for many. What the world described as reuniting a divided nation, the Berliners see as quite something else. Something much more complicated, which I can’t really explain. It can probably be likened to a long overdue reunion between lovers that doesn’t quite turn out how it was pictured in the minds eye on cold winter nights. Instead of passion, reconnection and warmth, time draws out into an inexplicably awkward silence as both realise belatedly that the 2 paths have lead so far away from one another, that there is very little sight of what’s common anymore. This is Berlin today, with its East and West divide. The Easterners being proud of their proletariat values, the Westerners of their sophistication and taste. Years of extremely different lifestyles have lead to very different ideas. Despite commonly held views that the East was controlled and regulated by an iron fist, many Easterners I met insisted that “it was better back then”. Whether its rosy retrospection, memory bias or soaring rent and prices, it’s something I do not fully understand yet. Intriguing and melancholic, I look forward to more conversations and explorations into the theme.
S-Bhf Olympia Stadion. This stadium just stole my heart ever since I first saw it on the way to my interview. A few weeks later, during a Bundesliga match, the stadium was about half full, but the atmosphere electric. The stadium has a complicated past, having been constructed for the 1936 Olympics, i.e. the Nazi Olympics. The bell with the insignia lies as memory near the entrance, and the VVIP hall is still unofficially referred to as the Fuehrer Lounge. It also has a Jesse Owens Allee, to commemorate a momentous occasion, especially in light of the politics of those Games. The pool used for Games is right next door, stark and concrete in its architecture. The contrast against the blue sky and green surroundings is overwhelming to say the least. Now the Stadion with its famous “Blaue Bahn” has rewritten its history, like everything in Berlin.
Berlin is a city that took my breath away. It is freeing and accepting at the same time. I was lucky enough to meet people from many different backgrounds and sexual orientations. This post is disjointed because Berlin is disjointed. It used to be many little villages that someone decided to bring under one umbrella. It’s a city that gains its identity as a whole from the different “Kiez”s that make up its parts. A Kiez is a neighbourhood, i.e. a former village and its plain for everyone to see how every Kiez has its own history and culture. All these Kiezs also have their own songs and hymns, similar to Das ist Berlin. Das ist Berlin is however unique since it was originally a marketing campaign by the newspaper Berliner Morgenpost. It went viral because its catchy tune and heart-warming lyrics captured the spirit of the city so well, and never once mentions its own marketing agenda.
A friend I made was surprised when she found out I had only been in the city for a few weeks when she met me. Her words will always stay with me “But you just seem so at home here – like - Hi Berlin, I am here and this is me”. I laughed then but I knew that’s the amazing effect of Berlin. Within weeks you can feel like a Berliner. It doesn’t matter if you know your roads or your neighbours, if you have a job or not, whether you are old or young, single or married with 9 kids, whether you have money or not, if you are black, white or brown. None of it matters in Berlin.
Wenn man nicht aus Deutschland kommt und trotzdem echt Berliner ist.
Das ist Berlin, Berlin, Berlin – Berlin, Berlin, Berlin