Believe me or not, my first trip to Berlin is so special to me, yet ironically it took me two long years to really blog about it! If it wasn’t for the photos I took during the trip, I wouldn’t be reminded of how it was to be in Berlin at that time.
East + West
Destruction to Restoration. A realization. Every wall is a challenge. I was awestruck by the depth and intricacies of Berlin’s history… – Perpie in Berlin, July 2012
Checkpoint Charlie or Checkpoint C, it was coincidentally our first point of destination in Berlin. It used to be a crossing point between East and West Berlin, which also became a symbol of the Cold War in the 60s between the East (as represented by the Russians) and the West (the Americans). We didn’t need to show up our passports though, neither we are restrained to cross over nor we needed to flee. Those days are finally gone.
Not so far from Checkpoint C is the Topographie des Terrors (Topography of Terror), an outdoor and indoor history museum that was also used to be the headquarters of the Gestapo and the SS, the principal instruments of repression during the Nazi era. There’s the remains of the Berlin Wall; the cellar of the Gestapo where many political prisoners are tortured and executed; and a long photo display of political prisoners and of Berlin Jews being deported to their deaths.
The Brandenberg Gate and the Berlin Tower – the true symbols of Berlin, past and present.
This 1.3 kilometer-long section of the Berlin Wall is the infamous East Side Gallery, an international memorial for freedom. It showcases over a hundred paintings by artists all over the world. Amongst the best-known graffiti arts is the depiction of Leonid Brezhnev and Erick Honecker kissing as painted by Dmitri Vrubel. It is oftentimes referred to as the Fraternal Kiss, given also the words inscribed in the artwork: “My God, Help Me to Survive this Deadly Love.”
I find the new building’s architectural design of the Jewish Museum in Berlin very impressive; and the exhibitions and installations too, very enthralling. There’s the Garden of Exile, the Holocaust Tower and the section of the Void where the Fallen Leaves can be found.
My home in Berlin was Hotel OTTO, which is located at Charlottenburg. Seriously, it was totally posh – both inside and out!
This sophisticated building is the Berlin Hauptbahnhof, the main railway station located on the site of the historic Lehrter Bahnhof.
This is a typical train station in Berlin. A rustic beauty, isn’t it?
While I was in Berlin, I started craving for Asian foodstuff. And Asian cuisines had never been this really good, seriously.
I just did window shopping at KaDeWe (Kaufhaus des Westens), a high-end, luxury shopping mall. It must be Berlin’s version of Galeries Lafayette in Paris.
More shopping malls, I must be in another one in Berlin – the Alexa Shopping Center. The real shopping must have started here.
See? There goes the proof.
Pub Crawl and Street Arts
Upon telling a friend about my upcoming Berlin trip, she immediately suggested that I join the city walk tours of Alternative Berlin. My third night’s free and so is the day after, but then I hesitated at first. When I imagined getting back to the hotel at the wee hours of the night and waking up the next day for another, it seemed to be too much. “Anyhow let’s see how it will go,” I told myself. I decided to take the pub crawl, and if I feel like it, the subculture berlin free tour the next day.
And you know what? It was an amazing experience. For one, it was a refreshing take for being able to join in these walk tours by myself. I was able to enjoy Berlin more and meet fellow travelers along the way. I also feel so proud of myself for being able to experience the real Berlin at its finest hours, visiting the city’s nightlife districts and underground spots. Lastly, I learned to appreciate street arts. I’m never a big fan of it, but good thing I still decided to go. Street arts in Berlin proved me wrong – not all vandals are created equal.
All in all, it surely was an alternative way of appreciating Berlin – purely raw and real.
Day Tour – Street Arts
There must be a beauty with these gibberish scribbles on the wall! A more fitting term, street art tells a story and invokes compelling statements. Playful. Witty. Amusing.
In this tour, I learned more about Berlin’s evolving history and culture, particularly on how street arts and pop culture impact city life at present.
Located at the heart of Berlin, Mitte is a popular tourist spot not only because it holds many historical landmarks and attractions tourists normally visit such as the Brandenburg Gate, the Berlin TV Tower and the Memorial for Murdered Jews of Europe; but also for its more artsy, edgy vibe as it is surrounded with modern cafes and shops and artsy residents living in this area. Before, Mitte was known as the district for many artists squats, having Kunsthaus Tacheles being the most famous for housing an art community only until it had been closed down coincidentally 2 years ago, just a few months after this street art tour.
Our enthusiastic guide started telling us about El Bocho and his artworks, which include ‘Little Lucy’ (and her cat) character and the security cameras!
El Bocho’s ‘Little Lucy’ street art began when the artist was watching a cartoon called Little Lucy, which is much like Dora the Explorer. In this cartoon series, Little Lucy would go on an adventure with her cat, ending in a positive note and with a moral story. El Bocho doesn’t like these perfect endings so he started caricaturing Little Lucy as someone who is not a little goody two-shoes after all, and instead of a cat bully-slash-murderer. El Bocho’s Little Lucy street art is both hilarious and disturbing.
Walking further, we ended up in the alley of Rosenthalerstrasse that’s beaming with a mishmash of different works of street arts from renowned street artists, and with large murals merging together to create one long art wall. Street art paste-ups had been a trend recently, according to our tour guide. “As local police is becoming stricter when it comes to vandalism, compared to painted and stenciled street arts, paste-ups is less considered as a vandal, technically speaking. And in case residents didn’t like it, it’s easier to remove,” he quipped.
This pointillism-like art mural is actually created by renowned street artist, James Cochran aka JimmyC, a New Zealand artist best known for his urban narrative paintings and drip painting style. He is a strong advocate for aerosol art, which eventually led him to create and exhibit his Aerosol Pointillist Series thus promoting drip painting in street arts.
Often considered as one of the grittiest neighborhoods in Berlin, Kreuzberg is an area mixed with people from different groups, diverse ethnicities and background – a place that is culturally diverse and somewhat bohemian. One street art not to be missed here is the Kreuzberg Spaceman created by Victor Ash. It is thought to be the biggest stencil in the world to date.
Our real Berlin walking tour ended in Yaam, a long-established, Jamaican-inspired beach bar in Berlin. Truth be told, beach bars are almost everywhere in Berlin. I’d quietly snicker at the thought of how these Berliners really yearned for beach sand on their feet and thirst-quenching tropical drinks that they really had to make one for themselves. While in the Philippines, we really have real sandy beaches. It’s effortless back home – just pick an island and the beach is yours!
Night Tour – Pub Crawl
The meeting place is at this hippie-themed bar called Yesterday Bar. These two lovely ladies were our night tour guides. We’re roughly around 20 who joined this pub crawl tour and mostly are fresh grads or college students from different countries. So in between pep talks, whenever somebody asked where I am from and what I do, they ended up surprised. For the first time on that year, I squarely admitted I am already 30.
At first I thought we’d just pass by this abandoned space but it turned out to be our first stop – it’s a ping pong bar! So here, everyone is expected to grab a beer and play ping pong.
She’s a Japanese student from the US who I hang around with most of the time in this tour (as we’re also the only Asians in the group). She’s been traveling around for months with her friends at first, but they separated somewhere so she continued traveling all by herself. Before Berlin, she was in Munich where she proudly told me that she finished almost a liter of German beer, in one sitting! Whew, one brave gal here. It eventually turned out I quickly became her big sister that night.
Next, we visited this dark goth pub and were quickly entertained with a burlesque-like bar dancing. This is really one spooky place I wouldn’t go back again.
“It was already getting late. I have to go,” I told everyone. I must be really getting old, I told myself. When we’re about to get into this sought-after underground techno club, I left the tour too early, too soon.
It’s already way past midnight and yet there were lots of people around the streets of Berlin. Bars and restaurants were still full and busy. Even the Berlin metro was up and running (it’s 24/7 operations as I heard). In where I live right now, this kind of night is something unheard of.
Oh at last, I got back safe and sound. What a night indeed in Berlin.