For some time now I have been thinking about writing something in English. A friend of mine highly recommended me to do so in order to find new readers. Well, I wish it was that simple. Regardless of language I strongly suspect the ”Inhalt”, as the Germans call it, or the topics are quite important as well. If I only write about things other people find boring it doesn’t matter whether it is in English, German – or Chinese! Anyhow, here it goes. My first attempt.
Now I feel a bit confused. Should I consider it business as usual and write about one of my recent activities or should I start with some sort of summary? Why I am in Berlin in the first place etc. Like they say on TV – for new viewers you are now watching… Or something. Maybe I should. Okay. I fell in love with Berlin in 2011 and I must say the city did everything it could to show me nothing but positive sides. The weather was warm and sunny, I accidentally ended up in wonderful situations, met fantastic new people and basically came to life in this city. I was also moved and intrigued by it’s past. Coming from a country, which hasn’t been involved in war or conflict in 200 years (on our own soil I might add) the signs of suffering still visible in Berlin fascinated me. The two world wars, the cold war and the wall. They all have left their mark on the city and it’s inhabitants. Even though so many years have passed since the second world war ended I can still feel a frustration bubbling underneath the both rough and neat exterior. (Yes, I think it’s possible to have both.) Especially in men. Maybe I am interpreting this incorrectly, but I sometimes think there is a deep humiliation and guilt still buried within the German soul and it’s difficult to shake it off and feel proud of being German. And rightfully so! The war was no Sunday picnic in the park and the Germans did cause a lot of damage to the world at that time. I suppose this cross is heavier on the men’s shoulders. However not many responsible for the tragic events are alive today. They might have raised their children in the same spirit, but like my favorite comedian Eddie Izzard says: ”There’s a very strong green party there and there’s kids with beards. It’s getting okay.” Germany, Germans and Berlin of course have a lot to offer. I am not the first to discover that.
Hip hip hippety hip
For some time Berlin has been the place to go. The hippest of the hip hip cities in Europe and probably the world. As always I’m slow to catch on new trends. Because I don’t care and because I’m a bit sceptic to things a large number of people like. (Maybe that is how the aftermaths of WW2 has affected me? ”Mass hysteria” and group mentality are just not my cup of tea.) So when friends started to visit Berlin, papers, magazines and websites began writing page upon page about the German capital I was completely deaf and blind. Well, not completely. In the autumn of 2010 some good friends went to Berlin and when I read their ecstatic Facebook reviews something started to stir inside of me. To make a long story short, it was a big step for me to find myself in Berlin about one year later. The sadness I felt when I had to leave again was genuine and deep. It almost felt like ripping the heart from my chest. But why? Until this day I don’t understand it and the separation didn’t last long. In November the same year my enthusiastic friends aimed to return and I joined them. Woohooo! Not so warm this time, but the charm was still there.
With every new visit I kept on meeting interesting people with whom I felt a deep inner connection, slowly creating the social group of friends I have in Berlin today. And with them came the experiences. Art exhibitions, operas, concerts, cinema, cafés, food, beer and much more. I saw and experienced things I’d never dreamed of. At one point at an art exhibition showing German art from 1900-1945, I had a very strong emotional reaction, because of the expressive and dramatic art. That had only happened through music, film and theatre before. My passion for art was born. (Well, it did see the light of day in Tate Modern 2009, but whatever.) I’ve seen many photo exhibitions as well and keep letting the world of pictures surprise and inspire me. I hardly think it has escaped anyone that Berlin is considered the unofficial cultural capital of the world. But maybe not for long! Perhaps the trend is over soon. I hear Kraków is catching in.
City of duality
Without much further ado I will try and explain why Berlin is so fascinating to a stranger like me. The city is still very much divided, but not necessarily into an Eastern and a Western section. It is a city of duality. The East and West sides are both similar and totally different. In the West tourism and capitalism have taken over. Here you’ll find all the big fashion brands, exclusive restaurants and posh hotels. On the other hand you see many beggars and poor people, presumably from Eastern Europe. Seeing someone kneeling on the pavement holding a cup in front of them always gives me the chills. Not that I look down on poor people, but seeing them begging in the streets is so disturbing to me. Never saw people doing that in Sweden during my childhood. It shouldn’t be necessary today, but that is a different story. The Western sides of Berlin are beautiful and used to be highly influential on creative people back in the 70’s. Bowie, Nick Cave and many other musicians spent time here. I like the brightly lit Kurfürstendamm before Christmas and Berlin’s own Harrod’s, KaDeWe, is always a pleasure to visit. I’m sure there are much more to see, but my favorite part of the city is the former East.
The combination of anarchistic graffiti and renovated or even restored buildings of the early 20th century makes my heart sing. The large choice of cafés with more or less personally designed and built patios is thrilling to see. There is a lovely do-it-yourself-mentality flourishing here. I am a cookie monster and enjoy a dark chocolate cake any day! I’ve tasted heavenly Sachertorte in several cafés. Simply delicious. The number of restaurants with reasonable priced high quality food is something I value. I believe the Germans in general are looking for and expecting high quality. Even beer should be high quality and everyone have their own favourite brand. The annual beer festival is considered a tourist attraction as well as a dito trap, but I find it to be one huge beer quality testing event, like they test wine in France. Okay. Few spit it out again. I’ll give you that, but I like the opportunity to stroll along the stalls, beer glass in hand, and try any beer I find interesting. Life’s a box of chocolate to Forest Gump. To me life might as well be the Biermeile in Berlin…
There is more where this came from. Berlin has much to tell and so have I, but this will have to be all. For now.