Monday, October 5, 2009

Ich bin ein Berliner

After a false start this morning (leaving my host's apartment a bit late + awful luck with tram and metro timing = missing my train to Hamburg) I am en route to Copenhagen. To celebrate my fairly cruddy day, I invested in some super-shiny on-train wireless internet.

Yes, I left Berlin today, albeit with a heavy heart. The city is truly vibrant, with a very different feel than the other Germany cities (or other central European cities, for that matter) that I visited. The look is different, of course, since so much of the city had to be rebuilt after the various wars/conflicts that it has hosted in the past century or so. But what really attracted me was the creativity that permeated so much of what I did. Some highlights:

*Art museum hopping-- from a great little place full to the brim with Picasso and Matisse to the Hamburger Hof (a redone train station), which features amazing modern art from Warhol to Nauman and also currently boasts a very interesting exhibition from three new artists who are competing for an annual prize

* Spending Wednesday night at the Wienerei, a cozy/funky cafe which hosts a weekly "wine night." You pay 1 euro entrance and a 1 euro deposit for your glass, then feel free to drink as much wine, champagne, juice, or whatnot as you like all night. There are lots of interesting people about (if you're lucky, lots of couchsurfers, too), a tasty buffet, and at the end you pay whatever you think is a fair amount

*Exploring the Turkish quarter, Kreuzberg, sometimes known as the third Turkish city outside Istanbul and Ankara. Went with my host to the Thursday market there, and the hawkers selling produce, material, gozleme, and doner made me nostalgic for July. Then met an interesting couchsurfer (writing her thesis on crime fiction in South Africa) for some amazing and quite-close-to-authentic tasting chai at a great cafe nearby-- which made me nostalgic for June

*Visiting the Memorial to Murdered Jews of Europe, an abstract sculpture made of hundreds of rock pillars that appear to be the same height but actually descend into a disorienting, sickening, sobering forest in the middle, was very affecting. The museum underneath it, detailing real people and real families obliterated in the genocide, made me both almost cry and almost vomit, neither of which I am moved to do easily. More about this in a later entry

*Celebrating! I didn't know this beforehand, but October 3 is Reunification Day, commemorating the reunification of East and West Germany. I was around for the festivities and managed to weasel my into a festival of food, drink, and great German bands. I did miss an art installation in which a troupe of puppeteers staged a reenactment of the fall of the Berlin wall using 10-meter high puppets, unfortunately.

*Exploring the remnants of East German culture, specifically the beautifully preserved murals on what's left of the wall and a fascinating sculpture gallery/studio complex/cafe cluster made from a building that had been left to urban blight during the 90s. What was once a filthy, graffiti-riddled hulk has become a beautiful, vibrant, graffiti-rich place for alternative artists to work and show the results. I wandered the warren of small home-made galleries constructed from pieces of scrap metal, storage containers, and old fences, and felt in awe of the art that can come from chaos.

*Visiting the weekly flea market in Mauer park, which was equally uplifting. It was a great flea market, in general, with lots of interesting crafts and intriguing junk, but what really caught my breath and my eye was the grassroots karaoke session which happens there every week in a small run-down ampitheater at one side of the park. At least 200 people gathered to drink beer and watch the proceedings. There was an ad hoc soundsystem wired through a couple of bicycles and a Mac laptop, and an Irish guy was MCing as a succession of Germans, Danes, and Norwegians worked their way through the likes of Elvis' "A Little Less Conversation," Janis Joplin's "Another Little Piece of My Heart," and the one and only "Sweet Transvestite." It was entirely unironic, despite the hipster clothing in evidence, just a lot of people with a cold, windy Sunday on their hands who weren't afraid to look silly and let loose.

Art, cafes, culture, markets, karaoke. And I'm told the rent is cheap and English teaching jobs are plentiful, if competitive. Just a few reasons I'll have to come back some day.

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