Saturday, January 24, 2009


About a week ago, I got back from spending three weeks in Berlin. I am not sure how I can sum up everything that happened in Germany—it was absolutely amazing. I’m going to do this post a little different than normal, because it will cover more than usual. I was lucky to find recommendations from a lot of diverse places:
The New York Times: 36 Hours in Berlin,
the punks at the squats,
English ex-pats,
The Guardian: Instant Weekend, etc.

City & Apartment
In general, it was pretty easy to assimilate in a city where I spoke about 5 words of the native language. Over the first couple days, I kept hearing, ‘Everyone in Berlin speaks English,’ but kept running into people who obviously did not. However, I made it over some pretty tall hurdles: got a phone card, phone charger and power cord for my computer. My apartment was in between the Mitte and Prenzlauer Berg—it’d be tough to find a better location. Once I realized I was in a fairly young area, I realized a lot of the locals actually do speak English. I rented a 1 bedroom spot, hoping visitors would pitch in on rent. It worked out fairly well. Besides Prenzlauer Burg, the other cool parts of the city I often found myself wandering were Friedrichshain & Kreuzberg. All of this is East Berlin, but I did spend a couple days checking out West Berlin too.
The apartment itself was pretty cool: the bed was a futon and the shower was shit, but it had a nice kitchen and the central location made a pretty good spot for late night hang outs. And, after 3 weeks and a total of 15 different people staying there, I got my full deposit back—breaking only a potted plant. Oh, it also had a washing machine, which quickly made it clear that even with just a messenger bag, I had overpacked. Photo 2 3
Wikipedia: Mitte; Prenzlauer Berg; Friedrichshain; Kreuzberg

I am a sucker for good public transportation; Berlin’s was rad—dependable and always on time. The U-Bahn is primarily an underground subway system, that complements the above-ground, regional S-Bahn system. I rode both quite a bit.
I only took a taxi twice in Berlin, and didn’t really pay attention. Sorry.
Photo 2 3 4


Every time someone new showed up in town, they wanted to go see the sites—I finally got tired of going to them and just started handing people a map, marking where to go. Obviously, Berlin has a ton of history; sadly, I know little of it. Often times, I was taking pictures of buildings, only to look up what they were later. Click the name of the site to go to the website or Wikipedia entry. Here are just a few that I thought were cool:
Guggenheim Berlin--Anish Kapoor had an exhibit in Berlin. This is the same guy who did the Bean in Chicago. I liked this show far better than the Bean; very remarkable. Photo
Brandenburg Tor--the main plaza in the city. This is where I spent New Year’s. Photo
Holocaust Memorial--I was actually surprised with how cool this was; an entire city block, turned into a giant maze of pillars and icy pathways. Photo
Neue Synagogue--this was right by my house. There were always polizei outside, guarding it. Ironically, this is on the street where all the prostitutes hang out. Photo
Pottsdamer Platz--this plaza used to be the center of the city, but was bombed really hard during the war. Recently, the city put a lot of money into rebuilding it as the urban center of the city. Renzo Piano was one of the lead architects on the project and has a few buildings there. All types of things go on here: winter activities, markets, an exhibit on the wall, etc. Photo 2 3 4 5 6 Video
Olympic Stadium--I met an English guy who said to check it out, because it epitomizes Nazi architecture. Yeah, he was right. Photo 2 3 4
Berlin Wall Memorial--this was really uneventful. Or, maybe I just went to the wrong part. Snooze cruise. Photo
Le Corbusier’s Corbusierhaus/Unidad Habitacional— this may have been one of my favorite sites in Berlin. Corbu designed this housing structure to alleviate postwar housing problems. He described the apartments like ‘bottles into a wine rack.’ Photo 2
Friedrichshain market—this is a weekly market: fruits and vegetables on Saturday, flea market on Sunday. Photo
Bauhaus ArchivPhoto 2
Berliner Dom-- Photo 2
Altes Museum--Photo


Berlin was rad, but it wouldn’t have been as good if so many people didn’t come through. Or, if I hadn’t met so many people.
Monica--I’ve known Monica for about six years, but haven’t seen her in over three. She used to live in Austin, but moved to Colorado—she and her boyfriend lived a mile from my parents’ house, saving me during the holidays. Photo
Andrej and Caroline--Polish couple that I met on New Year’s Eve. Andrej is a bike messenger, traveling from Warsaw and had nowhere to stay—I had no problem trading my house for a couple of beers. Photo 2 3
Julia and Tim--Julia and Tim live in London, but I used to live with Julia in Chicago. I always have a ton of fun with Julia, so it was great to have them visit. Photo 2 3 4
Olaf--I met Olaf in 1997 when he was an exchange student in Texas. We used to skateboard and go to punk rock shows together. The last time I saw him was during his visit to Texas in 2001. While in Berlin, he brought me out with his friends and took me over to his cousin’s place to hang out. Photo 2 3
Craig—this is one of my best friends in England; he’s always up for a good time, but doesn’t mind going out to wander the city on his own. Photo 2 3
3 UK girls and 1 Swedish guy—their names were Lauren, LeeAnn, Louise and Sebastian. I’m not really sure which was which, but they crashed at the house one night. I think they’re studying abroad in Spain right now. Photo 2 3 4
Olga and Nathan—my friend Nick in Austin knew Olga from weed farming in California. One night, Craig, Noah and I went out with her and her boyfriend, Nathan. Photo 2
Noah—Noah was a Swiss exchange student to Austin in 2001. I forgot about a lot of the crazy shit we did together back then, but we picked up where we left off. Noah’s one of those people that no matter what you’re doing, it’s a lot more fun because he’s around. Photo 2 3 4 5 6
Amanda—Klein High School reunion. Amanda went to high school with me and is staying in Germany for a few months. Last time I saw her was when I walked into a San Francisco bar in 2004 and she happened to be bartending. Photo 2
Julia—one of the most fun people I’ve met in a long time. Imagine hanging out with a 21 year old Deborah Harry, only cooler. She’s an old friend of Noah’s—her hostel sucked, so she found a mattress and camped on the floor. Photo 2 3 4

After spending the last 4 months in England, I welcomed a new variety of food. I tend to eat a lot of vegetarian stuff when I travel—don’t judge.
Sausages & Currywursts--they're everywhere, either little huts on the side of the street or currywurst street vendors. Photo 2 3 4
--in general, the bakeries in Berlin are wicked; even though I had no idea what I was ordering, everything always turned out awesome. Photo
Weisswurst—so, Monica and I were waiting for Olaf to get into town and decided to wait at the traditional German restaurant in the train station and ordered whatever looked "German." Olaf walked up and started laughing, saying that even he had never had what we were eating. Veal sausage, traditionally eaten for breakfast in Bavaria. Whatever—it was really good. Photo
Kauf dich glücklich--this place was amazing; it’s a waffle & ice cream shop. The Guardian recommended their waffles and mulled-wine; both were great. I went here a couple times. Photo 2 3
Sushi--I only made it to one sushi place in Berlin; equally as bad as in the UK. Photo
Tiki Heart-- I think I found this place when looking up vegetarian spots in Berlin; but, they sell a variety of things. I had a burger and went back for a four-course vegetarian meal. Oh, and an awful Bloody Mary. Photo 2 3
Café Morgonroth--probably my favorite restaurant in Berlin. It was only a few blocks from my house, served a huge, amazing veggie/vegan buffet until 3pm in the afternoon and let you decide what you wanted to pay (4-8 euros). I don’t know how many times I went here, but each time, it was awesome. Photo
Que pasa?--How do you say no to Mexican food in Germany? Pros: The pina coladas flow like water. Cons: Have you ever had California Dip? Here’s a hint: it’s sour cream. Photo
St. Oberholz Café- the food at this place was great, but they always made me feel like an asshole for not speaking German. Photo 2
Traube--by far, the nicest meal I went for in Berlin (or in the past 4 months). I made nice with the owner, who kept us around for free shots of grappa. Photo 2
Oderquelle--I met the chef of this restaurant while out on a Saturday night, and he invited us to come out for dinner the next night. Kind of a weird dude, but he was really into Black Flag. Photo
Haxe--this is a pretty traditional German dish; roasted pork knuckle, sauerkraut and potatos. This place made its own beer too. Photo
Rogaki--Alright, I heard about this place from Anthony Bordain. He said, ‘If there is a heaven, it’s catered by Rogaki.’ I’m not sure if I’d go that far, but it was a pretty epic food market. I ate the same thing Bordain ate: Blut und Leberwurst, “blood and liver sausage.” I also bought some cheese here; wicked place. Photo 2 3 4 5 6 7
Monsieur Vuong—Monica recommended this place, because it was close by and delicious. I don’t know why I keep doing it: I hate most Asian beers, but still order them at restaurants. At least the food was good. Photo 2 3
Yellow Sunshine—this place calls itself veggie fast-food. Pretty good. Photo
Yoyo Foodworld—also, veggie fast-food… but, better. Photo
Chinese buffet/Hotel—no, that’s NOT your brain playing tricks on you. And, no, that’s not some German colloquialism where they call a bar a hotel (as they do in England). This is ACTUALLY a Chinese buffet that is also a hotel. Dear God, it’s me, Ben. Thank you. Photo 2
Swiss Cheese—When Noah showed up, he brought some cheese, directly from Switzerland. What an ace. Photo
Pizza--Oh, and one night, at 5am, Noah wandered home with a bunch of beer and a huge pizza. Photo
Homemade meals—Before leaving town, Monica made a big breakfast. Then, my last night in town, Noah and Julia grocery shopped and made a huge meal for everyone. It was nice to relax and kicked off a pretty wild night. Photo 2 3

The punk scene in Berlin is probably the best in the world. ‘nuff said. There’s a monthly publication called StressFaktor that lists all the different events going on around the city. It’s in German, but some bits were in English. So, a while back, the government made squats illegal—punks can no longer take over abandoned buildings and make them into their own homes. But, the government did allow them to buy the often-beat-up buildings for a decent price, so a lot of collectives were formed.
Subversiv--luckily, I found this place on my first night in town. It is a squat in my neighborhood and one of the biggest in Berlin. I saw 2 shows here; however, they do all types of shit here: printing press, screen printing machines, rally meeting space, bar, movie screenings, venue and housing space. Photo 2 3
Kopi--this is an infamous squat that I was really stoked to see. When you walk into it, you feel like you’re seeing something that won’t exist 10 years from now. I heard Berlin described as New York in the 80’s—this place epitomizes that statement. Photo 2 3
Treptow Squat—I stumbled on this place through StressFaktor. It’s an offset squat, made up of bricolage buildings and train cars. One night, they had a Christmas tree burning, inviting people from the surrounding neighborhood—a lot of people, their kids and their dogs; hanging out, drinking mulled wine. Photo 2 3 4

Beer, Bars & Clubs

If you like to drink beer, I don’t know a better place than Berlin. 500ml bottled os 5.2% beer for 80cents. Oh, and you can buy beer whenever and drink it wherever.
Sternburg Export-- I tried a lot of different German beers, but probably drank Sternburg Export the most. It’s the PBR of Berlin—they serve it all the squats because it’s really cheap.
Berliner Weiss--this is one of those things that people say ‘Oh, you must have this when in Berlin,’ but then you realize that no one in Berlin actually drinks this. It’s beer with syrup in it. Photo
Towers of Beer—apparently, these are pretty common. I worked on a couple of them. Photo 2 Video
Recycling—you get 8cents back on every bottle. Cha-ching! Photo
Bars in Berlin are open until the customers leave; it’s not uncommon for them to stay open until 9am in the morning. I went into quite a few, but here were a couple that were worth mentioning:
Lokal--I found this place on my first night in town; mainly because it was 1 block away from my house. Ten of the guys from Subversiv organized a collective to start this bar. I got in pretty good with a couple of the bartenders, who always had suggestions of stuff to see. Also, they had a pretty great foosball table here. Photo 2 3 4
Bar 23--Olaf’s friends were really into this place. We went to this place twice in the same night—leaving for a snowball fight. Photo 2
Druide—there were a couple absinthe spots around the house; I went to two, but concluded that shit is bogus. Photo Video
Radisson—kinda lame to go to a hotel bar while on vacation… unless it has a 7 story aquarium in the middle of it. Photo
White Trash Fast Food--I have to admit, I only went to this place because their advertisements had Iggy Pop and Deborah Harry on it. I stopped in for a drink, and then came back a week later for a DJ set. I think Craig put up a high score on their pinball machine, which kept giving us free plays. Photo 2
Badeschiff—I don’t even know how to describe this place. It was recommended by a lot of people, but I had no idea what to expect. In the summer it’s a swimming pool (with a bar) that floats in the middle of the river. In the winter, it’s three covered river barges: one with a bar; one with a sauna, showers and footbaths; the last with a swimming pool where you can swim under a curtain and into the (freezing) open air with a view of the city. Places like this are not supposed to exist. Photo
Watergate—you know when you go into a place that you would normally never go, and it turns out to be really fucking cool? Well, this is one of those places. You can’t take pictures here.

New Year’s Eve
Subversiv--a lot of the punks were going for an annual demonstration at Moabit prison, and met here for dinner before the march. Big vegan plates for 2 euros.
Bradenburg Tor-- A million people, loads of fireworks, drinking champagne in the streets. Do the math. The city was destroyed. Photo 2

I normally wouldn’t go too much in to this, but the graffiti in Berlin is pretty overwhelming. There are a few writer shops around town and the city is absolutely crushed. I was surprised at home many North American writers I saw around the city. Photo 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9

Especially compared to England, Berlin has a huge bike culture—good shops and some nice people.
Keirin Café—this is a pretty amazing shop in Friedrichstrain. It specializes in track bikes, and the mechanics were all super nice. Photo 2 3
Cicli Berliner—the guys at Keirin Café mentioned this place as another must see store. The owner is Canadian and specializes in steel road or track bikes. Photo 2
Ice Bike—the owner of Cicli Berliner invited me out to an event he was putting on. There was a figure 8 track set up in the middle of a frozen lake, a bunch of people drinking mulled wine and a bunch of modified bikes. Photo 2 3 4

1 comment:

antonella said...

amazing post. i should have visited.

oh, just wondering - did you see Fucked Up there because I could have sworn I saw Damian the singer in the crowd shot. please confirm.