The Final Walk: Prenzlauerberg to Beusselstraße, Tegel airport

August 25, 2016 § 2 Comments

No, I didn’t walk all the way from Prenzlauerberg to the airport. Actually, I could have- it’s only just under ten kilometers, but I was battling a time constraint.

Still, there was plenty to see on the way to Beusselstraße- and why Beusselstrasße? The simple answer for that comes shortly.

For those unlucky souls yet to visit Europe, most of its capitals have a ‘ring’- some kind of a visible border around the city that separates the old town from the newer developments.

Berlin is no different. Where it differs is in what lies beyond.

The destruction of second world war bombing and eventual separation left giant craters- and they’re only now getting filled. To walk outside the ring is to see little of past nor future but only the confused present, such as this view as I crossed the river:

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The cranes are the portent. In ten years apartment buildings, lofts, maybe offices will line the river in this part of the city. It’ll be pleasant- but not as stimulating.

A little further along the river, I took a trip down memory lane when passing the Ausländerbehörde:

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The building may not look like much, but it carries tremulous significance for many of its visitors.

It’s one of the processing stations for emigrés to Berlin.

Emigré is such a dashing, glamorous word. Another term that’s used more often for many of the people that visit this building is refugee.

When my wife and I first arrived in Berlin, we showed up there so that she could file a petition for residency on my behalf. This was before millions of Syrians began fleeing their country. The building was relatively quiet.

Six months later, coming back to finalize the petition, the world had changed. The place was beyond hectic.

Although it wasn’t a pleasant experience to be there, the joint now makes me feel one dominant sensation: lucky. Our residency was never in doubt. We move on with our lives. No battle to fight, unlike the thousands showing up there daily, adrift in an ocean of uncertainty.

 

Onto Beusselstrasße. Specifically the ringbahn (above-ground train that circles the old city). Why?

There’s a bus stop there. It’s going to take me to Tegel airport.

Nope, no direct train to the airport. That will come with the new joint opening up next year.

Berlin may have grown as an international destination, but its primary airport, Tegel, is the stuff of provincial irrelevance.

Below is the main shopping and restaurant area, the jewel in Tegel’s crown:

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Now I’m not one to spend hours in chic clothing stores or having four-course meals while waiting for a flight, but can we all agree that 2016 Berlin can do better than this?

And it will. In the meantime, one can enjoy the old-fashioned sensation of having gates right at the entrance to the airport- it evokes a time when one could ‘catch’ a flight in much the same way one traveled by bus. Both means of transport had a terminal, and the only experiential difference was how quickly passengers got to where it said on the ticket.

A little more complicated now, yet it still feels easy at Tegel. But I want more! I want a glitzy, modern, glittering metropolis of an airport, one that noisily affirms my decision to move here. I’m gagging for it to open so I can say to the world I told you so! I told you Berlin’s time would come! Look at our new airport! It’s so…… so…. 

It’ll be a nice airport. Just like those apartment buildings along the river will be nice.

The refugees have more important things to worry about.

 

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Walk XIV: Friedrichshain Volkspark

August 24, 2016 § 1 Comment

I like that, post-commie, they still call it the people’s park.

Not sure who else the park would be for, but its nice to see acknowledgment that free public spaces are important.

One of the pics below has a stimulating image: skaters hanging out on the old East German monument. Post-unification, it must have been tempting to destroy all the communist tributes, yet their presence adds a fascinatingly odd nuance to the city.

Berlin still can have a rough feel. One day last year, jogging through the park, I took a detour along a dirt trail and happened onto a meth-addict union meeting. There were tents, an open fire, music and enough gaunt, jagged-edged drug zombies to storm the Reichstag.

I kept on jogging.

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Another curious future beyond communist statues and meth addicts is the abundance of beach volleyball fields (courts? what does one call a beach volleyball… playing area?).

Beachy isn’t an adjective that pours forth when I think of Berlin. Maybe that’s why the fields are there: people are desperate to feel sand beneath their feet and frolic. As far as I know, one needs either an open field or a beach to frolic.

Just outside the park is a field of wild flowers. During a walk with my dog, I had the delight of watching a young family wander among them, picking themselves the freshest of bouquets.

Isn’t that Berlin? A meth addict in one moment, an idyllic scene of innocence the next.

As I’ve said many times, you can say what you want about this place- but it’s never boring.

Walk XIII: Kapitalist Café

August 23, 2016 § 2 Comments

This one’s a bit of a cheat. Not really a real walk- I stuck in the neighbourhood but I thought this café, or at least its facade, was worth discussing.

I’m not sure how long Kapitalist café on Oderberger Straße has been in existence; I could easily find out online, but what fun is that? All I know is that in the google streetview shot below, taken in 2008, it ain’t there.

Screen Shot 2016-08-23 at 9.43.48 PM.jpgIt now occupies the same space as the café seen here on the left (I’d love to know the story of the guy sitting on the stoop).

Jump forward to 2016 and this building is now covered in scaffolding. They’re renovating its frontage.

One of the fascinating aspects of taking in the apartment buildings in the former East Berlin is seeing the occasional survivor from the communist period. It’s common to see a street lined with lovely, renovated buildings. Here you are, strolling along, looking at all these civilized, face-painted ladies and then…. it’s an old Eastern frau, sitting in amongst them, hair unkempt, face gloriously absent any macquillage, insolently smoking a cigarette and staring at you.

Berlin is without doubt the only major European capital boasting this feature.

And it is a feature. Of course one can’t stop developers improving their buildings, especially if it means being able to raise rent and attract more wealthy outsiders. It’s hard to accept that in ten years, none of these kind of apartment buildings will be left.

But I have a hope for Kapitalist. Yes, they’re redoing everything above it but is it possible, please, to leave the ground floor as it is? How cool would that be, to have a beautifully done building on floors 1 up and a café from the old East on the ground?

It also fits the theme of the place, being a throwback-style joint. I’m sure the café owners who rent the space are screaming to leave it as it is.

It probably won’t happen. And the worst part? The further away we travel in time from 1989, the less appealing buildings like this will be to visitors and newcomers. They’ll just think they’re ugly.

Faded glory can be poignant. What do we do with inglorious times that fade?

For the moment at least, Berlin still has the odd tough lady, stimulating us with her reminders of a hard past.

Walk XII: Treptower Park

August 22, 2016 § 1 Comment

It’s not every day that one can say, “that’s one of the most remarkable things I’ve ever seen.”

Well, after almost eighteen months in Berlin and finally getting around to visiting Treptower Park and its magnificent, imposing, bleak Soviet memorial, I’m sayin’ it.

If you want a visceral demonstration of what it means to use archetypal imagery to communicate an idea, this fits the bill.

The statue says it all: the hero, child in arms, over-sized sword in hand, standing atop the vanquished, broken swastika.

Sure, the beaten German public were substituting one totalitarian regime for another, but let’s disregard trivialities.

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I’m amazed by the idea that a group of people got together and designed this place. It’s put together cinematically: one moment leading inexorably to the next, the eyes being led point by point to the denouement. 

My brother told me to close my eyes to gain maximum impact. He gave me a gift; I was treated to the visual story in what must have been the way the designers wanted it.

I begin by beholding the gate, consisting of two monuments adorned with the Soviet hammer and sickle. Each edifice has a kneeled Soviet soldier at its base, epitomizing honour and devotion to a divine cause.

My eyes then move to the expanse beyond, a rectangular space featuring sculpted stone images of grateful Germans greeting their Russian saviours. It’s really a stone pantheon, an outdoor hall of immortals.

We walked down the wide paths until we arrive at the climactic structure: the statue.

Whatever one thinks of war, patriarchy, the ethos of the civilization being lionized in this memorial, one can’t deny the magnificence and power of the artistic work on display.

Added to this was a storm that blew through as my brother and I took it all in. This was perfect; my wife Victoria often says that she when thinks of the East, of the communist bloc, she’s unable to visualize sunlight. I’m with her: it must always have been overcast in post-war Eastern Europe.

I felt uneasy at Treptower Park. It was an echo of how I often felt in our first year in Berlin: that I was a long way from comfort, warmth and a smile. I’ve learnt that we must view those uncomfortable moments as opportunities to settle into the feeling and be at peace with it.

Any venture worth the time brings its share of cloud, rain and cold winds. We need only trust that we’re on a path and, unlike Victoria’s and my imaginary Eastern Europe, sunlight inevitably returns.

 

 

 

Walk XI: Potsdamer Platz

August 21, 2016 § 1 Comment

In the early days of our time here in Berlin, my wife Victoria and I would experience a mild relief upon arrival at Potsdamer Platz.

It’s one of those places in Berlin that has combined a European feel with an aesthetic that is immutably, unashamedly modern. 

That doesn’t always happen in Berlin. Grunge? Yes. Urban? Yuh. Some classic elements? For sure. Soviet-style horror shows? Check.

Sometimes I miss the cool, modern feel that one finds in Stockholm. Trendy, new Europe.

There’s a “viewing platform” that, at first glance, seemed absolutely pathetic to me. Maybe four meters off the ground, it appeared pointless. But the view illuminated the line that traces from the Brandenburg Gate, visible in the distance. It has become an impressive boulevard that stands with any in Europe for its mix of history and modernity.

Below is the old viewing platform, looking out onto the old Potsdamer Platz.

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For those of you who haven’t seen the new joint, it’s come up a bit.

 

Walk X: Lychenerstraße

August 20, 2016 § 1 Comment

The title of this piece is misleading. A misnomer.

A lie.

There was no walk, not really. Yes, technically I did walk to Lychenerstraße, but it wasn’t a stroll for its own sake, which is really what these stories are supposed to be about.

My reason for visiting Lychenerstrasße is unimportant. The fact is, I went there, so let’s talk about it.

Better yet, here’s a google streetview of it:

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Just another neighbourhood street, although I like that the local council took the trouble to paint the name of the street on the cobblestones.

I googled Lychenerstrasße to see if there was anything remotely interesting about it. Looked at both the ‘all’ and ‘news’ categories.

Nothin’.

Sometimes a street is just a street.

Walk IX: Rosa Luxembourg Platz

August 20, 2016 § 1 Comment

I love Art Deco.

Berlin is not known for its profuse Art Deco design, but  Rosa- Luxembourg- Platz is a curiously lovely little island for it, close to the architectural horror show that is Alexanderplatz.

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How did it happen that this tiny area is suffused with this flavour? Did some people come to an agreement? Was the Art Deco cinema first, or the two apartment blocks with the Art Deco terraces?

Across the why, we have the Volksbühne (people’s stage). I’d like to be able to say this is another Art Deco job, but… it went another way. The word begins with ‘n’ and rhymes with ‘Yahtzee’.

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That’s all I’ve got.

 

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