Though it is not as strikingly beautiful as other European cities I have seen, the historical context, youthful vibrancy, and raw energy of Berlin have me captivated. Much of the city had to be rebuilt after WWII, when 70% of it was completely destroyed. Many buildings are riddled with bullet holes, and monuments to the past have become seemingly effortlessly intertwined with the streets themselves. The air was alive with the smell of Berlin’s blossom season. Right now, it is enjoying a period of relative prosperity within the European Union and in the world. Energy is high and the population motivated and socially active. Berlin is the punk rock sister of Barcelona, the zeitgeist of youth culture.
I stayed in the Generator Hostel , a massive converted warehouse off of the Landsberger Alley stop. With a maximum capacity of near 800, the Generator has the feel of a college dorm. I find that with these larger hostels, it is more difficult to meet people. Not only is everybody more spread out, but it is more likely to have families and young children. This weekend, for example, four U-16 football teams took over a large sector of the building, the majority of the guests being the boys and their families. This means that I didn’t even have somebody to join me in the hostel beer garden, for which you need to be sixteen years old. I have learned that I prefer smaller, more personal hostels. The Generator’s price is appealing, but by paying a bit extra every night, the experience is improved tenfold. The East 7 hostel in Berlin is a perfect example of this—I went to visit my friends staying there so frequently that the staff believed me to be a guest there. The front desk is enormously helpful, the faculties are clean and new, there is a fantastic garden for socializing, and happy hour offers 1 euro beers. I suggest the Augustiner, it is one of Germany’s oldest beers, based in Munich in 1328. The small group atmosphere led to quicker bonding for happy hours, meals, and jumping on the common room furniture to No Doubt. It will never cease to be strange to me that the people you meet in these hostels or in bars are constantly entering and exiting your life like a small quick flame.
The first night, Saturday, we joined the 666 Anti-Pub Crawl leaving the East 7 hostel.. I was promptly stamped with a “Piss Off” on the wrist while two ladies with vibrantly dyed hair led us to a 60’s themed bar. And there began the abuse of the German favorite, Jagermeister. The Germans took it as a personal offense when I mentioned that it’s not my favorite. It was then doled out in the mortuary–like/vampire/hard rock bar next, where I felt out of uniform when the German Morticia Adams asked me in German what I’d like to drink. When I didn’t say blood, she looked a bit put off. It was more my speed when we went to an indie rock bar with a large dance floor and a penchant for the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Similarly to Spain, however, bars do not really get busy until after midnight, and our bar crawl had begun around 9 P.M. At the next location, we sampled absinthe shots and the whole group became very warm and friendly. Perfect timing before heading to one of the most perplexing and utterly awesome clubs I have ever been in. For one thing, it is underground. In order to enter, we had to get past an hour long line (aided by doner kebap) and then board a massive elevator including couches and potted plants in order to descend into the space. It had an infinite number of rooms with music and activities enticing to the intoxicated German youth. I now understand Berlin’s reputation. Techno, electronic, and house absolutely rocked the walls. In one room, a woman sat among a collection of fire extinguishers and performed her own poetry. Another had an elaborate keyboard machine attached to the sculpture of a moose where dilettantes could dabble with live music performance. Someone played MGMT’s “Kids” with an amazing arpeggiated edge. After walking through a labyrinth, partygoers found a room with a live band playing songs like “Buffalo Soldier” and “Bad Romance”. Around the corner, a few volunteers were painting any exposed skin they could reach, dumping glitter by the handfuls into the air. Others could relax in one of the parked cars that lined the walls (!?!?), the porch swings, or in one of the constructed forts. It is reminiscent of the halls of an art school, a twisted and darker version where there are no grades and everything is fun. Maybe it was the absinthe, but I wandered starry-eyed through the place for hours. Thus far Berlin rivals only Barcelona for my best nightlife experience.
The next day we explored Kreuzberg and its parks and cafes. This neighborhood appears to be in the midsts of shifting from an area for young & poor art students to a yuppie haven. And then passing time in Gorlitzer Park went very quickly–we meditated with a Yung Filipino Confuscius staying at our hostel before biking home.
The free walking tour offered by the East 7 Hostel among others was comprehensive and well-organized. We hit many major sites in Berlin on foot, including the wall that had divided Berlin until 1989, Checkpoint Charlie, the Brandenburg Gate, the Holocaust Memorial, Hitler’s Bunker, Museum Island, and the Reichstag. I staggered around the city in awe and disbelief, tracing the complicated and emotional development of Germany through the twentieth century.
The East Side Gallery was an amazing walk by night, an expansive row of politically and socially motivated messages about the state of Germany and relationships between people. The most common message, particularly potent in the previously bombed and ravaged sprawl, is that of peace. You can avoid most of the tourist traffic if you get to the river later in the day. On weekends, people crowd the factories, bars, and shore along the river to listen to electronic music and drink beer. Bring a marker so that you can add to the empty spaces along the wall. Amazing.
I have since weighed the pros and cons of living in a city like Berlin:
ART, BIKES, HISTORY, FASHION, AFFORDABLE RENT, ATTRACTIVE MEN, PROGRESSIVE YOUTH/LIBERAL SOCIAL IDEOLOGY, EXCELLENT IMPORTED CUISINE (DOLORES BURRITOS)
YOU DON’T KNOW GERMAN!, HARSH WINTERS, AVERAGE/SUB-PAR LOCAL CUISINE (WHAT IS CURRY-WORST?)
I have a feeling that there is no place like Berlin in the summertime.