I'm not sure if it's the valium like natural supplement (l-theanine) I took about 30 minutes ago or talking to my mom but I feel a bit better. I took the supplement because I have been feeling a bit down today. It comes with the territory for starting to get a bit sick. Usually sleep, tea and talking to my mom helps makes me feel a little better.
I promised her I'd write a blog about Berlin because it's well past due by about a week. Truth is I guess I am a bit sad to write about Berlin because I really loved the city and could see myself living there one day. I know I said this about Amsterdam too. Maybe I'm meant to live in Europe... or maybe I am just really good at loving where I am. I didn't write odes to Frankfurt though! Maybe writing about Berlin kind of makes me feel like the adventures there are finalized and done. I know they are (for now) but I also know I can always go back.
To really recreate Berlin's experience it needs to be written into a few entries. I'll start with the non-traditional alternative side and move into the normal walking tour, history and all the history the city holds. Learning about the culture was my favorite part of the trip though and while I enjoyed hearing the history and seeing monuments and important sites it isn't the same.
Berlin has been a city full of artistic and creative people who have been bursting at the seams since the wall fell. I suppose years of having a country, city and people divided can do that to you. When you're repressed and finally free the desire to express yourself is huge and Berlin has a rich culture of artists of all kinds.
I went on the alternative Berlin tour which focused on the sub-cultures, squats, street art, grafitti, abandoned buildings, and bizarre clubs. We started out at the central post office which I wished I could have captured better in a picture, it was massive!
We walked down Oranienburger Strasse (located in Berlin-Mitte) to a place called Tacheles.
It's a large abandoned building with a backyard full of metal art sculptures, paintings, street art and many artists. In the 1930's the building was used by Nazi party members as an office building and later to hold French war prisoners in the attic. During the war the building was moderately damaged by bombs as well as the basement was flooded by the Nazi's.
During the GDR the building was pretty much abandoned. A few retailers, artist and technical schools moved into the building but all left as the building wasn't in great shape and under the care of the Free German Trade Union Federation it wasn't really getting any care. Conditions were worsening and no one was fixing the place up so it continued to fall apart. The building was planned for demolition in the 70's and then the 80's but money and other significant historical happenings kept the focal point off Tacheles. In 1990 a few months before the building was finally slated for demolition a group of artists moved into the space and it became their gallery and studio space. They began to fix up the building and had it surveyed for structural integrity... it passed and even was named a historical landmark.
Throughout the years this building has represented expression and freedom for Berlin. It has been the center of activism and communication as well as an alternative night club. The artist who live there are essentially squatters as they do not pay rent to anyone. The city has had many discussions on what to do with the building and they would love to turn it into a 5 star hotel or something else as fancy but Berlin does not have the money for it yet. One day I'm sure they will succeed and "clean up" this space but for now it remains in the artists hands.
You walk through the archway and into the back courtyard to the entrance. As you step in the smell of urine burns your nostils and you feel as if maybe you were sent into the wrong place. The stairwell is dark and littered with trash and dirty looking grafitti.
But as you continue on you the smell passes and the bright graffiti turns to art. You come to the landing on one of the floors and peer down into artist studios and start to really see what this place is all about.
The attic now is a huge amazing studio. Out of respect I didn't take any pictures of the artwork anyone was selling but it was bold, creative and pretty awesome. From the attic you can look out over Berlin or over the courtyard:
Down in the courtyard you can buy drinks (alcoholic or non), food or some artwork. Most of the artists are friendly and don't seem to mind visitors although they do appreciate a euro or so to look around.
The courtyard entrance:
Other pictures of the courtyard:
Here are a few pictures of the outside of the building. Art is everywhere:
I think after you learn more about the history of a building and see who lives there now and really appreciates the space it would be difficult to want to tear it down or paint over the art. It's funny because back home you can see buildings similar to this and classify them as slums and wish they didn't exist. Sure, here it's still considered a squat but you feel hard pressed to think about backing the movement to make these people leave. Maybe it's because Europe is more romantic and endearing in our minds. Maybe it's because Berlin has experienced so much throughout the years that we feel that these artists and activists deserve a place they can comfortably express their thoughts in. Or maybe it's because without this type of creative sub-culture in any city the place can really get boring. I'm not really sure but I do know I'm glad to have gotten to see this place and hope that when I return to Berlin it still is the same (type of) place I saw a week ago.