Back from Berlin...


By Mirissa Neff

In the midst of excursions to NYC, Reykjavik and Paris I spent last week in Berlin... here are some posts from the experience:

Generally Berlin reminds me a lot of SF/Oakland... the thrift-store aesthetic, the experimental vibe, people are very willing to go out on artistic limbs here. The city is quite sprawling and real estate is cheap... e.g., anyone with a creative idea can afford to set up a storefront. This doesn't mean that they will be successful... things seems to be in constant renewal. If a project doesn't work out people here seem fine with picking up and starting from scratch with something else. Perhaps that attitude has historical roots... the wall coming down, etc? Hmmmm....

Last night we went to an underground party where my host's friend Manuel was spinning. The party was very literally under ground... once we paid our $4 admission to a burly Austrian who was listening to honky tonk music on a transistor, we descended into the party via a shakey ladder propped up in a hole in the cement. The subterranean scene was very cool... tunnels full of brick arches with stalagtites hanging down, projections, art installations, a dj and a makeshift bar only serving beer, vodka (no mixers) and water. We grabbed a couple of Berliner beers and sat down to hear Manuel's super eclectic set... he played everything from German soccer anthems to the Aryan equivalent of Frank Zappa.

The King Kong Klub during a quiet moment...

Manuel was leaving to spin elsewhere and we followed. We ended up at the King Kong Klub... a bar saturated with red walls, hipsters and King Kong imagery. The scene had a full cast of characters...

From the old guy passed out in the corner (who soon jumped up and was dancing like mad), to the pirate-esque dude with a skull bandana on his head, tight black leather pants and a conservative looking blonde on his lap, to Manuel's uber-blonde Finnish artist girlfriend dressed completely in white with a huge set of spectacles. We danced there until 2:30 and left only once our clothes positively reeked smoke.

Last night we went to a cool retro chic bar close to Rosenthaler Platz... in fact I feel like much of Berlin is really successful with the whole concept of retro. The whole communist thing is very hip. Anyhow the first act was a very entertaining Aussie singer-songwriter named Tim McMillan. Next up was a 22 year-old French-American woman named Ava whom we had gone to see. She sang songs she had recently written and was accompanied by pre-recorded tracks... simultaneously she mimed playing a cardboard guitar, stand-up bass, and piano. Quite honestly I hated it... I found her talentless and cutesy... but her performance prompted an interesting discussion about the state of art in Berlin and the Dada-esque nature of much of the work being done here.

Dada or dud? You decide.

Today I wandered back into Mitte to check out the shops. Lots of creative clothes... like I said if someone has an idea here they can set up a storefront easily. Much of the stuff I found wasn't super
practical though and in light of SF's layering needs I didn't buy anything.

As we walked back to the flat from dinner last night we came across a free reggae/dub party happening in a dilapidated East Berlin railyard warehouse... as soon as we walked in I said, "Oh so this is where the 5 black Berliners hang out." They do exist, few and far between, but there are a few brown people sprinkled throughout Berlin. This party however was much more densely populated by rastas of the blonde variety... a sub-species not unfamiliar to those of us in SF. We left soon after and walked the length of the East Side Gallery [a preserved section of the wall] on our way back to the flat.

Okay, the gallery is across the street from
the police station... but a blasphemy citation?

Remember the eclectic dj we went to see the other night... Manuel? He jointly owns a gallery called Foto Shop around the corner from King Kong Klub. It's not really a gallery for profit, just for expression... the front window installation currently features a skeleton in a papal outfit, a cross, some dynamite and a book open to a reference to the Borgias (a.k.a. Italy's first crime family, which happened to include a couple of popes). We just found out that the gallery received a citation for blasphemy. [Later we walked by the gallery to find the papal piece still installed along with a graffiti addition underneath... "Vive la bourgeoisie!" A comment on the citation...]

We spent the morning walking down Friedrichstrasse and over to Potsdamer Platz. We walked into the Holocaust Memorial, past buildings still scarred by WWII bulletholes, checked out a structure we're pretty sure was linked somehow to Hitler's bunker... it wasn't marked (Nazi artifacts aren't in vogue here), but the lot was for sale. We also witnessed the construction of the new American embassy... complete with 2 foot thick concrete walls and surrounded by steel/concrete car-bomb prevention poles.

Mmmmmm... meat.

We went back into Mitte and then hopped on a streetcar... went past several plattenbaus (communist-era tenements) and hopped off at Karl Marx Allee to grab some food and a beer.