Berlin Diary

Following are notes from my recent trip to Central Europe. I typed them up from a little book I kept in a pocket.

7/20/10 – h

In Berlin. Delirious with jet-lag and thrilled to be here.

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The scale of Berlin is infinitely appealing. Five story high standard buildings everywhere with a multitude of variations, from moldings and ornaments to striking colors and fresh takes on common elements like the balcony rail, the doorway, the rain gutter.

Berlin is in a state of beautiful decay and vigorous reinvention.

The subway is stunning: old and dirty and graceful, a graffiti-spattered underground cathedral, smelling like something dark, like trains and coal and steel and tunnels. People, not cars, come first on the streets.

In Kreutzberg, Turkish food beckons, bars, towering apartment blocks. Berlin is in a state of beautiful decay and vigorous reinvention, the decay not decay but age and weather and the way other things have been built around the old. Young and old fill the streets, sidewalk tables everywhere, people talking, smoking. Even on a weeknight, everyone’s out, sitting, walking, biking. On a scaffold in Kreutzberg, someone has set up a sun-chair and hammock outside their 4th-floor window.

7/22/10 – h

Rosenthaler Platz subway station has orange tile. Some random graffiti says “Lina Rulez.” Names and initials sprayed on the stairs. A girl with wild teased platinum hair has scizzors tattooed on her arm. At Brunnestrasse and Torstrasse we eat doner wraps – delicious meat cut from a spit, with cabbage and tangy sauce, and cappucinos from a neighboring cafe. Doner refers to the meat – sheared from a spit – and there are two types of wrapping, a flatbread or a thin, tortilla-like roll “durum.” The three sauces are herb, garlic, and spicy, and it usually comes with lettuce, onion, tomato, and cabbage.

We’re sitting at a main intersection. Torstrasse is a main artery, it runs along the path of an old city wall. Berlin has, according to Yukio, just one car for every 3 residents. It’s the lowest rate in Germany.

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A banner reads: No spring for Nazis, not here, not anywhere.

All along Kastanienallee in Prentzlauerberg there are trendy shops and boutiques. A record shop selling vintage LPs of mostly American music, some classic R&B blasting from speakers outside and inside the shop, and sections for Krautrock and German pop. At a thrift store, I look for some artifact of Berlin life in the t-shirt section, something from a local soccer team or firemen’s fundraiser, the kind of stuff you find in U.S. thrifts. Here I only find t-shirts in English, promoting California surfing or Beverly Hills tennis.

There are hostels, cafes, Italian restaurants, ice cream, “Sumo Sushi.” A banner reads “Kein Truhling Tur Nazis! Hier Nicht und Nirgens” – No spring for Nazis, not here, not anywhere. Next door in an occupied building in a state of gorgeous decay, an installation of letters on the facade reads:

From Kastanienallee we walk to meet up with Chris, Yukio’s colleague at Ableton. Chris is from the UK. We go to Mauer Park with beers, and sit and drink and talk. The sky is huge above the open space, strong clouds gathered in the warm light of late evening in the late light of summer.

An ultramodern sports complex at its edge, next to a graffitti wall and paint-mottled amphitheater, the park is an expanse of scrubby yellow grass and sand, peppered with loungers, drinkers, couples and families. Beyond the park, the line of pastel-shaded “Grunderzeit” (founder’s era) buildings frames the park in Berlin.

After Mauer Park, we got to W, back on Kastanienallee. W is a strange place, serving “naan pizza” with Tiki-themed decor, and toppings that defy any regional characterization. It’s owned by an expat American. I got the “Jewish Naan” with capers, salmon and cheese. It was delicious.

After our first few days in Berlin, Aurora and I went on to Prague. More notes coming on that.

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