BERLIN | CANDID TYPE
I knew I would like Berlin. Its past lives intrigue me. The historical 20th century rollercoaster has had a huge influence on residential attitudes, allowing them to give off a unique blend of "live and let live" but also "don't f--k with me" vibes. The former being one of my favorite types of vibes, the latter being one I fearfully respect with a tinge of envy.
Let us now take a ride on the rollercoaster: In the 1920's Berlin was the epicenter of German Expressionism and was everything stereotypical of the Roaring 20's (anyone else watch Babylon Berlin?). A few decades later, Hitler imagined it as a Nazi Utopia called Germania (really cool podcast about that here). During WWII, an estimated 80% of the city was destroyed. Post WWII, the city was divided into four zones of occupation, and the famous wall was eventually constructed to stop the spread of Socialism. During the Cold War, it became the capital city for international espionage. It is estimated that Berliners were the most spied on population in history during this time. Tunnels were built, people were shot, unrest erupted and the wall was torn down. Now, those people who tore down the wall, whose parents had lived through WWII, bore a whole generation of badass Millennials. And here we arrive.
We parked in a P+R and took the subway to the Mitte neighborhood where our hostel (Generator) awaited. Within 2 minutes of being on the subway, I leaned into Will and whispered "I like this place". He dryly noted that we hadn't been above ground yet, but I kept going. "Everyone is smiling, people have on colorful tights with leather jackets, the subway car performers are actually good and locals are actually paying them. There's a healthy blend of ethnicities and no one is clutching their backpacks for fear of pickpockets." My assumption was, if the people on the subway look this good and alive, it can only be better at street level.
The city is huge with a mix of architecture, a mix of cuisine, and a mix of art -- but I'm here to talk about the typography. During an "Alternative Berlin" three hour walking tour, we were introduced to the RAW complex. From the outside, the RAW complex looks exactly like the type of place I would go out of my way to avoid. Upon a closer look, the bombed out shells of the old train repair depot now contain clubs, breweries, studios, shops, restaurants and music venues. Much like the ruin bars in Budapest, culture has crept in to replace destruction. A lot of these pictures are taken at Urban Spree, a kind of all-in-one gallery, shop, event space and biergarten.
I retained some interesting tidbits from the tour.
- "Train Surfing" is a thing, especially among a street artist troupe called BerlinKidz.
- Berlin is the 'Doner Capital" of Germany.
- There a prevalent "squatting culture".
- Since the citizens were so spied upon, there are no public surveillance cameras in Berlin. In addition to this, many bars have a strict no camera policy. People want the freedom to relax and ~do whatever~ without the worry of being photographed. We were almost denied entrance to a bar because we had our camera, but I think we only got in because we spoke broken German and promised to hide it when we entered. A group of fellow tourists was promptly turned away right after we entered. That made me feel pretty cool.
After the the tour we walked along the remnants of the Berlin Wall. It was actually a lot more intact than I thought, and quite large even despite a portion being closed for restoration.
"Many small people who in many small places do many small things that can alter the face of the world."
Will had been to Berlin once before, and became our unofficial tour guide for everything *not* alternative. He showed us the Brandenburg Gate, Museum Island, the spot where Hitler perished (now a parking lot) and the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. The Memorial has received mixed reviews, but I thought it was thought-invoking and emotional. Disclaimer: I've been conditioned to recognize or create metaphor in every designed experience. From the outside, it does look like a graveyard. From the inside, it's quiet, isolating and repetitive. You feel small next to the heavy concrete slabs. You know you're surrounded by the city and millions of people, but you can't see or hear it. The sun casts bars of light onto the ground contrasting the shadows, creating the illusion of stairs or evoking the image of striped uniforms. The pathways undulate and gently lower you below ground level. It's awkward, you're not sure where to go or what you're supposed to be doing. It's easy to lose each other, and you can hear people calling out distantly to find friends or children. All the corners are blind, and you awkwardly run into strangers now and again, until they disappear somewhere into the maze. The structure alone is quite simple, and I think it becomes more impactful with human interaction. It's powerful if you let it be.
We visited in November, so it was only a matter of time that we required some indoor activities. The Berlin Botanical Gardens were a lovely escape and reminder that there are still green things on the Earth.
One Berlin activity that was non-negotiable was a visit to the David Hasselhoff Museum (Shrine). HOW could I resist with Google reviews such as, "David Hasselhoff himself jumped out from behind a scale model of the car from Knight Rider and signed my face", and "Your Hoff will be Hasseled from start to finish" and, "Some say simply glancing at the Hoff's beautiful pecs can cure all types of diseases. I came in a leper whose marriage and body were falling apart and left cured. I no longer have to walk around wrapped in bandages and my wife and I have fixed our marriage and on our way to have our 7th baby. I think I will name him David".
After paying our respects to the Hoff, we trammed to the Pfefferberg Theater to see a contemporary ballet titled "The Gift". To be honest, before this performance, I had been an imposter. I never understood contemporary dance. I went to plenty of shows and clapped at the end, feeling like an idiot. This time, I felt like an idiot because I was crying within the first 3 minutes. All of the sudden, I understood the insuppressible joy and suffering that comes with being alive. To be a dancer, to express yourself through movement without words, has got to the be most vulnerable, and therefore most brave, form of of self expression. I'll spare you any more of my mediocre explanation, but Shelby and I gushed over it for hours afterwards over wine. And she's a dancer, so she knows.
Having gotten my feet wet in Berlin has got me craving more. While we stepped into every Mexican restaurant we could find (we really miss Mexican food), we failed to step inside an art gallery or a museum. High on my list for next time is the Spy Museum, the BOROS Foundation Gemeinnützige (contemporary art museum inside of an old bunker), the flea market and karaoke stage at Mauerpark, The Ballery Art Gallery, and Bei Schlawinchen -- the longest continuously operating bar in Berlin (it is open 24 hours and has never closed in 40 years).
I'm not keeping score, but if i was keeping score, Berlin is tied with Budapest as my favorite city I have visited so far.