Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The art of recycling in Berlin

After being on a train where there were no reserved seats for J and I(because we missed ours), we had made it to the third last station, before we had to give up our seats to their true owner - we arrived to the bustling Berlin Hauptbanhof (a ridiculously huge train station) with relief. Driving through the city via taxi from the train station we were awestruck by what we saw, so many old mostly cement buildings covered in street art and graffiti. Far from the picture book magic of Munich and the Rhine Valley (which are the only places I've visited in Germany). We drove through sprawled out suburbs, past tall buildings, but the taxi kept driving, we had know idea if we were still in the city centre or not, I just couldn't tell. We arrived at Plus Berlin, a huge monstrosity of a brick building, but inside a fantastic hub for travellers, as we found out when we had dinner at the hostel restaurant Opera that night, where we ate tasty Italian food and drank an old favourite of mine, Desperados beer. I also sadly didn't discover until our last morning there that they had cute bunny rabbits in a pen in the courtyard of the hostel, fluffy bunnies, imagine my reaction when poor J told me about his discovery.
After a night's rest, we decided we'd do a tour of Berlin (since I haven't seen Berlin before either), we spotted a huge poster in the lobby for Alternative Berlin Tours, and thought it would be interesting than your average tourist tour. Well J and I were both impressed with our tour given by Liam, an Australian guy from Melbourne who has been living in Berlin for the past three years. We walked through Kreuzberg, a very hipster and highly Turkish populated neighbourhood. We got to hear a lot of great stories behind many huge and stand-out street art pieces, which are  free to view if you happen to walk by one. Some pieces which have taken plenty of  talent and gusto I think just to get it onto the side of a huge building. We also heard snippets of stories and folklore about interesting characters that inhabit the city, one especially a stand out to me about; a Turkish man that had come to find his land smack bang in between the East and West side of the Berlin Wall, where he defied both governments and built a garden on this land, he and the garden still exist in perfect harmony, and sometimes you can even walk past his vegetable garden and give him a wave. Unfortunately he wasn't there the day we went passed.
Liam also showed us old buildings, that were once abandoned, turned into squatting locations and now more finely tuned into community hubs for artists and like minded Berliners. He also showed the group similar buildings that have been abandoned and turned into pop-up bars or night clubs, amazingly they were fully licensed, apparently there are still many bars/parties that pop-up from time to time all over the city at the drop of a hat. I'm in awe of Berlin's idea of recycling these huge abandoned buildings and being able to turn them into these amazing hipster spaces. If you have never been on a free walking tour of a city 1. I suggest you do one, especially this one in Berlin and 2. Getting tips from tourists is how these guys gets paid, which is such a great idea, and so much better than doing the average tour of a city.
Taking the advice from the Alternative Berlin Tour guide Liam, we decided against a highly popular kebap(kebab) shop called Mostafas, and opted for his suggestion of a place, a couple of U-Bahn stops away, called Gemuse Kebaps. Not your regular, I'm-so-drunk-and-famished-kebab you get in Brisbane, this was not on a turkish wrap but in a Turkish bun. With fried potato and grilled vegetables, fresh salad, chicken, and delicious garlic, tomato and hommus sauces, fetta and a squeeze of lemon. I wish I could have been drunk, because it was huge, and it might of helped me lose my inhibitions about to fit it in my mouth to eat it... my gosh it was delicious.
From there we ventured into the dark unkown world of abandoned warehouse bars, and visited one near the Warschauer Strasse U-Bahn station, where Liam had  ended the alternative walking tour earlier that day. We were out far too early for the youths of Berlin, and as we headed back to the hostel at 1:30am in the rain, we watched them start their night off, they must not of realised it was a school night.
Our second day in Berlin gave us a different perspective of the city, especially because we started the day of venturing to Reinickendorf in West Berlin to see where my Nan Ruth had lived when she was a child, where she had lived during the Second World War. That had pre-imitated the day would be all about the history and about how much the average Berliner had to endure during the Second World War and then when 'the Wall' went up. It was wonderful finally being able to see the neighbourhood and flat that my beloved Nan spoke of, to be able to place a picture next to those stories, especially when it is only memories and few photos that I have left of her. After having a moment with my Nan, we went to the Gesunbrunnen U-Bahn stop to go on a Berlin Unterwelten (underground) tour. We arrived just in time for Tour 1- Dark Worlds, a tour through a World War Two bunker, an interesting and sad insight into again the average person living in that time would have to go through. They had an interesting collection of artefacts that were found beneath Berlin, which according to the guide they are still finding, and in fact developers still have to do bomb detections before beginning construction in the city.
We then visited the Brandenburg Gate and the Reichstag building which impressed both J and I in their enormity and architecture. Still keeping to our self-guided tour of Berlin's history we went to the Checkpoint Charlie Museum, a very informative and overwhelming collection of artefacts and information on the history of 'the Wall' and it's famous checkpoint. As interesting as we found the museum, we were overloaded with information for the day after leaving the place. We also couldn't believe the amount of tourists in these three spots of the city, had they not heard of the Alternative Berlin Tours?!
We ended our last night in Berlin by the River Spree, sitting in the Lowenbrau Haus drinking litre steins of their delicious beer and prosting to interesting Berlin, why we are definitely going to visit you again.

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