I think Berlin is one of the most interesting cities in Europe! There are many layers of history in this city and I found some of the most intriguing neighbourhoods and street art there. The guidebook said “Berlin is poor but sexy” and I found it an apt description. There seems to be a lack of funds for a lot of flashy (and useless) things but the city has a lot of spirit and the run-down (but always working) facilities help add to its real and unpretentious character.
I arrived in Berlin on a Saturday evening where the world cup games were being shown everywhere on the streets. After watching the second half of a disappointing Iran-Argentina match, I stepped out into the streets and in the space of three hours had experienced an underground techno party, a gypsy band playing live, a wild gay parade dance party on the streets and a huge atmospheric electronic music club. Pretty cool!
The next day, I went for some more exploring with an old high school friend I had not seen in 15 years and connected through Facebook! He kindly gave me a tour of the city including a really cool neighbourhood called Keruzberg-Friedrichshain with lots of alternative shops and restaurants and bookstores. There is a very strong Turkish presence in Germany and while it seems there are some challenges in integration, their presence adds a unique flavour and diversity to the city. One evening, I invited friends to a Turkish restaurant called Hasir which is apparently the place where donair kebab was invented! It was a nice place where I eat a couple of times more before leaving Berlin (especially they have tripe soup which was heavy but really tasty).
The next day, I visited another german friend whom I had met in Toronto last summer and he also gave me a tour of the interesting places in East Berlin, including a cool bar called White Trash Fast Food! The area where this club was, around the Spree River looks rough with lots of graffiti and tattooed punk people but is actually safe and friendly. It gave me an image of Berlin as this mean-looking guy in black leader and mohawk who is actually very sensitive, loves flowers and watches children animation!
There seems to be a lot of political interest in Berlin with some people living in communal houses and believing in the ideal of a socialist society. One day, I saw a big protest with lots of people wearing black clothes and running with big red flags. Before seeing the flags I thought they might be neo-nazis but they were actually anarchists and were protesting against immigrants being evacuated from a school! I had brought a book on revolutionary thought in South America really enjoyed reading it in this atmosphere.
Graffiti is on another level in Berlin: you can see amazing work both outside, for example, at the East Side Gallery which is a surviving part of the Berlin Wall, or at the Hamburger Banhoff which is a really cool modern art museum. Speaking of the Berlin wall, I was very aware of the dark 20th century history of Berlin. It would be easy to spend weeks exploring the history of the city. You can visit the area where all the Nazi buildings once stood and read about the buildings and people who have vanished from there like smoke. Or you can go to the former East Berlin and see watch towers from which people would have been shot if trying to cross the wall or walk through the Karl Marx Strasse which has leafy trees on one side and communist style building blocks on the other.
One of the most powerful museums I have been in is the Berlin Jewish Museum. Through a creative and unusual architecture this museum achieves a hard goal: conveying the pain and confusion of the Jewish experience in Germany through subtle moods touched by environmental factors. For example, there is a Garden of Exile, where the uneven ground and the many obstacles, create a sense of almost nauseous claustrophobia. In another room, completely empty, unheated and uninsulated and light up by only a ray of the sun barely shining through a crack in the ceiling, one is filled with desolation, a feeling of abandonment and yet a small hint of hope. I was deeply touched by my experiences here. In another side of town, you see the Monument to the Fallen Soldiers, another touching building: a neo-classical building that is empty but for the statue of a mother grieving over her dead son. The symbolism and poetry in these buildings were superb.
On one of the days I was exploring the Brandenburg Gate area, which was too busy and touristy for me, suddenly I saw a sign that said Room of Silence. I walked in and was greeted by an old lady who pointed me to an empty room where one can sit silently. I sat there for some time and really enjoyed the moment. As I was sitting in the middle of bustling Berlin, I felt these words being formed in my head: “Be silent so you can hear the Truth within!”