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Berlin: she may be poor...but she's sexy

AUSTRALIA | Friday, 21 January 2011 | Views [756]

As soon as I arrived, I knew I would be spending much more time here. How easy is it to fall in love with this city with it's glorious architecture, magnificant memorials, amazing history and vibrant underbelly.

Berlin has a long and checkered history and the changes are marked on the cityscape. It is a peculiar mix; graceful Prussian facades, cripplingly powerful 3rd reich monstrosities, 80's high rise and in the boom following the reunification, elegant modern glass fronted structures that blend the old with the new in a seamless example of a dynamic city encorporating the past and embracing the future. The city has accomplished a monumental feat of overcoming a grim and cruel past and emerging into modern society with it's head held high. There is no homage to the perpetrators of war crimes, only respectful yet inspiring tributes to those who have suffered and died. From the remarkable city center monument of 1000 silent granite rectangles that tilt and tip, making you feel displaced and uncomfortable to the Sachsenhousen concentration camp memorial, Berlin is making sure that the mistakes of the past will not be repeated.


We follow the same path that over 200 000 people walked in '36-'45, munching on McDonalds, Subway and buttery pastries, feeling the cold despite being wrapped in warm jackets, scarves and boots. We walk through entry point A and stand in the same yard, look at the same primitive ablution block and see an example of the pathetically insufficient blue striped 'uniform' that the 'prisoners' wore in conditions far worse that today. We wander through the Gestapo prison for 'special' prisoners, a frightening torture chambre and stumble over the flint 'running track' used for prisoners to test German army boots (they had to run up to 40 km/day, malnourished in often ill fitting boots to see if they were suitable). There is a sense of macabre fascination and I desperately wish that these are awful stories were not true because surely no human could do something this terrible to another. Our final point of call is the pathology room, perhaps the most sickening part for me as it's very existence makes a mockery of what medicine stands for.

Humboldt University

I would like to make a special mention on a memorial outside the Humboldt university, which at this time was almost obscured by the tents of Berlin fashion week. This is simply a room in the ground , painted stark white with bookshelves lining the walls. This is viewed through a hole at ground level covered with glass which acts to reflect the images of those looking into the room. This room represents an empty library with shelf space enough to house the 20 000 books that were burned in the efforts to eradicate degenerate thinking during the 3rd Reich. This was such a simple idea but it certainly had me thinking, what would I do if I was in that position?

New wave

It hasn't all been gloomy and a stroll through the artist quater will brighten anyones day. If you walk down Oranienburger Strasse, you will find Tacheles, and artist community in a 5 story classic/gothic style building . On my street art quest, this looks promising. Smelling not so much catty as ...human... there is a poster advertising literally 'show' (and nothing else), so I wander in and find it is a fashion parade. Tiers of seats crowd against one wall filled with smoking hipsters, the front rows are occupied by photographers, cameras heavy with lenses. The music was great (heavy electro dub step and breaks) and there was a fantastic video montage at the parade intermission which was pretty cool too. However it may well be that I have no concept of fashion (and entirely likely) but one designer had draped black jersey knit material over the uncomfortably angular and unusual looking models and patched some fairly manky looking orange fur in peculiar spots over this material. Well, they got a huge round of applause, so what would I know! Climbing flights of stairs will take you to DJ dens, performance spaces and artist studios displaying quirky and definately offbeat styles. Walls are covered floor to ceiling with images, tags, stickers and photos, every spare inch is a riot of colour and the rabbit warren rooms. The 'back yard' if a ferral hive of activity, manky sofas, broken chairs patched together and spray painted, crazy 3D metal sculptures dominating the open areas next to bath tubs and open fire pits. It feels like a carnivale and gypsy circus wrapped into one. You breathe a deep lung full of fresh air when you exit. The streets in this area are heavy with the street artists mark- from crappy spray tags to iconic stickers, posters, stencils and some really smart neon signs. A game of 'Rock, paper scissors' is played out each evening from dusk to 1am under the Oberbaum bridge traversing the Spree signifying anything from a simple decision making tool, a friendly rivalry between two sides of the river to a more complex 'us and them' battle.

The East Side gallery is a bunch of murals painted by various artists on the longest remaining stretch of the Berlin wall. It is a powerful symbol of people overcoming oppression and has presented many iconic images. Interestingly a section has been removed to afford a better river aspect to the commercial O2 building on the riverfront. Salute capitalism!

Berlin, you may be poor, but you are SO SEXY


: City hostel Berlin. Clean, cheap, comfortable beds, great breakfast, internet, non-smoking social area, pool table. Cons: no Wifi in the rooms (and some guy snoring like crazy the last night - I seriously was going to do a 'Chief' on him)

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