My stay in Berlin was brief this time, too brief, just barely twenty four hours. But it’s always enough to get drawn in again, always. This may well be ignited by jumping off the S-Bahn at Warschauer Straße, Friedrichshain and being instantly shoved into a twenty-four-seven bustle, where the lamp posts are wrapped warmly, almost feet thick in events’ posters, where beer can be bought with newspapers and pastry at my favourite three or four kiosks perching on the bridge above the railway; where there’s never shortage of talented buskers and street performers, and sometimes an impromptu outdoor nightclub springing to life. You can be any age in Friedrichshain ‘we’re all here’ it tells you as you wonder the beautiful graffiti ridden streets and encounter all tastes, classes and cultures piled atop one another ‘rich and poor alike you’ll find us all; life isn’t Out There, it’s In Here’. And that’s obvious from the sheer volume of people.
During my one day I once again visit the Reichstag, it’s free and stunningly beautiful so why not? We stop in a square next to an S-Bahn station, the station name has completely vanished from my memory, and choose the smallest café, nearest the tracks selling a huge selection of Döner and other easy-to-eat Turkish food. It’s cosy even though it’s raining intermittently as we sit under an umbrella and eat incredibly good, wonderfully cheap food- far too much for lunch- and listen to the rumble of the S-Bahn every four or five minutes. From here we hop back on the train and head for Grünwald, just further along the line from Charlottenburg, where we decide to explore. The Grünsee is the lush, beautiful very-baby-brother of Wannsee. With a deer conservation area, where the deer are grazing brazenly for all to see, a game keeper’s property, a hunting museum (including nice tea and yummy cake, despite the fact we weren’t hungry), it’s certainly the hunter’s hidden paradise. Enormous, luxurious houses lounge on the banks of one of the smaller lakes, too big to live in. On the main lake the densely shaded paths are riddled not with tourists but with dog walkers- I think we may have been the only dog without a canine escort. Every few hundred metres beautiful little beaches appear through clearings in the trees, covered on this day in dogs splashing in and out of the water but the water is still clear and the beach is spotless soft, yellow sand. If it were warmer I would definitely have joined the dogs. After a few hours exploring our green paradise we head back to the hotel to sort out details for our next journey- it’s occasionally an organizational nightmare travelling, but it means we get time to hang out in the hotel a little.
The Michelberger Hotel is a really cool place to stay, right opposite the U-Bahn on Warschauer Strasse it’s ideal for exploring the city and the vibrant world of Friedrichshain. The room we have isn’t expensive either, it’s small, tiny in fact, with the huge bed taking up most of the space, a large window, with plenty of room to sit or lie in the window seat, makes up one entire wall; the oddest feature is that the wall between the bed and the shower is in fact a large window – for your viewing pleasure…? It is trendy and young as well as quirky though and the bar downstairs is decked in factory chic, unvarnished wood, metal fixtures, funky low hanging lights giving it a heady glow and super-speedy, friendly bar tenders. There is a courtyard in the centre of the hotel, our room looks down on it, with the obligatory fairy lights and cute decorations making cute little cubby holes for al-fresco dining (or smoking, take your pick) and plenty of space for live music. There are also racks and racks of books inside, by the sofas near to the door, plenty of quirky novels and magazines that I’m itching to spend a few hours perusing, but this isn’t a trip with an abundance of time so we head out.
We stumble across an encampment on some waste ground, surrounded by imposing, high boards, like those which enclose demolition grounds but colourfully smothered to within an inch of their lives with posters and graffiti. A sign at the entrance tells us we can come in, bring anything with us, provided it doesn’t damage the environment. I begin to suss what kind of camp this could be. Here inside, in between two tall, beautifully crafted renovated blocks of flats, adorned with chic balconies and boasting river access, is the least expected community imaginable- the contrast with their neighbors is as if two worlds have been asked to participate in a flat-share in the same universe. A sign asks us not to take pictures- these are people’s homes. At first I didn’t recognize them as homes, I thought it was a dumping ground for furniture, and a few people camping; I learn to look a bit closer. The further I go into the camp the more I realise this hotch-potch collection of furniture and tents, strewn amidst scrub-bushes Bedouin-style, sometimes modern tents, sometimes hand-crafted from other cast-off materials, are all making up an eclectic village of homes and gardens- people have dogs, fridges, barbeques, bookcases. This is simpler living, though I’m not sure how legal it is. It is a multi coloured jungle of people who are living there because they have nowhere else to go, people who are choosing to live because to them this is the better, less harmful way of existing, and passers-by, like us. As we reach the river side there are many people, mostly early twenties, relaxing together looking over the water, drinking and dancing, possibly engaging in other slightly less savoury activities. It’s an odd feel, I’m slightly on edge, there’s a hostility in here not against us but certainly directed towards anything the other side of the protective boards. People are cooking and drinking, there are odd sculptures and Kleinkunst- miniature art- speckling the otherwise spotless floor. A beaten up sofa weathering like a cliff isn’t rubbish, but god forbid you leave a can outside of its allotted recycling bin.
It’s not too far from a Berlin Wall memorial- a testimony to walls all over the world, the oppressors of nations. We stroll there in the cool breeze via a few trendy, late opening clothes shops bulging with neon colours, and a fantastically cheap Turkish takeaway where I sample my second delicious Döner of the day. The wall is fascinating, every part of the Berlin wall you see now is covered in strikingly beautiful graffiti, it’s become iconic of the beast known as the Wall. On particular section is a sprawling exhibition of photography taken of walls all over the world, ghosts and current walls alike. The wall in Palestine, in Cyprus, in Northern Ireland, in North Korea…the list is numerous and infamous. No matter how often I sit and contemplate it I can’t get my head completely around the concept of the divided city, I can’t imagine it, I can’t live it in my head at all it’s such an obscure concept.
I feel sad dashing out of Berlin at almost dawn the next morning, with next to no sleep; we feel like ghosts in the city as we board the tram, my favourite kiosks are still open though and last night’s stragglers litter the platform. We reach the main train station an hour early ready to hop on a train for Poland but not quite ready to leave the city; the city with its own gravity.
P.s. please forgive me my continuous, sometimes verging on sensual, outpourings about my love for German cities- there are just an exceeding amount I adore.