Ber­lin on the edge

There is nothing bor­ing about Ber­lin

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - STAN­LEY STE­WART STAN­LEY STE­WART

I AM in Ber­lin, climb­ing over a wall into an aban­doned ice fac­tory un­der cover of dark­ness.

The last time I was in Ber­lin, I spent my af­ter­noons in the el­e­gant gal­leries of the Perg­a­mon Mu­seum, ad­mir­ing the an­tiq­ui­ties. This time I feel I should make more of an ef­fort to get with the zeit­geist, to ex­plore mod­ern Ber­lin. And so, dressed in black and clutch­ing a torch, I am with Cathy, a young Amer­i­can per­for­mance artist with a bolt through her tongue.

We are ur­ban ex­plor­ers, dis­cov­er­ing street art and the plea­sure of de­cay­ing ur­ban spa­ces.

Ber­lin’s zeit­geist has al­ways been out of whack with the rest of Ger­many.

In the 1920s, when Dus­sel­dorf was busy min­ing coal, Ber­lin­ers were danc­ing the shimmy, prob­a­bly in a club run by a cou­ple of les­bian po­ets.

In the first years of this cen­tury, when Cologne was busy or­gan­is­ing trade fairs in its new ex­hi­bi­tion halls, Ber­lin­ers were queu­ing for the most cut­ting-edge mu­sic club in Europe, set in an aban­doned power sta­tion.

Adolf Hitler never liked Ber­lin. He be­lieved it was laugh­ing at him be­hind his back. He was prob­a­bly right. When the Ber­lin Wall came down, what shaped the new united city was not the dis­af­fected east­ern­ers driv­ing to the shop­ping precincts of the west in their bat­tered Tra­bants.

It was the dis­af­fected young western­ers mov­ing into the end­less pos­si­bil­i­ties of the east.

It was all about cheap rents and empty build­ings.

Any­one who dreamed of set­ting up a club, open­ing a cafe, found­ing an art col­lec­tive, paint­ing a mas­ter­piece, shoot­ing a mu­sic video, dab­bling in con­cep­tual art or just ex­press­ing their angst in ex­per­i­men­tal bu­toh dance per­for­mances headed for the splen­did prop­er­ties be­ing va­cated by the old East Ger­man state and the com­mu­nist in­dus­tries.

Ber­lin be­came the Eu­ro­pean cap­i­tal of al­ter­na­tive life­styles, of coun­ter­cul­ture and of artis­tic ex­per­i­men­ta­tion.

As the fo­cus of the city shifted east, to Mitte, Pren­zlauer Berg and Friedrichshain, dour neigh­bour­hoods came to life with gal­leries, bou­tiques, stu­dios, craft work­shops, trendy cafes and bars, and an avalanche of cut­ting- edge mu­sic clubs.

And the best of it was a DIY scene, young peo­ple cre­at­ing spa­ces and ac­tiv­i­ties out of a pas­sion, or just a sense of fun.

Gen­tri­fi­ca­tion has fol­lowed them, of course, but Ber­lin still has one of the most ex­cit­ing al­ter­na­tive scenes in Europe.

Cathy is just one of the hordes of young peo­ple who come here to plug into its as­ton­ish­ing creative en­ergy. Down at the ice fac­tory, Cathy and I are climb­ing through the empty win­dows.

Inside, our torches re­veal gal­leries of street art. In an­other di­rec­tion, vast pieces of an­cient ma­chin­ery loom like the colossi of a lost in­dus­trial age, as strange and fas­ci­nat­ing as the an­tiq­ui­ties in the Perg­a­mon Mu­seum.

Tread­ing care­fully, we make our way up­stairs to emerge on the roof over­look­ing the River Spree.

‘ ‘ I feel at home here,’’ Cathy says. ‘‘I may not be Ger­man, but I am a Ber­liner.’’

Raw Tem­pel at 99 Re­valer Strasse (raw-tem­ is em­blem­atic of the city’s al­ter­na­tive scene — a se­ries of DIY ex­hi­bi­tion, entertainment, per­for­mance and play spa­ces in the re­claimed train sheds of an old rail­way main­te­nance yard. There is an in­door skate park, climb­ing wall, Sunday flea mar­ket and sev­eral cafes and bars as well as Cas­siopeia (cas­siopeiaber­, a for­mer squat and one of Ber­lin’s hippest clubs; Sui­cide Cir­cus (sui­cide-ber­, a bas­tion of old-school techno with some tasty out­side spa­ces on the river; and The­atre Ma­jak (theater-ma­, an ex­per­i­men­tal dance, video and the­atri­cal space.

Hack­escher Markt, where Oranien­burger Strasse meets Rosen­thaler Strasse, is a com­plex of build­ings built in the early 20th cen­tury and re­vived af­ter the fall of the wall. The nine in­ner court­yards have been gen­tri­fied with smart restau­rants and bars, save the one that is ac­cessed from 39 Rosen­thaler Strasse. For­merly head­quar­ters for the East Ger­man gov­ern­ment film com­pany, it was oc­cu­pied by an art col­lec­tive (hauss­chwarzen­ in the early 90s. Fol­low the graf­fiti-adorned walls to the stu­dios of de­sign­ers, artists and il­lus­tra­tors as well as an in­de­pen­dent cin­ema, Kino Cen­tral (kino-cen­, Neu­roti­tan Shop & Gallery, (neu­roti­, the won­der­ful Eschschlo­raque bar and the un­der­ground Mon­ster Kabi­nett (mon­sterk­abi­, in the dun­geons of which the col­lec­tive has cre­ated a ro­botic night­mare.

Kun­sthaus Tacheles (su­ is the orig­i­nal Ber­lin artists’ squat, oc­cu­py­ing what was once a large de­part­ment store in Oranien­burger Strasse. Up to 80 artists from 30 coun­tries work here in four floors of stu­dios, most with pieces for sale, and there’s a per­for­mance space for ev­ery­thing from video in­stal­la­tions to im­pro­vised dance.

Mauer­park Flea Mar­ket is a cross be­tween Lon­don’s Por­to­bello Road and The X Fac­tor. A sprawl­ing Sunday mar­ket in a park that used to be the Ber­lin Wall’s ‘‘death strip’’, it at­tracts ev­ery­one from pink-haired punks to young fam­i­lies. The stalls pro­vide ev­ery­thing you need for an al­ter­na­tive life­style, from vin­tage frocks and killer vinyl to com­mu­nist para­pher­na­lia and sus­pi­cious-look­ing pipes. Cafes of­fer a range of world foods while busker bands per­form to the milling crowds. But the best fun is at Bearpit Karaoke ( in an old am­phithe­atre.

Eschschlo­raque (eschschlo­ is a funky, trashy-chic bar in the graf­fiti-lit­tered court­yard in Hack­escher Markt. Killer cock­tails, comfy so­fas and bags of street cred.

For the lat­est on films, fash­ion, art, bars and clubs, check th­ese sites: iheart­ber­; exber­; bang­bang­ber­; aban­doned­ber­


East Side Gal­lerie, a painted por­tion of the for­mer Ber­lin Wall, re­flects the city’s rep­u­ta­tion for artis­tic ex­per­i­men­ta­tion


Pren­zlauer Berg be­came trendy af­ter Ger­man re­uni­fi­ca­tion

Check­point Char­lie restau­rant

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