Posted on Nov 17, 2012 in Berlin | 0 comments

How lucky am I to be here for three months?

I have so much time to see a lot of this city, yet I already worry that I won’t get to all the things I want to see. This is why I am making a list here. I don’t want to be anal about doing EVERYTHING on this list, but it will remind me what I want to see and do, and as I’m doing it, I will cross it out on the list and create a link to the blog post where I describe the activity.

This is how I feel: like a kid in a candy store. Berlin is amazing. I am dizzy with all the options for things to do. If I am not careful, I’ll overindulge and get a tummy ache. But so what — bring it on!

Yesterday I woke up very early again, at 3:00 a.m. and did not go back to sleep, so I had a lot of time to post photos to my blog, and to read up on Berlin until the night was over. Once I got out, I walked for a bit, across Danziger Strasse and down Kastanienallee where I had a coffee and sandwich at a bakery to start my day. I saw funky shops and artist studios everywhere. Some of the photos below show the artist presence that is felt everywhere in this neighbourhood, as well as their anti-establishment messages.

Art vs. capitalism in Berlin

Berlin graffiti

I find this very inspiring.

I can see clearly what is happening, at least in this former East Berlin neighbourhood: artists were the first to move into run-down buildings and enjoy cheap rent over the last 15 years. Due to the relatively low cost of living in Berlin they were able get by with just doing art and maybe odd jobs. They created a vibrant culture which attracted more and more artists, some of them becoming established in the art world. And at some point, the uppies started to move in (I count myself as one of those), which creates a demand for renovated buildings, which prompts developers and investors to seize the opportunity to make money. All that is driving rents and property prices up. It’s an obvious, often-repeated scenario in many cities. Unfortunately for the artists, commerce rules the world, not art. It’s the same in Vancouver, except much, much worse. Berlin artists have had it pretty good for years compared to other big cities, but I am sure they don’t see it that way.

That is always the trouble with art, you have to make it with your soul and not care about money. If you are so “lucky” as to ever get established, your art may become a commodity, and the influences on your art may change from personal to commercial ones. Galleries want to sell work that looks like what sold well before, so they put pressure on you to continue producing the same work.

I have the greatest respect for artists who stick to their own vision. The world is set up against them, and yet they persevere.

The urban sketcher strikes twice

On the Kurfürstendamm, Berlin

On the Kurfürstendamm.

When I was done pondering art, I hopped back on a bike to zip downtown, caught the City Bus tour again (the ticket is valid two days) and left the tour at Kurfürstendamm where I did a drawing, remarkably without freezing my fingers off. I also walked into a Falke store, where I bought two pairs of the most excellent fine Merino wool socks for €14 a pair. I normally don’t spend that much on my regular sockage, but I think it’s a fair price for high quality socks. You can bet those Falke socks would run me twice that in Vancouver. Buying socks was also on my to-do list. I may go back and get more if things work out sock-wise, then I can retire some of the old socks I brought. Have you noticed yet that I really like socks?

Not shown in the photos below is that I went to the Museum of Photography and saw an exhibit about the late Helmut Newton, a famous fashion photographer. I can’t say I’m a fan or knew much about him, but I respect his work, even though its appearance is macho and sexist. But I think the prerogative of the artist should be to make art that comes naturally. Who knows what influenced him from way back in his childhood. If it is true art, it will speak beyond the first impression.

Dinner at the KaDeWe potato bar, Berlin

My dinner at the KaDeWe potato bar. I added the black wash at home later and, fittingly, sprinkled salt on it to approximate the texture of the black marble counter.

Then I walked into the KaDeWe (Kaufhaus Des Westens), Germany’s most famous department store and headed straight up to the fine foods department on the 6th floor. It’s one big floor mostly dominated by foods from all over the world, meats, cheeses, pastries, seafood, sweets. It was around 6 pm and I was hungry and exhausted from ongoing jet lag by then, so I ate at one of the many food bars that dot the floor. I opted for something relatively affordable: a plate of potatoes baked with cheese and mushrooms for €9. It was yummy and so filling that I couldn’t eat it all. Of course, one can probably get caviar and oysters up there as well. But we get great oysters and seafood in BC, I am not here for that.

Me, myself, and I is a crowd

I normally don’t have trouble going to lunch alone, I do that regularly, but I felt a bit awkward sitting at that bar by myself for dinner. Still, I overcame my inhibitions and even worked up the guts to pull out my sketchbook and draw the scene. I am struck by how the drawing with the single plate in the foreground and all the people huddled in the background conveys that feeling of isolation really well (and besides that, my favourite vertical format still rocks). I will just have to get used to this. I think it’s good for everyone to be on their own once in a while. I’ve been part of a couple for almost 20 years now, which is a great thing, but it’s still vital to have occasional encounters with oneself. At least I think so, but hey, I am a bit of a Jungian.

View from my apartment balcony

The view from my apartment balcony. There is a fenced-in front yard area with room for garbare/recycling containers and bike storage.

Berlin City Tour route map

I made notes all over the Berlin City Tour route map. Significant is the recurrence of the word “Weihnachtsmarkt” which means Christmas Market. I was stunned at how many of those I kept seeing. They are currently being constructed and most are opening by late November. I think Berlin is just using Christmas as an excuse to party.

Berlin subway station

Berlin subway station in my neighbourhood. Sometimes it’s below ground, sometimes above. I am thinking this will be a good sketching motif very soon.

The mother of all German sausage stands

The mother of all German sausage stands. I read about this one. It’s right in my ‘hood and has been around for 80 years. That means it’s survived through World War II and all of the East German Democratic Republic era. It’s supposed to be good, but I haven’t tried it yet. Look at the Berliners eating outside in -1˚C. What am I saying, these are probably all tourists like me. We are probably all taking pictures of each other thinking we’re Berliners.

Art and capitalism

A building in Kastanienallee run by artists. “Capitalism standardizes, destroys, and kills” it says. Can art and capitalism coexist? Does everything that’s best for the soul get killed by capitalism? I walked through the doorway into the multiple courtyards inside and took more photos.

Poster "End of Season Sale on Men"

Poster “End of Season Sale on Men” for a local play. Might be worth checking out. And I am not cracking a joke about the title.

Kastanienallee, Berlin

On Kastanienallee. Never mind the torn up road, I am just trying to illustrate how organic the Berlin neighbourhoods are. There is always a mix of stores and residences in almost every street. Of course this is common in European cities. In North America, we are often “zoned” too separately. You get large residential blocks and large shopping areas, it’s not as mixed as here.

Doorway into a Berlin courtyard

This doorway leading deep into multiple Berlin courtyards was just too tempting to not walk through. I am enjoying wandering the streets, suddenly I will see something and have the option of turning around on a whim to explore it, drifting along lead by just my intuition and no worldly cares. What a wonderful break I am getting from my everyday life in Vancouver with all its obligations!

Berlin yarn bombing

In the doorway I saw this piece of yarn bombing. If you don’t know what that is, google it. Yarn bombing is a thing in Vancouver. I even know the woman, Leanne Prain, who wrote a book about it. She is a Vancouver graphic designer by day and yarn bomber by night.

Berlin artist statement

The view from inside the courtyard up to another building. It says “Flight passengers and drivers”. Giant words have such power. And as a designer, I always love seeing gigantic typography. The positioning of the “F” right against the left edge just makes my heart sing.

Berlin graffiti

A graffiti’d wall inside the courtyard.

Artist decorated cigarette dispenser in Berlin

An artist decorated cigarette dispenser. “Because we smoke we are not” it says.

Berlin graffiti

More graffiti from the courtyard.

Berlin street with headless mannequin

When I walked back onto the street from the courtyard, I saw this headless hipster.

Berlin cemetery

After walking down Kastanienallee, I grabbed another bike at a City Bike point nearby and started cycling towards Alexanderplatz. Again I followed my eyes so I am not even sure where this was. I didn’t worry about getting lost because I had my iPhone with GPS along. I like the typeface on these German “Verboten” type signs and looked it up, it’s DIN 1451, designed in 1931. It is highly legible but has a dry bureaucratic character which at the same time tries to come across as friendly. DIN by the way stands for “Deutsches Institut für Normung” (German Institute for Standardization).

Berlin Cemetery

A view through the gate into the cemetery in its remaining fall foliage.

Alexanderplatz, Berlin

Near Alexanderplatz, Berlin. Here the former DDR (East German) buildings are allowed to remain in all their bombastic socialist glory. It’s all so retro and cute now, but it was terrifying then.

Alexanderplatz, Berlin

More of the East German socialist architecture near Alexanderplatz. This is just dreary, but I am still glad it remains.

Setting up a Christmas market in Berlin

I wonder what this man’s job title is. Head Reindeer Installer? Assistant Sleigh Engineer? Christmas Tree Connector? The Blue Santa?

Christmas comes on a trailer

Major Christmas spirit is about to invade Berlin, and it appears to be coming from Bavaria.

Christmas comes on a trailer

“Ve vill hav Christmas and if ve hav to drag it here on the Autobahn”. I am German, so it’s OK for me to make fun of my own kind.

Berlin trams

I risked being smooshed by two approaching Berlin trams for this image. So worth it.

German police van in Berlin

Just so y’all know what a German police van looks like.

Reichstag Berlin

The Reichstag, seat of the German parliament. I am not going to post many photos here of official tourist sights, because you can find those all over the internet. But it is something to behold: the German government structures are laid out as befits a powerful nation, which made me think of the pompous grandeur of the National Mall in Washington DC.

Street kiosk at Kurfürstendamm, Berlin

I hopped off the bus at Kurfürstendamm to walk along this famous shopping mile of Berlin. This kiosk is an example of many street-side concessions you find in Germany.

Poster for a play in Berlin

Walking along Kurfürstendamm, I saw this poster for a play called “Der Eiserne Gustav” by Hans Fallada. It is based in the year 1928 and could be a great option for the traditional German play I was planning to see. I also want to see at least one experimental play and have one in mind already.