Thursday, June 11, 2009

April 2009: Berlin

In my travels, I've visited my fair share of cities. As I spend time in each one, I try to get a feel for the city's personality. New York frenetically mixes the world's cultures into five unique boroughs. Paris is classic, full of history and style. After three days in Berlin, I feel like it is the coolest city I've ever visited. Perhaps Klaus Wowereit put it best as he spoke to a group of British businessmen. According to him, "Berlin is poor...but very sexy."
Berlin lacks the public finances of wealthy cities like Frankfurt or Munich. However, living in Berlin is relatively cheap compared to other European capitals. Apartments are spacious and tenants get more space for their Euro. The streets and sidewalks seem wider in Berlin than in any other city; even in the city center, I felt like there was so much open space. Maybe it's an illusion, but this perception of open space made the city feel liberating, not constricting. While many tourists visit Berlin to see remnants of East Germany and the Berlin Wall, sidestepping the tour is a worthwhile decision. 
Once you get away from the tourist attractions, you'll discover whole new worlds within worlds. Berlin doesn't have a specific city center. Instead, each neighborhood features its own bars, cafés, and shops. These neighborhoods developed their own unique personalities and cultures. My friend Whitney told me about a Turkish market that happens only on Fridays. Gözleme and bürek lay in steaming piles on street arts while women haggled over spices and vegetables. I felt like I'd taken the train from Berlin to Istanbul. (Because of its enormous immigrant population, Berlin happens to be the second largest Turkish city in the world).
Of course, what I loved most about Berlin was its wild street art culture. Although graffiti is punishable by law, it doesn't seem to deter artists in the slightest. Some cities have a predominately spray can culture while others lean more towards wheatpaste. Berlin bucks this trend and mixes it all together. Apartment buildings, shops, and bridges are all fair game. If I lived there, I'd invite the local artists over to paint my door any day!
The way I felt in Berlin is akin to an art history student stepping into the Louvre for the first time. Everywhere I turned, I saw pieces that previously I'd only glimpsed in books. Everyone was there: Blu, Os Gemeos, M-City, Victor Ash (see above). I was impressed by the scope of their projects and the nature of their pieces. There's no way I saw it all, so I must return to Berlin someday. 
I'll finish with this photo because the resulting shot was so unexpected. To the right of the green monster is a small shop. We were about to walk in for drinks when I saw this child sitting in front of the mural. Instead of waiting, I snapped a photo right then. The timing was perfect; as we walked in the shop, the kid ran off to his parents. This incident sums up the transient nature of street art: catch it before it's too late!

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