So this past weekend, I had the incredible opportunity to be in Berlin during the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall. The whole city was alive with tourists and Berliners alike.
I also discovered that Berlin is my absolute favorite city in Europe—possibly the world.
Here’s a bit of what I did and a bit of what I learned while in Germany during my AIFS program trip:
We made a quick stop in Dresden on the way there. This city has a very interesting past, as it was the site of a controversial allied bombing during WWII that completely destroyed the city. The “old town” section of the city (partly rebuilt) is probably one of the most breath-taking and elegant sections of a city I’ve been to yet (besides Berlin itself). But just beyond that square are very modern buildings or empty lots of land (where the decimated buildings weren’t replaced).
I went to a concert by a mopey, indie rock band from Germany in a very modernistic, DIY, hip hotel cafe which was an S-bahn (overground metro) trip away from Alexanderplatz, the main square nearby my hotel. This cafe, among many other hip places I visited in Germany, I noticed, was not at all very well marked. It seemed as if I was supposed to know how everything worked. The signs for the men and women’s bathrooms were marked by frames filled with either red or blue paper. I also had to ask directions twice to figure out how to get there. In the men’s room, they weren’t playing music; they were playing the fight scene between Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader from The Empire Strikes Back. The sink wasn’t a basin; it was a completely flat tiled surface across which the water slid, disappearing into a small slit against the wall. After leaving that bathroom, that’s when I knew:
Of all of the cities I’ve visited so far, this is one that I would definitely live in.
One of the things that I’ve noticed about Berlin culture, in its more hip venues, was that there seemed to be a certain way of doing things if you want to get involved. For example, a lot of the more exclusive clubs in Berlin only take in maybe one out of every four people who stand in line—assumingly chosen at random. Based on what criteria? The way you’re dressed? How many people you’re with? No one seems to know. I’m not one for the club scene anyway, but there were some students in my program who stood in line for two hours at one place, only to give up and go back to the hotel!
I love the architecture, design and fashion I’ve seen while walking the Berlin streets in a way that I haven’t loved any city before. Berlin is HUGE, but so heavily concentrated with modern art galleries (my favorite kind), beautifully designed restaurants (in terms of interior design and graphically), and architectural masterpieces of glass and metal. And the way people were dressed seemed so much more fashion-conscious (which I am absolutely not). A certain mixture of semi-formal hipster and school-on-a-rainy-day. Even in celebration of the 25th anniversary, the city placed beautifully-designed white balloons all along the path where the wall used to exist. It was like a city-wide, minimalist art piece.
The landmarks and touristy things I visited:
Checkpoint Charlie (where foreigners entered/exited East Berlin), Brandenburg Gate (a neoclassical triumphal arch and location of many 25th anniversary events), the East Side Gallery (the longest section of the Berlin Wall, on which the city invited many famous artists to come and paint), a flea market where I got Turkish food, the glass and steel observatory on top of Reichstag (a mind-blowing view below into the room where parliament gathers), and so many more side streets and landmarks I visited during a phenomenal bike tour.
Brief little note on this week’s Mezipatra film festival:
I’m so happy to have been able to help out with the biggest queer and transgender-themed film festival in the Czech Republic. I worked at the Queer Shop, using my English (or my pointing capabilities) to sell books and shirts and things. I chatted and connected with lots of lovely Czech people while sitting at the shop, waiting for the films to finish. I’m also in the process of trying to connect my program director with the Mezipatra volunteer coordinator so that it will be an easy option for AIFS students next year to volunteer. Mezipatra is, after all, a volunteer-support event and will take all of the help they can get.