weekend away - Berlin
Written by Mara Goldwyn Illustration by Adam Oliver
Berlin changes at a rate that gives vertigo even to its long-term residents. Having constantly rebuilt and reinvented itself in the 21 years since reunification, the only identity the German capital can fix on is one of flux.
As a language that lends itself to complex compounds, German perhaps has a sole multi-syllabic word for the ‘consistent feeling of disorientation one has in one’s own ever-changing city’. But if such a word exists, many Berliners couldn’t tell you what it is. A large percentage of them have just arrived from around the world, and speak only basic German.
The lingua franca in 2010 Berlin is ‘Denglish’, a mixture of international English and Deutsch, and it is spoken by a cosmopolitan set of youngish artistic types whose creative penny-pinching lifestyle has made headlines in style sections and fashion magazines worldwide.
Berlin’s teetering infrastructure and low prices have turned into its asset. Word of the city’s laissez-faire attitude and affordability got out sometime in the late nineties, and the spaces left abandoned after the Berlin Wall’s fall – most notably in the former East Berlin neighbourhoods of Mitte, Prenzlauer Berg, and Friedrichshain – have been filling in with dreams, daring art, and cheap artists’ ateliers ever since.
But as the city’s history has always indicated, nothing lasts forever. The hope – and for many, indeed, the fear – is that a burgeoning ‘creative class’, new architecture, and cultural tourism for such events as the Bread and Butter fashion trade show, the Berlinale film festival, and Art Forum Berlin, will lift the city into the echelons of other world capitals, leading it to be pronounced in the same breath as New York or London.
The rise in reputation will certainly bring with it a rise in the job rate and in prices, but it may also scare off the very engine of growth: the artists themselves. meanwhile though, accommodation in Berlin is still inexpensive, the sights remain unique, and the pleasures simple.
One of Berlin’s most significant tourist attractions is, in fact, invisible. The Berlin Wall boasts only a few physical remnants, but memories are everywhere. Educated wandering is the best strategy for experiencing how much the city has changed since the Cold War – and it’s free. The Berlin website (www.berlin.de/mauer) offers interactive maps for walks along the Berlin Wall Trail. As you hike – or bike, weather permitting – keep your eye out for signs that say ‘Berliner Mauerweg’ and a telltale strip of bricks on the ground.
Take pictures, though. Whatever you see today most likely will be gone tomorrow.
While not known for being a luxury shopping destination, Berlin is still appreciated for its offerings in avant-garde fashion and interior design. Mitte’s Kastanienallee is the current go-to area to browse the latest, and perhaps the strangest, urban style has to offer. Duck around the corner to Brunnenstraße or Torstraße for scattered cutting-edge art galleries.
After a cold day, some unusual spas offer the opportunity to warm up. Badeschiff is a heated pool in the Spree River, insulated by tents (Eichenstr. 4). The Liquidrome (Möckernstraße 10) offers a domed bath famous for underwater music. And a number of Turkish baths separate genders for a traditional bathing experience, such as the women’s-only Hammam für Frauen (Mariannenstr. 6).
Berlin is rumoured to be the third-largest Turkish city in the world, as it is home to an enormous ethnic Turkish German population, concentrated in the western neighbourhoods of Kreuzberg and Neukölln.
In 1971, one particular Turkish-born Berliner, Mehmet Aygün, had the eminent sagacity to take a traditional Turkish lamb dish called skender and put it in bread to sell as a snack. Voilà! – the döner kebap was born.
Now to be found on nearly every corner of the city, the döner is the quintessential on-the-go fusion food for the late-night masses.
Aygün’s original restaurant, Hasir (www.hasir.de), has expanded to encompass six locations around the city, where a sit-down meal is as delicious as a döner zu mitnehmen (döner-for-takeaway).