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more Berlin

August 9, 2010

Since the end of the Cold War, at least, Berlin has been a haven for those with angst and existential and/or quarterlife crises, those who want to disappear from life into an idyll, suspended animation, extended adolescence.

Maybe it is because my host is himself an expat, but everyone I meet here is from somewhere else, and almost everyone mentions not liking their life back at home, or needing a change or, especially, wanting to escape the pressure and expectations of home. This is nice but dangerous: because everyone wants to throw off the oppressive yoke of 9-to-5 Desk Job /Marriage/ House /Kids society, everyone encourages one another to be easygoing, to do exactly as they wish. It is perfectly acceptable and all too easy to spend all of your time sleeping in til the afternoon, not venturing out til the early evening, not doing much of anything in life but visiting cafes, bars, picnics, and parties. No one will give you any grief for this. They will, like I’ve said, simply raise their eyebrows conspiratorially and spread their hands and smile and say “It’s Berlin.”

(When  I say everyone, I actually mean “privileged, generally well-educated, generally white, Western able-bodied people in their teens, twenties, and thirties who had the means to pick up and move here and aren’t struggling to raise a family or anything, and so can afford to live real cheap.” I mean, I realize that Berlin is a city where people have dentist’s appointments, and pay bills, and are late for meetings, and go to the trouble of going to the grocery store to buy a light bulb for the hallway only to get there and realize they have forgotten exactly which kind of bulb they need to buy.

And there’s poverty here, and unemployment(near 14%). And these creative people keep coming here but there aren’t big companies to employ them–it’s mostly service sector jobs keeping this economy going. And there are questions about the immigrant population and how they’re faring in terms of integrating into society or whether they’re being ghettoized.

So I see all this and I think about it and think about my privilege and feel sheepish for being so bourgeois and “woo hoo! young people! permanent vacation! la vie boheme!” and all that. And I just wanted to acknowledge it.)

I imagine this would lose its luster after a while, but it sure is tempting.

Anyway! Yesterday we visited the Berlin Bier Festival (more than 300 breweries from 86 countries with nearly 2000 beers, offered over a 2.2 km-long stretch of Karl-Marx-Allee). Here we drank Störtebeker and Duckstein beers, and ate Thuringer salamis (one pepper-encrusted, one chili-encrusted, both delicious). The Thuringer region is apparently renowned for their sausages. There was also a pork chop sandwich, and the pork had maybe been cooked in dark beer. Maybe I’m making this up. It was delicious.

Next, we cycled to Mauerpark in Prenzlauer Berg to catch the end of the fun. On Sundays there is a massive flea market: Haircuts by Gerard 5 euros, accordions, old cameras, mismatched dishes, used shoes, spices, hand painted bags, beads, tee shirts with leopard cubs and howling wolves on them that are a perfect nod to the Three Moon Wolf phenom, rugs, furs, mostly musty flotsam and jetsam from the garages and attics of Germany and eastern Europe in the stalls but still all fun to look at. There is outdoor karaoke where hundreds turn up to watch and sing along. Unparalleled people-watching!

Fake beaches are a big thing here. We found ourselves hanging out on a fake beach, adjacent to the flea market, (just an area with sand and beach chairs) where there was a dj playing techno (there is a more accurate sub-genre descriptor to be applied here, but I sure as hell don’t know it. House? Tech-house? ???) and we watched people dance. I say “watched” because it was broad daylight and the crowd was sparse. I need the cover of darkness and a crowd to get lost in if I am to dance.

Before this trip, I was apprehensive about what clubs would be like in Europe. That old American inferiority complex about anything Yurpeen bein’ more fancy and s’phisticated than what we got in the USA. I had never danced to techno and was dreading it. But I’ve done it, and I’ve watched other people do it, and it’s actually quite EASY. If you are hopelessly white/bad at dancing, this is where you can come to find acceptance. Just give in to the unseemly urges that swell within your breast: do you want to mime slicing a pizza, and jerk around erratically? Or would you rather stand in place, picking up your feet one by one (stationary prancing),  throwing out your elbows in time to the beat, so that you sort of look like a dancing ostrich? Or would you like to just stand in the middle of everything, bopping your head a bit and shuffling your feet like you’re unsure about the whole endeavor? It’s all perfectly acceptable! So, I am, surprisingly, pretty sold on this whole techno thing.

The night ended with a visit to Hühnerhaus in Kreuzberg. It’s a late-night rotisserie chicken shack, basically. I don’t think our late-night food compares. I mean, Taco Bell, or a tender, juicy half-chicken with fries? Also, hühner is REALLY fun to say in a southern accent. Hühnerhaus inspired this dude to make a video (and I cannot endorse the lyrics but I just wanted to document the fact that it drove someone to such lengths)

In closing, two more things I’ve come to appreciate while here:

-Berlin is flat and there are bike lanes and lots of cyclists. And the drivers are so polite. No matter how much they might be cursing us and wishing they could mow us down, they drive like they’ve got all the time and room in the world, without crowding us. At home I’m usually pretty timid about cycling in traffic, but here, I don’t have to be. And this makes me feel better about how little I ride my bike at home. I’m not going to feel guilty anymore. When you cycle in almost any US town, you are taking your life into your hands! It is scary! America, work on your share-the-road culture and your bicycle-friendly infrastructure and urban planning, please!

-The word Straße/strasse. Strass-ah! It means “street” but it doesn’t sound so….functional (and should I say pedestrian, or is that taking things too far?). It has a sort of “cha-cha-cha!” feeling to it, in my totally arbitrary/unqualified opinion.

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