A Londoner's Guide To Berlin

Unlike Dalston, Berlin's vibrant creative scene is something born out of a century of history, not synthesised by silver spoon hipsters. Should you find yourself hopping over there, here are some tips to get you started.
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Unlike Dalston, Berlin's vibrant creative scene is something born out of a century of history, not synthesised by silver spoon hipsters. Should you find yourself hopping over there, here are some tips to get you started.

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If Berlin was a person, and it had a regrettable-drunken-split-condom-shag-on-a-dustbin with a Trustafarian from Brighton and that mistake resulted in the shitting out of a self-centred-obnoxious-arse-picking-bratty-skinny-legged-fuckflake, that child would be a place called ‘Dalston’.

I suppose what I am getting at is that Dalston is Legoland Berlin. Berlin is what Dalston would become if it grew up, took its head out of its colon, and people had to live by their wits and talent rather than on cheques from Mummy and Daddy, and the government abolished licensing laws. It will never happen, because Berlin in 2013 is a product of a century’s history, not something synthesised by gap year scrotes.

More than 20 years ago The Berlin Wall came down, a party began, it hasn’t stopped yet. I’ve been here twice, once for a month in the winter, this time I am 5 weeks into a six week stay in mid summer. I’ve hired a 125 square metre art studio / gallery in Kreuzberg for the same price as you might get a months rental of a box room in Camden. I’m painting, exhibiting, playing out with mates, observing, learning and having a ball. Should you want to see the fruits of my ‘labour’ go to www.robinleeart.co.uk.

Right then….

Basics- I reckon Mitte and Kreuzberg would be the main areas of interest to Sabotage Times readers. Mitte means ‘middle’ and Kreuzberg means ‘party town’ (that’s a lie). Head to the area around The Canal / Kottbusser / Oranienstrasse on a Friday at 8pm for some fun and you don’t have to stop till Tuesday if you don’t want to.

Locals- This place is populated by the most free-spirited, free-thinking people on earth. A commonly graffitied stencil over here reads ‘HAVE LESS DO MORE’, a pretty simple mantra. Most people are creatives who are happy to do as little paid work as possible in order to survive and do as they please. With that territory comes some real cranks, most of whom are somewhere between interesting, hilarious and ‘off the fuckin’ dial’.

Rent- For various reasons to complex to go into here, rent is cheap, about fifteen years behind London prices, but it will catch up! If you are thinking of moving here, come now and get something rent controlled or buy something. Berlin’s occupants are fiercely opposing gentrification but, unfortunately, they are set to fail, investors are seeping in.

Space- I am sure that there was a single item on the manifesto when the they planned the layout for Berlin, that item read ‘give every individual more room than they will ever need’. The streets, transport system, pavements, buildings, apartments, rooms are lush and palatial. The opposite of London.

Stress / Frustration- In London it’s abundant. In Berlin there is none, possibly because of a mixture of the above 3 points. Having spent over 2 months in total here I haven’t seen one angry exchange or grumpy face, it’s a tonic.

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Mauer Park- Sundays at this place are a scream. It’s like Berlin’s weekly circus where the punters are the acts. There’s a flea market, bands playing, food stalls, basketball court and a big field. Best of all is the ‘Bearpit Karaoke’. There is a large stone semi-circular amphitheatre seating around 2000, with a stage. At about 2pm an Irish fella shows up on a push bike with a trailer containing amplifiers a microphone and a laptop. People rush to give him their name and a song. Over the next 4-5 hours they get up and sing karaoke style, it can have you crying with laughter and sorrow and joy at the same time. I’ve seen anyone  from a 6 year old Scouser doing ‘When I’m 64’ to a Berlin’s answer to Shane McGowan sobbing while singing his reworking of ‘My Way’ to a slick Michael Jackson tribute act to a druid warbling out German folk songs. Within the first 2 bars the crowd decides whether the performer is a rehearsed smart arse or a panic stricken underdog and the place either turns to a murmur chamber or riotous party accordingly. Medieval and gladiatorial and contemporary at the same time. Marvellous! Closed in the winter.

Records- Berlin is like dying and going to record collectors heaven. There’s vinyl shops everywhere, most will be specialist (there’s a lot of electronic and punk) all are staffed by fellow obsessives. My favourite is Space Hall Vinyl, Zossener Strasse Kreuzberg. There is everything from 20 year old CUD bootlegs to Haircut 100 to the latest Boards Of Canada promo 12”. There are 15 turntables with headphones for you to try before you buy (which are often all occupied), toilets, and sofas for you to have a kip if you need a break from sifting

Hitler- Germans are palpably remorseful and ashamed of what the Nazis did. They lay engraved cobbles in the pavement of the city outside the homes of Jews who died in the Holocaust. In the centre of town The Memorial For The Murdered Jews and the museum underneath it is one of the most personal yet insightful presentations of the facts.

A German friend took me to the memorial….. On a cold wet November night, she walked me into its centre, it’s deepest, darkest, coldest and most claustrophobic part, it’s black cuboid columns towered above me. She then purposefully lost me in the alleys, then called my name from a distance as she left the site and I frantically tried to find her, no sense of direction, no light, hungry, alone. It was then that the power of this memorial hit me….. A German friend took me to the memorial….

They take responsibility, the whole nation, for what happened, rather than apportioning blame to a party or individuals. THEY WEAR IT! For this they deserve our respect and we should not raise the subject.

Drinking- I could be wrong but I don’t think anyone gives a fart about booze, music or trading licences in Berlin, as a result there are many bars combined with shops. This week I have been to bars which were also shops, including DVD rentals, records, books and flea markets. Places stay open until the owner feels like closing, which in some cases is not for days at a time, however there is rarely entrance fees or doormen to piss you off. Bars will spontaneously turn into clubs if someone has some records.

This article could be twice as long. I have said nothing about cinemas, sights, clubs, food, parks, venues, gigs etc. So, any tips / opinions please add them below. Nice one. Robin x