24 Jan

So, it was my birthday recently. My thirtieth birthday.
It is generally thought to be a big deal to turn thirty, but being the non-big-deal-maker I am (I had no 18th or 21st parties with their obligatory embarrassing speeches and equally embarrassing costumes/drunken spews/make out sessions discovered by Mum or Dad), I thought, “Hey, no biggie, just turning thirty, maybe I’ll go to Berlin and then go to London”.

No biggie, huh?

Simon and I flew to Berlin on a Thursday night after he had finished work. Almost as soon as we had hopped on the airport-to-city bus we decided we wanted to live in Berlin. Way before we got to our beautiful, huge apartment decorated with vintage furniture and a shelf full of design and architecture books. Way before we’d sampled some of the ridiculous all-night nightlife. Way before we’d even taken one bite of a vegan breakfast buffet. Yep, even before all of that, there was something about the lights and the people and the idea that this was actually a city, rather than the kind of biggish town we’ve been living in, that excited the hell out of me. In a strange way it kind of felt like I was going home- it just seemed like Melbourne and Berlin should be BFFs or Sister Cities or whatever they call it because they had so much in common. Well, from what I had seen out the bus window in twenty minutes anyway.
I was overwhelmed and mildly panicked. I had no doubt that this place was going to be awesome, and I already knew that three days was not going to cut it. I had done barely any research into anything other than the seemingly hundreds of vegan restaurants and I had no idea what I was doing. I wanted to see the city but had no idea how I would accomplish such a thing in a short three days, with only an unread Lonely Planet in my bag and a few restaurant bookings in mystery locations.

As soon as we reached the main bus interchange we were lost.
We had a kind airb’n’b host waiting for us only a 5 minute walk away, only we couldn’t figure out which way to walk, due to the alarming lack of street signage and the impossibly large number of surrounding streets all bearing the same name of Alexanderstrasse. It was snowing, cold and closing in on midnight. There were a few huffy fits and a lot of retraced steps. I received several concerned calls from our host, which only threw us into a lost tizz even more.
When we finally got to the apartment it was awesome, but I was feeling a bit ruffled from all the getting-lost business so I went to sleep grumbling and cursing that this was going to be the worst birthday ever.
Sure enough, the next day- my birthday- I woke up with a frown on and through a series of slightly inconvenient events which most people would consider fairly mundane and not worthy of being grumpy about, my frown became even more etched into my face. We had nothing for breakfast and I was hangry. I went out to find a supermarket while Simon was still sleeping and brought us back a feast of olives, artichokes, three types of bread, orange juice, avocados and tomatoes and coffee, and somehow, inexplicably, it only made me madder.
I sulked as I ate my delicious breakfast in an exciting city, and felt like an idiot because I couldn’t shake the grumbles out of my unappreciative body.

I continued grumbling as we took to our day’s activity- an “alternative tour” of the city.
If I was doing a word association exercise and the words “alternative tour” came up I’m fairly certain that the next words to pop to mind would be “mind numbingly shit”, but I had heard good things about this tour company, and I figured it would be a good way to see a lot of the city in a short amount of time. And anyway, if it was that bad we could always just do a walk off.
I wondered if it was a terrible idea, and in some ways it was. We were lectured a number of times on “street art” and told what a “paste up” is. Even more enlightening was the lengthy description of what a “tag” is. Being in a tour group, albeit a small one of only 6 people, being led around to the popular graffiti locations (much like Hosier Lane in Melbourne) and being asked “so, does anyone know what ‘street art’ is?” was cringe worthy at best.
It certainly didn’t do much to improve my dark mood which was bordering on foul. Not only was I being told the ins and outs of street art about 10 years too late, but I had left my warm shoe insoles at home and we had been walking around outside in the snow at minus two degrees for a few hours. My toes were throbbing with the pain of the cold.
However, the tour was not all bad. We were led around various parts of the city- not to monuments or sights, but just to random squares and buildings in the different clusters of neighbourhoods that make up the city. When he wasn’t waxing lyrical about how awesome Banksy is, our guide was actually very good. He talked a lot about the separation that the Berlin Wall caused and he illustrated it with a few truly interesting anecdotes- one about a rock concert held right against the the western side of the wall so that people in the east could gather and hear it, and another one about a man who built a house in a little “no man’s land” corner of the wall, thus loopholing his way out of western and eastern law. Let me just point out here that he told those stories a lot better than I just did.
We walked down a street that reminded me a lot of Sydney Road and had falafel for lunch. We ended the day in a weird shanty town on the edge of the river which consisted of a beach volleyball area, a few ramshackle stalls with nothing in them, a stall making food and a bar full of Jamaicans smoking cigarettes and warming their hands on stones placed near the fire. You could tell the place would have been totally magical and full of people in summer. But it was the dead of winter and so it was kind of just a bit creepy.
I had a beer and started feeling better. My toes started regaining some warmth. I talked to an over enthusiastic Brazilian girl who was with us on the tour.
I went home, took a nap and woke up without a trace of grumpiness.

It was lucky, too, because we were in for a big night and grumpiness would have spelled birthday disaster.

We went for a fancy dinner at a restaurant that felt like it was really far away from everywhere.
Despite the fact that my main meal was 90% sauteed leeks and my raw cheesecake tasted like Copha I had a fabulous time drinking wine and late night coffee and talking.
We went searching for a bar that was in our guidebook, but the (perhaps unwise) coffee started playing with my guts and I was convinced if we didn’t get somewhere soon I would literally have to jump behind a fence and shit in the courtyard of an apartment block. Lucky I always carry tissues.
Thankfully a bar popped into view and I didn’t have to desecrate Berlin or my soul.
The bar was not the bar we had been hopelessly looking for for the past 45 minutes, wandering around quiet streets having no idea where we were. The bar did, however, have a functioning toilet, which I hurried to make use of while Simon was served by a waitress even more surly than I had been all day.
We got out of the unwelcoming place pretty quickly and went on a long and confusing journey to a club we’d heard about. It seemed that it was out in the suburbs and was, in fact, a derelict apartment building.
After passing through security we were in a large courtyard filled with white plastic constructions- there was a long white tunnel edging it’s way around the garden, big enough to fit 3 people across and tall enough for Simon to stand in. There was also what seemed to be a stage, and a few more white plastic shacks. It was all covered in snow, and there was not a single person out there, so we headed inside the apartment and stood in line at the coat check.

Coat checks are a big deal in Germany. When it is below zero outside you need to wear a coat to get where you’re going, but once you are there you don’t want to lug them around all night slung over your shoulder. Aside from using the coat check because winter coats are heavy and uncomfortable to carry around unless you are wearing them, I also discovered later on that morning that putting my coat in the check was a wise move given that every pore of my skin and everything I was wearing, save for my coat, smelled like a beer bottle full of ciggie butts.
This coat check was huge and had at least seven people working in it.
We’d been waiting to put our coats for a few minutes when we saw what the hold-up was: someone had come into the coat room holding a tray full of blue shots- everyone had stopped what they were doing, cheers-ed everyone else, downed their shots and started chatting. It was awesome.

When we were relieved of our heavy layers we headed upstairs, and found ourselves in a maze-like apartment which had been re-furnished with a minimum of effort to pass as a club. In a few rooms there were bars and people dancing. There was an enormous stained glass light fitting and large torn scraps of fabric hanging from the ceiling. As we walked through we found a room which had a pole dancing pole right in the middle, surrounded by some seedy looking sharehouse couches.
The next room was simply furnished with an old queen sized bed, complete with sheets, blankets and pillows. We went up a set of stairs and found a larger dance area, which was packed with people smoking and dancing. I heard lots of French people talking. We were here to see a French DJ duo that Simon had heard about, but when we arrived there was a guy playing minimal techno, which is not exactly my kind of thing. He had an undercut and a bun. We danced to his music for a while, and saw the duo we had come to see edging up on to the stage. One of them was an enormously fat guy with a pushed in kind of face wearing fluoro sneakers. He soon started yelling out to the audience in his French accent, getting everyone riled up for an awesome party. I can’t remember at all what he said but I remember it being awesome, turning to Simon and laughing.
The bun-topped minimal guy started wrapping up and the new guys made their way to the DJ area, which was blocked off from the crowd by a barrier that had dicks drawn all over it, and contained the DJ equipment as well as some op-shop paintings of nudes. The whole ceiling was covered with small wooden frames with ugly purple floral material stretched over them, hung at jaunty angles.
It was as if a super shitty sharehouse had morphed into a banging club. Even though I felt like a huge dork for it, I couldn’t get the thought out of my head that this was SO BERLIN. It made me embarrassingly happy.

So the minimal DJ fades out, and there is a moment of silence while the fat guy looks excitedly out at the crowd. With a movement of his hand Enya is singing “sail away, sail away, sail away” and it is the most perfectly suited thing I could imagine. Somehow in the context of this night, in this place, and the music that had just finished, the song seemed so right, and, remarkably, it actually seemed banging.
The DJ was not just a one hit wonder and continued to play sweet track after sweet track. I danced until my feet were literally sore, leaving at about 5 in the morning.

After a few hours sleep I was up and ready to eat something huge and greasy. One of my feet was swollen and bruised from all the dancing and I limped to the train station while Simon stayed in bed. I was meeting a friend who I’d met while cycling in Italy who happened to live in Berlin. We met at a place affectionately known as “the Vegan McDonalds” and I ate an amount of chips and burger that didn’t even seem possible to fit inside me.
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We lounged around at a cafe drinking tea and then it was back home for another afternoon kip before heading out to the next fancy dinner I had planned for us.

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Full of food, I fell into bed with my bruisy foot raised on a pillow and slept until the next onslaught of food- a vegan all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet that I had booked for the next morning. I jammed in egg salad, scrambled eggs, pancakes, waffles, warm bread rolls layered with centimetres of herbed butter, deep fried sushi, vegan cheese, potato gratin and breakfast curry until I could jam no more.

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We waddled over to the Mauerpark Flea Market, which was the flea-iest flea market I’ve ever been to. Many of the stalls were simply cardboard boxes on the ground, piled full with a combination of absolutely useless junk, filthy gems, and scrunched up newspaper.

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I lamented that we didn’t live there, because if we did we could have the coolest decorated house ever known to man. Amongst all the dust and caked-on dirt and rubbish there were some wonderful treasures, but I didn’t buy a single thing. It was big and sprawling and incredibly cold and my gut was achingly full.

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The guilty gluttonous jam-packed feeling from breakfast didn’t leave me until long after we’d gotten back to our apartment, packed our gear up and headed back to the airport.

I felt like I’d done a fine job of things given how overwhelmed I was by the thought of it at first. I am well aware it is a cliché to say this about holidays but really, it just wasn’t long enough, and although I had an incredible time I feel as if there were and are so many more incredible times to be had there.
It literally felt as if we’d just arrived when we had to leave, and if it wasn’t for the gammy limp I’ve been carrying around all week I could almost believe it never even happened.


2 Responses to “Berlin”

  1. Skip January 25, 2013 at 9:42 am #

    Ciao Bella. Happy (belated) birthday! Just read three instalments of ridebitch in a row – fabulous! When I was in berlin in 1984, two things stayed with me: a rock concert I went to near the brandenburg gate that was marked by some very dodgy drumming and hundreds of east german kids crammed up against the gate, which was part of the wall then, craning to hear he music. i’m sure they had concerts there all the time, but it would be cool to think it was the same one your guide talked about. the other big memory: a meal we had in a revolving restaurant at the top of a telecommunications tower in east berlin. as the restaurant slowing revolved you had a perfect view of the wall; and how arbitrary it was, cutting through the city like a scar across a beautiful face. i’d love to see the place now; see how it has changed. keep writing; I love your work. oh, and say hi to steven, or simon, or whatever his name is! ;] (please note smiley face to indicate that i’m joking….stefan means a lot to me.)

    • wantingkneading January 25, 2013 at 10:04 am #

      Wow, that’s so cool! I wonder if it was the same one? Sadly amongst all the rest of the information the guide gave us I can’t remember who gave the concert, but was such an awesome story. Let’s just pretend that it was the same concert, and I won’t tell anyone ok. I’m glad you like the blog. I have a terrible memory and writing about it all will hopefully give me a good reference for two years from now when I can’t remember having been in Berlin at all, hahaha. Lots of love to all the family x

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