Postcards from Berlin

Posted by Rea McNamara, December 18, 2014
Berlin Street Art

Berlin street art. Photo: Tony Halmos

Berlin, according to Karl Scheffler, German art critic, was “a city condemned forever to becoming and never to being.” These words, dated 1910, were awfully prescient in how it spoke to the city’s complex history of reinvention. Weimar era decadence best captured by Christopher Isherwood in his late 1920s/early 1930s diaries, the rise and fall of the Third Reich, the rebuilding and division of East and West, culminating in the Wall, which ultimately fell 25 years ago last month, and would be acknowledged as a geo-political event that spurred the end of the Cold War.

Berlin - Lichtgrenze

Near the east side gallery, waiting for the Lichtgrenze's balloons to be released, as part of the Mauerfall 2014 celebrations. Photo: Tony Halmos

But what exactly is so wrong with “never to being”? I recently spent time in Berlin, and was excited to experience a city that often felt like a big construction site, where heritage buildings are renovated into complexes filled with galleries and cafes, and an old airstrip can become a city park. The past is acknowledged, but not sanctified.

Kreuzberg Cafe

A Oranianstrasse cafe in Kreuzberg. Photo: Tony Halmos

My better half and I stayed in Kreuzberg, a former West Berlin neighbourhood with a large Turkish community and, according to the Guardian, the world’s highest density of businesses accepting Bitcoin currency.

Berlin - Museum of Things

A display of German Werkbund kitsch at Berlin’s Museum der Dinge (Museum of Things). Photo: Tony Halmos

It was here we experienced Berlin’s exciting dining scene. I had the best falafel at Maroush, a cheap and super-casual Lebanese restaurant just off Oranienstrasse. Kimchi Princess, close to the U-Bahn station Görlitzer Bahnhof, does a very hip take on Korean BBQ. Nest, a cafe located at the edge of beautiful Görlitzer Park, is a cross between German and Mediterranean, and does a mean all-you-can-eat weekend gabelfrühstück (brunch).

Berlin - Gorlitzer

Görlitzer Park. Photo: Rea McNamara

But veering off from the obvious döner kebab and currywurst, the Markthalle Neun is a must-see during its Street Food Thursday, a food hub rammed by young and old clamouring at stalls serving ramen noodles, vegan burgers, steam bao, and more.

Berlin - Tempelhof

A green space in Tempelhof Airport. Photo: Rea McNamara

I thankfully worked off all the bread and cheese by biking around town. It’s the best way to get around, and there are many places to rent from. The city has intricate waterways — the Spree River, its many canals rivaling Venice — and parks. Tempelhof is stunning, especially at sunset with a can of beer and an unreal view of the city. A former Nazi-built airport that re-opened in 2010 as a public park, it’s a freeing open space where bikes fliegend on the runway.

Ciprian Muresan - Galerie Plan B

Walking through Ciprian Muresan's work at Galerie Plan B. Photo: Rea McNamara

Berlin, however, is also one of the global art capitals. Mitte remains the downtown epicentre, and Augustrasse is a great starting point for a sense of the gallery scene. Housed in a former margarine factory, KW Institute of Contemporary Art have until January 2015 two exciting solo exhibitions from Ryan Trecartin and Kate Cooper. Once a Jewish girls’ school, Ehemalige Jüdische Mädchenschule is now a complex with a few galleries (Michael Fuchs Galerie, Eigen+Art Lab) as well as a stylish deli (Mogg & Melzer) and classy dining joint (Pauly Saal Bar).

Berlin - Boros Collection

A surreptitious shot of a Kris Martin work in the Boros Collection. Photo: Tony Halmos

Sammlung Boros greatly distills this reinvention of the past. What was once a former WWII bunker and 1990s techno club (only in Berlin does such a combination exist!) is now a private contemporary art collection that can only be seen via a guided tour booked months in advance. (I, being the poor travel planner that I am, failed to do this, but somehow managed to score a spot on a tour the day of. Apologies for the #humblebrag!)

Berlin - Kumpelnest

The storied interior of Kumpelnest 3000, a Tiergarten gay bar. Photo: Rea McNamara

Yet Berlin is a city of the night. Bars stay open until the early daylight, with great sounds systems, lighting, and decor flourishes involving Romantic carpeting or neon fun fur. If I have any regrets, it was missing out on a Sunday afternoon getting sweaty at Berghain, the techno temple with Sven, the discerning doorman. I did, however, enjoy a couple very late mornings at Kumpelnest 3000 and Roses, the latter a Kreuzberg stalwart that combined my two favourite things in the world: the aforementioned fun fur decor and kitsch. Next time around, you'll be sure to definitely find me in the club.

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