Posted by: facetothewind | July 12, 2010

I made it to Berlin

Before heading to Barcelona, I squeezed in a couple days in Berlin. I’ve always wanted to go to Berlin but somehow was intimidated by it thinking it was all a big underground scene, dark rooms, special knocks to get into a speakeasy, Sally Bowles singing on stage with tits and glitter and Nazis. Not so. Berlin is a capitol city and is inhabited by smart, fast-paced, intense people. It has a lot of neighborhoods that seem innocuous on the surface. It’s quite a lot like a low-rise New York City.

Yes, I know it looks pleasant in the photo above, but I can’t really say it was all that pleasant in person. It was too hot and I was travel weary from so many other cities over the last 8 weeks that I just didn’t have the stamina for yet another city. Sebastian had to stay home for school and so I went alone. Arriving at a bustling city train station in a foreign country is not a foreign experience for me. I’m used to it by now. But I don’t find it all that pleasant. It’s disorienting and stressful. I arrived on my bicycle and immediately found myself cycling in the wrong direction, waiting in line to buy a map, getting befuddled by the map and not feeling comfortable enough with German people to ask for directions. So I just cycled the whole city. I got lost, I found my way and got lost again. I rode down one-way streets and got yelled at, I rode on the wrong side of the sidewalk and got yelled at, stared at and finally I just found myself hiding from people. I just didn’t want to see another snarl-faced German giving me the death stare. This city has so much to offer and yet was just not really that agreeable…just like New York. You gotta know where to go and don’t mess with the locals – especially if you’re in their way or they’re in a hurry. Sigh.

Like all of Germany’s major cities, there’s precious little left of the old city. It was all destroyed in the war. The Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church remains as a memorial to war. Here’s the inside…

And here’s the outside…

Adjacent, they built their new cathedral which looks like an air filter on the outside, but inside is an ocean of Chagall-blue glass. It was very soothing on a hot day…

I met my new friend Imry from Israel (a man I met on the train from Prague) for dinner. We went for a tour of a neighborhood Oranienburger Strasse and an artist’s squat called Kunsthaus Tacheles. It reeked of urine and cigarettes. The art was definitely what I thought of as Berlin…scruffy underground. See the video for a little tour of it…

I got a picture of Bratwurst man before he gave me a lecture that I should buy his meat if I was going to take his picture. I told him I was a vegetarian with an appetite only for photographing walking wieners.

But in general, Germans don’t like their pictures taken. Germans really make you appreciate the willingness of Asians to be photographed. I think this photo-phobia comes from the GDR/Stasi era and their attendant suspicion of everyone. I got busted by a hooker on Oranienburger Strasse when I pretended to be photographing the TV tower and way across the street and down the block she saw me. So when I crossed the street, she came right for me speaking perfect English with razor sharpness. “The girls don’t like to be photographed. Sometimes they take z camera and smash it on z ground.” Having compassion for a woman selling her body to men on the street, I offered to show her the picture and even though it was unrecognizable who she was in the distance, I deleted it. However, I filmed the whole encounter without her knowing. I am leaving that off the video. Her outfit was a hoot, though. It looked something like the St. Pauli girl. I wonder if that’s what the tourists want when they come to Germany?

I found it easier to just photograph buildings instead of cranky Germans. A couple shots from around the TV tower…

There is a summer phenomenon going on in Berlin…the summer beach bars. There were many of them with imported beach sand and tiki huts serving tropical drinks…

Imry showed me a big synagogue in Berlin that has armed guards round the clock. I’m glad to see that Germany takes protecting Jewish culture seriously now…

I also visited my friend Mike Benda who cycled with me for a half-day tour around the Tiergarten and Schöneberg neighborhood. He gives a good tour and was very helpful in helping me understand the city and the people. And yes, people do sunbathe naked in the park, right alongside a major road. Germans have a very practical approach to the body. I appreciate that.

On the way home I visited the Holocaust Memorial. It was striking, albeit a bit unclear how it is related to the event…

The train ride home was painful. The train was an hour and a half late, had inadequate air conditioning for the 95 degree heat and I was constantly stared at by other passengers. I finally just snapped at a young man who wouldn’t stop giving me the stink-eye. I asked him, “Why do you keep looking at me? Is it a German thing to stare?” He looked away as if he didn’t know what I was talking about. He did.

I want to go back to Berlin sometime when I’m not travel weary, with a native speaker and when it’s not pushing 100 degrees F.



  1. Punkin,

    Berlin is NEVER what I expect it to be, but it is usually enlightening… that is, I probably learn more about myself than I learn about the city.

    Yeah, Berliners don’t take shit from anyone… and they are not afraid of a confrontation…. it’s how they show they CARE?!?!?!?!?! Ha ha ha.

    Liked the art and music segments… Latin culture is very big there, now… I spoke more Spanish than English… Must. Practice. My. German.

    USA-centrism pisses them off (understandably so) I think.

    Was hoping for a little Freibodykultur eye candy, frankly in your video… are you loosing your touch (nerve)?

    Home now on the pig farm in Nebraska for a week. Tonight back to Tucson to begin re-inventing myself for the next 7 or so years.

    Never a dull moment. Stay cool… wear fewer clothes. Go to the Sea…. build a sand bunker and sit in a StrandKorb… think Havanna in the 30’s.

    Kiss Kissy,

    Sr. Brad

    • I didn’t DARE film nude Germans…heavens, they’d pillory me. I can describe for you the scene in the Tiergarten, but I’m sure you already know it…lots of men with oiled-up turkey skin, cock and nipple rings and cigarette smoke everywhere. Not quite my scene!


      About the staring…I don’t flatter myself to think it’s b/c I’m cute or well-dressed. Even babies stare. I think we are naturally amused by each other and want to stare, but in the US and most places in the world, it’s a social taboo. Not in Germany. They let their babies stare and so they grow up doing it as if it’s nothing. So maybe I have to just get over it and evaluate my own feelings of violation about it. Everyone here says, “Stare back!” So I do. They don’t like that. 🙂

  2. I *told* you they stare. I have never felt more stared and glared at in my life than the short time I spent in Stuttgart. It was only about 7 months but seemed like a lifetime. I wish the guy had answered you and explained why he was staring. Possibly it’s a compliment. I had one German/American lady tell me that Germans (at least in Stuttgart, the Schwabs) stare if they like how someone is dressed. Were you wearing a nice brooch?

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