My last day in Berlin, I decided to see another side of the city with a tour from Alternative Berlin. I’d spent much of my trip visiting museums and all the major monuments, so I thought it would be interesting to see some “alternative” sites. It turned out to be fantastic and I recommend it for anyone coming to Berlin. The tour was lead by a woman from Berlin (whose name I forget) who had a comprehensive knowledge of the city’s street artists. The tour group was pretty international and I ended up meeting a very cool girl from Australia with whom I spent the rest of the day.
After being introduced to the major Berlin street artists, including Alias and El Bocho, we went to Mauerpark where there is a wall on which anyone can spray paint. The city set it up as an attempt to reduce tagging, but of course it’s mainly used for practice before people spray paint illegally. There are a surprising number of parks, greenspaces, and trees in Berlin. Even in the more touristy areas there are full-size soccer fields or even lots that are still empty since the destruction of World War II and after. It’s hard to imagine a huge empty lot in the middle of Paris or Manhattan. There are parts of Berlin that have an ambiance similar to that of the East Village in New York, but the streets are twice as large and are lined by shady trees. I can see how people fall in love with Berlin.
One of the things I liked about the tour is we went places I would have been to scared to go myself, like graffiti covered empty warehouses complete with a squatter. I might be wrong, but I believe Berlin has a lower crime rate than Oklahoma City, so I guess I really shouldn’t have been scared in the first place. But exploring abandoned buildings is always more fun with a group, right?
Another Alternative Berlin stop was the West Coast Customs Europe shop in East Berlin. Yes, this is a branch from the same West Coast Customs in California that was on Pimp My Ride. They have their own show on the Discovery Channel now and according to the guy from the show at the store in Berlin (I would get more specific if I could), it should be broadcasting soon. Their shop in Berlin was renovated out of an abandoned train depot and we were able to look inside and check out some of their completed cars.
How often do you see a tricked out Smart car? There was also an old Chevrolet cop car that they’d worked on for a Berlin fashion show.
We had a delicious falafel lunch before visiting the Cassiopeia Indoor Skatepark, where boys under the age of 13 were doing skate tricks I will never learn in my lifetime. I have skateboarded before, but I’ve always been awful at it. Cassiopeia is a complex of awesome things in addition to the skatepark, including a music venue and biergarten. We only had time to see the skatepark. I have so many reasons to go back!
Our group visited an amazing thrift store and then a totally weird absinthe/camping/head shop that was run by a human incarnation of the Chesire Cat. The second place was the kind of store where I could see somehow loosing track of time and wandering out the following week. It was dimly lit and half of it was devoted to camping gear, the other half to legal drugs. I did indulge in a shot of absinthe, but skipped the hallucinogens.
The tour ended at the amazing Tacheles, a shopping center that was abandoned and later taken over by squatting artists. How many times have I used the word abandoned in this post? Ah, Berlin. Anyway, Tacheles has been around for about 20 years and is now an official arts collective where the artists who live and work in the building pay rent.
The artists’ lease has recently ended, so no one is sure what’s going to happen to Tacheles. There’s a large mural on one of the building’s sides that asks: “How long is now?” I hope it stays around. I don’t believe I’ve ever encountered anything like it. There are bars, cafes, artist studios, shops, and galleries in Tacheles and it turns into a nightclub in the evening. I’ve also never seen a functioning building with so much graffiti on it. It was literally covered, from the stairs to the ceilings to the floors to the walls. Every inch had spray paint or stencils or stickers or posters. I really want to come back in the summer when the courtyard is full of people.
I bought a messenger bag from Dutch artist Tim Roelofs’ store, who recently got some notoriety when his art decorated skirts in a Versace collection. After the tour was officially over and people scattered throughout Tacheles, I had a beer with the cool Australian from the tour in a bar that had a flame shooting metal dragon.
Later that night, we got green curry (finally!!) and went to a Berlinale film festival party. I’m not really sure how we got in, except that one of the Australian’s roommates had some sort of reason to be there. It was a little odd, as people asked me what film I was with. There was free wine and olives and the people watching was awesome. After, we went to a really awful dance club, but the night ended well at a Budapest themed bar with cocktails and candles on the tables. I think I got back to my hostel at about 6 am and woke up at 8:30 am to get to the airport and fly back to Paris. The trip back to Valence was fairly uneventful, just lots of standing in line and feeling tired. It was a bit of a downer to be back in slow Valence after a frenetic week in Berlin, although delicious pastries and seeing my friends has made me feel better about it. Nevertheless, I can’t wait to do more traveling.