MJH in Berlin

MJH in Berlin

Matt made it to Berlin! And despite flying for 6 hours and arriving at 1am his time, fielding a new country, currency and language and making his way to downtown Berlin to find my apartment, he had a less eventful morning than I did.

It’s been so dry here that I woke up with a bloody nose and then spilled coffee all over… well, all over something white that doesn’t belong to me. Given that this whole apartment is white, that gives me a lot of options. So my morning consisted of a lot of bad language and frantic attempts to clean blood off my face and coffee out of things for which it was never intended. And all this before 8am.

Despite that, I think the matter is solved – certainly my nose has stopped bleeding – and Matt arrived to be a witness to my insanity and patiently endured my endless “can you see the coffee here? how about here? here? Can you see it here?” questions when really he just wanted to drink some coffee and perhaps take a nap.

MJH in Berlin

Coffee first while we waited for Berlin to wake up and start serving breakfast. But somehow my favorite place never opened – Factory Girl! Why why?? – so we went to another coffee house where we had breakfast sandwiches and Matt posted this picture on Facebook exclaiming “first meal in Berlin!”

MJH breakfast

My favorite comment on that picture was “and you ordered a bagel???” Even in Europe, bagels win out occasionally.

I then had my almost last German lesson where I suffered through instructions on how to tell time on a 12 hour clock. If you don’t think that’s complicated, read this post because he explains it more lucidly than I ever could. Then I came home with my head positively stuffed with knowledge to roust Matt from his slumbers and drag him out to enjoy Berlin.

We started with food. BBQ in fact.

Markthalle Neun

I know! This is Berlin! Bagels and BBQ? What are we even doing?? But you know what? it was bad-assedly delicious so I’m not even sorry.

I took him through Kreuzberg, my favorite street art neighborhood where I always find something new. Here are a few finds from this trip:

These painted lovers

Oberbaum Bridge

And this sprawling epic depicting the fall of the Berlin wall and the rise of the almighty Euro.


We ended up at East Side Gallery, for my third visit. And I found new sights there as well, of which this was one of my favorites.

Berlin wall

And this tagged tagger tagging “sic semper tyrannis”

Sic semper tyrannis

A few silly photos because these faces demand it

MJH in Berlin

And a final sobering reminder of the reason for this wall

Berlin Wall

I love this gallery. It remains one of my favorite things in Berlin.

We finished the day on the other side of town at KaDaWe, Berlin’s fanciest department store. Berliners love these whirling cyclone-like installations apparently. This one reminds me a lot of the cyclone in the Reichstag Dome.


KaDaWe’s 6th floor is all gourmet food. Dinner? As if you had to ask. How about currywurst? (and an Asian salute)

MJH and Currywurst

An upscale shi-shi department store version of Berliner street food, Kaitlyn.? For real? I know. Our food has been all kinds of backwards today. But it was damn good and I’d do it again. And this rhubarb, raspberry, white chocolate dessert too.


Ok, that’s a quick and dirty first day. Tomorrow, more Berlin.

Berlin Wall

Weekend Highlights

Hackescher Markt

Hackescher Markt, a little area just south of me, has a couple of fun rabbit trails leading to yet more beautiful street art. I have an almost limitless capacity for street art, apparently, but there’s so much here that even I’m getting a little jaded and all “yeah, it’s pretty… seen that… ok, that’s interesting…” about it all. Here are some highlights that got past my filters:

Hackescher Markt

Hackescher Markt

Hackescher Markt

And this painted backdrop that looks so real

Hackescher Markt

Overall, Hackescher Markt is pretty touristy but there are definitely a few things worth seeing outside of the square.

And for something completely different, how about the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church?

Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church

Mostly destroyed in the war with just this spire and entrance hall still standing after 1945. This is the roof inside the old church, complete with resealed cracks from the bombing

Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church

They “rebuilt” this church by leaving the old church standing but creating a new modern church space beside, around and attached to the old church. I think it’s an unusual choice since the two spaces could not look more different

Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church

Although the new space is quite beautiful with all that stained glass.

Hung on the wall of this new church is the Stalingrad Madonna

Stalingrad Madonna Berlin

Lt. Reuber, a German soldier, physician and pastor, drew this Madonna and child on the back of a Soviet map during WW2 at Christmastime. He was subsequently captured by the Soviet army and died a POW but his letters and this drawing were flown out of the encampment on the last transport to leave that part of Russia and eventually made their way to his wife. This Madonna has since become a symbol of peace and reconciliation so copies are on display in the former Stalingrad, but this one is the original.

We checked out Bite Club, a food festival that happens on Friday nights.

Bite Club

It was fun, with many of the same vendors we saw at Street Food Thursday. That seating on the boat is quite cool plus it backs into an outdoor pool/beach club called Badeschiff


but still… nothing matches Street Food Thursday.

But while we’re on the subject of food, this is a dining room in what has to be the fanciest McDonald’s in all of the world.

McDonalds Berlin

That’s a crystal chandelier. I saw people eating off of real plates. But still with the red plastic chairs. I’m at a loss for words.

These guys are a notorious motorcycle club from Russia called the Night Wolves.

Russia's Night Wolves

They’re here in town to commemorate the Nazi surrender that happened on May 9, 1945 and they drove here from Russia, though they were denied entry into Poland probably for political reasons since there’s no love lost between those two countries right now. In Russia they’re good friends with Putin – who occasionally rides with them – they’re associated with the Russian Orthodox Church and they’re funded by the Kremlin while also running tattoo parlors, rock concerts and the occasional shoot out with rival gangs. While trying to picture any scenario in which Obama rides with the Hell’s Angels, I think words fail me here too.

As a final note, this is Berlin’s most notorious after hours club


It opens at 2AM sunday morning and stays open until Monday. The stories from here are legendary and I’m hoping to see more than the outside but chances are I won’t get in as they turn away 8 of every 10 people in line. Matt, get ready because we’re going to see what we can do to get in.


If we do get in, you may (or may not) get a report.

Ok… that’s it! More tomorrow from Poland.

Street Art in Kreuzberg

Kreuzberg Berlin

I only have one 3 weeks left in Berlin! I’m already getting sad about leaving and wishing, of course, that I could stay here through the summer. The city is just beginning to open up under all the sunshine. I can see all the festivals and warm weather in the future and I want to be here for it! But… I have other things I need to do so I know I’ll head back to the states in 3 week. However, until then I need to suck up as much Berlin as possible before I go.

Street art! Do I sound like a broken record yet? I’m just astounded by the amount of color and art in this city. I feel like I could live in this city for years and see something different on these walls every single day.

Kreuzberg Berlin

Jon and I went down to the Kreuzberg neighborhood yesterday. Kreuzberg is the home of the May Day riots and also where the punk rock scene was huge in the 70s and 80s. It’s still a gritty colorful rough neighborhood but it’s getting more gentrified, pushing the hipsters, artists and rockers down south to Neukolln. But there’s still a lot of street art everywhere in this neighborhood, perhaps more than any other single area of Berlin.

This mural of the cosmonaut by Victor Ash is one of the landmark tags in the neighborhood. Like Banksy, Ash is a former tagger whose work now goes for thousands of dollars in galleries around Europe.

Victor Ash cosmonaut

Street art doesn’t tend to last long around here. Even giant tags get painted over. But this one went up in 2007 and it’s still survived.

I love the range of street art, from massive wall sized pieces like this creepy guy who gives “lost in the crowd” a whole new meaning

Kreuzberg Berlin

to small emotional reminders, like this one.

Kreuzberg Berlin

I love the expressiveness of a few simple lines and two colors

Kreuzberg Berlin

Is that his heart? someone else’s heart?

And of course the political statement

Kreuzberg Berlin

Pointed at anything particular? perhaps just the whole neighborhood.

Kreuzberg has a large Turkish population so it was fun to see these ladies in their koffee klach

Kreuzberg Berlin

And the Oberbaum Bridge over the River Spree represents some of the oldest architecture in the neighborhood with beautiful brick vaulting

Oberbaum Bridge Berlin

This bridge leads into the neighborhood of Friedrichshain where the remains of the Berlin Wall and the East Side Gallery line the water. Jon hadn’t seen that part of the wall so we went down and walked the length of it.

East Side Gallery Berlin

It’s a silly photobomb but the painting as a lot to say about choice and who has it. Every time I see these paintings and the wall I’m reminded to be grateful that I have so much choice, in large part because of sacrifices others have made on my behalf.

This is a good reminder.

East Side Gallery Berlin

We ended the day at Street Food Thursday at Markthalle in Kreuzberg and it might have been one of the best food experiences of my life. More about that tomorrow.

Food Markets and Rooftop Bars in Berlin

Neue Heimat Berlin

Berliner Sundays are all about food, music, flea markets and being outside.

Neue Heimat is a former railroad depot that became an artist squat and now has been repurposed as an outdoor Village Market serving food and selling goods from around the world against some of most colorful backgrounds I’ve ever seen.

Neue Heimat Berlin

Neue Heimat Berlin

Neue Heimat Berlin

I could not get over these walls

Neue Heimat Berlin

Or this doorway

Neue Heimat Berlin

I was so visually stunned, that I wandered around for a solid hour photographing a bunch of fantastic backdrops.

Neue Heimat Berlin

Neue Heimat Berlin

Neue Heimat Berlin

Revaler Strasse

In comparison to the visuals, the food was almost secondary. Almost…

Neue Heimat Berlin

This is someone’s take on a cheese arepa with feta cheese, a variety of greens, beans and tomatoes stuffed inside an arepa like a pita. It was incredibly messy but pretty good.

However, this was my favorite nibble of the day

Neue Heimat Berlin

Paleo sweet potatoes with greens, seeds, cabbage and I don’t even know what all on it. Incredible. And while I ate it I got to watch a silly magician performing for kids

Neue Heimat Berlin

There was so much going on here, so many pictures to take and so many delicious things to eat that i’ll have to come back. They’re open Thursday and Friday nights as well so that might be a fun option.

But instead I headed off to meet these guys

Jon, Mark and MeI met Jon at the May Day BarBQ and we found Mark on the way home because he was a poor lost soul in the streams of Berliner humanity, trying to figure out how to navigate all the closed trains. This is our obligatory Americans in Berlin shot.

We went to a rooftop bar called Klunkerkranich, on top of a mall on Karl Marx Strasse overlooking all the red rooftops of Berlin.

Jon and mark at Klunkerkranich

It’s a great space that turns into a dance club when it gets late enough and all the hipster kids of Berlin congregate here for vegan pitas and beer.

Klunkerkranich Berlin


A lovely night of silly conversation and donor kebab, culminating in a really solid Sunday. A perfect end to my second week.

Revaler Strasse

The Light and the Dark in Berlin

GendarmenmarktThe sun came out today! I had museum plans but I think it’s supposed to rain for the rest of the weekend so I opted to be outside on the River Spree.

River Spree

I have a fondness for boat cruises and with the sun out, it seemed like a good choice. Of course it wasn’t exactly warm – 50F maybe? – and the boat moved a bit quickly for good photos but I saw some pretty things.

Like the Berlin Cathedral, the center of all things Protestant in Berlin

Berlin Cathedral

And the Weidendammer Bridge with an imperial eagle, one of the oldest bridges in Berlin

Weidendammer Bridge

I loved this architectural detail with the holes in the wall of the Marie Elisabeth Lüders Haus.

Marie Elisabeth Lüders Haus

It’s another of their parliamentary buildings with a wall open to the sky.

There were a dozen other lovely things of which I took approximately 200 terrible pictures. I won’t subject you to them. But the river cruise was delightful, albeit chilly, and a perfect way to spend a sunny morning.

I then walked down to the Gendarmenmarkt, the German market square bounded by two cathedrals and the Berlin Symphony Hall where a street performer was blowing bubbles

Berliner Philharmoniker

I could have watched those bubbles for hours

Berliner Philharmoniker

The kids were chasing them, people were trying to take pictures, there was a guy playing saxophone… the sun was shining. Captivating.

Until I got hungry… I stopped for a salad, something fresh for a change

Shan Rahimkhan Berlin

So I could justify some chocolate afterwards. Fassbender & Rausch say they’re the world’s largest chocolatier. Is that actually true? There are a LOT of chocolatiers in the world… But this one did a giant chocolate version of the Reichstag Building, where I was yesterday

Reichstag Building in Chocolate

And they have a chocolate cafe on the second floor with exquisite views over the Gendarmenmarkt

Fassbender & Rausch

I couldn’t resist a little something

Fassbender & Rausch

That’s an Orange Krokant Tortchen with orange cream, sponge cake, ganache, dark chocolate… all of it. And yes, as good as it looks. This little burst of sweetness helped fortify my soul because my next stop was going to take it all out of me.

I’ve been putting off the memorials here in Berlin because I want to give them each some proper time and attention. But it’s difficult. I don’t wake up and think “I’m in the mood to revisit the holocaust today.” However, I’m here. It happened. It’s part of the history of the world and specifically this city. The Germans have the grace and bravery to face their past head on, it seems the least I can do as a visitor is do the same.

So I went to Peter Eisenman’s Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

Memorial to the Murdered Jews Berlin

This memorial design is controversial, not least because it’s without any obvious Jewish symbolism and it’s abstract. It resembles a cemetery but there’s no writing of any kind on the concrete stelae. If I didn’t know it was a Holocaust memorial I probably would never guess, although it seems formal, severe and somber.

Memorial to the Murdered Jews Berlin

The name of this memorial states “murder,” which was another another controversial but incredibly important decision. No one just died in the Holocaust and I’m glad the memorial openly states that.

It’s incredibly difficult to photograph and the experience of it is strange because all those blocks are varying heights and the ground warps, rises and falls underneath them leading to long tunnels.

Memorial to the Murdered Jews Berlin

,But because of this ground variation I could see people walking and then they’d just vanish as the ground dipped and took them below the level of the blocks. I hope that symbolism was part of the intent of the memorial because it’s powerful.

I think this memorial has be experienced to be appreciated. The straight up visuals are only part of the story.

And the rest of the story resides in the information center under the memorial, a brutal emotional slog through pictures of concentration camps, stories of victims, recovered goodbye letters and a timeline of the rise and fall of the Third Reich. It’s a lot. And it’s not even everything by a long stretch.

I found myself more moved by the letters than the pictures and I spent quite a bit of time in this dark room where the name of each murder victim is projected on the wall and a brief bio is read about them in German and English. They say that projector of victim names never turns off and they think it will take 6.5 years to read through all the names of the Jews that died at the hands of the Nazis.

6.5 YEARS.

And they were just one group of persecuted victims! That doesn’t even count the gypsies, the homosexuals, the disabled and the opposing members of the Bundestag who were sent to concentration camps when Hitler rose to power.

I can’t get my mind around it. It’s too much. But I have to try because to quote Primo Levi “If it can happen once, it can happen again.”

And it is happening. Now. In different places and under different governments, in countries that don’t get as much attention because they don’t have the power of Hitler’s Third Reich.


The world is a harsh and beautiful place. I saw both sides today.

Street Art Berlin

The Remains of the Berlin Wall

East Side Gallery

Woke up at 5am today. That’s progress.

I’ve also found my internet router and reset it. Thanks to everyone who was concerned with my health and wellbeing… :) With my newly restored internet I spent my early morning trawling my way through a heap of Berlin expat blogs hoping to find some interesting people in town and/or get a sense of where to go and what to do. Instead, I came to realization that no matter what I do here, I’m truly not an expat.

Practically speaking I’m not an expat because I have no intention of actually expatriating. I go back to the US in 6 weeks. I already know that. However, I’m also not an expat because real expats have worries like finding jobs, establishing residency, buying cars and paying utilities. I’m not doing any of those things. Which begs the question, what am I doing?

In the movie Sheltering Sky, Kit and Port decide that the difference between travelers and tourists is that a tourist is “someone who thinks about going home the moment they arrive” and a traveler “might not come back at all.”

In Berlin, I’m a traveler and I want to find a community here; but I’m also a tourist, seeing the sights, eating meals out, dealing with my next tour job and staying connected to my friends in the US.

The tricky part is that in my non-Berlin touring life, I do all those same things. I’m literally a continuous full time traveler who lives in hotels, travels for work and for fun and has no home. I’m in a new place every week or two. I spend half my life adjusting to new territory, finding grocery stores, eating out, seeing the sights, packing and unpacking and staying connected to friends and family that I hardly ever see. So whatever it is I do in my life, I’m doing it here in Berlin too.

I’m not sure there’s a name for people like me. I’m a nomad, a gypsy and a world citizen… but not an expat. One has to live somewhere in order to expatriate.

And immediately after that realization, I joined the Berlin Expat facebook group because… why not? Let’s see how people really live.

After all those deep thoughts I went to yoga and yeah… quite the experience. I’ll write about yoga tomorrow.

Then I left my apartment with the intent of going to see the remains of the Berlin Wall. I stopped for a banh mi at Co co’s

Co co Banh Mi Deli Berlin

Because one should always stop for a banh mi if offered the opportunity. Doesn’t that look scrumptious? It was tasty and traditional with pate and pork slices and pickled vegetables. The woman who took my order asked me questions in German, effortlessly switched to English to finish my order and then shouted it back to the kitchen in Vietnamese. You know, trilingual. No biggie.

I took a lovely walk along the River Sperry

River Sperry

And got completely lost. With a map. That was no help at all. Story of my life, really,

I literally couldn’t figure out where I was so I finally got a taxi. At a certain point it’s good to recognize one’s limitations,

The taxi took me to the East Side Gallery, which is where the last remaining portions of the Berlin Wall still stand. Almost a mile of wall was offered up as canvases to artists from all over the world.

Some are famous, like Banksy

Banksy Berlin Wall

Arguably the most famous and yet completely unrecognizable graffiti artist in the world who creates art everywhere and keep from getting photographed. His street tags now have to be protected because his work is in such high demand. In 2003-04 he came to Berlin and created several pieces around the city but they’ve been chiseled away and sold at auction for hundreds of thousands of dollars. I’m not sure how he gets that money since there are probably 2 living people who know who he actually is… but I suspect he works that out.

Then some of the wall art pieces are infamous, like this kiss between Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev and East German President Erich Honecker

The Kiss on the Berlin Wall

Taken from an actual 1979 photograph that immediately went viral, even in 1979. That painting is all over Berlin now. No postcard is safe.

The painting styles on the wall range widely

East Side Gallery

East Side Gallery

And after the invited artists were finished, all the uninvited artists took over

East Side Gallery

East Side Gallery

It could be upsetting to see all these pieces get tagged but at the same time, half of these invited artists were street artists! And the entirety of Berlin is one big piece of graffiti. I’ve never seen so much street art in my life as I have here.

In fact the entire back of the wall was tagged

East Side Gallery Berlin

Allowing street artists to flourish makes this city really unique, I think. So colorful and with so much spirit. I love it. And using the wall as a canvas turns a horrific devastating event into a platform for political protest and a tribute to those who didn’t live to see it become art.

East Side Gallery

Jetlagged in Berlin

My big news is that I’m relocating to Berlin for the next 6 weeks so I can try out living as a European expat.

This is possible for me because I’m not working for the next several months and I don’t have a home base since i’m always on the road with work. Since i can live anywhere it might as well be somewhere interesting and I’ve recently wanted to live in Europe for a chunk of time. Living abroad is a challenge and I feel like I’m ready for it. I looked through the European cities and decided on Berlin because it had a relatively low cost of living (for Europe) and I hadn’t been to Germany. Plus Berlin seemed like a cool city with lots of artists and expats and it was near Eastern Europe where I’ve never been either.

While 6 weeks isn’t much time in the scope of a life, I’m hoping a get a feel for the city and the community. I have a bunch of goals for my brief expat life, the top few of which are:

1. I want to get into the community enough to meet local Germans and get invited to someone’s house for a party or dinner or something.

2. I want to take German classes and make a solid effort to get by in a language besides fractured English/charades.

3. I want to get into the expat community, meet people, have regular hang outs, see things in Berlin I wouldn’t see as a tourist.

I’m setting a rather low bar for myself, I realize, but the hard part for me is all the change, the newness and the challenge of meeting strangers. I’ll get all my feelings about these subjects later in the week.

I flew direct to Berlin out of Chicago. It’s the first time I’ve ever flown overseas on a direct flight and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Air Berlin

Especially on a half full plane with dozens of empty rows. Air Berlin has sketchy food and a strange selection of ancient movies including Titanic, Gone with the Wind and You’ve Got Mail, but we flew to meet the sun

Air Berlin

And arrived in Berlin at midnight Chicago time, which was 7am Berlin time.

I don’t sleep well on planes (or cars or buses or trains) but I had my whole row to myself so I took a little disco nap during the flight and felt pretty good when we landed. The Berlin airport is small and the entire Customs process in Europe is so relaxed that I wonder why we bother. No one asks questions, nothing is declared, they just grab your passport, stamp it and shuffle you through. Welcome to Berlin, whoever you are. I’m sure you’ll be fine. Next! I get 200% more hassle just driving over the Canadian border!

My taxi driver regaled me with Berlin history on the drive in to town. He moved here in 1987, 2 years before the Berlin wall came down. He said on new years eve 1989, everyone in Berlin came to the destroyed wall for a giant block party to drink “sparkly wine” and cry at midnight. The first new year for reunited Germany. Incredible. And incredible that it was all within my lifetime. I remember being back stage prepping for a college production of Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern are Dead when I heard the wall had come down. As momentous as I knew that act was, I really had no idea of the scope. I’m sure the Berlin of today is so dramatically different as to be unrecognizable.

I’m staying in the Mitte district, down in the center of Berlin and very near Checkpoint Charlie, the original crossing point of the wall between west and east. I had no trouble finding the apartment but a fair amount of trouble finding the check-in girl to let me in. Jet lag, early morning and not having a working phone all combined to an hour’s worth of hassle followed by a 4 floor walk up with 2 suitcases. At least it’s 6 weeks before I have to haul them back down…

The apartment is darling with incredible views over the rooftops

Berlin Mitte

It’s bigger than I expected from the pictures online and sparkling clean. Sometimes Air BnB does a really great job. Exhaustion set in once I got into the apartment so I took a couple hour nap and then rousted myself up. There’s no good way to handle jet lag but I know that if I don’t nap and I push myself thru the day, I’ll crash around 6pm and be wide awake at 3am. Hopefully a nap will stave that off and I can stay awake until closer to 9pm tonight. let’s see how it goes.

The weather today was PERFECT, low 70s and beautifully sunny.

Berlin Mitte

Everyone was outside in the parks so I ate a late lunch outside at the Ballhouse Gipsy Restaurant, a rather incredible biergarten and dance hall with a lovely garden

Ballhouse Gipsy restaurant

German weiners and potato salad with dunkel beer. What else am I going to eat my first day in Germany?

The rest of the afternoon involved buying groceries via charades (always a good time) and orienting myself to the neighborhood

How Long is Now BerlinSo much beautiful graffiti and street art, the apex of which is this artist squat called Tacheles. I’ll post a lot more about it later.

In the words of my flight attendant today “Ladies and gentlemen, on behalf of the entire crew I would like to say goodbye to you now.”

More Berlin tomorrow.