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

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

Berghain

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.

Berghain

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

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

Street Food Thursday at Markthalle Neun

Markthalle neun

I keep thinking that I’ll eat some great food in a regular restaurant but instead my best meals in Berlin have been street food stalls, food markets and festivals. I’m not complaining! I’m just pleasantly surprised because I did very little research before coming to Berlin.

I ended up in Berlin because I don’t live anywhere except hotel rooms while I’m working on tour. I have no home base and all my stuff is in storage so when I’m unemployed, I get to choose where to live. When I quit my last show I knew I wanted to live abroad for awhile. I picked Europe because i’ve already lived for long stretches of time in Central and South America and I wasn’t really feeling Asia or Africa. I hadn’t been to Germany or Eastern Europe, Berlin had a relatively low cost of living, for Europe, I love the musical Cabaret (my fingernails are currently green :) and it seemed like cool artsy city to hang out for awhile. So, I rented an apartment, bought a plane ticket and a guide book (which I didn’t open until I got into the city) and voila, Berlin.

Given that extremely unscientific, gut instinct driven, dart-at-a-map method by which I ended up here, I had no idea what to expect from this city and I’ve been pleasantly surprised around every corner. I didn’t expect the street art – though I might have if I’d done even a little bit of research – and I certainly never expected the wide range and availability of street food festivals nor the rabid enthusiasm this city has for ethnic foods of every description.

But even after attending several flea markets and casual Sunday gatherings in the city, I was still blown away by Street Food Thursday at Markthalle.

Markthalle Neun

The place was packed. PACKED. Probably 2000 people and upwards or 40-50 vendors selling every kind of food, wine and beer all crammed into a beautiful 19th century brick market hall. The event started at 5pm and was already crazytown when we got there at 6. That empty table you see in that picture was the last empty table we saw all night long.

Street food thursday at markthalle neun

People sat on the stairs, shared space with strangers, balanced plates on staircase bannisters, tucked bottles of beer in their pockets and wandered around with trash in their hands looking for an empty trash can for the next several hours. Fortunately there were so many vendors that there was never a long wait for food, we just had to be creative about where we ate it.

We started with the very first cart we saw selling kasspatzen because this description was simply too delicious to pass up

kasspatzen

And then just as quickly decided we’d get one of everything and split it so we could try as much as possible.

Street food thursday at markthalle neun

There’s absolutely no way to go wrong with creamy, cheesy spatzle. And we got to watch the guy make the spatzle fresh over boiling water.

Half the fun of this event was watching the food getting made, like this genius performer hand pulling noodles. He needs his own act

Street food thursday at markthalle neun

Street food thursday at markthalle neun

And this guy’s beer tattoos while he rolls out naan bread

Street food thursday at markthalle neun

Sadly, we didn’t try either of those dishes because there were just so many options! instead we next had a cheese empanada

Street food thursday at markthalle neun

Which was cheesy but not that worthy of note. But since we were sharing everything, we just ate it and moved on.

Next up, something not made of cheese.  And also, some wine?

Street food thursday at markthalle neun

Firstly, that’s German white and rose wines that were really incredibly good and cost about 3 euro a glass. Secondly, those oysters were  – no exaggeration – the BEST oysters I’ve ever had in my life. They’re from Zeeland, the western most province of the Netherlands on the North Sea. Slightly salty, perfectly creamy and tender and tasted exactly like the ocean. I’ve never had any seafood that seemed so fresh and perfect. We each ate an oyster, we talked about how much we loved those oysters, we ate the other one and talked about it some more. Then we went and ate other things and we came back and ate more oysters. They were that good.

We loved these oysters so much that when two other guys joined our table and heard us raving about them, we convinced them to go buy a couple oysters themselves. Which they did. And even they admitted that they weren’t big oyster fans but those oysters were exceptional. Incidentally, those guys – Kristian and Alex – are American/Canandian expat craft beer producers who now live in Bejing and make a beer called Jing A. They were on a buying/crafting/brewing expedition across Russia and Europe, doing collaboration brews with other craft beer producers in moscow, oslo and berlin. Very intriguing conversation and exactly the kind of people I love to randomly meet. If I’m ever back in Beijing, I’m looking them up.

Anyway, the oysters: Top Notch.

Next up was a carne taco that looked really good

Street food thursday markthalle neun

And was only ok. Given my experiences with arepas last Sunday and the empanadas and tacos here, I’m ready to say that Central/South American food might be a weak point in Berlin but I’d love to eat anything that changes my mind on that.

After all the cheese and salt – not to mention the subsequent glasses of wine – we wanted something fresh so we went for a spring roll

Street food thursday markthalle neun

And the roll was great and the sauce was odd… I wanted clear and spicy and this sauce was neither of those things… But the roll was great and it afforded me the unique experience of formulating this sentence in my German class the next day:

Ich bin gestern zu Street Food Thursday gegangen und ich habe ein frühlingsrolle gegessen.

Which basically means: I to Street Food Thursday went and I have a spring roll eaten.

See? Food is delicious and educational!

That spring roll was the end of our food tour. I kinda maybe wanted something sweet but at the end, we’d had enough. And there’s always next week… I will definitely be here again.

And that’s all I’ve got for you this week. I’m headed to Poland at the beginning of next week, if the trains are running. Cross your fingers for me.

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.

More of Dresden

Frauenkirche Dresden

The Frauenkirche dome looks intimidatingly high but “climbing” it means taking an elevator up to that lower dome and then trekking the rest of the way. It’s an interesting hike because, like the Reichstag, it’s a ramp that runs around the inside of the dome circling an inner glass wall and giving you a glimpse down into the church far below.

Frauenkirche

After that ramp circling, it’s just one steep long spiral staircase and then the upper dome with views all across Dresden

Views over Dresden

Views across Dresden

The wind was fierce but I had to try for a selfie

Kaitlyn Dresden

Yes, that’s hair in my eye :)

Dresden is a much prettier city from above than Berlin. It’s fun to be in an old school European city with palaces and old architectural styles, even if they are reconstructions or blends of all possible styles.

Dresden

I came down from the tower and finished my walkabout, walking under sky bridges that connect the palaces so royalty doesn’t have to mix with the common folk to visit each other

Sky bridge Dresden

And then went over the Augustus Bridge. The day before I had gone down into the park for a little lounge by the Elbe River, the perfect spring time activity. Look at the difference in the grey sky above and the sky below… That’s changeable springtime in Germany for you.

Elbe River

Elbe River

Springtime calls for ice cream at Eiscafe Venezia

Eiscafe Venezia Dresden

Ok, it’s mostly fruit  – obstsalat – because I don’t love ice cream. But there’s vanilla ice cream underneath there! And a mid afternoon cappuccino like civilized folk do.

I finished my tour with a walk down the Hauptstrasse, the main street in Dresden’s New City.

Hauptstrasse Dresden

Unlike the Old City across the river, Dresden’s New City was mostly untouched by the firebombing but it’s also full of boring Soviet-era architecture so it’s not nearly as picturesque. However, this street is lovely and placid and all the shopping is over here, as are the better restaurants.

And that was pretty much the end of my Dresden day! I was feeling pretty good about this whole Dresden minibreak until I tried to get home and was informed that no trains were running. Apparently the Train Workers union is on strike this week? What the hell, Germany!  And after I just celebrated your labor day too!

I waited for a train that never arrived and thus missed a bus intended to replace the train, got scheduled on another bus, went to bus station but was told my bus was not there (Deutschebahn?? Nein! Nein!) so I missed that bus, desperately wished I spoke German, back to the train station, got scheduled on yet another bus and finally got on it while it was parked in front of a car rental place… naturally. Don’t know why that hadn’t occurred to me.

I eventually got back to Berlin but it took about 6 hours longer than I anticipated. At least i got home. And it seems it wouldn’t be a trip abroad without some kind of bus drama…

Now I’m back in my little temporary home and I have a wine tasting tonight! More about Berlin tomorrow.

Hanging out in Dresden

Dresden Germany

I’d been in Berlin for 2 weeks and was starting to get that let’s-see-something-else kinda feeling. I blame this on touring because for 10 months out of the year I’m moving every week or two. Now it’s engrained and at the 2 week mark I’m all “What’s next?”

Plus I realized I only had a month left here in Germany, which sounds like a long time but in reality will fly by in a blink. So, I sat down, wrote down all the places I wanted to see, gave myself a loose schedule and bought a train ticket to Dresden.

Dresden Germany

Dresden’s Old Town was completely destroyed in World War 2 on February 13, 1945 when the British and American forces firebombed the city and killed 25,000 people. Kurt Vonnegut was a POW here during that time and wrote Slaughterhouse 5 about the experience. You can even take Vonnegut tours here but I didn’t because I’m not really a fan of his and I don’t totally get his angry satiric humor. I realize I’m uncool and now banned from all postmodern book clubs but I digress…

Dresden.

That picture above is of Old Town, which they rebuilt. From wreckage. They used the original masonry as much as possible and painstakingly put together all these historic buildings using mostly donor money. You can see the difference in the old and new stones in the way they weather (and that dome in the middle is nicknamed “the lemon juicer”).

This building, the Zwinger, is across the street from my hotel

Zwinger Dresden

Just a giant baroque palatial extravaganza in the middle of the city. As one does. Especially in Europe.

And how giant, you ask? Allow to me to explain, with pictures, that pictures don’t capture the ginormous complex that is the Zwinger. Here’s one direction

Zwinger Dresden

Here’s another

Zwinger Dresden

Here’s a cherub

Zwinger Dresden

These are naked lady butts

Zwinger Dresden

This might be the best I can do, which is about a third of the whole thing.

Zwinger Dresden

It’s vast. And obviously lovely and stuffed with statuary.

Zwinger Dresden

I could have stayed here all day photographing cherubs and awkwardly posing for strangers

Zwinger Dresden

But why would I just photograph and pose when this is a museum complex? There are three museums here that the guidebooks say are Amazing and Awesome and NotToBeMissed. Ok, here’s my dirty little German confession: I couldn’t be less interested in museums right now.

I’ve been in approximately 500 museums over the past several years all over the US and Europe. I don’t expect any future art experience to ever rival the Museee D’Orsay in Paris, which literally brought me to tears, nor do I ever expect to  be as pleasantly surprised as I was at the Chilhuly rooms in the OKC Art Museum. I think I’ve got museum fatigue. Old Masters and contemporaries can go unseen by me. I’m good. I want to be outside seeing things I can’t see anywhere else.

That said, I might have art fatigue but if I’d had more time or were I ever to come back, I would go to the Mathematics-Physics Salon in the Zwinger or the German Hygiene Museum, both of which seem promisingly intriguing.

Anyway. Do you need another picture of the Zwinger? All you had to do was ask…

Zwinger Dresden

And once I tore myself away from this complex, I took Rick Steves’ walking tour of Dresden, which eventually brought me to the Frauenkirche and Martin Luther

Frauenkirche Dresden

This is Martin Luther country so I refreshed myself on the Protestant Reformation and contemplated this church, which was completely flattened during the firebombing. It burned for 2 days and then collapsed and since has been completely rebuilt to the tune of 100 million dollars, mostly privately funded. This chunk of masonry was left out to show the devastation of the bombing, complete with a tiny metal stamp to show where the chunk originated

Frauenkirche

That chunk is about 3 feet thick. I can’t even visualize what this city looked like in 1945, nor what it was like to jigsaw these buildings back together and figure out what bombed out sections go where.

They rebuilt and repainted the interior of the church to resemble the original, down to the pastel coloring

Frauenkirche Dresden

Once the original cross was uncovered in the rubble, they planted it by one of the doors and made an altar to peace, though I think the entire city is an altar to peace.

Frauenkirche Dresden

And you can pay 8 euro to climb the tower, which I consider a reasonable donation to a church that has undergone as much trauma as this one. Of course I did it. When in Europe, climb a tower.

I’ll show you pictures of 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

Klunkerkranich

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

Revaler Strasse

Berlin’s May Day

 

April 30 is known as Walpurgisnacht or Witch’s Night. It’s a pagan night of bonfires and fertility rites, like American Halloween, and celebrated with giant parties all over Europe. They call May 1 Germany’s Labor Day. Back in 1889 Karl Marx called it International Worker’s Day.

Historically these were two different events. But in Berlin on May 1, 1987, a peaceful street festival went sideways when the leftist groups got into it with the cops who started throwing elbows and tear gas. The festival goers were pretty lit up at this point so they started flipping cars, throwing rocks, setting fires and creating a barricade around the Kreuzberg neighborhood, which they then proceeded to thoroughly loot. By the time the cops broke through the barricade and dragged the rioters off the jail, the Kreuzberg was trashed and a bunch of people were hurt. Everything eventually settled down but May 1 has never been the same since.

I didn’t know much of the history of May 1 before I got here but the Meetup group of Berlin Expats that I joined were throwing a barbq. Everyone else in Berlin had the same idea, of course, because it’s a holiday, so we all congregated in Gorlitzer Park in the Kreuzberg neighborhood, still the heart of the party/riot.

One small part of the park  looked like this

May 1 Berlin

The streets around Kreuzberg were completely shut down and most looked like this

Photo by Tim/Flickr.

Photo by Tim/Flickr.

However, despite the massive groups of people and the ability to drink alcohol anywhere you like, the entirety of the park was a relatively peaceful place. Lots of music and barbq, a fair amount of sun, beer for days and absolutely no public bathrooms for the approximately 7,000 people. I spent 2 hours of my life standing in line for the bathroom and finally stopped drinking liquids all together.

The Berlin Expats are a diverse group from Israel, Palestine, Australia, Thailand, India, South Africa and the UK. And those were just the ones I met. They were all cool and I had a great afternoon just hanging out and meeting some new people. However, around 8pm I hit my social limit and started to head back to the subway only to find that all the stations around Kreuzberg were shut down and surrounded by polizei

After 1987, the Berlin police force formed a special task force for street fights, mostly in an effort to keep the May 1 drama under control. Despite this heavy police presence, even the crowded streets were pretty chill. I kept saying “where are the riots? I thought there would be riots!” and one of the guys said “Kaitlyn, the sun is still up. No one riots in the daytime.”

I’m not sure that’s true since all the pictures I’ve seen from previous years include marches

Rallies against capitalism

A few kicked in windows

And general mayhem. I suspect that this year was no different but I didn’t see any of it. I’m slightly disappointed… but I’ll get over it.

Instead we watched the sun set over Alexanderplatz

may 1 Berlin

And finally got home after a lot of walking, several closed subway stations and lots of redirection.

Berlin’s survived another May Day. Congratulations! Now let’s see what the rest of the month has to offer.