A few weeks before our trip to Berlin, I went to The Cube in Bristol to see the excellent documentary film B-Movie. The film follows Mancunian Mark Reader as turns his back on late 70's Manchester and heads to the crazy, headonistic world of West Berlin between 79 and 89. It's an eye opening and deliciously funny romp through the sort of chaos and absurdity that we won't see in a major Western city again for a very long time.
On our previous visits we caught a small slice of life in the now departed Tacheles, an enormous squat arts centre that proudly shouted its antiestablishment credentials. On our arrival this time, a couple of local news stories caught my eye.
There had been serious riots in the Friedrichshain district recently in protest at police treatment of a left wing centre in the district. Almost simultaneously police had to clear crowds in the Neukoln district when hundreds of "hipsters" turned up for the opening of a new Vegan restaurant.
Also ocal authorities had announced a ban of properties being rented out to tourists via the increasingly popular Air BnB organisation, due to it's impact to locals in terms of both cost and disruption. As ever it appears that Berlin is the centre of the debate over what it means to live in a city.
But we had more pressing matters at hand, we needed some Euros, so took the short walk to Alexander Platz, where we managed to obtain a reasonable rate of exchange for our rapidly deminishing Pounds. On the way we noticed an office window displaying a small model of Queen Elizabeth waving goodbye as Britain prepares to set it's own course.
So Euros finally in hand, our first purchase was a 7 Day travel card for the bargain price of €30. The transport network in Berlin is fantastic and the ability to use one card on trains, trams, bus, U-Bahn and S-Bahn means that it is fantastically easy and cost effective to travel around this large city. So, where to go first?
Well to be honest we may have tried to squeeze in slightly more than we should have done, on feet that were still getting to used to being on holiday. For although the transport system is great, we always end up doing a lot of walking as well.
Initially we took a tram a few stops east to the lovely Volkspark for a wander around in the sunshine. Then went went to the DDR musum for a poignant and engaging look at all aspects of life in years that followed the end of the Second World War, when Berlin became the most famous divided city in the word. The museum takes you through all aspects of life, from the design aspects that created the look and feel of the city, to the dreadful suppression of rights and thoughts that kept the people in a state of fear for decades. Well worth a couple of hours of your life.
The we head south of the river to Kruzberg and something that was really rather special. During the summer months all over Berlin, multiple outdoor cinema's pop up and after some detective work we discovered that the American film Trumbo would be showing in Kruzberg in it's original language, with German subtitles - perfect.
Our evening perfectly captured the differing aspects of life in this wonderful city. The film was shown in the rear garden of the imposing Kunstquarter Bethanien, a former hospital turned arts centre. We left the U-Bahn at the Kottbusser Tor stop, the exterior of which was heavily populated by a collection of folk who appeared to have had challenging day, which required a heavy degree of "self medication". I want to be clear though, there was no specific threat from these folks, but it quickened your senses and ensured that you were alert and switched on. A ten minute walk away, we were sitting in the lovely setting of 3 Schwestern a restaurant located at the rear of the arts centre. We walked through the gorgeous internal restaurant and bar area, to enjoy the benefit of the charming courtyard and enjoyed a delicious meal before waiting for darkness to fall.
The weather that evening was perfect for sitting on a deck chair and watching a film. Some folks had gathered blankets but they weren't necessary as we settled in to enjoy the film, with the clear, warm, sky above us. The most testing element of the evening was trying work out how to set up the deck chair, but soon we were passing on tips to other deck chair virgins. The film finished after midnight and we caught the U-Bhan back to the Weinmeisterstr stop. Rather splendidly the station master locked the gates the the station behind us. Our first full day had been a long one, but gave a taster of the variety of engaging ways to spend your time that this city has to offer.