Summer life here is so easy and welcoming–I live in Kreuz-kolln–a neighborhood that was once all Turkish and quite poor and still has half its population Muslim–with the women all covered in clothing–but not black or dreary at all-silk scarves of every imaginable color and floral pattern cover their hair and then all kinds of often matching and flambuoyant outfits –some incredibly sexy albeit properly all body covered–and the women are out on the streets, in the cafes, taking their children out and about, even smoking!! The business streets are mostly run by Turkish men–and can you ever get fabulous olives, fetas, yoghurts, grains, nuts and dried fruits everywhere–in fact there is a “Turkish Market” by the canal two days a week and it is bustling with everything from fresh fruits and vegetables to biryanis made on the spot to buttons, Muslim clothing to Bulgarian blue cheese,. Two kinds of shops are pretty unique–there are lots of extravagant floor length formal dress shops and then shops full of glitzy gold and crystal housewares.
The neighborhood has just recently–within the last four years– been sort of gentrified by young artists from all over the world. The result of this is that many of the heretofore abandoned stores on the side streets–which by the way are all cobblestoned on both road and sidewalk–have become little one-off clothing shops wherein 20 and 30 something fiber artists make dresses, tops, skirts, tee-shirts–whatever they fancy –and they are very creative both in design and in fabric. Or people open bar/restaurant/music venues in these old storefronts and there’s a “Berlin style” to them all–walls are taken down to whatever paint is stable–so often you have the history of the place traced on the walls–sort of like what David Ireland did when he renovated the 1908 barracks at the Headlands Center for the Arts. Then painting, sculptures, the odd cheap tchatzki, a hookah, a broken mannequin wearing a mask, a life-sized plaster sheep, velvet drapes and cool lighting is added…and the thing that makes these places distinctively “Berlin style” is that the whole place is hand-built and all the sofas, chairs, tables, lamps–everything –comes from Flea Markets and Salvation Army so all all is completely recycled, funky and mismatched to a point to look wonderful.
Plus the sidewalks are wide everywhere and all the cafes have tables and chairs outside and everyone seems to live all their hours on the street. Breakfast–fruhstuck– seems to be the favorite all day–I go to Cafe Liberda where I am greeted by a happy server Elmas–and where the chef –Marat, a Tunisian with a Turkish name who speaks “only” German, Dutch and French–arranges Brie and white cheese, Mortadella and Bologne, tomatoes and olives, into a a virtual breakfast bouquet with pineapple slices, strawberries, cherries, grapefruit and orange slices, grapes and apples with a soft boiled egg and two kinds of fresh bread as well–all for 4.5 Euros which seems to me quite reasonable for what is really a breakfast for two.
The weather has been glorious–mostly warm dry and sunny–with the occasional crazy downpour or sun-rain-sun-clouds-sun-rain days and I spend them riding my wonderful fat tire bike–the biggest heaviest bike Ive ever had–she’s white and clumsy but never falls into cracks or train tracks, can take curbs with elan and I’ve come to love her–I call her Bruni–short for Brunhilda Wagner (you must get the operatic reference) as she’s convinced she’s beautiful lithe and young…which in my eyes she has become. We ride for hours every day along the canal that runs across most of Berlin, is lined with willows, oaks, maples and linden trees that are in bloom and give the whole city an impossibly sweet scent–ah. Sometimes as well I go to the huge and forested Tiergarten which has lovely marble statuary, fountains, and formal gardens but which is predominantly forests and willow rimmed lakes and streams, with occasional green lawns, rhododendrons and ferns, wild flowers and spruce, linden, maples, acacia, and is full of singing birds–you’d never know you were in a city.
In Kreuzberg and Neukollnthere where I live there are few cars and they drive at the speed of a bike plus bikes have right of way, with cars and pedestrians both yielding to bicyclists, who, by the way aren’t those slick Lycra clad type speed riders–no. Here everyone–from the postman to the mother with her child in a seat, the businessman in a suit to the delivery men are all on bikes–riding at a leisurely pace, no helmets, no bike outfits–as if we all lived in a village rather than a city–and Berlin is flat, has bicycle lanes and low curbs everywhere so riding is easy easy easy–There are parks everywhere as well–it is one of the greenest places I have ever lived.
People here seem mostly young–babies are everywhere; parents walk their children to school, and people seem to talk away their hours in cafes-The girls and women wear layered flea market skirts and tops and always scarves..funky and cool, but what fascinates me is the style of men here–they all seem slight as feathers, concave at the belly, hairless, boneless even, skinny arms and legs, smoking and not a muscle evident in a limb–they seem to carry books and have deep intellectual conversations, read the paper or play with their children. There are of course workmen about with rotund beer bellies and a gruff way about them. At last there are the classic pink blondes often in wire rims–Only the gay men are muscled and the Turkish men are quite handsome–black hair and blue eyes.
There are music and art festivals all the time–I went to the gala opening of “Based in Berlin'” a five venue selection of the best contemporary art here; then spent a weekend at the “48 Hours Neukolln” fest with hundreds of installations, interventions, paintings, videos, and performances on the street, in storefronts, galleries and tucked away in all kinds of venues from a prison to KarlMarxPlatz, from allotment gardens to an old brewery… I was led on a wild goose chase through a low rent housing project looking for a rabbit; was given a massage; saw a video of graffiti artists in the process of spray painting a train; helped build a “Neukolln” –a cardboard replica of the cathedral in Cologne–out of pfennig copper coins and glue stick–“because we are all pretty poor here” the artist said “but the people here, by donating just small 1, 2 and 5 cent coins, paid for our cathedral nevertheless” ; went on a Sound Journey with an 11 year old girl at the mixing deck while we sat in a makeshift plane in the cellar of a store, our silhouettes and our route projected onto a screen facing the street; went into a “hotel” the rooms of which were old Airstreams inside of the ground floor of one of the traditional buildings here. The Christopher Street Parade–Gay Pride–was wilder and more fun than any I’ve been to in San Francisco or New York. And there’s a World Culture Festival, Berlin Fashion Week and the Yoga Festival all coming up….
On Tuesday June 21–the Solstice–the whole city has a tradition of free music in every neighborhood–I heard techno, rap, singer-songwriter, 30s torch songs, reggae, and pop just in my area and elsewhere there were choirs, symphonies and more rock, reggae, anything you’d like–with the city putting up the stages and sound systems and all the musicians playing for free. This idea of giving away, of recycling, of reusing is endemic here–and inspiring. At the 48 Hours there was the “Fest der Dinge” (Festival of Things) that consisted in people bringing clothes, chairs, housewares books to give away and of booths that helped anyone make things from remaking/reupholstering chairs to planters from recycled plastic buckets.
So there you have it–Berlin in brief–It’s great here–a little like Montreal, a little like Brooklyn…mostly uniquely Berlin
June 28, 2011
CHRISTOPHER STREET –PRIDE PARADE– I settled in with a Kindl (beer) und Fritz (French fries) and felt sehr Deutsch…Set to begin at 12:30, the parade itself didn’t arrive until 2 but beforehand people came and came and came, some dressed wildly, most just average folks in groups, with families, old and young, gay and straight, almost all drinking beer. Met Thomas (German, 50, raised in Britain) and Terry (French,43) very much in love and sweet and congenial—we talked a good while as they cuddled and told of their coming engagement and marriage—they’ve been with for three months but it was the first time ever for each that they have found love—really very touching and true. Thomas runs an art gallery and Terry teaches school. We shared beer for at least a half hour til they left to meet friends.
Then met Tobias and Peter—handsome men both—about 40 and in a seven year relationship—we talked and waited for the parade, watched a silly man in lederhosen prance amidst a throng of boys with “Born this way” stamped on their naked chests, met a pair of lovely young girls from Israel—twins– and a trio of beautiful Italian girls, an older artist Sybil from France, a hunky boy Thorsten in a furry rimmed cowboy hat and a tight pink teeshirt, assorted trannies in fetching sequined gowns and stilettos, and then came the Parade…
The PRIDE PARADE arrives…..Hours of fun with everyone delighted to pose for photos:-
-a loud and crazy brass band made up of a dozen or so good old boys wearing yellow and black—the colors of the Deutch Postbank
–a bevy of nuns—yes the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence looked gloriously lavish in pink
–a grand dame holding 30-40 helium balloons and wearing a Federalist judge’s blonde wig, smeared lipstick, blow up Dolly Parton breasts and a Heidi-like pretty little laced up pinafore top with the most amazing skirt–a carousel complete with red and white striped circus roof and a riding platform with horses and trucks, polar bears and motorbikes, zebras and police cars—
—creepy gas masked armies and leather bondage tribes
—a long gray-haired BoPeep in red polka dots
—a six pack of girls in rainbow Afros
—nuns and altars boys preceding the Pope and his bishops
—a muscular hottie bodypainted like a Picasso painting
—lots of older men teetering on stilettos or platforms and wearing silver lame or glittering golden evening gowns, their balloon breasts bursting out of cleavage revealing tops, pearls and satin gloves, wigs of bouffant blonde curls, of roses
–lots of twins—two white bobbed pink and pudgy men in black and white checked minidresses; a pair of bodysuited striped things– even their heads and faces covered–
…a trio of wind power towers with Mylar hoops and windmills on their heads
—a pack of roller derby lesbians in black and red careening through the crowd
—a Dominatrix of a certain age in a leopard- lined chariot drawn by leather bondaged “horses,” their faces masked and reined
–and my favorite couple- a trannie—fully decked out in leather and fishnets—strolling down the street with his grannie
All these festive people and hundreds of other costumed partiers appeared between huge semis hauling ballooned trailers filled with partying gays and lesbians and their friends, each one blaring techno music and sometimes dropping leaflets, teddy bears, condoms and stickers—many of which I had emblazoned on my shirt by the end of the day—all in German of course and supporting equality…I danced and took endless photos.
Best best best of all –at the tail end of the parade I met beautiful handsome blue eyed Stefan and his red-headed best friend Freddie from Cologne who swept me up into their party and we spent the next six hours together dancing and drinking well into the night—first we trailed after the last semi, they buying caipirinhas for me as we danced several kilometers into the Tiergarten to the angel and then all the way to the Brandenburg Gate. Polizei were following the last truck and sometimes sounding a siren but weren’t really doing anything to control the crowd—in fact ten or twelve of them were out on the street partying with us… On the way Stefan insisted that I must try a currywurst and bought us each a platter of sausage with a sweet sauce and bread—it was still a hot dog and I wasn’t into it so he ate both our plates and on we went with caipirinhas and sex on the beach down to the thousands of people all dancing and partying. Many hugs and expressions of love from both of these wonderful men—they were so sweet, not only keeping me refreshed with beverages, but buying us waffles und wursts and laughing and talking and hugging all day, the best of friends forever…At the end we found a great disco truck and danced full bore for an hour or more, Freddie finding a cutie to kiss, Stefan and I and assorted great guys dancing in a tight cluster of happy energy.