The alternative side

I promise that this will be my last post about Berlin. For this year, anyway.

It’s now cold in Berlin. Very cold. Especially in the morning, with me announcing to a coach full of Aussies not used to such extremes that congratulations, many of you had just survived your first morning in the minuses. The Queenslanders were especially proud of themselves.

But it still wasn’t cold enough to stop me exploring yet more of Berlin. I finally visited the famed Pergamonmuseum, with its Gates of Babylon and Pergamon Altar; nicked in to the DDR Museum with its Trabi cars and stories of the old East Germany’s use of communal potty breaks for toddlers; checked out the excellent Festival of Lights with its amazing fluro displays (see this photo album to get an idea) and was even dragged back to the land of the one-litre stein in Berlin’s own Oktoberfest in Alexanderplatz. I even managed to get enough groceries to last me two days for the unlikely price of seven euro. This city never lets me down, I tell you.

However, Berlin also has a side I haven’t ever really discovered. An alternative side, like that of George Constanza. Centred around the old West Berlin suburb of Kreuzberg, you are taken far away from Nazi bunkers and bits of wall. So, with the help of the Berlin Alternative Walking Tour, I put away my Tiffany jewellery, ditched the Marc Jacobs bag and scruffed up my sneakers even more. And off we went to Kreuzberg, with tales of vegetarianism and squatter bars in the air.

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Our tour guide, giving us the lowdown on alternative Berlin.

Kreuzberg reminds me of Fitzroy, or I should probably say, its what Brunswick Street is modelled on. It has the biggest Turkish population outside of Istanbul, lured by cheap rents after the Wall went up. Punks and hippies soon followed, excited by the communitarianism of West Berlin as an island in the East. Of course, since the Wall’s gone back down again, gentrification has occured and now Berliners pay a kaiser’s ransom to live amongst kebab shops, ‘colourful’ bars and street art.

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One of Berlin’s most famous pieces of street art.

Yes, I’ve used that term, ‘street art’. Kreuzberg’s full of it, as well as it’s notorious cousin, graffiti. Some of it was actually pretty good – the most famous being the massive astronaut planting a flag, of which is actually a shadow of a flagpole across the road at a caryard. Everyone elsed oohed and ahhed at the street art – I turned my nose up at some, snapped photos of others and generally just allowed myself to go with the flow. We were taken to some legalised squats which brought me back to my student union days – some of which, like a Turkish man who had squatted alongside the Berlin Wall but technically in East German territory, had actually been supported by the nearby Catholic Church.

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The famous squatter’s house.

It was another side of Berlin I hadn’t seen before and just added an extra dimension to the already diverse city. Obviously I wasn’t cool enough as I absolutely adore the East Side Gallery, a 1.3km stretch of the Wall covered in street art, which was dismissed by our laidback guide. “Over-hyped and commercialised,” was his opinion. Mine? Anything which introduces people to street art in a good way, like the East Side Gallery, and makes people aware of the fact it’s not all bad, should be promoted.

I scoffed, tipped him from my Coach purse which I now didn’t mind getting out, and went back to the Berlin I know. The Berlin that doesn’t mind my Tiffany.


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