I’ll be in Berlin next week, a city I have much fondness for. Here’s an essay that I wrote about Berlin when I was 25. I was a little more wide-eyed and optimistic then, sure, but the general sentiment still holds strong.
(circa October, 2005)
So, Berlin. What to say? I lived there for a while, during which time I realized how much raw potential there is in Berlin to do what you want to do. A one-bedroom apartment in Berlin can be had for four hundred bucks a month or less; it’s amazing what becomes possible when that’s the case. Suddenly it’s a totally viable career option to be a DJ or a freelance writer or an artist. I knew people who made as little as a thousand bucks a month who were living pretty damn well. And that’s the sense of vitality that I loved about living in Berlin, this sense that anything was possible. And that’s something that’s very hard to get in New York, where everything seems to have a price tag attached. Yes, I missed New York City terribly. I missed Chinatown. I missed Brooklyn and Queens. I missed spicy food. I missed the amazing confluence and clashes of diverse cultures and people and commerce and hip-hop blasting from cars at 4 a.m. and misery and rich and poor and disco and that view of the skyline you get when you take the N over the Manhattan Bridge. I missed how late things were open in New York. I missed 24-hour diners. I even missed the people in New York who were just trying to make a fast buck. But I also realized this: in Berlin, you could build the life you’ve always dreamed of living. You could drop everything and take a train to Warsaw, or fly to Paris for a weekend on what it’d cost to take a taxi from Brooklyn to the Bronx.
Berlin at night is quiet. So quiet. It really freaked me out, actually. Sure, there are people on the streets, hanging out at bars, cafes, going out to clubs. But street life is quiet. People don’t just loiter on the streets, really. You don’t see people with boomboxes so much. You don’t see people blasting their music so much or breakdancing in subway stations or shouting on the streets or yelling “Fuck you!” so much. And I love that about New York. There’s this strange, stiff sense of politeness to day-to-day affairs in Germany. The most-used words, as far as I could tell, are “bitte” (please), “danke” (thank you), and “genau” (exactly). Yes, please. Thank you. You’re exactly right. Goodbye. Have a nice weekend. I liked that everything had a thin veneer of civility, but I also wanted to see it stripped bare.
Pretty much all the nightlife, cafes, all the stuff you’d want to do if you’re reading this blog are centered in a few different hip areas of the city: Mitte, Prenzlauer Berg, Friedrichshain, and Kreuzberg. I lived in Prenzlauer Berg–which is where a lot of New York and British expats live–mostly because I found a nice apartment on Craigslist and that’s where it happened to be. But after a while, it wore on me. It was nice, yes, and hip, and full of cute green parks and indie boutiques–but it was also full of stroller-pushing hipster parents shopping for organic produce, sort of like Park Slope in Brooklyn. Not that I’ve got anything against stroller-pushing hipster parents and their impressionable young offspring, but there were just too many of them. It felt a little too white-bread for me. I found myself increasingly drawn to Kreuzberg, home to the majority of the city’s massive Turkish population–the only really visible minority in Berlin. I love everything about Kreuzberg; it’s just so beautiful. The sky looks brighter in Kreuzberg, to me. The colors of the graffiti look more oversaturated. I love the way the murky river looks, snaking through parts of the neighborhood; I love the mossy green overgrowth of everything; I love the loud Turkish markets. Walking through Kreuzberg in summer is like tripping on acid. Kreuzberg is also home to Hard Wax, the legendary techno record store owned by Basic Channel. Continue reading