Posts Tagged With: multiculturalism

Strolling Around

I’ve been in Berlin for almost a month now, and this is my last week.  Time really has raced by, and I haven’t gotten everything that I need out of this archive yet.  But, that’s why I’ve decided that I’ll be coming back in February to finish up.  Knowing that I’m coming back has kept me from getting upset that I’m leaving on Saturday, because I have come to love Berlin.  In fact, I can easily say that it’s my favorite German city, which is ironic being that – in so many ways – it’s not very German at all (I have to be careful when granting the “favorite city” award, because Marburg, a city with ancient charm – holds a special place in my heart ever since it was my home for a year just over five trips around the sun ago).

I’ve been impressed while walking around Berlin’s city center, with its sprawling government structures, monuments and war memorials.  I’ve taken a couple of strolls down the perpetually-under-construction Unter den Linden, and down Friedrichstrasse, Berlin’s swanky shopping district.  The cheesy Christmas Market (complete with mobile log cabins and fake snow in the shadow of Berlin’s modern, glass, Deutsche Bahn tower) was a weird, yet fun, place to have a Bratwurst and Glühwein.  And I’ve spent nearly $15 to go see a movie (Catching Fire, which was awesome!) in the futuristic Sony Center at Postdamer Platz.

Those places are cool and all, but I really love Berlin for the places like Kreuzberg and Neuekölln.  My bus to the archive goes straight through Kreuzberg, another multicultural, young district of Berlin.  When I leave the archive at 6, and my stomach starts growling, I have to drive through streets lined with temptation:  sushi joints, Italian pizzerias, Indian restaurants, Malaysian street food, kebab stands, schnitzel shops, Chinese takeout…you name it – if you spin a globe and stop it with your finger, chances are there is a restaurant in Kreuzberg that’ll serve food from there.  So, needless to say, on more than one occasion, I haven’t made it home for supper – after my mouth waters for several stations, I can’t take it anymore, and I push the stop button on the bus, hop out, and take my choice.  One night, the pun of the burger joint called “Kreuzburger” tempted me, but I decided to go with Mexican instead.  I’m not sure why I thought German Mexican food would be a good idea since I’m a Mexican food snob, but hey, it was happy hour, so that made up for it.

In fact, since I’ve been here, I’ve only had “typical” German food once – sausage, potatoes (with a bit of salad thrown in for good measure) and beer – doesn’t get much more German than that.

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Guten Appetit!

I’ve already written about my neighborhood, Neuekölln, so I won’t take up more space on it here.  I’m going to miss it, but what I could tell from the 24 hours that I’ve spent in Köln (Cologne, which is where I’m heading on Saturday), it’s pretty diverse as well.  So, maybe not all is lost.

Here are a few more shots of my neighborhood, Neuekölln:

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Heading to the archives. Despite spending 80 Euros on a month pass, I have yet to have a single person check for my ticket.

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An Indian restaurant 25 steps away from my house. I’ve gotten spoiled on good, homemade Indian food, too, so – like Mexican food – I always find myself judging on whether it’s “real” or not. (Yeah, I know: snobfest.) I guess German tolerance for spice is even less than American, so the food lacked the typical Indian kick, BUT the Gulab-Jamun (think, balls of fried dough soaked in syrup!) made up for it!

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The soul cat bar didn’t have any soul on Sundays, though.

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Second hand vinyl shop, with a touch of German graffiti and a dash of the typical half-shredded posters

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Sometimes the graffiti can be pretty good, though.

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I love this: The Rosa Parks Elementary School

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Rosa Parks Elementary School: Play together, Learn together, Live together. A pretty fitting motto in such a diverse neighborhood

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And then right next to the Rosa Parks Elementary School, we have the Tempest Anarchist Library.

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Neuekölln recycling

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One block over, there’s a “free time colony” where people garden and grow things in the middle of the city. But, from the looks of it, they’re pretty selective about who gets in and who gets out.

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From Boston to Berlin

It’s a nasty day here in Berlin – cold, gray, and drizzling  – that kind of drizzling when you can’t see it from your window, but by the time you take two steps outside, you’re already wet and wishing you had brought an umbrella.  In other words, it’s a typical fall/winter day in Germany.  In a few hours, I’ll have to bundle up and head out there, on my way to the Schwules Museum archives.  Until then, I’ll sit in here where it’s warm and wish I had bought some coffee to brew this morning.

My apartment is in Berlin’s Neukölln district, southeast of the government district.  I’ve only been here a couple of days, but I could tell from the moment I stepped off the bus, jet-lagged and dragging my bag behind me, that it’s an alternative, young, multicultural place to live.  And when I first arrived at the apartment building, stepping over dog shit to unlock the graffiti-covered front door where one of the 5’s of the building’s “55” street address was peeled off and barely hanging to the wall, I thought Well, this is going to be an interesting month.

But, after sleeping off my jet lag, I took a stroll around the neighborhood, and it’s awesome (or “the hammer” as those crazy German youths say).  Neukölln is a hodgepodge of cultures.   According to Wikipedia, the god of instant, albeit sometimes questionable knowledge, about 60% of Neukölln’s population is ethnically German, and the other 40% are immigrants from all over the place: Europe, the Middle East, China, India, America.  When I left home, I was worried about not being able to eat Indian food for the 5 months I’ll be in Germany.  A half a block to the east of me, there’s a cheap Indian restaurant (whether it’s good or not, I’ll have to find out soon!) and two blocks to the west, there’s an Indian spice shop so that I can cook Indian at home.  Between here and there are an American burger shop, French pastry bakery, Taiwanese food, a pizza joint, a milk shake shop, Greek food, a hookah lounge, and a handful of bars, cafes, and, of course, döner shops.  There was one restaurant where everything was in English, and nothing but Americans and Germans speaking English in British accents sitting out front, huddled under the canopy while smoking their cigarettes.  Most of these little places are barely large enough to fit five people (and their dogs) in, and I love it.

To make things even better, I can hop on a bus right outside my door and get off 25 minutes later right outside the archive.  Or, I can take another bus and be at Potsdamer Platz in 10 minutes.

And now for a little advertisement:  If any of you travelers out there haven’t heard of or tried Airbnb.com yet, you should really check it out. This website allows individuals to rent private rooms or whole apartments for various lengths of time.  How it works: People who have spare bedrooms, own vacation houses, or folks who will simply be out of town for a while and want to make some extra money, rent out their room, apartment or house via the website.  You, as the customer, can book the space just like you book a hotel room: go to the site, select a city and put in the arrival and departure dates, and presto! you have a list of housing options.  You can even customize the search by selecting only private rooms, shared rooms, or whole apartments, and you can set a price range, too.  It’s really convenient that you can often choose to pay by the night, week, or monthly.  The people on both sides of the deal have to go through an identification process to make sure that you are who you say you are.  This helps eliminate fraud on both parties’ part.  Payments are also made directly through the website’s secure system.  With locations in over 34,000 cities in 192 countries, you’re sure to find a spot that meets your criteria.

That’s how I found my apartment here in Berlin – and it’s great.  Since you’re travelling, you can’t bring everything that you need/want to feel comfortable while you’re away: sheets, towels, pots & pans, etc.  So, why not use someone else’s apartment that’s fully furnished and fully stocked?  All I’ve got to do is go grocery shopping and stock up on the food I like, and I’ll feel right at home.

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Last night, I was thinking: I had just gotten finished with a Skype call to home, and I realized that I had complained about my flights from Boston to Berlin.  The first flight was delayed due to mechanical issues.  We were given a new plane, but experienced turbulence across the entire Atlantic.  Despite my attempts to fall into a medically-induced coma for the trip, the woman beside me (who told me at take off that she was petrified of flying anyway) kept waking me up so she could, I assume, run into the bathroom and cry hysterically.  The lines for immigration and security at London Heathrow Airport were so long that, despite a 2.5 hour layover, I almost missed my flight to Berlin’s tiny Tegel Airport.

But, as I lay there last night at almost 2am (realizing that I definitely had not gotten over my jet lag yet), I thought:  What am I complaining about?!  Look at what I just did:  I sat my fat, white ass in a huge hunk of metal that FLEW THROUGH THE SKY AT ALMOST 600MPH and took me to another continent…in 6 hours.  Then I used public transportation (the directions for which I already had in my pocket, thanks to a computer/Internet program that essentially has the whole globe mapped out, able to provide personally-tailored, real-time directions), to arrive at an apartment that I had booked two months ago without ever getting out of my pajamas.

Then I thought to myself: Self, when you put it that way, I don’t guess there’s much to complain about!

And then I thought: I don’t have coffee for in the morning.  

Life’s a bitch. 

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