Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The Other Berlin

The New East Berlin

Day Three: Alternative Berlin

In 1989 the Berlin Wall was finally demolished and a whole generation of its victims left their grey dilapidated world behind. The pressures from free enterprise also toppled what was left of East Berlin's feeble industry as well.

This left much of the real estate in East Berlin largely abandoned, posing a dilemma since most of the real estate in East Berlin was owned by the defunct GDR government. With limited ability to discern the pre-war trail of ownership, much of East Berlin became subject to adverse possession and homesteading. Even today many tracts of increasingly valuable land remain highly contested.

Still Abandoned Real Estate in East Berlin

The now barren Berlin Wall kill zone started becoming conscripted as impromptu parks, squatter encampments and alternative night clubs.

The Wall's Location is Traced in Brick Throughout Berlin

A Turkish Immigrant's Dream Treehouse Still Exists
(Built in Ambiguous Leftover Space)   

Suddenly East Berlin had a rapidly growing population of young adults from West Berlin who left their parents homes creating lofts and studio spaces. They were quickly joined by worldwide expat artists plus many of the Turkish immigrants who were arriving in Berlin.

A Nightclub - The Magdalena
Cobbled Together From Leftover Spaces 
(The Portrait Beyond Was Commissioned by Levi-Strauss)

Twenty-four years later few will dispute that East Berlin is what is happening in the Berlin of today.

In order to make sense of it all we took one of Berlin's famous artist led "Alt Tours". These are free 3-hour walking tours that explore and explain the transforming of East Berlin and its evolving art scene. Our guide, an Irish expat artist named Alana, walked us through East Berlin providing her unique artists perspective.

A Monster From the Monsterkabinett

We began in the former factory of Otto Weidt. Today part of the former Weidt factory is a museum to celebrate Mr. Weidt's courage and resistance efforts during the WWII. The balance is now rotating studio space for artists from all over the world.

The artists now create art in the factory where Mr. Weidt employed deaf and blind people (many who were Jewish) making brushes. Once he realized the emerging Nazi's were rounding up and killing the disabled he redoubled his personal efforts to protect his beloved staff.

He continued using his factory throughout the war as a place of concealment for whole families Anne Frank fashion. He even journeyed to a death camp presenting fake papers to successfully save the daughter of one of the families he was concealing.

Today, one group of artist groups (the Monsterkabinett) uses the factory basement to create and display their moving sculptures. Other indoor and outdoor studios display constantly changing art including some interesting graffiti and "street" art.

Examples of Rotating Wall Art From The Weidt Factory Studios

We then travelled to the old East Berlin Post Office were the STASI Ministry employed staff to open and read everyone's mail. It is estimated that at the height of the STASI's power 1 in 8 East Berliner's were serving as STASI informants.

Giant Mural of Post Office Workers
(An Unauthorized Tribute to Berliner's Forced into Jobs They Despised)  

Nearby was the East Wall Gallery. This is actually the largest section of the Berlin Wall left. It is now an outdoor gallery where artists are commissioned to create street art.

A Giant Rodent

Between the East Wall Gallery and the river is YAAM (the Young African Art Market). It is actually a huge sandy (yes real sand) riverfront Afro-Caribbean beach club. YAAM features art, skateboarding, volleyball, basketball, Caribbean food, bars, and at night a reggae nightclub. It is truly a mash-up experience that can only be found in East Berlin.

Some of the Artwork in YAAM

We finished in the Kreuzberg neighborhood viewing its giant "Spaceman" artwork. While there we were the recipients of loud and extended obscenities hurled at us by Turks in passing cars.

Kreuzeberg is home of Berlin's Green party. It rapidly became clear that the immigrant population and artist population are dealing with the full-on pressures of gentrification and change.

Kreuzeberg's Spaceman

We ended the day at Berlin's amazing Ka De We Department Store near our hotel. We mainly perused its legendary gourmet floor. (IMHO) it handily beats Harrods in quality and selection. We also visited its rooftop winter garden to indulge in amazing deserts.

Rooftop Ka De Wa Restaurant

Then it was time to crash. We were scheduled for a very early morning flight to Madrid!

Roadboy's Travels © 2013

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