By Brook Stephenson**
Berlin, Germany is a city I found to be more or less familiar. I couldn’t place why until near the end of my trip. I went there as part two of a Euro city escape. Part one was London, England. From London I flew to Germany and one connecting flight later to Berlin. What struck me first is how lush the city is. Possibly the most floral of any city I’ve been in across three continents. Great parks. I crashed at my friend and artist Loganic’s apartment. He moved there from NYC three years prior. The main streets in the residential areas were much like Harlem New York City’s Adam Clayton Powell and Frederick Douglas Avenues with wide lanes. Everyone seemed to be moving at an orderly pace. Wait, order is King, long live the King. But that’s not just what I saw, it’s what others kept telling me.
“No one crosses on red lights here,” Loganic warned. He was serious. Adults would scold you if children witnessed your blatant disregard for the rules. It’s all about setting a good example for the future. It’s the thing that made me realize how Hitler could have come to power. Got it. Follow orders. Now I’m hungry. Where are we eating? What I first tasted was Turkish street food, mostly greasy but a pita bread wrap with spicy seasoned meats, onions, peppers, and sauces. I had burgers at an historic restaurant under an elevated train station and did some grocery shopping and cooking too. I went to Yaam, a local social space with food, basketball rims, volleyball net on sand, seating, bar & kitchen and space to sit at the edge of a river on a Sunday and relaxed way to well after perusing what’s left of the Berlin wall, now known as the Eastside Gallery, next to it. I was sipping a beer dangling my feet over the river Spree when it hit me why this place felt familiar. Berlin reminds me of Detroit, of home. Similar industrial design but the bottom fell out decades ago versus Detroit’s most recent decline. What did they do? How could my hometown learn from that? It’s the end of the trip and now I start paying urban planning type of attention.
Good people, great times, fantastic art and anarchy. Squatter’s rights ruled with whole buildings used by artists like the 10 story one with a ground and basement floor bar I walked around in right outside the commerce districts of West Berlin. The East Berlin signature international brand stores in with second hand independent shops and a population hailing from all over Europe and your closer to feeling the city I felt. I think you might like it. I did. Went to a drum and bass set spun by Marc Mac one half of 4hero and one of the originators of that musical form, peeped De La Soul wreck shop in concert, and danced to house music from dusk to dawn with Croatians, Serbs, Turks, Russians, middle-aged clubbers, and a few African-Americans. Saw to many pm dawns. The nightlife in Berlin is 11pm to 2pm the next day. Was awake way too much and slept too infrequently.
I was really tired when I flew back to London with 48 hours left to go until I headed back to NYC. I realized Berlin’s an artist’s paradise that’s cheaper than Brooklyn and while it had a dark past its present is still precarious. Skinheads are real, even more real are the average citizens who fight to contain them. But go. Visit. Enjoy.
**Brook Stephenson is a writer, cultural critic, and founder of The Rhode Island Writers Colony. An original contributor and editor to The Intercontinentalist, we unexpectedly lost Brook in 2016. He will be forever missed. #ForeverClever