Kreuzberg: Berlin Stuck in the 80s
Tired of the conventional trappings of tourism Mark Bibby Jackson decides to wander the streets of Kreuzberg to discover another side of Berlin.
Kreuzberg has the feel of Queens or the Bronx – not that I’ve ever visited either. Tree-lined streets are littered with bars, cafés and restaurants, exterior walls bestrewn with graffiti proclaiming the author’s individuality. Black guys hang around Görlitzer Park by day calling out “hey big boy” as I, politely declining their offer of hashis or stronger, walk past. Women push prams their babies safe inside, before visiting the No Man’s Land of the city farm, where ponies rather than drug mules stand in the glistening sun. This is uber kool grunge Berlin 80s style.
“The real Berlin,” my receptionist informs me. “No tourists,” she echoes as if I myself am a phantasm.
Like a time traveller back to late 1980s Stoke Newington, I walk along Falckensteinstrasse passing record shops selling vinyl and vegetarian restaurants declaring themselves “new deli yoga”. Whether this is a new wellness fad or typographical error I am destined never to learn.
Across the street, an ice cream parlour is waiting patiently for summer while Europop blasts next door to misplaced corporate clients.
Outside an off-licence a window proclaims “bier ist mein yoga”, a sentiment my burgeoning gut can fully endorse, though sadly the only table outside is taken.
East Side Gallery
On my previous visit to Berlin, I had experienced a totally different side of Germany’s capital – fine dining, fine wines and fine art. Here everything is most finely on the street. A man cycles past me passing a silver foil parcel to his companion, presumably to refresh the stock on sale in the park – although it might just be a falafel or doner kebab.
Across the bridge lies the East Side Gallery, the longest open air gallery in the world, or testament to the Berlin Wall that once divided this proud city.
Now Berlin is a living gallery. The adorned walls tell a different story – of a city still divided though now through class, race and poverty, just like nearly every other metropolis in the world.
I have signed up to go on a walking tour of the city, but the heavens open shortly before my allotted departure time, so instead I take shelter in Fraulein Wild café, and enjoy some coffee while reading Le Carré’s take on the city during the Cold War. By the time I emerge the sun has reappeared, and I check my watch to discover I am too late to join the tour.
Instead, I take to the streets to myself, only to see a group of people distantly ahead standing by a large mural of a cosmonaut. One man is talking to his gathered assembly, and I am convinced he is my supposed guide.
I follow their tracks around the corner, only to meet King Kong, his eyes bright red staring down from the wall beside me. Enough is enough; it’s time for a drink.
By day the streets of Kreuzberg have a run-down Central European feel to them. By night they are transformed into a Bohemian den of iniquity. All along Wiener Strasse, innocent looking shopfronts transpose into bars that should carry a government health warning as smoke wafts thought them more deadly than any crematorium.
Earlier, I complained about the smoking bars to one of the staff at the café where I sheltered. It’s not so much the customers, but the staff who suffer I explain; they have no choice. “Germans like being stuck in the 80s,” is her response, as if this explains, no justifies, all.
Some elements of this retro lifestyle appeal to the Luddite in me. Battered wallets with euro notes spilling out of them are still very much in evidence. No card tapping here. Although this can cause a problem if you do not come prepared with fistful of Euros.
In the end, I settle on a bar near Görlitzer Bahnhoff, calculating that one bar is unlikely to hasten on secondary lung cancer overnight. As I settle with my dunkel at the bar, Nene’s unmistakable tones start singing about 99 Luftballons. Perhaps I have truly travelled back to the 80s. Still, it could be worse; it could have been Da Da Da.
Kreuzberg Photo Gallery
Getting around Berlin
With its U- and S-bahns, trams and buses, Berlin is a great city to get around. Just look for the U and S sign as you are interchanging from U to S. Get a Berlin Welcome Card upon arrival at airports or tourist information centres. In addition to providing free travel on public transport, it offers discounts on many attractions. For more information click here. You can also, download travel Apps to help you negotiate the city, but there again that really isn’t very 80s is it?
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Mark Bibby Jackson
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