Berlin is an interesting place. Words like grungy spring to mind, other words like dirty, interesting and weird also surface in my head as I wander the streets of Germany’s famous (and infamous) capital. It’s not unpleasant at all, it’s just a little odd…
Tattoo covered suicide girl lookalikes peruse multi-coloured shop windows while a group of famous German punks, pass a trio of spooky looking Goths going in opposite directions, a couple of skaters (one with a backpack that looks suspiciously full of silver spray cans) and a hippie looking guy who keeps talking to himself, all drink German beer and sit shirtless on the sidewalk… and that’s just the left side of the street..
To my right sit 3 girls (I’m not sure if they are punks or homeless, either way they look legit) holding a sign that says ‘need cash for weed and beer’. Walking the alternative streets of Germany’s Capital makes for an interesting stroll if nothing else, donations are optional of course!
If human watching were a record bearing sport, Berlin would be a serious contender for world champion, she’s right up there with Tokyo’s Harijuku or even a Jugalow convention somewhere in the disturbingly deep south of America.
One of the best spots to fit in a few curious hours of people watching include Kreuzberg, a multicultural hangout of artists, hipsters and street performers. While not quite the derelict home of punk squatters, music and creativity it was after the Berlin wall came down it still ‘buzzes’ with energy and is a great spot to spend a few hours playing a game of ‘Spot closest thing to Marilyn Manson and Freddie Mercury’s love child’.
Another side of alternative Berlin that’s very noticeable at first glance is its active street art scene. In fact it’s pretty hard to ignore it, given that in some areas of the city, Waldo, Carmen Sandiego and Santa Clause are easier to find than an un-tagged or unpainted wall. Doors, statues, walls, bridges, floors, even unattended dogs get turned into their own piece of (rather subjective) art.. basically nothing seems to be off limits for the graffiti artists of the city and there are some fantastic murals to be seen as you walk (and train/tram) around.
Check out both Friedrichshain and Kreuzberg for cool street art pieces, just bear in mind that the scene and the art changes regularly with new murals and art popping up overnight so while old favourites may disappear new pieces will appear just as frequently.
Given Berlin’s history of oppression, war and social upheaval, it makes sense that her modern people would be a little different and the city has become a very tolerant place, known throughout Europe for its liberal and relaxed attitude to almost anything different.
Berliners love their animals, especially their dogs which come in almost as many shapes and sizes as their masters, and tend to wander the streets ‘free range’ rather than leashed. Busses and shops are largely animal friendly and in typical German style the pets are well trained and friendly. The dogs also leave their own form of ‘street art’ on the pavements and against sign posts so be careful where you step..
I think that Germans as a whole are some of the friendliest people I have encountered in Europe (except maybe the Dutch.. those guys are ridiculously nice, maybe it’s something about cruising the canals all day in a boat, wearing nautical T-shirts and chilling under windmills). Tolerant, friendly and interesting, Berliners have created a cultural melting pot of a city where creativity, fringe culture and the just plain bizarre mingle with tourism, high finance, commerce and a relaxed café culture ripe with cheap (and excellent) German beer.
To compliment its alternative culture Berlin is becoming known as being one of the party capitals of Europe with some of the best night life in the world. No matter what you’re into, you can find it here. Avant-guard electronica fused with acid jazz thumps out of gigantic speakers as frequently as death metal or Beethoven. Find your niche and find your crowd, whatever you’re into Berlin brings home the bacon.
One of the more famous clubs is Panorama Bar, winner of DJ Magazines ‘The World’s Best Club’ award or if your things is a bit more edgy why not party in an abandoned industrial factory? Berlin has more clubs and bars in ex-industrial facilities than anywhere else in the world, a quick Google search will get you some interesting results so have a look and get exploring.
Also notorious for its wild ‘adult’ scene, Berliners are spoiled for choice when it comes to latex endowed sex clubs (not for the faint hearted). Basically whatever you’re weirdest fetishes may be, whether it’s feet, leather or pain (or something far weirder), I’m pretty sure Berlin also has it covered. Just remember that things that have been seen; can never be unseen…
I’m writing this post, sitting in a café in East Berlin and to prove my earlier point about people watching, a lady or gentleman of undefined gender has literally just ridden past me, long hair flowing in the wind, made up to high heaven and wearing a single piece, long sleeved black latex body suit, capped with knee high rubber boots, elbow pads and a spiky dog collar… it’s also 10:00am on a Tuesday morning. Welcome to Berlin.
I’m convinced that no matter what alternative scene you might be into, it can be found here. Punks mix with goths, skaters sip beers on the grass with the parkour freaks and the tightrope walkers, hipsters compete with pirate lookalikes in beard growing competitions and transgender cyclists share the bike lanes with the ‘suits’ in high finance.. It’s an interesting place to spend some time, and like New York or London it grows on you the longer you stay. This is Berlin, in all its weird, interesting and just plain bizarre, alternative glory…