12th November, 2010 by Dave Prentis

Tacheles is a huge old building on Oranienburger Strasse. Here’s a good short description from Wikipedia:

Kunsthaus Tacheles, formerly a department store in the Jewish quarter (Scheunenviertel) of Berlin, next to the synagogue, was originally called Friedrichsstadtpassagen. After serving as a Nazi prison, the building was taken over by artists, who called it “Tacheles,” Yiddish for “straight talking”. The building now houses an artists collective and may be demolished.

On the bottom level there is a bar, called Zapata. Its all outdoors and has a really funky setup, the ground is kind of like sand, the furniture is made by various metalwork artists out of things like old bins and fence railings. On the other levels of the buildings there are artists in all the rooms, doing their thing and selling it to the tourists that come by. There is some really good stuff that I wish I could have bought. What makes the building most interesting now is the fact it is covered floor to ceiling in graffiti and street art. Layers and layers of it, constantly changing. I have memories of some of the stuff last year, and now its been covered by someone else’s stuff. Because of all of this it can be quite an intimidating place to visit if you are someone that doesn’t realise what the place is, you would think it was some junkies warehouse.

Unfortunately now the building is facing a problem, the building lease has run out, and without anyone wanting it, it is likely going to be demolished very soon. There is a huge rift between the artists that use the upper floors and Zapata bar. The bar owes hundreds of thousands of euros in back rent or something, and thats one of the reasons why its going to be demolished. There has been a lot of back and forth of petty pranks like shutting off the water etc. Its a shame because I think its an awesome building, and its these buildings that sets Berlin apart from other cities in Europe.

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11th November, 2010 by Dave Prentis

One of the more colourful sections of the factory

When I did the Alternate City Tour we walked past an alleyway and the tour guide stopped us to show some graffiti on the tall chimneys and factory at the end of the street. She said the factory was abandoned and that inside was really really cool. If you were so inclined you could break in as there may or may not be holes in the fence. This got my attention pretty quickly. Abandoned buildings are one of the coolest things to photograph. However they are usually always fenced off extremely well or are hard to find.

I went back the next day and scoped the area out. The building was inside a construction and demolition site. Because of this the entire places outer temporary fence, and concrete wall in parts, had razor wire on the top of it. Down closer to the river there was a spot that the concrete wall stopped and a fence started, there was about a foot gap between them, with razor wire sitting next to it as if it had just been moved by someone. Come across another fence, this is a lot easier as where two parts join theres a massive open gap with nothing. And then a third fence. Walk over to where it meets perpendicular to the concrete wall, see that its not even sitting in its concrete footing, so I swing it open. Quickly walk across the open grass and go inside.

Typical abandoned building, big huge open rooms, broken windows, graffiti everywhere. Quality graffiti too. The main room down the bottom is the most interesting, but its also the most open for people to see you in there. As I was taking photos someone walks past a doorway and it freaks the shit out of me. It was just another photographer. I watch him walking across the room, without a care in the world, and then in comes the security guard because he saw the guy, and then subsequently saw me. What an idiot. He was saying that he’s just taking photos and isn’t that allowed. Yea dude totally, the three fences and razor wire are just to keep vandals out, not photographers, you guys are sweet to break in.

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10th November, 2010 by Dave Prentis

Famous JFK words at the entrance to the Kennedys Museum

Free Walking Tour
On the first day I decided to do the free walking tour offered by the NewEurope people. Id done the same tour last year but thought may as well do it again. It starts off at the Brandenburg Gate, explaining the history of it and the square in which it sits. Right next to it being the American and French embassies. And something which wasn’t pointed out last year is the hotel in which Michael Jackson infamously held his baby off the balcony. The tour guide humouring that this is often the highlight of the tour for some people. From there its a quick walk down the street to the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. This thing is monstrous, it contains 2700 concrete ‘boxes’ buried in to the ground at different heights. Its a fantastic memorial, you take and think of it whatever you want to. There is no signage saying what it is and what it stands for, its just simply there, making you think about what it might stand for and mean for yourself. Across the road from that is a carpark, and beneath it is the site of Hitler’s bunker, and his place of death. There is now a lone sign there explaining the site, but there used to be nothing and you would never know it existed. From there we walked down the road for a bit and came to what used to be the Luftwaffe Headquarters, and now its the tax office. It is a monstrous building, made of huge cut stones, something that was definitely made to last. Checkpoint Charlie is just down the road from that, and when people come to it they are rather surprised. It is totally Disneyfied and nothing is original, its all made up. What is great though is that there is billboards all along the surrounding streets explaining the history of the wall and the checkpoints, making a visit to the museum a rather expensive waste of time. After a quick break for lunch we walk through a few significant areas, such as the spot of the book burning, where there is know a fantastic memorial. The tour ends on ‘Museum Island’ infront of the Berliner Dome. The guide proceeds to tell us the story of how the wall actually fell, which was hyped up as the greatest story that we would ever hear in our lives. Its ok I guess. I tipped him 10 euros then went on my way.

Alternate City Tour
One of the favourite parts of the trip to Berlin last year was this tour. Unfortunately this was done on the last day we had there so wasn’t able to go back to any places we saw. So I decided this year to do the tour quite early on in my stay. Whats great about this particular tour is that because it follows the art, graffiti, squats etc of the city its always different as they are ever changing. The first stop is at a place called ‘Tachelles’. A huge ex-squat that is now filled with artists doing work and selling their stuff. The building is in a lot of trouble unfortunately though, with it likely to be demolished very soon. There are a tonne of petitions to stop this but I doubt it will help. Every wall inside is covered in graffiti of some sort, with quite a few pieces by guys such as Alias and El Bocho. The tour goes on to another place in Hackescher Market where it is actually legal to do any kind of graffiti that you want. So obviously the place is covered in a lot of good stuff. Walking along the street now in Kreuzburg the guide stops and points down an alley way at a chimney that has the ‘6’ painted on it, that particular dude is everywhere in Berlin. She then explains that the chimney is part of a really awesome abandoned factory that if one was so inclined could probably find a way inside. So I put that away in the back of my head for later. Right near there is the Copi Squat, which is I think the largest one in Berlin. A lot of people think that these ‘squats’ have people living in absolute squaller, but the living conditions aren’t actually that bad. They have running water and electricity etc. Just don’t go inside there wielding a camera. The tour ends at the start of the East Side Gallery, the longest surviving stretch of the Berlin Wall. It is now covered by awesome murals by various artists. The tour wasn’t as good as the one last year, but I put that down mostly to the fact that I already knew the majority of the stuff existed, where as last year I had fresh eyes on the subject matter. I got some great tips on places to go back to later though.

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9th November, 2010 by Dave Prentis

Finally time to go back to Berlin. Wake up to a miserable day in ‘Vrot-suave’, cold and rainy. Walk to the train station with not much time to spare before the train that I want to catch leaves. There are several trains to Berlin, mostly Polish not so good ones and one DB EuroCity train. I go to the ticket counter and ask for a ticket on the EC train and she questions if I really want it. See the Polish trains are like $2.43 to catch where as the EC train is about $70, so most people opt for the shit and slow but cheap trains. I however was over Polish trains and wanted to get back on to the German ones. And in the scheme of things a $70 train ticket is actually quite cheap. The train potters along quite slowly as we cross Poland, then we get to the border station and swap engine cars to the German one. All of a sudden we are now going twice as fast. Good to be back in Germany!

Couple of hours later it pulls in to Berlin HBF and just…wow. If you want to see how to build a train station then go to Berlin HBF. There is three different levels of trains, international trains going East West on one, North South on another, and then the top level is local S-Bahn trains. In between them is a couple of levels of shops. Its all signposted extremely well to make navigation a cinch and everything seems to run flawlessly. So I make my way up to the S-Bahn trains and go to Friedrichstrasse Station, then it was just a short walk to my hostel. Im staying at the same place that I did last year so it was easy to find.

Ill just start off the blogs on Berlin by saying that I love this place. Its a city that I could live, one day saying ich bin ein Berliner and actually meaning it. Its one of my favourite cities in the world, tying with the obvious other choice of New York City. These two cities are however completely different. Whats so great about Berlin is that it offers something for everyone. Its an ever-changing city, building itself back up from the devastation of WW2 and the falling of ‘The Wall’. For the historians and WW2 buffs then the list is never ending in what you can see. You simply just cant avoid it. I think its a fantastic thing that all of the history isn’t hidden, its even the complete opposite, with museums and exhibits showcasing the terrible things that the city has been a part of. There is different districts that appeal to different types. Mitte having the more upmarket shops, markets and tourist places to go and see. Then Kreuzburg being the alternate part of the city, what is also known as the cheaper part, but is now slowly changing. Walls (and really any surface) all over Kreuzburg showcasing some of the best street art talent in the world make a very colourful and interesting area. The nightlife is absolutely crazy, one of the best and biggest in the world. Its one of the only places that you can party from Friday to Sunday non stop if you wish to, with quite a few day clubs around. There is also a tonne of smaller more intimate bars too, and some ‘alternate’ ones as well, set in what used to be squats. If you feel the need to get out of the city then there is day trips to multiple places, including Potsdam the ‘city of palaces’, or Sachsenhausen the concentration camp. Everyone on a whole is also really nice and friendly, with the percentage of English speakers incredibly high, and they are all willing and proud to use it. So yea, ich liebe Berlin.

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8th November, 2010 by Dave Prentis

Gypsie: Hello do you speak English?
Me: No
Gypsie: Do you speak German?
Me: Nein
Gypsie: What do you speak?
Me: A combination of go away and piss off

That may come across as rude, buy gypsies are just the worst, and deserve it in my mind. If a homeless person asks for money I give a much politer ‘no’, or in some cases give away my unwanted change.