Thursday, 27 September 2012

Good girls go to heaven, bad girls go to Berlin

This is the last travelling post I'm foreseeably going to make for quite a while... this weekend I'm moving back to university, so I'll have to stop pretending I can afford these sorts of jaunts, and once again start coming to terms with the fact I am a penniless student. A tonne of topics aside from travelling exist out there, though, so I'm hopefully still going to be keeping this blog up and running, even if not quite as regularly.

Anyway, Berlin. It's my favourite city in the entire world, and this was the fourth time I've been there ('Why don't you just move there?!', said my mum). It was mainly to meet up with a dear friend of mine whom I hadn't seen in ages: he'd spent the past year studying in Tokyo, and we're not from the same country anyway. It was also a great excuse to squeeze in some German practice in before uni, of course.

My journey got off to an bumpy start - I had to spend the night in the airport because my flight was very early. I've done this once before and it was pretty grim. This time, though, it wasn't too bad, probably because I knew what to expect. I brought plenty of food and Pro Plus to see me through. I happened to spot this sticker in a café toilet in Berlin a few days later:

We were staying in my friend's aunt's friend's apartment (it's all about who you know) in Friedrichshain, an area known for being super hip and quite cheap, despite becoming increasingly gentrified in recent years. It really was lovely. The street was filled with cafés and bars, as well as shops of independent designers.

Wahrhaft Nahrhaft, on Revaler Straße 16: a very cute café
That's right. A comic book dispensing machine (on Simon Dach Straße)
Inglourious Basterds-themed anti-Nazi sticker (there was a Brad Pitt one somewhere else)

Here are a few well-known spots in Berlin:

Brandenburg Gate, with the iconic Fernsehturm in the distance
Memorial to Jewish victims of the Holocaust
The Reichstag, home of German parliament. I still haven't been inside.
Panoramic photo montage of the city in Alexanderplatz station
A bear, the symbol of Berlin, in Alexanderplatz station
Berlin Hauptbahnhof, known to me as the most uncharacteristically inefficient train station ever
I mean... whoops! How did this get in here?
Since I last visited Berlin in February 2011, some changes for the worse have been made. Kunsthaus Tacheles is no more. If you're not familiar with it, it was a defunct building on Oranienburger Straße that, after the Wall came down, became a venue and a place for independent artists to show their work. There was also a café and bar, set up to look like a beach around the back. Many fun nights were spent there. Anyway, for a while there's been some tension between the building's owners and the artists, and I guess the artists had to give in. There was a lot of opposition, because Tacheles was considered a symbol of the city's post-war and post-Wall DIY mentality. Now I suppose it's going to be knocked down and rebuilt into a place that will be occupied by a big corporation.

Finally, it was the first time I'd been to Berlin as a vegan, and the place is a goddamn hotbed for tasty vegan food. Honestly, I was spoilt for choice - even though eating at "normal" restaurants usually isn't as difficult for me as some people might expect, it's just really nice to be able to order literally anything off the menu. I'll just talk about 3 places, though:

  • Yoyo Foodworld, Gärtnerstraße 27 (U5: Samariterstraße)
    Located in Friedrichshain, there is a huge menu here - I ended up going there twice to try and make the most of such a place existing. The first time, I had a freshly baked pizza with "cheese" and "salami". The second, I had Spätzle, an Austrian egg/cheese noodle dish, which I'd obviously never been able to have whilst I was living there, so that was really special. I would be interested to know how they concocted it because it tasted awesome. The prices are decent, too, and the staff are super cheerful and friendly. If I were to live in Berlin (a long-term goal of mine), I'd probably end up coming here quite a lot...

  • Vego Foodworld, Lychener Straße 63 (U2: Eberswalder Straße)
    As you can tell by the name, this place is affiliated with Yoyo, but the vibe is quite different. For starters, it's located in Prenzlauer Berg, which is a bit more... upmarket. It was pretty quiet when we went in. There were posters from bands like Fugazi, Propagandhi and Latterman on the walls, but Iron & Wine was playing. The whole joint seemed to be run by one guy with an impressive beard. I tried what is probably a bit odd for someone who's always hated the taste and texture of meat - a soya burger, topped with "bacon" and "cheese" (with fries and salad at the side). Probably as McDonalds as you can get, vegan-style. It tasted really good, actually, even if it wasn't the kind of thing I'd normally choose. Worth popping by if you're in the neighbourhood.

  • Sun Day Burger, Mauerpark Fleamarket (U8: Bernauer Straße)
    I'd read about this before, and wasn't going to check it out because it seemed a bit elusive (it seemed like there were several potential places it could be, so I couldn't really be bothered making that trip). However, since it was here in the middle of the market, which takes place every Sunday, I thought I would give it a try. They offer one burger - a fried tofu slice with vegetables between wholemeal bread, and then you can choose a sauce. I got the pineapple one. The burger tasted great, it was very flavoursome. But my one complaint would be that it was very messy - I couldn't really eat it properly and it was sort of embarrassing. They also sold nice cupcakes. All in all, a bit expensive, though.

The book forest on Kollwitzstraße, Prenzlauer Berg

So, there you go. Berlin is an amazing city to visit on a budget, I bet it will inspire you to no end. I feel so damn alive every time I am there, and it is my full, unabashed intention to reside there someday soon. Some have described the city as a perennial building site. Since Germany's reunification, it has been changing so rapidly, and I'm curious to see what the future holds for it.

I've been writing this just as a way to procrastinate packing for university. I suppose I'd better go back to choosing which DVDs I'm going to take with me, and say goodbye to reading for pleasure!