A Night in Neukölln

You’ve probably heard, Berlin is one of the coolest cities in the world. You probably know about its fascinating history and museums, as well as the ever-changing art, music, theater, film, drug, food and sex scenes that add to the invigorating experience that is Berlin. If you don’t know, you can look all over this site and on the web, but in this post, I’ll be detailing something a bit more localized.

What I’d like to share is my favorite corner of Berlin, the best of the best in my opinion. It’s not techno-club central or even a very visually appealing part of town, but as you’ll see, it’s got its perks, from the bar that serves the strongest beers, to what I believe to be the location of the best burger in the city. Here’s the game plan for a great time in a sweet part of Berlin.

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Hermannplatz: Starting point for your night in Neukölln (Photo: Roy Busch Photography)

Start the night out by grabbing a few cheap, half-liter beers from the REWE or Edeka (Grab a 33 cent “Sterni” for extra Berliner cred) and take the U-Bahn down to Hermannplatz. It’s located in Neukölln, which is the borough home to a majority of the Turkish community as well as plenty of hipsters and young folk who enjoy the cheap rent and chill spots. The first of these spots will help balance out that beer you drank on an empty stomach.

Café Futuro

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Cafe Futuro: Look for the pink neon light and follow the smell of basil.

What appears to be an ordinary Italian restaurant is actually an amazing Italian restaurant, purely because of a special service they offer on certain nights: aperitivo. That means you pay the price of one beer (not a lot in Berlin), and you get a plate which you can fill endlessly from the buffet of delicious, authentic Italian dishes. No strings attached, just buy a beer and enjoy the pasta. Amazing. What a great idea. I don’t think I need to say anything else about Café Futuro.

So by now, you either feel like you’ve won the lottery or you’re congratulating yourself on making such a healthy AND economical decision. You say, “What the hell, why not reward myself with a very strong, tasty beer?” You earned it. Now it’s time to head down to “historical Sonnenallee” and try your damnedest to find the bar whose name calls to mind evergreens and warm feelings: O Tannenbaum.

O Tannenbaum

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O Tannenbaum: “It’s pretty cool, I mean, I just come here for the rare Belgian beers and alternative, intellectual ambiance, but I don’t really care, ya know, it’s whatever…”

Like a lot of über-hip spots in Berlin, this small, dimly-lit pub is not incredibly easy to find. With no sign bearing its name or street number, it’s easy to pass up, especially in the Winter when everyone will be inside. But maybe they’ll turn on the light shaped like a Christmas tree, and you’ll be in luck. Go in there. It’s a little bit smokey and could be a bit crowded, but if you want to taste some fancy beers, this is the spot. They mainly specialize in Belgian beers (which often range from 7 to 10% alcohol ABV), which will either loosen you up to talk to interesting strangers, or get you feeling like you need to move on cause you’re starting to make a fool of yourself, making a few too many puns using the word “hops.” You need a feeling of acceptance from some like-minded misfits who don’t care if you appreciate a beer’s “subtle floral notes and bright finish.” Finish your Gulden Draak, and let’s get out of here.

Tristeza

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Sternburg: Punks’ beer of choice which isn’t known for its taste, but compared to other nations’ low end beers, it ain’t that bad. (Photo: Bacon’s Beerography)

Back around the corner is this sweet punk bar that just reeks of Berlin. By the kind of crowd that hangs out there and the music playing, you might feel a bit intimidated, but if you can read German, you’ll notice a disclaimer on the wall that might set you at ease. It explains that if anyone in this bar is racist, sexist, or otherwise prejudiced in any way, it is everyone’s responsibility to kick them out! This should be written in every bar! In addition to that bad-ass call to acceptance, the bar has 1,50€ Sternis and fun 1€ shots of mixed liquors, so you should stick around, take in the dark decor, and enjoy drinks at a price lower than just about any Western big city.

Alright, so you’re feeling pretty good by now, and you would be ready to dance the night away in one of Berlin’s crazy clubs, staying out well into the afternoon hours of the following day. But you did that two days ago. Take it easy, you’ll wear yourself out! What, you’re hungry again? Okay, okay, I don’t blame you, that smell is getting to me too, oh what’s this here right next to the bar…

Berlin Burger International

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Look at that burger. Can you believe that burger?? It’s got goat cheese on it! I think they got braised onions or something on that thing! It looks like it’s got an entire salad on top! You want this.

At some split second during the meal, you think, “I totally could have split this with someone. What have I gotten myself into? What am I doing to myself?” and then that feeling subsides, replaced only with the feeling of  pure burger bliss. You know you made the right decision.

BBI has huge burgers of every variety, and it’s kind of the perfect “morning-after-the-party” place to go. You can even choose to eat healthily with the veggie burger, and if you don’t, the ingredients still seem to reassure you that you’re doing the right thing. So dang good.

So that concludes our night out around a few of my favorite places in Berlin. I don’t know about you, but I’m ready for a little Mittagsschlaf. Maybe we can have a picnic at Tempelhof field later. Bis dann, tschüss!

Game of Thrones Actress Kekilli has More to her Past

Many of you may know her as Shae, the lover and prostitute of Tyrion Lannister from the Game of Thrones series and have probably heard the discussion about her previous history in the adult film industry, like several actresses in the series. With background like that, you might have been hesitant to type “Sibel Kekilli filmography” into Google (or conversely, intrigued), but at the very least, you probably wouldn’t expect her to claim many major roles in any renowned films. Hardcore adult-film actresses and actors don’t often make the transition to the mainstream, and when they do, they often fill the role as “the stripper” or “the model” in films that most would consider less than the peak of artistic achievement (watch Zach and Miri Make a Porno or the series Entourage and you’ll see what I mean.)

But Sibel Kekilli is different, so I wanted to shine some light on this actress’ outstanding career, not in the US, but in Germany. Some of her greatest performances include her work in Die Fremde (reviewed by our own Jasmine Dell here) and Winterreise, but I wanted to specifically focus on Fatih Akin‘s critically-acclaimed Gegen die Wand (2004), for which she won and was nominated several awards internationally.

Gegen die Wand is a hard-hitting punk romance that, like many of Akin’s films, deals with Turkish identity in Germany, but this identity crisis is not the main focal point of the film, which I think adds a lot to the whole. The film takes place in Hamburg, Akin’s city of birth, and begins with the main character Cahit () driving his car straight into a wall, with hopes of ending his life. After being admitted to a clinic, he meets Sibel, played by Kekilli, whose conservative

Sibel and Cahit’s marriage of convenience leads to love, jealousy, violence, and familial strife in Gegen die Wand

Turkish family drove her to also attempt suicide. After convincing the anti-social, alcoholic Cahit to help her escape her family by agreeing to a marriage of convenience, the movie takes off in a cycle of self-destruction and renewal as both characters search for identity and freedom through sex, drugs, love, and eventually family.

Kekilli’s performance is remarkable as she portrays this conflicted and extreme young woman who wants to live life to the fullest, which to her, means having wild promiscuous sex, doing drugs, and dancing until dawn in the underbelly of Hamburg’s nightlife. Her lust for freedom is what first fuels her lifestyle, but soon love makes things a lot more complicated, as jealousy and frustration lead to some pretty intense scenes for both Kekilli and Ünel.

All the while, Sibel’s family also puts the pressure on, and the unique structure of a Turkish family in Germany is presented, showing the role of gender and honor that may not be familiar to most western cultures. Her performance as a threatened Turkish daughter in Gegen die Wand is especially interesting considering occurrences with her real life family after the German tabloid “Bild” exposed her as having a history in adult film. This slandering of the actress’ name, or “media rape,” as Kekilli called it, resulted in Kekilli’s family disowning her. The role of a persecuted Turkish woman is all too real for Kekilli, and she portrays the character expertly.

“Gegen die Wand” literally means “against the wall,” which explains the “no-way-out” situations as well as the extreme impacts that occur in the film. This title does not, however, describe Sibel Kekilli’s career, and any use of this actress’ past to defame her is petty and unprofessional. I think Kekilli said it best herself:

“Ich will nicht, dass ihr mich liebt. Aber respektiert endlich, dass ich ein neues Leben angefangen habe”

“I don’t want you to love me, but in the end, respect that I have started a new life” (Der Spiegel)

Whether or not you agree with Sibel Kekilli’s past, I find it pretty hard to deny the fact that she has some serious acting capability. It would be a shame to write her off completely and miss the depth and range of character she can bring to the table, especially in light of her difficult experiences in life. I hope to see more of her talent displayed in the upcoming seasons of Game of Thrones, as well as in German films that demand an actress that can push herself to the limit in her craft, as she does in Gegen die Wand.

Political Unrest in Turkey: Taksim Square and Gezi Park, June 2013

Taksim Square, Istanbul. June 2012

Taksim Square, Istanbul. June 2013

When I planned a 4 day vacation to Istanbul in June 2013, I had no idea my hostel would be located only a few blocks from the political protest occurring in Gezi Park, the site where thousands of people witnessed the strong arm of a regime oppress what started as a protest against the building of a shopping mall in one of the area’s last green spaces. My trip fell in between two major police attacks, so I was lucky enough to be able to somewhat safely observe what was happening and document the unrest surrounding me. These photos, though not of the best quality, show a glimpse of what I witnessed in Taksim Square and Gezi Park that June.

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My first sight when I came up from the subway system (as buses wouldn’t go near the area) on my first day arriving in Istanbul.

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Protesters standing on an overturned car.

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Campers in Gezi

Hundreds of protesters camping out in Gezi Park.

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All roads leading to Taksim Square were blocked with buses, cars, rubble from destroyed stuctures, or the streets themselves.

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At night, things started to pick up, as people began to chant louder, rally crowds, give speeches, and drink alcohol.

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Captured Police vehicles turned into stages for anyone who wanted to let their voice be heard.

One night, when returning to the barricaded area, we were met by masked men on guard at the entrance. They shined their flashlights at us, and upon realizing we weren’t cops, let us through without a word. It seemed that the people were encouraged that we were there, whether we participated in protest, took pictures, or supported them by buying shots of vodka.

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Trash piled up in all the streets surrounding the square.

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At times, it seemed more like a festival, with people selling everything from spray paint and gas masks to food, clothes, puppies, and shots of vodka, as shown here in a blurry photo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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As crowds began to move and people grew more expressive in their protests, I had to decide to what extent I wanted to get involved in the excitement. On one hand, I felt like I should stand up for democracy and freedom and take part as much as I could. On the other hand, I was essentially a tourist who didn’t know the full spectrum of why they were fighting, Turkish culture, or the language. I decided to simply observe and stand back when crowds corralled, and the Turkish people I talked with were still very excited that I was there.

“I know the rules, but the rules doesn’t know me,” read this sign in front of the rubble created by construction and the protest. While there are a lot of factors that play into why this unrest grew in Istanbul (and the rest of Turkey), this poorly made sign adequately describes the angered sentiment that helped drive the citizens of this aspiring nation to protest.

Thrills and Chills: Trespassing in Berlin

(photo: Spudnik)

There’s an innate rush many people experience from going somewhere forbidden. Maybe it’s the display of autonomy that gives us a feeling of freedom, or perhaps it’s the curiosity of what the repercussions could be. Whatever it is, it’s what drives us forward even when the sign warns, “KEEP OUT.”

In Berlin, finding places to procure the trespassing rush is about as easy as finding other drugs, and it’s taking more than fences, fines, and fake security guards to stop the growing popularity of sneaking into the city’s many abandoned areas. Blogs such as Berlin Du Bist Wunderbar (in German) and Abandoned Berlin have spread the trend into the blogosphere, and they detail everything from the not-so-appealing sights of dirt and destruction to the nitty-gritty on how to get into the most fascinating, creepy, and sometimes dangerous places without getting caught.

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Spreepark is just one of Berlin’s many thrilling abandoned areas. (photo: Spudnik)

I referred to Abandoned Berlin (which made the list of Berlin’s best blogs on greatest-berlin.de) to sneak into the remains of the former East German amusement park, Spreepark, which is hidden behind the forest along the river Spree. After climbing the fence and trekking through some trees, a friend and I began to see the eerie remnants of roller-coasters and a giant Riesenrad (Ferris wheel).  When we heard the creaking of steel as the wind gave the Ferris wheel a push, my more squeamish friend (I swear it was her, not me), decided she was not too keen on going further into the park. I, being the fearless adventure-seeker I am, had to see what else lied ahead. We followed the roller-coaster tracks which lead right through a mossy pond, and both of us knew it was picture time. What we didn’t know, was that a security guard was waiting on the other side of that pond, and as soon as we finished Instagraming the magic moment, the voice of a rather annoyed man called out, in English, “Hey! No trespassing! I call police! 150 euro!” Standing on wet tracks in the middle of a pond, we felt a little helpless. But, as I had read on Abandoned Berlin, the “security guard” at Spreepark was no law officer, and I hoped to God he’d just kick us out at most.

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Myself, seconds before the run-in with “Security”

When he took us through the park to the tall white fence and told us to “just climb over that,” I figured this guy wasn’t the most legitimate authority, but already having had a good time there and having nothing on us but a fifth of gin, we weren’t in the mood to try to haggle with him. Outside the fence, we saw another group of young people who had suffered the same fate, but we all laughed and were glad we made it out unscathed.

So, while some people go to Görlitzer Park with 10 euros, some papers, and a dream, others get their kicks from Berlin’s rich history and the ruins of times gone by. Be sure to check out Abandoned Berlin’s first-hand accounts of exploring everything from the 1936 Olympic Village to the US/UK spy tower (Teufelsberg, below) to the old Iraqi Embassy. And if you plan on visiting one of these places, don’t miss the info on the danger and difficulty of each location, as well as the appropriate drink mixes you’ll need for the adventure.

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Identity Crisis at the Döner Stand

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The trusty Dönermann

On a cold November evening in the neighborhood of Schöneberg in Berlin, a friend and I decided to take part in one of the most sacred of Berliner activities, going to the Dönermann and getting a delicious döner. This style of the Turkish, gyro-like meal is an amazing gift from food heaven and a unique staple of Berlin street foods, the Berliner art of döner differing quite a bit from what you might find in Istanbul. It was conceived in a German city, so it’s not necessarily Turkish, but at the same time, something created by a Turkish immigrant can’t quite be credited to Germany either.

I asked the man at the döner stand where he was from, and his answer tells a story similar to the food he sells: “I was born in Berlin, but my heart is in Turkey.” This is not an uncommon sentiment for second and third generation German Turks, whose families have lived in Germany since the Gastarbeiter program in the 1960s. During this time, Germany invited guest workers to support the struggling post-war economy, giving them two-year work contracts. Workers were supposed to return to their home countries after their contract was up, but many of them never did. Eventually Germany allowed workers to bring their families with them and stay indefinitely.

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Karl-Marx-Straße, a glimpse into the Turkish community in Neukölln.

Since the 1960s, Turkish immigration has created a minority community that thrives in Germany’s urban areas, and in Berlin, the neighborhood of Neukölln is known as the Turkish district of the city. I had the opportunity to live off Karl-Marx Straße in Neukölln, an area where nearly every business is owned by Turkish Germans or German Turks, depending on who you ask. This array includes businesses dealing everything from exotic spices, candied fruits, and baklava to Islamic apparel, cheap flights to Istanbul, and haircuts, and business seems to be booming. This area can have the feeling of stepping into another city, as this bit of graffiti playfully suggests (below).

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“I’m not going on vacation, I have Neukölln!”

 

While there is much to be said about the extent to which the Turkish community has assimilated and/or integrated into German culture, in this post I merely wanted to present a glimpse of the Turkish Berliner community, even if it is just the tip of the iceberg. So, as two Turkish children speak German on the S-bahn while a German boy eats a döner and listens to Turkish rap coming straight out of Kreuzberg, I think it’s safe to say that both of these cultures have made a few lasting effects on the other.

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Ride-sharing is Caring

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In Germany and other parts of Europe, ride-sharing has become an established way to travel cheaply.

In the Spring of 2013, I lived in Berlin while my significant other lived in Munich. With these two cities being located on opposite sides of Germany, we were always trying to find the cheapest, quickest, and most comfortable way to visit each other, and we soon found out one great option while traveling in Europe: ride-sharing. Instead of shelling out hundreds of euros for plane or ICE tickets (the speed train in Germany), or wasting half a day on a bus with a driver who takes smoke breaks once an hour, I found that using online ride-sharing services were the best option for our commutes across the entirety of Germany. 

On sites such as Mitfahrgelegenheit and BlaBlaCar, drivers post the trip they will be taking, how many open seats they have, the cost (which often decreases as the number of passengers goes up), and how to contact them, be that a cell phone number, email address, or through a messaging system within the site. Drivers have profiles that include information about their cars and pictures of themselves, and allow passengers to rate the driver as well as add comments about the quality of their trip. Some sites even require the driver’s banking information. This builds up a community of trust between members which makes the whole experience seem safer and full of good-intentions for everyone involved.

Car Problems

While carpooling is very efficient, it may not always be as dependable as other travel services.

 

However, ride-sharing does have its drawbacks. People are fallible. In one incident in Munich, the night before I was supposed to return back to Berlin, I received a text from my driver, saying his tires were slashed and he could no longer take me with him. This unexpected inconvenience forced me to leave a day later, as there were no other available drivers going that direction soon enough. And there were other incidents where I was canceled on at the last minute. Most of the time, I was able to find another driver, but not always at the desired time, exact drop-off point, or best price. There is a level of uncertainty, a bit of risk, when choosing the option to carpool, and that is probably the biggest drawback in comparison to buying a trusty ticket issued from a professional bus, train, or plane service.

Carpooling isn’t for everyone. Maybe you like the speed and luxury of a plane. Maybe the idea of spending hours in a car with a stranger doesn’t sound too enticing. But if you don’t mind meeting new people and perhaps sacrificing a bit of personal space in order to save some time and money, ride-sharing in Germany is a great way to do it.