Sunday, October 01, 2006

The Berliner Blog #6

- Soviet Remains
- My Place
- Amateur Photography
- Pimp My Ride

Soviet Remains

Its things like this that remind me I’m in another world. This is the Soviet War Memorial in Treptower Park. I decided to jump on my new ride (more on that later…) and head east from my apartment into Treptow. Buried in the park is this massive memorial to commemorate Berlin’s “Liberation” (I think its safe to put that in quotes) by the Russians in WWII. The red marble on the gates are supposedly taken from Hitler’s chancellery. The main attraction of the massive memorial is built on top of 5000 soldiers who died in the battle. The looming Russian soldier at the top of the memorial is holding a child, his massive sword resting on a crushed swastika. Around the memorial are these almost comic book-like depictions of the battle for Berlin with quotes from Stalin in Russian and German. It really took my breath away and just as I was thinking how Soviet this massive memorial was I remembered the Canadian War Memorial at Ypres in Belgium and the American WWII cemetery I saw just outside Florence. These were just as grand and epic as this. I guess we all feel the need to remember the hardships and achievements of our soldiers, as well we should. I wonder if the soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan will get the same honour as these soldiers, or will they be treated like the Vietnam veterans were? Little did the Russians know they would leave a much bigger reminder behind.

My Place

Ok, I guess its about time I put up some pictures of my apartment. Pretty standard stuff really. It suits me just fine and I always get a good laugh out of my next-door neighbor’s name when I come home.

Amateur Photography

I awoke one morning to find a set of pictures on the corkboard in the hallway. Who are these two? I took down the photos and flipped through. Much to my surprise the rest of the batch were of these two engaging in lustful acts. Yes SEX, apparently they have that too over here. And there were a few pictures of the girl with (what we hope was) chocolate sauce all over her. It turns out my roommate found the roll of film one night on our street and decided to get it developed. I have yet to see either one of these two on our block yet, but I’m sure I’ll have a good laugh (quietly to myself) when I do.

Pimp My Ride

I finally found a bike! After weeks of searching through expensive bike shops with few or no over-priced used bikes, I happened upon a bridge with a bunch of “used” bikes for sale. As I was looking at one a man with greasy hair and brown teeth came up and asked if I wanted to try it out. So I did – shakily, this bike really needed some work, but I liked it. I bargained it down from 30 Euros to 20 Euros and rode off to a bike shop to buy a lock. Over the last week I have invested 50 Euros and a lot of elbow grease (and figuring out how to fix brakes) into pimping my ride and there she is. New seat, new brakes, new pedals, end bars and some oil. Ain’t she a beauty? Sure she’s louder than a Harley (still have to fix the rattling of the rain guards), but at least the new seat doesn’t poke up into my crotch! What a difference having a bike makes. I’ve discovered new parts of the city, found shortcuts to my favourite places and have been so happy to have the fall air whipping through my tangled locks.

Berlin is a city with miles and miles of bike paths, which is a relief because the drivers here are insane. The only draw back is that the bike lanes switch from being on the road to being on the sidewalk all the time and neither the drivers or pedestrians pay a lot of attention. And Berliners have a knack for making their car fit into any parking space, even if it means parking the rear of the car onto the sidewalk (in the bike lane). Maybe I should buy a helmet.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

The Berliner Blog #5

- One Lonely Indian
- German TV
- Deutsch in Neukölln

One Lonely Indian

My guidebook told me it was worth a trip to KaDeWe (Kaufhaus des Westens – Department Store of the West), a seven-floor department store, if only for the gourmet food market on the sixth floor. Gourmet food? Say no more. Just a peek will do, no buying necessary. Apparently KaDeWe is Europe’s second largest department store, next to Harrod’s of course.

As I made my way up the escalator I was greeted by quite the sight: a tipi and an Native man in costume making crafts surrounded by maple syrup, Coffee Crunch chocolate bars, Icewine and animal skins. Then I noticed the massive pictures of the Rockies everywhere and fake, red maple leaves. No I hadn’t stumbled upon some weird transporter into a Canadian gift shop, this was part of a special exhibit showcasing the wonders of Canadian cuisine. Canadian cuisine? What the hell is Canadian cuisine? How can we have a cuisine when we barely have an identity as a people?

It made me sad that all we have to export as “Canadian” is Native Indian culture and sugary products. It just doesn’t seem right knowing our dodgy history with the Native Indians to be using them as a proud symbol of our country. It also shows how little we know of ourselves and our achievements, our arts (in my opinion our most important cultural export), our other peoples on the coasts, our French-Canadian culture and countless other things Canadian. Or worse, this is what the Ministry of Tourism believes is a healthy picture of the true Canada for the world to see. Right, like that’s exactly what people see when they come to Canada. And as for beer, the only kinds I saw were Molson Canadian and Moosehead – good show boys, those’ll really stack up next to the German beers!

So I went up and asked the nice Indian if I could take a picture of the tipi (I didn’t want him in it because I thought it would be too sorry a picture). We got to talking and it turns out he moved to Potsdam seven years ago from Alberta and now teaches about Indian culture in various places here in Europe. He has a German wife and a daughter, but doesn’t speak German. He looked lonely and happy to talk, not too many people were approaching him. He told me all the gigs he had done (some cheesy TV commercials, a TV show, a play – all as various American Indians), gave me some good places to go for English books and bison meat and said we should have coffee sometime. With a name like Murray Small Legs how could I refuse? I think he was happy to meet another Canadian. Oh, and there was a Mountie earlier in the week but she had to return to Canada.

The Ministry of Tourism didn’t have enough money to send anyone else and the tipi was Murray’s.

German TV

Here are some choice pics from my TV this evening. On one channel they have live Oktoberfest broadcasts (complete with men in lederhosen and ladies in dirndls!) and the next they have ads for dial-up sex chats (quite different from the ones in Canada where the girls keep their bikinis on and their hands to themselves).

Deutsch in Neukölln

My German friends always joke that I should be learning Turkish instead of German because I live in Neukölln and I think they might be right. Maybe learning German in Neukölln is like learning English in China Town. No offense to anyone Turkish or Chinese, I’m just trying to learn German.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

The Berliner Blog #4

- Wow, guess who’s back…
- Reminders

Wow, guess who’s back…

Last Sunday there was a vote. The city-state of Berlin and the eastern state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania held regional elections to very different results. Berlin re-elected their outgoing and popular mayor Klaus Wowereit (affectionately know as “Wowi” – pronounced “Voh-vie”), a gay party-going Social Democrat, as expected. The true shock came from Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania where the NPD party (National Democratic Party in English) secured 6 of the 71 seats in the eastern state’s legislature with a vote of 7.3 percent. Now this isn’t a party with a good past, it’s the new Nazi party. The NPD has cleaned up its image and traded in its uniform of shaved heads and boots with laces for suits and clean haircuts. They promise to bring jobs back to the horribly unemployed eastern state (who has Germany’s highest unemployment rate, 18%) while promoting German nationalism. People’s biggest fear has become a reality after the NPD was granted rights to be an official party in 2003 on the grounds that knowledge should prevail over far-right extremism. Jack Layton and his NDP were not involved in any way.


In light of the recent elections in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, I think it’s a good idea to show you a bit of Berlin’s past. This is a city of reminders. People don’t want to forget the last hundred years and they don’t want to become complacent. Berlin has scars everywhere you look and memorials in every possible place. You simply need to notice them and remember.

Monday, September 18, 2006

The Berliner Blog #3

- And the winners are…
- Rome vs Berlin

And the Winners Are…

The list is long and distinguished. Hordes are flocking to Berlin within the next year and the only logical reason… is me. Already two have popped by and at the same time! The winners are Robin Senior and Paul Fitchett (Robin was a day earlier so I guess technically he wins, sorry Paulie). The two winners were treated to hours of walking around, drinking, currywurst, a Goth bar, museums, Hitler’s bunker (now a parking lot) and the Olympic Stadium. Much fun was had by all. Who will be next?

Rome vs Berlin

The updates have been on pause due to a twelve day trip to Italy with the fam (ok, and some serious laziness). The eleven of us had an amazing time drinking too much wine, driving too fast through the windy hills of Tuscany and eating too much pasta – constipation was rampant!

The last stop for me was Rome. I loved Rome when I was there three years ago, in fact I loved most places I went and I think it was because I was so in awe of everywhere because it was all so new to me. The second time around proves very different. Then you start to see the city as it truly is - you’re not blinded by the sights. Rome was hot and busy and dirty and at every turn someone was trying to swindle you out of your money. There is no relaxing in Rome, you must be on guard at all times. I love the history and that will never stop to amaze me, but it leads me to believe that when a city, like Rome, is as important and famous for so long it looses its true charm because it no longer needs to worry about people coming to see it. Customer service goes out the window - who needs to be nice when it doesn’t matter if Joe Blow comes back to Rome or not? The death of a city is when it becomes a tourist trap.

Rome is all tourism, you can barely get a break from it. The only places to experience true Rome are the places the Romans go - who knew?! As my sister Ami, her boyfriend Dave and I experienced look in the non-tourist ‘hoods, find a restaurant with almost no décor or anything visually attractive to it, it should be packed with locals and the dozens of street musicians who play for your money while you eat should walk past it because they know the locals won’t give them money. Go to the area “Trastevere”, find Via dei Salumi and walk until it ends at Via dei Vascellari, it’ll feel like you’re in an alley. There you’ll find the best meal in Rome.

After Rome I was ready to get back to Berlin. I even missed Berlin - I think that’s a good sign. The only thing I’m not looking forward to is the day Berlin becomes the next big place to go.

Monday, August 28, 2006

The Berliner Blog #2

- I Live With the Dead
- Poor Finn

I Live With the Dead

It sounds morbid but its true, I live with the dead. Within one block from my flat there are three cemeteries, two Christian and one Jewish, and I think I’ve figured out why. At the far end of the cemeteries is the Flughafen Tempelhof, one of Berlin’s three airports. Tempelhof is famous as the site of the Berlin Airlift (I had to look that up online, all my guidebook said was that its supposed to close in 2005 - here’s hoping!). I guess they figured the dead wouldn’t mind the noise of planes coming in for a landing or as one German man I met said, “Well if a plane crashes at least its convenient!”

The first time I noticed the planes I was walking down the street. There was a sound, very plane-like, getting somewhat louder - then BOOM! Everyone on the street jumped, bent over and grabbed their ears as a plane shot over us. It was so funny. Well the first time anyways. I’m so glad my flat has double windows…

Poor Finn

I lied, not all my roommates are German. This is Finn and he is from the streets in Croatia. I think Finn understands more German that I do, but I can speak more. We don’t talk much, our communication is more through petting, but I can tell he likes me. Last Saturday I spent four hours cleaning the apartment (it’s the least I can do for staying here free until I take the room in September), which was great because I was hung-over and I love to clean when I’m hung-over. This was no easy mission because poor Finn has been losing his hair this summer. The whole apartment was covered in black hair that did not like to be picked-up. It took a while but cured my hangover perfectly! We think (hope) Finn has finished shedding.

Friday, August 25, 2006

The Berliner Blog

Ok, here we go! Welcome to my blog, The Berliner Blog. I can't say how often this will get updated, but the idea is to replace mass emails with this blog where you can visit every once in a while when you think, "What the hell is Kris Bruun up to these days?" Its just a collection of my thoughts on Berlin, what its like to live in such an interesting city, and I guess a few must-see things in Berlin for anyone who is visiting. Each log will have a little rundown of what's in it so that you can choose whether or not you want to read that entry. So with that in mind, BOOKMARK this page and enjoy…

This Entry:
- Berlin, Part One
- Finding Shelter
- The Coolest Bars I’ve Ever Seen, Part One

Berlin, Part One

Berlin is a strange place. It’s a mix of beauty and ugliness, joy and depression, re-birth and old scars. The memories of history aren’t just in the minds of the people but kept in the framework of the city. It surrounds you, constantly reminds you and sometimes stalks you. I was worried when I came here that it would have changed a lot from three years ago, there was so much construction going on then, cranes everywhere, but they’re still here, still building and re-building. I think I heard some fact that something like 80% of Europe’s cranes are in Berlin, but don’t quote me on that (if you have the right answer, please let me know). I was relieved to see that Berlin had only changed in good ways, and that everything that I loved about it was still here.

I don’t know why I came here entirely. I’ve always wanted to live in Europe, learn some new languages and meet International artists of all kinds, but where? Berlin was more a gut feeling than anything else. For some reason I haven’t been able to get Berlin out of my mind since I left it three years ago. I’ve dreamt about it, thought about it and wondered if it was ever possible to move here, just for a bit. And how long is “a bit”? Who knows, but I’m here.

Finding Shelter

I’ve had a few people call me crazy for coming here, and when things are tough I sometimes agree with them. Its hard packing up your belongings and leaving your friends and family for a place where you have nothing and nobody cares whether you come or go. Moving here wasn’t as easy as I thought. I was in a hostel for two weeks looking for a place to live. I didn’t enjoy myself entirely, for some reason I gave myself a few days to find an apartment and when two days turned into five, then a week, then two weeks I started to stress. It didn’t help either that I woke up at 4:30am my first Saturday night (or Sunday morning I guess) to the drumming sound of a half-naked American pissing on my bag, located a foot away from my head. You gotta love living in a hostel.

In Berlin there is something called a WG (don’t ask me to expand that, my German is still rubbish), its basically an apartment shared by a group of people and every room is used. There usually isn’t a communal space unless you want to pay extra to keep one room open for that and most people don’t. To get into a WG you setup a time for an interview and you sit down with the roommates and chat over coffee, tea or beer – whatever they’re offering. If they like you, they choose you. The problem is some places have sixteen people being interviewed. It was intimidating knowing that there were so many people out there looking at the same WGs, and it was tough when places you loved went to someone else. Sometimes I felt I really got along with the roommates, but then someone else would get the room and I was left feeling like maybe I said something wrong or did something that was a faux pas. It was like being fresh out of theatre school again and I over-analyzed every audition I went to.

It all worked out in the end, it just took a little patience as everyone said it would. I found a cool spot in an area of town that is cheap and not super nice, but right on the subway line. My roommates are German and all very nice, they’ve taken good care of me. One is a designer (of what I’m not sure yet), another is a riding instructor and also performs on horses (horse dancing?), another is a roofer and the guy who’s room I’m taking is going to Manchester for a semester to work on his Masters in Social Anthropology. I am subletting his room starting in September so for now I am living in a small spare room they have that they use for laundry and guests. Its big enough for a bed and some storage, but it beats a hostel. Privacy!! Oh how I missed you! I think I slept eleven hours my first night here.

The Coolest Bars I’ve Ever Seen, Part One

Berlin has the coolest bars I’ve ever seen. I’ll try to keep up with them, but honestly some of them are a blur. It seems as though if you have an idea for a cool bar in Berlin, you just do it and people find it. The best way to find a cool bar here is by word of mouth and that’s how I found “White Trash Fast Food”.

Feist told me about this place. No I’m not that cool, I met her after a concert and asked her about cool spots in Berlin and she said, “Go to the White Trash”, and so I did. It’s a bar perfectly decorated like a 1930s Chinese restaurant, with American “white trash” food and live music. I was there on a Monday, “The Great Country Swindle” night. They had live, old school country music and everyone was done-up in jeans with greased hair and tattoos. The menu had things like “Dirty Fucking Weissen” (a cloudy wheat beer) and “Nachos – Free (unless you’re a cunt, then 10 Euros)”. The drinks were great, the attitude was fun and the décor was brilliant. Apparently on Jazz night (Sundays) people dress a little swankier and you have to roll a dice to see how much cover you pay. They also have a tattoo parlor next door.

“Kiki Blofeld” was a bit hard to find. I was sitting at “Bar 25” on the Spree River (a funky, outdoor bar on the water, with old used furniture, cheap drinks and a swing over the water) and across the way I could see an old boat garage with flashing lights. There were three of us and we decided to check it out. We found a bridge to cross and looked for the place but it was nowhere to be found. We went down an alley, behind some buildings and thought we could hear some music but it was very faint. Then we saw some coloured lights on a path through some trees next to an abandoned building. We found a way to the path (after many wrong turns) and took it through the trees past hammocks, fire pits and outdoor seats until we came to an entrance before some steep concrete stairs. We paid cover and descended into the boat garage.

Anyone who is a fan of James Bond knows that Blofeld was his greatest villain, and the name of this bar suggests its atmosphere. You enter into a garage facing the water with a canal in the middle to park a boat – perfect for a hasty getaway (it was empty that night but you get the impression that from time to time there is a boat parked there). There are chairs, tables and a bar on one side, and the other has a dance floor, a DJ and a comfy red couch/bench running the length of the wall. We were there on Reggae night and they had a screen hanging over the canal playing Bob Marley videos and old Blaxsploitation films like “Foxy Brown” on both sides. If only I had a boat...