Berlin, second photoshoot

By: | Post date: July 28, 2008 | Comments: 1 Comment
Posted in categories: Countries

So where was I? About to be dislodged in Kreuzberg, I think. Of course I don’t remember much at this far remove, but walking down the Kreuzberg street to get to Chez Gert und Laura was quite pleasant: lots of three, four storey houses a couple of centuries old, which gave the neighbourhood the kind of urbane feel I’m not going to get in Oakleigh. And square houses, which reminded me of Vienna—the last place I’d seen stately Middle European architecture. Trees in moderation, unfamiliar building colours. Unfamiliar enough to be interesting, familiar enough not to be alienating. Yeah, I could get used to it. Not all the houses were as wedding-cake as this:

—but that this wedding cake could be an apartment block was somehow reassuring to me: if I’m going to live in an apartment, the building might as well be a conversation piece.

Once out of the bus, we passed a fair number of quirky shops, as befits a neighbourhood like Kreuzberg. I thought one place was selling pet clothes, and no, it wasn’t—but given the odds and ends it did sell, the guess was entirely plausible. The vaguely dodgy card shark joint with the motorbikes in the front window. (Quick getaway?) The bar with its drag queen owner prominently featured in the advertising, only the drag queen was female, and larger than life in several senses. And I didn’t even notice the Button Shop. Owned by a Mr Button. Honest! Knopf, Paul.

It was in good spirits, engendered by the cross of funkiness and stolidness in the neighbourhood, that I barged into the entrance of Gert’s building—after pausing to commiserate with Gert over the upcoming firehouse red paintjob the street frontage was about to get. (Some colours, we’re unfamiliar with in the Anglosphere for a reason.) I greeted with similar joy the concept of a courtyard, opposite the entrance. A very civilised notion, this Atrium of Berliners, and I hadn’t come across it elsewhere (because I don’t get out much). You build these stolid square apartment buildings in a square, siehst du, and put a yard in the middle. Very cool. Conceptually, anyway: the actual performance was a bit more grey and jumbled than that, but it’s a very sociable idea. For some reason, the information that some places do chain-courtyards, nested three or four squares deep, fascinated me: chain sociability. I *think* this is an instance of it:

I was less joyful to realise that I was going to have to lug my Suitcase of Immobility up four flights of stairs, with no lift to speak of. There, Berlin was unlike Athens: by the time Athens had surrendered its fate to apartment blocks, elevators had been invented. I’d like to think I was not so callous as to leave Gert to drag up the more immobile of the two suitcases. Really I would.

My recollection is that I barged into Gert’s flat, greeted Laura, praised the layout of the flat, rushed straight into the kitchen, and grabbed some water that wasn’t actually intended for me. I could be projecting or telescoping or something. But I was pretty excited to be there (the bright light helped), and kept quizzing my hosts about either what they’d been up to or all things Berliner for an hour. Whoosh.

The interrogation was how I found out about the Pilsner ad campaign “The Dignity Of Beer Is Inviolable”—prominently figuring on the wall. Asking what that was all about led me on a guided tour of the German Constitution (The Dignity of Man is Inviolable”; as the followup lecture from Dale established, a *very* big deal in Germany, and as Gert frowned, not the optimal phrase for a Czech company to base an ad campaign on.) Asking what on earth prompted the concern with Beer Dignity in the first place was how I found out about Hefeweizen–Grapefruit cooler. (Great blog posting about it, that, but don’t you go saying bad things about Cloyingly Sweetened Lambics. I did think this stuff was more wrong than a lambic can ever be.)

Which meant that I had no choice but to imbibe it when I came across it, later that night:

And yes, that’s the Deutschland cap. But back to the flat. There were some things about the layout of the flat that reminded me of flats in Greece. I guess Germany is a plausible source for Greek apartment aesthetics; there was something nicely spartan about the kitchen (although no Greek flat would have a roof that tall). The room that struck me as most Greek was the bathroom. Something about the tiles and the water heater. And as I rushed into the bathroom to immortalise it, my hosts chuckled indulgently, and ended up immortalised themselves. Bildhübsch, ne?

Because we had a timetable to stick to, after an hour I was out the door: Gert was going to show me All Of Berlin in three hours, and the best way to guarantee that was to send me up the Berlin Television Tower, from where you can literally, uh, see All Of Berlin. Nifty, eh?

Getting to the Television Tower involved the Berlin Subway, and the Berlin Subway featured the kind of ad that would get you some serious fines in Australia:

What does that packet say? *Mumble*… can… something-deadly… something… Why I have no idea what would be written underneath that strategically placed cigarette. Hats off!

In fact, that inspires me to take another breather. Next stop, Television Tower:

One Comment

  • John Cowan says:

    Great blog posting about it, that, but don’t you go saying bad things about Cloyingly Sweetened Lambics. I did think this stuff was more wrong than a lambic can ever be.

    I don’t drink beer, but — this from a man whose ancestors put perfume in their wine?

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