Tag Archives: Berlin

Move over electro, Berlin’s got a new beat

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Berlin features big on the global set list of electronica, but a bunch of musicians are strumming their stuff in an effort to add another, handmade, string to the city’s bow.

One chilly Friday night earlier this year, I was sitting in Schlesisch Blau mopping up the remains of the soup I’d ladled into my own bowl from the vast pots on the old-fashioned stove, when the chatter and chuckles that are the restaurant’s ambient sound were suddenly interrupted by the deep pluck and jangly twang of an unexpected musical interlude.

Conversations hushed, and within moments the trio of musicians had the stage – or the square foot of standing room in front of the giant soup pots – and the attention of the assembled company. No preamble. Just music that sounded as if it had been tailor-made for that very situation. They played for 20 minutes or so, took their bows, sold a few CDs and went on their way. Read on.

Category: Berlin, music | Tags: , ,

Don’t judge your blind date by its cover

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It reads like something from the opening scene of a cheesy film. A girl makes a mad dash out of the house, races down an inconvenient number of stairs, grabs her bike at the bottom and pedals off into the traffic. As she jumps red lights and dodges oncoming cyclists, she keeps one eye out for the time, which is – yet again – of the essence. It is 9:20 a.m. and she is already five minutes late. She is a lousy time-keeper.

Cursing her flaw, she reaches the intersection at Eberswalderstrasse. It’s 9:22. How long can she keep a blind date waiting? Might someone else come and snatch it up? She keeps going, weaving her way through pedestrians, prams and road workers, until at precisely 9:26, she turns into Kollwitzstrasse. Eleven minutes late. Her heart is beating in time with her efforts, and she’s not quite there yet.

She parks outside one of the numerous entrances to the Wasserturmplatz. She knows this square and had welcomed the suggestion to make it the scene of her mysterious rendezvous. But it’s been a while and her urban geography, it seems, is as poor as her punctuality. In her recollection, the statue of the lion where she is to meet her date was somewhere else. She hurries among the trees and along the sandy paths – watched by mother who is not watching her kids – in search of the one she hopes will still be waiting. Read on.

Category: Berlin, protagonist, Writing | Tags: , ,

Corset wearing Berlin

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Here’s a little column I wrote for DW recently. About Berlin, natürlich!

Berlin has a reputation as a city where anything goes, day or night. But does it really? Tamsin Walker is willing to risk the wrath of the Szene set, and beg to differ. Just a little.

It was a decade ago that the mayor of Berlin, Klaus Wowereit, famously declared his city to be poor yet nonetheless sexy. His words were immortalized on the very breath which gave them life, and have since served to attract a flow of sexily impoverished stragglers and strugglers looking for a cheap new home and preventing the slogan – and by extension perhaps themselves – from going out of fashion.

Wowereit’s statement was prompted by a question about the relationship between sexiness and money. He held Berlin up as an example of how the two things need not necessarily be mutually inclusive. But what exactly constitutes a sexy city?

I’m told it’s all about “cheap rents” and an “anything goes” way of life. The latter includes the freedom to sunbathe naked in public places, croon karaoke on the former East German death strip, tango on rooftops, trip out to techno everywhere, or watch impenetrable performance art in the cellars of un-gentrified buildings where the only thing stopping anyone smoking is moisture dripping atmospherically from low-hung ceilings. Read more…

From the arctic to the vernal

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So the snow is back. And with it, a very grouchy public. Too easily were we seduced by the prettily coloured primroses and pansies suddenly on sale on every other street corner. Too willing were we to believe that global warming was drawing winter to an early close. What fools we are, because people – this is Berlin!

This is the city where the winters are long and longer by far than the longest of its speciality long nights (next one is museums this weekend). The city where spring often doesn’t turn up in earnest until days and even weeks after the vernal equinox that officially heralds the start of everyone’s favourite season. But it is also a city that can, when it so chooses, wear winter well. A little like spring with icing.

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Category: Berlin, In the park, Seasons | Tags: , ,

Of Books and Berliners

I have a small child who likes to rearrange my bookshelves. It’s a habit that involves pulling as many volumes as possible onto the floor before I intervene. As it happens, I like the game as much as her. Albeit for different reasons. While she thrives on the anarchy of the moment, I am excited by the way that anarchy fills the room with the very real possibility that I will find an old letter or a thought scribbled on a scrap of paper and carelessly filed away between the pages of books. Last week I found a newsletter from a bar in Putney I evidently once went to – so long ago, however, that the phone number on the back bears the old London dialling code and a complete absence of any digital identity.

And then a couple of days ago a book I have not seen for ages and didn’t remember I had, landed at my feet. It was a skinny little “guide to the Germans” I received as a Christmas present during my earlier days in Berlin. I didn’t exactly devour it at the time, and I doubt I will now, but I did flip through it, and read the apparently compulsory chapter on sense of humour.

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“The Germans take their humour very seriously,” it begins. “It is not a joking matter.” It goes on for a couple of pages about how German jokes don’t translate into English, about how irony is not part of daily life, and how humour is not only prescriptive but often pre-scripted.  “Disorderly humour is not only nothing to laugh about,” the section concludes, “it is often not even recognised.”

The generalisations are, of course, greater than the reality. I was thinking about that reality yesterday, when  ensconced in my local cafe for some quiet writing time, a rather nervous looking man in his mid-thirties walked through the door. There were plenty of free tables, and he hovered around them for a moment before choosing the one immediately to my left.

He came up close, pulled out a chair,  then tutted to himself, and moved to the table on my right. This time he was there for the duration. He dumped his stuff  – coat, hat, scarf, briefcase etc. – on the bench and asked me if I would keep an eye on it all for a moment. “Like a hawk,” I promised with a smile, as he strutted off towards the toilets. And although nothing was going to happen to his stuff during his absence, I watched it… a small black mound of inanimate objects. They looked so dark and dull, and I was suddenly hit by an overwhelming desire to hide – just temporarily – one item. Sadly he was faster than my thought, and was back before I could act on my impulse.

When he approached our corner of the café, he looked at me questioningly. “It’s all still there,” I told him. He nodded his approval or his recognition of a job well done and took off his suit jacket. “Although I did consider hiding it,” I confessed. He did a kind of double take before releasing a limping bout of wooden laughter  into the gap between his table and mine.

It hung in the air for a moment, before he cut it off dead, turned to me square on and said: “That wouldn’t have been a good idea.” And somehow, judging by the look of earnestness gripping his face, I don’t think he was joking.

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