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Brandenburg Gate. Alexanderplatz. Checkpoint Charlie.
The 25th Anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall has done more than just shed a brighter light on some of Berlin's best-known tourist sites; it's wholly reignited interest in the brief history of the DDR (Deutsche Demokratische Republik), aka East Germany. Although the DDR technically ceased to exist upon Berlin reunification in 1990 and East Germany feverishly adapted to Western fashion and culture, the particular details of DDR everyday life continue to fascinate.
A handful of Berlin sites continue to preserve DDR design, and anyone is welcome to visit. Here are five of our favorites:
Detroit's abandoned Michigan Central Station
For over five years, people from The New York Times to The Wall Street Journal to even some of my fellow Detroiters, have been asking, endorsing, and even claiming Detroit as the next Berlin. Sure, comparisons exist. Both cities are insanely cheap—$1 for a house cheap in Detroit.
Detroit, much like Berlin, adorns abandoned lots, artistic empathy, and unrivaled city pride. Plus, where else in the world will you find techno parties located in vacated warehouses, which are equipped with beds so you can literally nap away a hangover and continue the party? Even recently, owners of famed Berlin club Tresor purchased a Detroit factory with the hopes of transforming it into an all-day-all-night-all-next-day Euro club paradise.
But most comparisons between the two cities stretch a little too far. This isn’t to say Detroit will never become a city on par with gentrified creative capitals like Berlin or Brooklyn. In fifty years, Detroit could be one of the world’s foremost artistic enclaves, but, as for right now, there’s much further to go than many make it seem.
For 28 years the city of Berlin lived every day divided. The East and the West were defined by der Mauer ("the wall"), and though Sunday marks the 25th Anniversary since the fall of the Berlin Wall, the city remains shaped by it in other ways.
This weekend the Lichtgrenze ("light border") installation traces the path of the Berlin Wall, but with a 9-mile chain of 8,000 minimal white balloons instead of a barbed wire-and-concrete barrier. The balloons are lit, which has made possible some spectacular nighttime photos from the air (see above).
We'll have more on how to be a part of Berlin's celebrations through the rest of the year, but do check out these articles if your plans include any upcoming Germany travel:
Where on Earth is the Berlin Wall? Tracing where pieces have ended up over the years. [The Guardian: Cities]
An original TV news report from 1989 [ABC News]
'We are the people': A peaceful revolution in Leipzig [Der Spiegel]
Official Lichtgrenze Twitter [Twitter]
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We get it. Porn festival? You’re hesitant, probably imagining the unrealistic sexcapades, neck-bearded men in trench coats, and theater seats equipped with lotion and tissue paper. Whatever your preconceived notions of a porn film festival may be, at Berlin’s Porn Film Festival last week, not to say none of the above occurred, but, well, none of that really occurred.
The festival stretched over four days at Cinema Moviemento in Kreuzberg and included lectures from prominent producers, porn workshops, and, obviously, an extensive range of films from softcore to hardcore to—err, how to put this—zombie porn.
So after spending roughly five days consuming more porn than a fifteen-year-old boy home alone on a Saturday night, here were some of our favorite lessons from this year’s Berlin Porn Film Festival.
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You might not be able to fly into Berlin's new Brandenburg Airport terminal anytime soon, but if you want, you can take a bus ride down what will some day be its runway.
For those who haven't been following this story, the idea of the tour is a little humorous. This airport project, afterall, started all the way back in 2006 and has been an absolute nightmare for Berlin, with constant delays that have seen construction drag on for almost a decade. And it's not just about simple work delays. Political issues, including bribes, have come up, as well as an ever-curious case of the hiring a fake engineer.
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When it comes to historical travel, Germany attracts people from more nations than perhaps any other in the world. Not only did its actions during World War II affect the lives of those in a variety of countries, but the Holocaust is also arguably the most talked-about, war-related tragedy ever, piquing the curiosity of even those who had no connection to the actual events.
Yet, despite this opportunity to turn this world interest in its past into mass tourism and profits, visitors to Germany will see that it has been very good about not exploiting or glorifying its historical sites. In this travel writer’s opinion, there’s a simplicity to the presentation, a very admirable aspect of respect to the approach of preservation. The last thing the country wants is to appear as if it is proud of what took place in the years leading up to World War II.
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Berlin's Berghain nightclub, set in an old power plant
Berlin is known for its hedonistic nightclubs, but along with that reputation comes a no-mercy admittance policy. The bouncers run the show as they do in North America, but they aren't shy about turning you away if they don't like the looks of you in Berlin. The Internet is filled with frustrating tales of people who have waited hours to get in, only to be turned away at the door for no apparent reason.
Local advice in hand, we got into a line at Ritter Butzke at 1 a.m. on a Sunday morning, gained entrance at 4 a.m., and didn't leave until 10:30 a.m. As the stories of others (both locals and tourists) will tell you, there's not much you can do to guarantee you get in, but you can certainly help your chances. Below, we dish our advice for passing the eye test at the door:
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One of the first things this writer noticed upon landing in Berlin was the incredible amount of green space found within the city limits. From pockets of trees on street corners to sprawling parks, the Germans sure know how to keep their cities fresh, as visits to Munich, Dusseldorf, and Frankfurt would also confirm.
Berlin benefits from the fact that it was built over marshland, reaping the rewards of an extremely high water table. The joke is that Berliners have a conservation conflict - that is, the less water they use as a city, the more money they have to spend to pump out the excess. When walking or driving through the city, keep your eye out for the purple and blue pipes that run above the streets, and don't feel too bad about taking your time in the shower.
The Tempelhofer Park is the most notable of the few dozen found in Berlin, and certainly the most unique. It is the protected remains of the Berlin Tempelhof Airport that closed its doors in 2008 after nearly ninety years of operation.
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In this addition of Street Food Friday, we head to Berlin to see what's cooking. While it does have some very strong traditions, it's important to note that Berlin is a huge international city where locals eat everything from burgers to Asian barbecue. Try the following local dishes along the way, but if you really want to live the local life, be sure to explore the Berlin's vast multicultural food scene.
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From the RAW complex in Friedrichshain
Yesterday, we explained why visiting Berlin sooner than later is an absolute must: The receding counter-culture of the 90s out of plain sight and into the depths of the city. But you can still find strong pockets of it in certain areas, and you'll want to pencil them in as part of your visit.
When one of our contributors visited Berlin for the first time a few years ago, he made a comment about the large number of construction sites he saw throughout the city. On my visit this past weekend, I witnessed a similar scene, cranes towering high above the buildings in almost every direction. A casual observation on the surface, for sure, yet it provides deep insight into the state of the city when investigated further.
After the fall of the Wall in November of 1989, visitors to the former East Berlin would experience what I like to refer to as nothing short of a beautiful disaster. Communism was over, and no one was really sure what that meant in terms of property ownership, government jurisdiction, and social outlook. What transpired was a heavy counter-cultural scene, one filled with squatters, street art, and modern-day speakeasies. It became known as the party capital of Europe, where everyone would go to let their hair down. You can see glimpses of the scene in the photos that follow.
If you typically keep your passport locked up in the hotel safe while exploring a city, you're going to want to take it out on the town when you visit Berlin. You'll get the official stamp when you land at the airport, but you can get additional vintage and historical stamps for 1 Euro each at a small tourist shop in East Berlin (and occasionally near Brandenburg Gate).
What kind of stamps are we talking? They all come from a time when the Wall still stood and the city was separated into East and West Berlin. Think Checkpoint Charlie East and West, the Police of East Berlin, and the Wall House.