Berlin on Two Fat Wheels

(Note: The following post describes details from a previous trip, NOT a current trip.)

Europe, Croatia 265Tuesday, September 11th.

To change things up a bit, I opt to tackle some of Berlin’s sights – by bike.

I find the offices of Fat Tire Bike Tours, at the base of the TV tower, and sign up for one of their tours, which advertises an itinerary through “contemporary” Berlin (which, I suppose, is pretty much the entire city, since most of it had to be rebuilt).

I meet my tour guide, Sophie – a British ex-pat – and a fellow traveller named Doug (also from Britain). We’re soon joined by a young Australian couple, and rounding out our group is an American woman named Joanna (from Washington D.C.).

Europe, Croatia 259The tour we’re taking is called “Berlin Exposed” – which, I suppose, it is. We follow Sophie along side-streets and occasionally onto main ones, until we reach our first stop.

We pause on the dusty, grubby grounds outside what looks like a power station. But it’s Berghain, said to be one of the most well-known nightclubs (if not THE MOST well-known) in the world.

From there, we follow Sophie into a more populated part of town, where we’re given an introduction to street art in Berlin – everything from tags to cartoons, to stencils reminiscent of Banksy’s style of art. It’s on walls, over doorways, everywhere.

Europe, Croatia 273We venture east, to an area off Revalerstrasse, called RAW. It’s a series of small, sketchy-looking warehouses, but house all sorts of markets, bars and other hosted events – an awesome idea. And there are spray-painted images on just about every surface – including a schoolbus sitting off to the side.

But – as Sophie tells us – a lot of street artists still can get in trouble with police for what they do, preferring anonymity. Fellow Fat Bike tourist Doug finds out the hard way when – while trying to capture a piece of street art in progress with his camera – ruffles a couple of feathers.

We carry on, visiting the enormous Tempelhof Europe, Croatia 285Park (the former airport). As an airport, it was probably tiny for its purpose. As a wide-open urban park/greenspace, it’s MASSIVE.

Away from the section of the park that still showcases some of its former function, the former runways have been transformed into surfaces for biking/walking/running/whatever.

We sort split up for about a half-hour; I stick with Joanna. Chugging along the paths, we see people flying kites, windsurfing on skateboards, and guerrilla-gardening – you name it, it’s probably being done! If someone tried to commercialize this space, it would be a shame. Hopefully it never comes to that.

Crossing from east-end Berlin to the west end, we visit a food/fruit market in the Turkish section of town, and have lunch at another huge park.

On the west side, we spot more street art – these ones with more of a socially-conscious bent – and probably one of the few existing squatting settlements left.*

The tour lasts around six hours, but the time and the ground we cover is well-worth it. An added bonus: I gain another fellow travel-buddy in Joanna. We agree to meet the following evening and do something fun in Berlin at night.

The rest of my evening is plunged back into solitude and “administrative” tasks – ie. getting a SIM card that’ll work in my phone, and finding a local supermarket-type set up to find milk and juice – (success on both counts).

Tired, I return to the flat, plop myself in front of the TV, wolfing down my local pizza and drinking pop, which is followed by some red wine and eating a couple of chocolates while attempting to watch “Amelie” – dubbed over into German, of course.

Tomorrow I’ll tackle a museum or two. But tonight, I let the temporary loneliness (probably exacerbated by the red wine), hoping and wondering if Paris will leave me with a better feeling that Berlin has, so far.

*Note: The settlement that I saw – I believe it Kunsthaus Tacheles – was shut down three days after my visit.