Everything You Never Knew You Wanted to Know About Berlin
In his 10 Rules for Writing Fiction published in the UK by “The Guardian” Jonathan Franzen, a brilliant and by now super-successful and super-famous American novelist, tells aspiring authors: “You see more sitting still than chasing after”.
Which is an excellent piece of advice for a future Joyce or an aspiring Atwood but a lousy recommendation to somebody planning to write about a city. In this case “chasing after” is definitely a virtue.
So you will be very happy to discover that the authors of the new ultimate Berlin guide-book, Slow Travel Berlin: 100 Favourite Places, did not repeat the common mistake made by many others in this trade and that they actually went, saw, chased and even tasted what they were planning to write about. And that they did not limit their effort to copy-pasting bits and pieces from other people´s texts while sitting still in the safe harbour of wherever their MacBook was standing.
The book delivers just what the authors promise: “a more considered and personal approach to bring you 100 special places, many of which would go unmentioned in a conventional guide”.
Take Ernst-Thälmann-Park. This East Berlin park built in the borough of Prenzlauerberg opened in 1986 and was named after the pre-WW2 leader of the KPD (short for the German Communist Party). The Slow Travel Berlin guide will tell you that even though the park was built on the grounds of an old and by then defunct gas plant, whose heavy pollution filled the soil underneath with plenty of Mendeleyev´s chart strongest, it was possible to turn it into a combination of residential high-rises and duck-and-duckling little ponds. Into a place worth visiting not because it is historic, tidy and aesthetically pleasing but because it is unkempt, a bit lost yet still very much representative of this city´s history – the history that nobody knows whether to finally accept and respect or pretend that it never happened.
100 Favourite Places will guide you to many other unorthodox locations: Anderl Kammermeier Studio in Moabit at a listed former artillery depot where every summer the Bavaria-born artist opens his atelier to all who can find it and who wish to spend a warm Saturday evening in July listening to impromptu concerts and chatting.
Or to Funkhaus Nalepastrasse – the old GDR radio headquarters built in 1951 with clear Bauhaus influences. Today it houses numerous (affordable!) ateliers, an art gallery and a fantastic bar, Milchbar, which looks as if it were still 1959 in East Berlin. And as a monument to Berlin´s past, it is far superior to East Side Gallery – totally over-hyped and kept alive only through permanent artificial respiration .
The STB authors made little trips to several truly magical places. One of them was the Zauberkönig, a professional shop for magicians and all those dabbling in illusion, in Hermannstrasse 84 in Berlin-Neukölln. It stands squeezed in between the cemetery stonemason´s house and another low 1960´s bungalow-like shop in a busy and not particularly enchanting street. Without guide-books such as this one, how many visitors to Berlin would find the place on their own?
For this is exactly the idea behind the book: take people where they would otherwise most likely never go by themselves. Not because they would not want to but because they would not even know that they could. It is easy to follow the beaten path: start at Brandenburger Tor and work your way through Unter den Linden, Alexanderplatz and go back west to Potsdamer Platz and Ku-Damm. Visit the Reichstag, the Jewish Memorial, hop around Friedrichstrasse or have a little drink at KaDeWe (if you dare). But those who are truly interested in Berlin or, come to that, in any other big city worth knowing, will steer clear of the “hotspots” and choose the wilderness instead. Don´t follow the crowd – avoid it. Don´t rush – take it slow.
Walking around Berlin is like having a meal: you can gulp it down, choking on bigger pieces but still somehow ending up sated. Or you can eat perhaps less but slowly, enjoying every bite. And 100 Favourite Places is a perfect cookery book for the latter.
Published by Slow Travel Berlin, available at a user-friendly price of EUR 13.95 through slowtravelberlin.com.