32

Crown Heights

CH intro

 

What a week. It started in the Caribbean and ended up in Russia…

This week’s neighbourhood, Crown Heights, was actually the very first one Coco and I stuck our noses in when we arrived in NY three weeks ago. I knew it was a West Indian enclave but what I didn’t know until I started talking to the locals there was that every year it hosts a huge carnival – the Labour Day Parade, a celebration of West Indian/Caribbean culture that stomps and shimmies its way down the main drag (Eastern Parkway) on the first Monday in September.

How could I miss that? I decided to put Crown Heights off until then and chose another neighbourhood for my first NY installment.

Which is how I ended up ‘in the Caribbean’ last Monday. And the Russia bit? We’ll get to that later.

First, some facts. Crown Heights is in Brooklyn. Was posh and white in the early 20th century, then became more working class and black, a mix of West Indian and African American – while at the same time housing a large Hasidic Jewish minority. This mix of such different cultures was the original reason I wanted to explore the neighbourhood – and after last week’s look at the South Williamsburg Jews, I was even more intrigued.

Let’s go Crown Heights!

 

Part 1: Before the parade

Before I decided to put Crown Heights on ice until the Labour Day Parade, I’d already taken quite a few snaps. It was a Saturday, and across Eastern Parkway I noticed smartly dressed women sitting on benches.

Turns out they were from the Seventh Day Adventist Church across the street and Saturday was their church day. Having found the black Africans a little chilly in Paris, I approached with caution – but I needn’t have. You couldn’t hope to meet a friendlier bunch of people than the congregation of Shiloh Seventh Day Adventist Church.

 

 

in their Saturday best - outside the Seventh-Day Adventist Church - Danie, Sunshine and girls

in their Saturday best – Danie, Sunshine and girls

 

 

 

 

"Black women shouldn't have to straighten or braid their hair" - Danie, fighting for follicle freedom

“Black women shouldn’t have to straighten or braid their hair” – Danie, fighting for follicle freedom

 

 

 

 

perfect lines

the opposite – perfect lines

 

 

 

 

Patricia and Shianne :: 1

Patricia and Shianne :: 1

 

 

 

 

Patricia and Shianne :: 2

Patricia and Shianne :: 2

 

 

 

 

"I always wear a hat to church, always"

“I always wear a hat to church, always”

 

 

 

 

That church was just one of the many that we would find during our time in Crown Heights – and they come in all different shapes and sizes. From the Seventh Day Adventists to the Baptist churches and the Spiritual churches – and Mount Faith Zion Church, headed by Bishop Roach…

 

 

Bishop R.C. Roach, Mount Faith Zion Church

Bishop R.C. Roach, Mount Faith Zion Church

 

 

 

 

all welcome

all welcome

 

 

 

 

On the first wander in Crown Heights we also met some delightful local kids, all from a Jamaican background – Naomi and brother Fabian were having a ‘go’ of a stretch limo parked outside their house. They knew the driver and were testing it out.

 

 

rockstar for a second - Naomi :: 1

rockstar for a second – Naomi :: 1

 

 

 

 

rockstar for a second - Naomi :: 2

rockstar for a second – Naomi :: 2

 

 

 

 

Fabian

Fabian

 

 

 

 

Before leaving I took a quick shot of Naomi with a friend, hanging outside their homes on Eastern Parkway. It would be a very different scene when I returned three weeks later…

 

 

chillin' - Naomi and Kalila

chillin’ – Naomi and Kalila

 

 

 

 

Part 2: The Labour Day Parade

Like I said, a very different Crown Heights greeted me as I hopped off the 3 train last Monday – wild, deafeningly loud and incredibly proud. This was the West Indies’ day – Jamaica, Grenada, Haiti, Trinidad and Tobago et al – and they were making sure everyone knew it.

 

 

a statue of liberty

a statue of liberty

 

 

 

 

"It's a chance for my kids to see my culture" - Jamaican born Virginia and her girls

“It’s a chance for my kids to see my culture” – Jamaican born Virginia and her girls

 

 

 

 

Jaden and Joel

Jaden and Joel

 

 

 

 

Robert - "I'm from Jamaica of course!"

Robert – “I’m from Jamaica of course!”

 

 

 

 

because it wasn't noisy enough - Daniel playing the air horn

because it wasn’t noisy enough – Daniel playing the air horn

 

 

 

 

Jamaican Jerk Chicken

Jamaican Jerk Chicken

 

 

 

 

And the parade itself? Rhinestones, glitter, feathers and lots of skin – I was no longer in South Williamsburg…

 

 

a bird of paradise in a sea of blue

a bird of paradise in a sea of blue

 

 

 

 

he can't take his eyes off her

he can’t take his eyes off her

 

 

 

 

For months, costume-makers have been hunched over hot glue-guns, applying copious amounts of rhinestones and feathers to outfits like Alana’s…

 

 

more rhinestones and feathers than usual

more rhinestones and feathers than usual

 

 

 

 

marching for Trinidad and Tobago :: 1

marching for Trinidad and Tobago :: 1

 

 

 

 

marching for Trinidad and Tobago :: 2

marching for Trinidad and Tobago :: 2

 

 

 

 

I like his head dress too

I like his head dress too

 

 

 

 

purple pucker

purple pucker

 

 

 

 

all shapes and sizes :: 1

all shapes and sizes :: 1

 

 

 

 

all shapes and sizes :: 2

all shapes and sizes :: 2

 

 

 

 

Days later Coco and I visited the nearby Brooklyn Botanic Garden – and all the memories of the Labour Day Parade came flooding back…

 

 

yellow eyes :: 1

yellow eyes :: 1

 

 

 

 

yellow eyes :: 2

yellow eyes :: 2

 

 

 

 

scales :: 1

scales :: 1

 

 

 

 

scales :: 2

scales :: 2

 

 

 

 

scales :: 3

scales :: 3

 

 

 

 

Part 3: The Chabad-Lubavitch Jews of Crown Heights

I did know before I visited the nighbourhood that the Hasidic Jews of Crown Heights – from the Chabad or Lubavitch sect – were known as the ‘friendly’ and more relaxed Hasidic Jews. But I still couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw some Chabad Jews wandering down the street during the Labour Day Parade. They weren’t exactly standing on the side-lines, cheering the marchers on, but they seemed pretty fine about it. One Jewish man, Stewart, told me it was a good thing. A young Jewish boy, Daniel, had set up a stall of his old toys outside his home with his grandfather and mum nearby. Maybe it wasn’t exactly kosher but it was clearly okay. (Oh, and yes, they were totally fine about me photographing them – hooray!)

 

 

"It's good" - Stewart

“It’s good” – Stewart

 

 

 

 

Daniel outside his house with a toy stall

Daniel outside his house with a toy stall

 

 

 

 

living side by side

living side by side

 

 

 

 

The next time Coco and I visited the neighbourhood I noticed a large group of young male Chabad Jews outside a building across from their main synagogue, 770, on Eastern Parkway. We wandered over to find that the building was a dormitory for the men who were all overseas students, attending the school inside the synagogue. Because this was no ordinary synagogue – for Chabad Jews, 770 (known as that because of its address, 770 Eastern Parkway) is the most important synagogue in the world.

 

 

from Israel to Crown Heights :: 1

from Israel to Crown Heights :: 1

 

 

 

 

from Israel to Crown Heights :: 2

from Israel to Crown Heights :: 2

 

 

 

 

from Israel to Crown Heights :: 3

from Israel to Crown Heights :: 3

 

 

 

 

Amazing really, given the neighbourhood’s many churches and that earlier, just a few blocks west, we’d seen a Muslim family hit the tarmac to pray.

 

 

prayer, wherever it needs to be

prayer, wherever it needs to be

 

 

 

 

Crown Heights – neighbourhood of churches, synagogues and make-shift mosques.

 

 

reborn - tattoo man and the former movie theatre, now church

reborn – tattoo man and the former movie theatre, now church

 

 

 

 

Part 4: Three weddings in one day

On our last visit to the area, Coco and I stumbled on three weddings all happening on Eastern Parkway.

The first was being held in the Shiloh Seventh Day Adventist Church that we’d come across that very first day – it was a Sunday and I wondered why their door was open, given that Saturday was their church day. So we took a quick peek inside – to see a very nervous looking bride waiting for proceedings to begin.

 

 

Sophie at Shiloh Seventh-Day Adventist Church, about to walk up the aisle :: 1

Sophie, about to walk up the aisle :: 1

 

 

 

 

Sophie at Shiloh Seventh-Day Adventist Church, about to walk up the aisle :: 2

Sophie, about to walk up the aisle :: 2

 

 

 

 

Not wanting to add to her nerves, we quietly left and continued walking east along the Parkway – until we noticed a group of women sitting outside the Oholei Torah Center, not far from the 770 synagogue. By now I knew that the Chabad Jews were pretty cool about photography – and that their reputation for being friendly was well-earned – but these women were especially welcoming.

 

 

relatives of the bride and groom wait outside the Oholei Torah Center

relatives of the bride and groom wait outside the Oholei Torah Center

 

 

 

 

So welcoming in fact that it seemed perfectly normal to sidle up to one of them, Libby, and ask, “So is that a wig you’re wearing?”

 

 

Libby

Libby

 

 

 

 

(Yes, it was a wig. ‘Really?’ – ‘Really’. Libby explained that like the Williamsburg Jews, they have to wear them, but that they can wear any style of wig, they don’t have to wear hats and they certainly don’t have to shave their heads.)

 

 

Libby's daughter

Libby’s daughter

 

 

 

 

After taking a few shots, Goldie, the woman in the purple outfit in the third to last image above, asked if Coco and I wanted to take a look inside.

I didn’t take a shot of the room – it was a fairly nondescript convention hall (although interestingly, the women were on one side of a screen, the men on the other). But I loved talking to Goldie – she’s a Rabbi’s wife and a million other things but this 48 year old mother of nine was the perfect person to quiz about all things Chabad. Having just experienced a little of the Williamsburg Jews, I was intrigued about the differences between them. Goldie explained that while they had the same Hasidic religion, they had very different philosophies. A major one was that the Chabads were actively encouraged to go into the outside world to make the world a better place, one good deed at a time.

I spent so long talking to Goldie that I missed the bride’s arrival outside in the better light – but I got one shot of her sitting on a special seat.

 

 

the bride, Chaya, before the ceremony

the bride, Chaya, before the ceremony

 

 

 

 

Feeling that we’d stayed long enough – what did these brides think of a complete stranger suddenly appearing? – I thanked Chaya, Goldie and the other women and headed back onto Eastern Parkway.

We’d only walked another minute when I spotted a large gathering across the street, right outside the 770 synagogue. Yes, it was another Chabad wedding, but this was the actual ceremony, when the bride and groom stand under a chuppah and various things happen.

I couldn’t see anything until it was too late – I just caught sight of the bride and groom disappearing into the synagogue for the next step in the ceremony, where they spend 10 minutes alone in the yichud room. They’ve had to fast the whole day so finally this is when they can eat something – and technically, this is the first time they’re allowed to be alone together. Oh, and also, they’ve had to spend the week before the wedding apart. Why, I asked someone? “Anticipation!” they answered gleefully.

 

 

step 1 - the ceremony under the chuppah

step 1 – the ceremony under the chuppah

 

 

 

 

step 2 - the bride and groom enter the yichud room

step 2 – the bride and groom enter the yichud room

 

 

 

 

By then I’d met the brother of the groom and his mother. I thought she looked quite exotic and when she talked I realised she was Russian, as were several others around her – and then I remembered, that was where Chabad Jews originated from, over 200 years ago. Standing there, waiting for the bride and groom to come back out, surrounded by Russian voices and the black hats, admiring the groom’s mother’s piercing blue eyes and pale unlined skin, I felt that I’d been transported – across the seas to a land of snow and ice and red wine. Red wine?! More like vodka – red wine was what I had to pick up for dinner – Coco and I had been invited to a friend’s house and we were late, we had to go!

For the last time that day we said our goodbyes and jumped into a taxi.

 

 

from Russia with love - the groom's Russian mum and brother

from Russia with love – the groom’s Russian mum and brother

 

 

 

 

step 3 - exit the building as man and wife

step 3 – exit the building as man and wife

 

 

 

 

married at 20 - Talia :: 1

married at 20 – Talia :: 1

 

 

 

 

married at 20 - Talia :: 2

married at 20 – Talia :: 2

 

 

 

 

lacework

lacework

 

 

 

 

Mazal Tov Chaim and Talia!

Mazal Tov Chaim and Talia!

 

 

 

 

Part 5: Love and peace

Crown Heights has had its troubles – there were riots in 1991, a real low point in relations between the black and Jewish communities – but wandering around its quiet back streets or even along Eastern Parkway at sunset, it seems like a pretty chilled place, one that’s able to accommodate even the most different faiths and peoples.

 

 

brownstones in golden light

brownstones in golden light

 

 

 

 

the quiet life on Eastern Parkway -  Sierra-Maree and Kimani

the quiet life on Eastern Parkway – Sierra-Maree and Kimani

 

 

 

 

of all descriptions

of all descriptions

 

 

 

 

they do a pretty good job of it in Crown Heights

they do a pretty good job of it in Crown Heights

 

 

 

 

The Wrap

Crown Heights knows how to throw a wild party  – and apparently the Labour Day Parade used to be a lot wilder, in every respect. But even so, I absolutely loved it. I remember walking down the street, through the glitter and the feathers and the broad smiles, thinking, I know it’s cliched but I really LOVE New York! And that was before I felt the joy of being able to take photos of the wonderfully warm Chabad Jews, at their weddings no less. It’s a week that made me feel full of gratitude. Gawd. I think I’m going to have to go get my hanky now.

 

 

Coco and I snapping the fish

Coco and I snapping the fish

 

 

 

On the ‘home front’

All pretty quiet on the home front. Except for the usual arguments about Coco spending too long on that blooming iPad. But as I usually complain about it while chained to my own computer, it doesn’t really cut deep. She also got to see a whole load of creepy, crawly spiders this week at the American Museum Of Natural History. Not with me though – anyone who knows my story (an Australian White-Tail Spider basically decimated half a thumb of mine) knows I don’t do spiders.

 This suburb has been brought to you by Nadine Lee

 —

 See you next Monday-ish.

 

24

Friedrichshain

F intro

 

Willkommen in Berlin!

When I did a poll on which cities people wanted me to visit most for this project late last year, Berlin topped the list.

Having never been, I had no idea why. All I knew was that it was party central and covered in graffiti. And oh yeah, something about it being ‘where it’s at’ in terms of art, design etc.

So I was definitely curious. But also slightly terrified that I’d find nothing to photograph but party people and, well, graffiti.

Now, I knew before I arrived what most people know about Berlin: Hitler, WWII, the Wall, then no Wall. But until I started having a nose around the place, I really hadn’t grasped just how bizarre this city’s recent history is. And really I’m talking here about what happened post-WWII, culminating in the Berlin Wall shooting up overnight in 1961 and dividing the city in two for the next 30 odd years.

I just can’t get my head around waking up one morning to discover you’ve been either fenced in or fenced off, from family and friends – and for the East Berliners, any chance of any sort of freedom. What the Nazis did was horrendous beyond words. Shocking, harrowing, horrendous. But a wall going up in the middle of your city? I just find that so bizarre.

So thinking about which area to start with, I felt drawn to somewhere in the former east. While those in West Berlin were the ones who were literally walled in, they were still free. It was the East Berliners who were suddenly no longer able to move – or think – freely.

I ended up choosing Friedrichshain, half of one of Berlin’s 12 boroughs and formerly part of East Berlin.

Some facts: Formed in 1920 as a largely working class district. Badly bombed in WWII. When Berlin was divided up post WWII, Friedrichshain became part of the Soviet occupied sector and then the GDR, with one edge running along the border that became the Berlin Wall in 1961. Post reunification in 1989, squatters moved into the empty apartment blocks. Today, it boasts a lively restaurant/bar/club scene and is gradually being gentrified.

Okay, let’s wander.

 

Part 1: Time warp

Berlin’s past is so shocking that I spent my first week here obsessed with trying to see the city through the eyes of someone living here during the 50s, 60s and 70s.

To begin with, I was most curious what the former East looked like – aside from Karl-Marx-Allee, the showcase avenue of the GDR, it appears to be be filled with masses of fairly bleak looking apartment blocks built between 1950s-70s. Many inhabited, some still derelict from GDR days.

For the benefit of those who’ve never been, here’s a handful to paint some sort of picture…

 

just a facade - Karl-Marx-Allee, the showcase avenue of the GDR

just a facade - Karl-Marx-Allee, the showcase avenue of the GDR

 

 

 

 

west vs east - consumption vs socialist ideals

west vs east - consumption vs socialist ideals

 

 

 

 

circa 1950s

circa 1950s

 

 

 

 

ghostly - derelict GDR offices

ghostly - derelict GDR offices

 

 

 

 

I found myself desperately wanting to get inside some of the derelict buildings, especially those that the Stasi were rumoured to have worked from. One of the most hated secret police forces in history, the Stasi used all manner of devious methods to spy on people – my favourite is the cloth piece they laid on chairs that would pick up the scent of anyone sitting there, later used by dogs to hunt someone down.

My time travelling was aided by a vintage fashion fair we stumbled on just outside Friedrichshain. We were just about to jump on the U-Bahn subway when I spotted an older couple who looked like they had just walked out of the 50s. Birgit and Thomas were going to the vintage fair so we tailed along with them – a perfect opportunity to ask questions and hear some stories from a couple of native Berliners.

Birgit told me that when the border was sealed overnight in 1961, she was a nine year old, visiting her grandparents in East Berlin. Even though she lived in the west, she was forbidden to cross back. Luckily people in West Berlin were allowed to enter the east for a short while after so her parents were able to reach her. They smuggled her back into the west; had she been discovered, she would have been taken from her grandparents and sent to an orphanage. Her father died a few years before the Wall came down so she would never have seen him again. I had goose bumps listening to her story. Can you imagine?

 

August 13, 1961 - Birgit remembers it well, the day her life almost changed forever

August 13, 1961 - Birgit remembers it well, the day her life almost changed forever

 

 

 

 

had she been forced to stay in East Berlin, she could've been monitored by the Stasi

had she been forced to stay in East Berlin, she could've been monitored by the Stasi

 

 

 

 

Having arrived at the vintage fair, there were a number of other women dressed in 50s fashion.

 

50s time warp - Claudia :: 1

50s time warp - Claudia :: 1

 

 

 

 

50s time warp - Claudia :: 2

50s time warp - Claudia :: 2

 

 

 

 

vintage

vintage

 

 

 

 

the time warp continues - Karen

the time warp continues - Karen

 

 

 

 

On another day, visiting the Stasi Museum (I had to, I was so intrigued) I met Sarah, a makeup artist attending something nearby the museum to do with fashion week and skate-boarding. In my delirious time-warped mind, I thought she would have made a great spy. More James Bond than Stasi but you get my drift.

 

Sarah, make-up artist today but back then she might've worked for the Stasi

Sarah, make-up artist today but back then she might've worked for the Stasi

 

 

 

 

Part 2: Past to present

I find it fascinating that a city with such a shocking past now has such a decadent, hedonistic present.

For 30 years half of its citizens were denied basic freedoms. Now you can pretty much do whatever you want and be whoever you want to be.

First up, a group of 20-somethings that describe themselves as ‘erotic activists’. The flyer they gave me explains that they make films of themselves having sex to raise money to save the forests.

 

'erotic activists' - members of ****forforest

'erotic activists' - members of ****forforest

 

 

 

 

making 'eco porn' to save nature

making 'eco porn' to save nature

 

 

 

 

'saving the planet is sexy'

'saving the planet is sexy'

 

 

 

 

I met the group through one of its members, Tabea, when we dropped past a flea market near one of the main streets in the neighbourhood, Simon-Dach-Strasse. Living somewhere outside Berlin, this 19 year old had a kind of Blade Runner look about her that appealed to me. Still at school, she told me she loves Berlin because where she comes from, she’d be judged for what she wears. Here, nobody bats an eyelid.

 

Tabea

Tabea

 

 

 

 

Just around the corner from where the erotic activists were hanging out I met another soul who obviously relishes Berlin’s non-judgemental chilledness. Cedrik, or C-drik as he likes his name to be written, is a gentle, articulate man with one of the most original tattoos I’ve ever seen. From Belgium and the Congo originally, he has covered himself with a tattoo design that reminded me of a cross between a Dalmatian and a leopard, and then added a brightly coloured, perfectly coiffed mohawk to top it all off.

 

in the 70s the punk scene had to be underground

in the 70s the punk scene had to be underground

 

 

 

 

today, you can hold your tattooed, pierced, mohawked head up high

today, you can hold your tattooed, pierced, mohawked head up high

 

 

 

 

what a difference 25 years can make - from repression and surveillance to complete freedom

what a difference 25 years can make - from repression and surveillance to complete freedom

 

 

 

 

as free as

as free as

 

 

 

 

we got the same eyebrows C-drik

we got the same eyebrows C-drik

 

 

 

 

Part 3: Normal life – getting from A to B

Like most of Berlin, Friedrichshain is bike crazy. There seems to be a dedicated bike lane almost everywhere you look – and look you must, as it’s often perilously close to the pavement you’re walking on. Stray into the bike lane at your own risk!

Bikes here carry kids, the groceries, building materials and small dogs.

 

crossing from east to west has never been so easy

crossing from east to west has never been so easy

 

 

 

We met Loni and her owner, Angelika, navigating a small stretch of busy pavement to get into their apartment block in Friedrichshain. Angelika, a website designer, has lived in the area for over a decade. She enjoys it despite the fact she has to fight her way through the crowd outside her front door every weekend.

 

where even the doggies are chilled

where even the doggies are chilled

 

 

 

 

unless there's a treat on offer - Loni and Angelika

unless there's a treat on offer - Loni and Angelika

 

 

 

Evelyna was on her way home after picking up her two kids from childcare when I hailed her down to have a chat. She’d recently returned from 15 years in New York, where she met her American husband. They decided to come back to Berlin because they felt it was a better place to bring up kids. We must have talked for 30 minutes and not once did her tiny passengers stir in their cosy looking Croozer.

 

precious cargo - Evelyna and her kids

precious cargo - Evelyna and her kids

 

 

 

 

As I said, the place is bike mad, with rows and rows of the things parked all over the place. Some more loved than others.

 

pimp my bike - practical to pretty

pimp my bike - practical to pretty

 

 

 

 

Aside from bikes, the other main forms of transport apart from one’s own feet are the U-Bahn subway and the skateboard.

 

I'll pick you up at 7 from the train station

I'll pick you up at 7 from the train station

 

 

 

 

skaters

skaters

 

 

 

 

Part 4: Stories from the photoautomaten

It wasn’t that long ago that those in the GDR were being photographed, filmed and recorded against their will. Today, people happily cram into Berlin’s old style photoautomaten to take photos of themselves. Unlike modern photo booths that take pretty boring colour photos for passports and whatever, these pics come out in black and white with pleasingly blotchy edges.

Better still, the photoautomaten in Friedrichshain sit out in the open air instead of being stuck underground in some dark corner. Perfect for scanning the legs of the occupants and trying to imagine what the rest of them looks like.

 

First up, we met three schoolgirls around 12 years old who lived in the area. Their favourite thing in life? “Going to the movies.”

 

Irma, Matilda and Bella

Irma, Matilda and Bella

 

 

 

 

their favourite thing, the movies

their favourite thing, the movies

 

 

 

 

Next, Mona and Thomas, from Norway, in Berlin for a few days before heading to a music festival nearby. Turned out Thomas is half Australian and has visited his relies who live near Melbourne a number of times.

 

Mona and Thomas - from Oslo, Norway

Mona and Thomas - from Oslo, Norway

 

 

 

 

ready to party

ready to party

 

 

 

 

On another day we met Vanessa, 26. I couldn’t help notice she seemed to have half her house crammed into the booth with her – her pillow, flowers, a huge bag. When she emerged she explained that she was making a story-book of the photos for her boyfriend who’d gone to Iceland for three months to do part of his film studies at a film festival there. Originally from south Germany, she’s lived in Berlin for seven years and loves it – for “the freedom and the music”. When she’s not making photobooks, she plays in a band and is studying Traditional Chinese Medicine.

 

Vanessa

Vanessa

 

 

 

 

making a photobook for her faraway boy

making a photobook for her faraway boy

 

 

 

 

Lastly, Felix. His legs gave nothing away – when he emerged from behind the curtain, his mohawk surprised me. As did his story – he was in Berlin for a while doing some training for his degree in nursing. And no, he doesn’t have to get rid of his mohawk as it often amuses the patients.

 

trainee nurse, Felix

trainee nurse, Felix

 

 

 

He seemed like a lovely guy so I was happy to run into him again a few days later as Coco and I were walking past the photo booths. He was there with his girlfriend, also a trainee nurse, and wanted to know if I’d like to photograph them together.

 

Felix and Meike

Felix and Meike

 

 

 

 

Felix solo, Felix with Meike

Felix solo, Felix with Meike

 

 

 

 

These particular photoautomaten are strategically placed right next to a vendor selling the local specialty, currywurst – a smoked sausage smothered in tomato sauce and curry powder with fries. An ideal snack while you’re waiting for your turn at the photobooth or for your pics to emerge.

 

waiting patiently for his master - and his share of the currywurst

waiting patiently for his master - and his share of the currywurst

 

 

 

 

Part 5: Moving to Berlin? Join the crowd.

Unlike every city we’ve visited so far, Berlin isn’t full to the brim. As a result, rents are still cheap and people are moving here from all over Germany and the globe. ‘It’s like New York in the 80s’, I kept hearing. Arty, edgy and cheap.

 

but Berlin's a lot cheaper

but Berlin's a lot cheaper

 

 

 

 

Daria and her boyfriend are about to move to Berlin from Cologne. “It’s never boring here.”

 

saved from boredom by Berlin - Daria

saved from boredom by Berlin - Daria

 

 

 

 

Kristine, a personnel manager for a local club, has lived here for a while. “If you don’t feel free in your own city, come to Berlin.”

 

'Berlin's a place to feel free' - Kristine

'Berlin's a place to feel free' - Kristine

 

 

 

 

But. As much as the city seems like a bargain to many, rents and prices have gone up markedly in recent years. There seem to be building sites everywhere as apartment blocks are either being renovated or replaced. None of which impresses those who have been able to live either incredibly cheaply or for free in squats for the past so many years.

When the Berlin Wall came down and the GDR was no more, apartment blocks were abandoned by East Berliners fleeing to the west. Squatters moved in and made the buildings their own. But in the last decade most of them have been forced out by a government that’s no longer happy to call itself ‘poor but sexy’.

Walking around a former squat quarter in Friedrichshain, where militant types still live and rage against the relentless tidal wave of gentrification, recently done up buildings have been splatted with paint and graffiti.

 

home - first to East Berliners, then squatters and now the renovators

home - first to East Berliners, then squatters and now the renovators

 

 

 

 

before and after gentrification - around Rigaer Strasse

before and after gentrification - around Rigaer Strasse

 

 

 

 

the voice of anti-gentrification

the voice of anti-gentrification

 

 

 

 

the government doesn't want to listen to the squatters any longer

the government doesn't want to listen to the squatters any longer

 

 

 

 

I’m not sure whether this building is a squat or privately owned. But I liked it. A great improvement on the former GDR’s colour scheme of cement grey.

 

formerly concrete grey

formerly concrete grey

 

 

 

It’s not just the ‘yuppie renovators’ who are so disliked. Tourists are also not popular with some. A few days ago I asked a German guy wearing a t-shirt with a ‘Berlin does not love you’ design if I could take a photo of it. I found the irony funny – he did not. He let rip with a few expletives and was totally indignant. Coco is still talking about it.

 

 

The Wrap

If Friedrichshain is anything to go by, Berlin is not a city that reaches out and hugs you straight off. It took me several days to get my eye in and to understand that it can be remarkably quiet and uneventful for a so called happening city; I walked for hours on end at times without taking a single shot.

As frustrating as that was, I’ve been totally captivated by the central contradiction of this city – a decadent party town in a city with such a shocking history.

And once I’d worked out what Berlin’s magnetic pull seems to be all about – the fact that you can afford to live here while you re-invent yourself into whoever and whatever you want to be – I felt much warmer towards the place. In fact, if I was 25 again, Berlin would definitely turn my head.

You can just tell this city is going to make history again one day – maybe it’s making it already.

 

 

 

birthday photos - the nine year old and I

birthday photos - the nine year old and I

 

 

On the ‘home front’

Coco and I had a great time with our mates in Madrid. Too short – just four days, two of which I spent writing up the last Rome blog and then my regular monthly Fairfax piece – and stinking hot, but it was so good to see some familiar faces. Coco and her friend Elyse did not stop nattering the entire time and we celebrated Coco’s ninth birthday a few days early with them and then again when we got to Berlin. Two other dear friends just dropped in for a few days here and Coco produced candles and chips for her third birthday bash. Hopefully she’s done now.

This suburb has been brought to you by Annie & John Welch

See you next Monday.

 

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