45

Upper West Side

UWS intro

 

Welcome – back – to NY! I know. But I have my reasons…

Coco is usually incredibly flexible, not minding where we go or what we do. But there was one thing she really felt strongly about – if we weren’t going to be home in time to spend Christmas with our family, that we at least spend it with friends. Having made all the decisions for 99% of this project, I decided it was only fair she have a say at last.

By coming back to NY for a few weeks, we could not only tick the ‘Christmas with friends’ box – we could also check out the city post-Hurricane Sandy.

Like millions around the world I watched with horror as parts of NY went under water during the ‘super storm’ almost two months ago, drowning people in basements and wrenching babies from their mother’s arms.

But when I emailed my friend Chris, who we’d stayed with on the Upper West Side just weeks before, it was almost “What hurricane?” Strong winds, sure, but no flooding, no loss of power and no tragic stories.

I wanted to see for myself how this ‘tale of two cities’ was panning out.

So back to NY we went. We had to fly to LA from Tokyo anyway so it wasn’t such a huge deal to hop on a plane for the five hour flight east to NY. But it still felt a little weird, looping back, not to mention guilt-inducing – my carbon footprint has never been so worrisome.

I’d planned to start with one of the NY neighbourhoods that was badly affected by the storm surge but I hadn’t counted on the fact that we’d be total zombies for a week from seriously bad jet lag. Even when we were awake we felt half asleep.

So, given that we were back on the Upper West Side in Chris’s apartment, it made sense to stay local and begin here.

Some facts. The Upper West Side is big, stretching from 59th Street to 110th Street, and from the Hudson River to Central Park. In the 18th century it was farmland with a few wealthy country residences dotted around. Some of NY’s best loved buildings were built in the early 1900s, including the Dakota and the Apthorp. By the mid-1900s, the UWS was built-up and had become a real mix – Jewish, gay, Hispanic, artists, working class and rough. It gentrified like the rest of Manhattan in the late 20th century and is now mostly affluent.

Okay, let’s have a look….

 

Part 1: At first glance

Hurricane Sandy was all about elevation – areas that were low lying went under, those that didn’t got off almost scot-free.

Being the second most elevated area in NYC, the UWS was in the latter category; it was simply too high for the storm surge to affect it.

So while I wasn’t expecting to see any physical evidence of Hurricane Sandy, I thought maybe you’d be able to read it on people’s faces; New Yorkers are renown for uniting in the face of disasters – they would surely be feeling the pain.

But no, at least not that you could tell from a quick glance. While the UWS is usually fairly quiet, it wasn’t abnormally subdued. This was not a neighbourhood struggling to come to terms with one of the worst storms in the city’s history and there’s no way you’d have guessed that a mere subway ride away, the recovery was far from over – from what I’d read, many of the 20,000 residents of one of the worst affected areas, the Rockaways, were still without heat or electricity. Not good anytime but especially bad during winter.

Meanwhile on the UWS, all was well. In fact, better than well – the holiday season had begun and whether you were Jewish or Gentile, celebrating Hanukkah or about to celebrate Christmas, life was good.

 

 

side by side - the Menorah and the Christmas tree

side by side – the Menorah and the Christmas tree

 

 

 

 

a show on Broadway

a show on Broadway

 

 

 

 

Christmas baubles

Christmas baubles

 

 

 

 

Happy Hannukah

Happy Hanukkah

 

 

 

 

hoodies

hoodies

 

 

 

 

L is for Love

L is for Love

 

 

 

 

oh no! - a lost Christmas list

oh no! – a lost Christmas list

 

 

 

 

 

Of course, for some, the last week hasn’t been about lighting candles for Hanukkah or doing Christmas shopping, but just getting on with normal life. Like Sheila who was thrilled I noticed her – not only was she used to being “invisible”, she told me, “It’s also a year today that my mum died so I’m feeling kind of emotional.”

 

 

"You've made me so happy. After a certain age women can feel invisible. And it's also a year today that my mum died. So I'm feeling kind of emotional. Thank you." - Sheila

“You’ve made me so happy. After a certain age women can feel invisible. Thank you.” – Sheila

 

 

 

 

And Marilyn, who was visiting the neighbourhood not for anything festive but to see her therapist. Having been photographed a few years before for Ari Cohen’s ‘Advanced Style’ project and still very chic at 85, Marilyn struck me as someone who was in no danger of feeling invisible.

 

 

"Actually I live on the Upper East Side. I'm just here to see my therapist!' - Marilyn, 85

“Actually I live on the Upper East Side. I’m just here to see my therapist!’ – Marilyn, 85

 

 

 

 

 

Part 2: Riverside Park

So that was my first impression of the UWS – normal but pleasantly festive. Magical even, on the morning when a thick fog came off the Hudson River, turning the local park where we went to walk Bella, Chris’s dog, into a cosy wintry corner. It felt like we were in a bubble, isolated from anything and everywhere. People walked their dogs, chatted and laughed with their neighbours. Again the thought went through my mind – ‘What hurricane?’

 

 

9am in the fog :: 1

9am in the fog :: 1

 

 

 

 

9am in the fog :: 2

9am in the fog :: 2

 

 

 

 

Europe were it not for the yellow school bus

Europe were it not for the yellow school bus

 

 

 

 

autumn leaves the colour of traffic lights

autumn leaves the colour of traffic lights

 

 

 

 

more leaves on the ground than in the trees

more leaves on the ground than in the trees

 

 

 

 

rugged

rugged

 

 

 

 

Riverside Park was just as magical in the sunshine.

 

 

'sustenance and renewal' - Riverside Park

‘sustenance and renewal’ – Riverside Park

 

 

 

 

5pm sunset :: 1

5pm sunset :: 1

 

 

 

 

5pm sunset :: 2

5pm sunset :: 2

 

 

 

 

Part 3: David and Miles

One encounter I had with a UWS resident made me forget about the hurricane completely.

While I was busy scrutinising the outside of an apartment block on 83rd street and Broadway, David, a retired history and American literature professor, emerged out the front door.

Once he’d found out what I was doing, he told me that was what his partner, Miles, had done for many years before his death from AIDS just eight months ago. “Except he used pen and ink, not a camera”.

Would I like to see his apartment? Sure!

While I had a nose around the ground floor apartment, the incredibly friendly and chatty David told me all about Miles (Robert Miles Parker), his partner of 27 years and a “semi-famous” artist and preservationist.

It seems Miles had spent much of his life wandering around the city drawing buildings he liked the look of.

A resident of the UWS for many years, in 1988 he produced “Upper West Side: New York,” a book of more than 200 drawings of buildings in the neighbourhood and his personal commentary, which clearly showed his passion for the old and under threat.

When he died the city showed its appreciation of his work by publishing his obituary in the NY Times.

David also told me how much the UWS had changed. In the 80s his apartment was a crack den with a prostitute on the corner. Now the area was “very yuppy but old – Jewish intellectual and an older gay population”. Fortunately for him his apartment, where’s he lived since 1989, is rent controlled but were it not, the former crack den – a two bedroom with high ceilings and a double living room – would rent for US$1,500 a week.

 

 

David's home, The Amidon

David’s home, The Amidon

 

 

 

 

putting on a brave face - David, eight months after the loss of his partner to AIDS

putting on a brave face – David, eight months after the loss of his partner to AIDS

 

 

 

 

Miles drew hundreds of UWS buildings, including the Ansonia

Miles drew hundreds of UWS buildings, including the Ansonia

 

 

 

 

passions - preservation and his partner

his passions – preservation and his partner

 

 

 

 

"What I miss the most is having someone around to just tell the small stuff to"

“What I miss the most is having someone around to just tell the small stuff to”

 

 

 

 

"Miles used to sit there for at least an hour a day and paint"

“Miles used to sit there for at least an hour a day and paint”

 

 

 

 

I got so lost in David’s story that I completely forgot to ask him about his experience of the hurricane. It was only later that I wondered, if he had been flooded, how sad it would’ve been for all Miles’ paintings to have been lost. As it is, they’re still very much alive.

 

 

"People often notice the flower paintings as they walk past outside and want to come in and have a look"

“People often notice the flower paintings as they walk past outside and want to come in and have a look”

 

 

 

 

Part 4: Harvey and Alice

After having a stickybeak in David’s apartment, I was keen to show you a few other ones in the neighbourhood.

Last time we were here, we’d done some dog-minding for Harvey and Alice, friends of our friend Chris who live across the road, just a few blocks down from David’s place. We’d only had a quick peek at their apartment when we dropped off Emma, their beautiful Golden Retriever. But from that one glimpse you could tell it was a classic older apartment with great proportions.

Could we come over and take a few shots? Sure.

 

 

a classic UWS apartment - Harvey, Alice and Emma the dog's home

a classic UWS apartment – Harvey, Alice and Emma the dog’s home

 

 

 

 

looking west towards Riverside Park and the Hudson River

looking west towards Riverside Park and the Hudson River

 

 

 

 

On the day we visited, Alice was out and Harvey was on his own. This time I remembered to ask about the hurricane. Harvey told us that Alice, a lawyer, was actually heading off to the Rockaways the next day to advise some of the storm victims how to navigate complicated bureaucracies to receive government support. It was going to be a long road to recovery.

And what about the UWS, how had that changed? Harvey and Alice have lived in the 100 year old apartment for 33 years and, like David, remember the neighbourhood being incredibly different. “It used to be much more interesting. Now no one can afford to live here but wealthy types and it’s like a shopping mall”, said Harvey.

I had to agree – there’s a Victoria’s Secret on Broadway for goodness sake.

 

 

"I love the park but elsewhere the UWS is like a shopping mall"

“I love the park but elsewhere the UWS is like a shopping mall”

 

 

 

 

Emma, Bella's friend

Emma, Bella’s friend

 

 

 

 

Emma and Chris’s gorgeous black German Shepard, Bella, are good mates. Helped no doubt by the fact they can wave to one another from across the street. Isn’t that what dogs do when no one’s looking?

 

 

neighbours - the view across to Chris's apartment

neighbours – the view across to Chris’s apartment

 

 

 

 

Part 5: Margot, Stan, Sasha and Chloe

On one of our visits to the park to take Bella for a walk we met another UWS resident, Margot. Well, Coco met Margot – and charmed her so much she was invited over for a play-date with Margot’s two daughters.

The family live with various creatures (tortoises, hamsters, dog) on the 11th and 12th floor of an apartment block just around the corner from us. I didn’t take many shots but what was interesting about this place was that they’d joined two floors together to create a spacious, luxurious home in the heavens.

Margot is an actress, Stan, a musician, and the two girls, delightful.

 

 

luxury on the 11th and 12th floors

luxury on the 11th and 12th floors

 

 

 

 

Margot and Roxy

Margot and Roxie

 

 

 

 

the view downtown

the view downtown

 

 

 

 

When I asked Margot about the hurricane, I heard yet again that they’d barely noticed it on the UWS. But like many who live in the neighbourhood, they did feel the pain; Margot bought a whole load of stuff – food, nappies, anything she could think of that would be in short supply – and took it down to the Rockaways about a week after the hurricane had hit.

The morning we’d met Margot in the park, we’d also met Nancy, another UWS resident. She’d also responded to the disaster by going out to the Rockaways to do whatever she could to help.

“Before I went there, I didn’t realise the full extent of the disaster. Even though we’re not that far, it was like it was happening in another city.” When she went there she said, “You saw the best and worst of people. Some, taking stuff they clearly didn’t need, others doing everything they could to help.”

“But it was also quite scary: People think of the Rockaways as a nice beach area but it also has lots of projects (public housing) too. After Sandy, they became a no man’s land without any electricity, looting, old people afraid to come out of their homes. It was chaos.”

 

 

"It was like it was happening in another city" - Nancy and Bentley

“It was like it was happening in another city” – Nancy and Bentley

 

 

 

 

Part 6: The doormen of the UWS

The sense that everything was under control in the UWS was enhanced by the doormen in the neighbourhood. Guardians of their buildings and those within, they stand sentinel until required to hail down a taxi, carry a bag or even walk a dog. But wash a car? No, they do not wash cars.

 

 

"The best thing about being a doorman is the people. Worst is the weather" - Raul, on West End, taking a tenant's dog for a walk

“The best thing about being a doorman is the people. Worst is the weather” – Raul, on West End, taking a tenant’s dog for a walk

 

 

 

 

"The weirdest thing I've been asked to do? Wash a car. I had to refuse" - Peter, on West End

“The weirdest thing I’ve been asked to do? Wash a car. I had to refuse” – Peter, on West End

 

 

 

 

"The worst thing is the standing all day but I love it" - Jose, Apthorp

“The worst thing is the standing all day but I love it” – Jose, Apthorp

 

 

 

 

The doormen of the Dakota, the building where John Lennon was shot, weren’t allowed to give their names nor pose. They’re busy enough fending off eager Lennon fans from venturing inside the famous building.

 

 

"I've been the Dakota's doorman for 27 years, ever since I left school. I love it cos I get to meet people from all over the world"

“I’ve been the Dakota’s doorman for 27 years, ever since I left school. I love it cos I get to meet people from all over the world”

 

 

 

 

the Dakota doormen's jobs includes opening doors and keeping John Lennon fans at bay

the Dakota doormen’s jobs includes opening doors and keeping John Lennon fans at bay

 

 

 

 

The Wrap

The Upper West Side buildings are probably what I think of when I think of NY – handsome things with wonderful details and water towers that bring to mind witches hats. But I’m with Miles – many of them are under threat (doorman Peter’s building, for example, is new, created by knocking down three lovely old townhouses a few years ago) and need protection from greedy developers who couldn’t care less about charm or patina.

But thanks to its high elevation, at least the neighbourhood wasn’t under threat from Hurricane Sandy and her disastrous storm surge.

And it turned out that the people of the UWS did and do feel the pain of those much less fortunate, particularly in the Rockaways where life will take a long long time to get back to normal, if ever. Well, that’s what I read anyway – it’ll be interesting next week to see first-hand just how the neighbourhood is faring.

 

 

 

inseperable - Bella and Coco :: 1

inseparable – Bella and Coco :: 1

 

 

 

 

inseparable - Bella and Coco :: 2

inseparable – Bella and Coco :: 2

 

 

 

 

On the ‘home front’

As I mentioned, Coco and I have spent most of the week in a zombie-like state thanks to the worst jet lag I’ve ever known. It didn’t help being winter – by 5pm it’s pitch black, obviously time to go to bed your body tells you. Anyway, we’re over the worst of it now and are almost feeling human again.

Despite the fatigue, Coco has been busy. There’s the Christmas List to add to, Bella the dog to walk and her new friends around the corner to play with. None of which I begrudge her; after the appalling tragedy a few days ago in Connecticut, less than 100 miles north of NY, I have hugged and held my daughter just that little bit tighter. My heart goes out to each and every one of those families.

 —

This suburb has been brought to you by Alan Ventress

See you next week.

 

25

Neukolln

N intro 2

 

Apologies for the late post – without warning, winter returned to Berlin last week, and with it, bucket loads of rain.

In between the thundery downpours we managed to get out long enough to have a nose around various bits of Neukölln, a borough just south of last week’s Friedrichshain. 

I say ‘bits’ because unlike Friedrichshain, Neukölln is enormous. So I chose two neighbourhoods to focus on – the northernmost tip, also called Neukölln (and where our apartment happens to be), and one in the south, Gropiusstadt.

As I quickly discovered they are very different worlds and too much for one post. So I’ve split them into two, starting in the north with this post and then heading south with a post in a few days time (two in one week? can you cope?)

Same facts about the borough in general. Located in the former west, but only just – it has one of the longest sections of border with the former East Berlin. Name comes from Berlin’s former twin settlement of Cölln. Almost half the population are from immigrant backgrounds, mainly Turkish, Arab and Kurdish. One of the poorest boroughs, with unemployment, drug and ‘social issues’. Popular with students, artists and travellers.

Okay, starting with North Neukölln, let’s wander.

 

Part 1: Different stories

Admittedly I’ve only been in Berlin for five minutes but as far as I understand it, North Neukölln has come into its own in the last few years primarily because neighbouring Kreuzberg – where the apartment blocks are just that much nicer – got too expensive. 

Various peoples, from Turkish immigrants to artists, students and travellers, couldn’t afford Kreuzberg anymore so they moved south to Neukölln. And now North Neukölln is just like Kreuzberg (hence its nickname, Kreuzkölln) but cooler.

Well, that’s what some people told me. Others said it was too rough and druggy.

In fact, in the last week I’ve heard all sorts of things about North Neukölln; it’s such a mix of cultures and characters that depending who you speak to, you get a different story. It’s cool, not cool. A wonderful melting pot, a failed melting pot. It’s thriving because of travellers. It’s being ruined by travellers.

At the end of it all the only thing I knew for certain? The olives are much cheaper at the Turkish Market than in the shops.

 

the (organic) corner shop

the (organic) corner shop

 

 

 

 

a constant stream of travellers - Raquel, from Portugal, works as a Brazilian tour guide

a constant stream of travellers - Raquel, from Portugal, works as a Brazilian tour guide

 

 

 

 

Lou and Lulu, from France

Lou and Lulu, from France

 

 

 

 

Lou likes Neukolln for its colourful mix

Lou likes Neukolln for its colourful mix

 

 

 

I can’t comment on the night life in North Neukölln – I’m such an old fart – but apparently it’s where ‘real’ Berliners head after dark. While the international techno crowd make merry in the massive clubs across the river in Friedrichshain, locals party here in former brothels and smaller bars.

 

 

eagle rock - Italian RocknRoll, lives in Wedding, in Neukolln for a drink

eagle rock - Italian RocknRoll, lives in Wedding, in Neukolln for a drink

 

 

 

 

rough diamond - he says he's a jeweller, do we believe him?

rough diamond - he says he's a jeweller, do we believe him?

 

 

 

As in other poorer Berlin neighbourhoods that are rapidly changing, the anti-gentrification movement is in full swing here. I read one flyer from ‘AntiGen Neukölln’ warning “students, artists and travelers” about evil landlords and real estate investors pushing up rental prices – “As these prices are still cheap compared to the rental prices in their hometowns.. everything seems to be fine, but, not for all… Slowly but surely, the poorest and most vulnerable people are forced to leave behind the life that they have built… their friendships, their places, their communities, their memories…Whatever you do, don’t pay too much rent!”

So what exactly are rents like here? Someone I know pays $150 per week for a 55m2 one bedroom apartment – and that includes heating. Seems incredibly cheap to me but then I come from crazy-prices-Sydney.

 

North Neukolln is getting yuppier by the day

North Neukolln is getting yuppier by the day

 

 

 

 

heartfelt hatred

heartfelt hatred

 

 

 

 

Part 2: The Turkish market

The Turks were invited in after WWII as ‘temporary workers’ – and never left.

Apparently Berlin today has the second largest Turkish population after Istanbul. Whether that’s accurate or not I don’t know. But it’s definitely true that there’s a huge Turkish population here – many of whom call Kreuzberg and North Neukölln home.

While the whole immigration issue is highly controversial, I didn’t meet anyone who had a problem with the Turkish market that happens every Tuesday and Friday down by the canal.

Fresh food, free entertainment and, like I said, cheap olives.

And definitely the place to come if you like a crowd – most of the time Berlin feels so empty to me, but at the Turkish market it’s wall to wall.

 

where is everyone? at the Turkish Market

where is everyone? at the Turkish Market

 

 

 

 

sunshine - Wafaa from Sudan

sunshine - Wafaa from Sudan

 

 

 

 

By now Duaa, below, will be a married woman. But when we met her she had five days to go. Her eyes lit up when she talked about the impending nuptials. Born in Lebanon, she moved to Berlin when she was just five months old.

 

I love you, will you marry me - Duaa

I love you, will you marry me - Duaa

 

 

 

We met Hoda walking along with her boyfriend. She was born here but comes from a Palestinian background. I asked her how she felt about Berlin. “Too crowded”. Then she thought again. “But when I like people, I love it.”

 

Hoda

Hoda

 

 

 

After you’ve filled your bag with fresh bread, cheese, fruit and veg – and cheap olives – there’s free entertainment.

 

that's entertainment - hanging out by the canal

that's entertainment - hanging out by the canal

 

 

 

 

all ages welcome

all ages welcome

 

 

 

 

the canal, Maybachufer

the canal, Maybachufer

 

 

 

 

Part 3: The Turkish Mosque

Given how large the Turkish and Arab population is in Berlin, and the fact there are about 300,000 Muslims in the city, I imagined I’d see quite a few mosques around the place. But it turns out that although there are about 80 mosques and/or prayer rooms, most of them are hidden away in apartment blocks.

There are, however, two ‘proper’ mosques – the largest of which happens to be in Neukölln.

Şehitlik Moschee is fairly new – finished in 2005 – but it’s designed in the ancient Ottoman style and was built alongside a Turkish cemetery dating from 1863.

While it’s kind of out of the way, on a major road with lots of green around, I still got quite a shock to see this little piece of Istanbul with its shining white minarets piercing the sky in grungy-gritty-graffitied Neukölln.

 

culture shock

culture shock

 

 

 

 

little Istanbul

like walking into Turkey

 

 

 

 

Berlin to Istanbul

Berlin to Istanbul

 

 

 

 

The first time we visited the mosque we just had a quick look around and left. As we were leaving we met husband and wife, Yunus and Sukrau. They explained they both had Turkish parents but had been born in Berlin. I asked them a question they must get all the time but were gracious enough to answer: did they feel German or Turkish? Yunus replied, “In my heart I am Turkish, but in my head, German.”

 

my heart is Turkish, my head, Germanv

my heart is Turkish, my head, German

 

 

 

The next time we visited happened to be on the first day of Ramadan (my lack of research never ceases to amaze me). Coco seemed quite concerned – no food or drink during the day for an entire month? – until she found out kids didn’t have to participate until they became teens.

 

'Welcome Ramadan 2012'

'Welcome Ramadan 2012'

 

 

 

 

an age old ritual - Friday prayer on the first day of Ramadan

an age old ritual - Friday prayer on the first day of Ramadan

 

 

 

We met 30 year old Pinar and her five month old son, Baturkagan, standing in the courtyard just before prayer. She and her husband are heavily involved in the running of the mosque, particularly on the education side of things. Like Yunus and Sukrau, Pinar was born in Berlin – but just from the way she was dressed you could tell she felt more Turkish than German. She explained that her parents had always encouraged integration but that she loved the Turkish culture; she and her husband visit Istanbul once a year and dream of living there.

 

Pinar and five month old Baturkagan

Pinar and five month old Baturkagan

 

 

 

I asked Pinar about the whole multicultural-Muslim question. In her opinion Muslim people are neither accepted nor understood by the majority of German people who still ask the same questions about terrorism at the mosque’s information days.

Pinar talked about being a minority – yet at some schools in Neukölln, it’s the ethnic German kids who are in the minority. Neukölln is still living down an incident in 2006 where teachers at a local school with a hugely migrant student population spat the dummy, demanding the school be shut down due to the out of control violence.

I left the mosque that day with Angela Merkel’s words from 2010 ringing in my ears – “The approach to build a multicultural society and to live side by side and to enjoy each other…has failed, utterly failed.”

 

culture clash

culture clash :: 1

 

 

 

 

culture clash :: 2

culture clash :: 2

 

 

 

 

Part 4: Airport turned park

Most – okay, nearly all – of Tempelhofer Park isn’t in the borough of Neukölln. But it’s a stone’s throw from Şehitlik Mosque and when I studied my map, I noticed that a very slim slice of the park, the easternmost bit, also appears to be inside the boundary line.

Good enough for me. I love this park so much I’d use any excuse to include it.

So Tempelhofer Park was once an airport – Flughafen Berlin-Tempelhof. Designed and built by the Nazis in the 1930s, British architect Sir Norman Foster called it “the mother of all airports”.

The semi-oval building is huge, Europe’s largest stand-alone structure. But just as impressive is its history; when the Soviets tried to starve West Berlin in 1948-1949, the airport saved the city by enabling planes to deliver supplies.

The Berlin Airlift endeared the airport to every Berliner – so much so, when there was talk of closing it down in 2008, there was a huge outcry. It failed to keep the airport open but thankfully the city didn’t redevelop the site or mothball it. Instead in 2010 it opened the entire area to the public, aside from the buildings, and said, go play. Cycle, rollerblade, run. Play soccer, fly a kite, whatever, it’s yours.

Looming on the horizon, however, like a small dot of a plane that will inevitably reveal itself, is a question mark over the park’s future. They say it’s going to be turned into an ‘urban park landscape’. But what’s so cool about it now is it’s an old airport with real runways that you can roam around on. Why mess with that?

 

stormy past, uncertain future :: 1

stormy past, uncertain future :: 1

 

 

 

 

stormy past, uncertain future :: 2

stormy past, uncertain future :: 2

 

 

 

 

stormy past, uncertain future :: 3

stormy past, uncertain future :: 3

 

 

 

 

transporting provisions not people - the Berlin Airlift

transporting provisions not people - the Berlin Airlift

 

 

 

 

ready for take-off

ready for take-off

 

 

 

 

airport turned meadow - Iris and daughter Marie, picking flowers for oma - grandma

airport turned meadow - Iris and daughter Marie, picking flowers for oma - grandma

 

 

 

 

ta da

ta da

 

 

 

 

off to deliver the flowers

off to deliver the flowers

 

 

 

 

an afternoon game of fußball

an afternoon game of fußball

 

 

 

 

fun in whatever weather

fun in whatever weather

 

 

 

 

Berlin 2012 vs Berlin 1930s

Berlin 2012 vs Berlin 1930s

 

 

 

 

Part 5: Watch out where you walk

Stolpersteine are all over Berlin but I saw my first ones in North Neukölln. I’d heard about these mini monuments which commemorate Holocaust victims but because they’re small and on the ground, they’re not easy to spot. Translated as ‘stumbling blocks’, the small brass blocks record the name of an individual, the date they were deported and the name of the concentration camp they were ermordet – murdered. They’re positioned outside the last known home of the individual, laid flush with the pavement.

I found them incredibly moving in the way they quietly announce the terrifying fate of an individual.

 

stolpersteine -The Wolf family

stolpersteine -The Wolf family

 

 

 

 

you can't erase these memories

you can't erase these memories

 

 

 

 

The Wrap

I read somewhere that Neukölln was once called the “Bronx” of Berlin, and still today you can read all sorts of scary statistics about the place – it’s the poorest, the most crime ridden, the place immigrants like the Romanians are flocking to in order to take advantage of Germany’s social welfare, etc etc.

Yet in the three weeks we’ve been living here, in an apartment in North Neukölln’s Hermannplatz, I’ve grown to like it more and more – precisely because of the mix of people. But the kids who live across the road are on the streets until midnight. And the men who hang on the corner, in the half shadows, what’s their story?

Still, the olives are cheap.

 

Coco at Tempelhof

Coco at Tempelhof

 

 

 

On the ‘home front’

Coco may be all smiles in the image above but there have been tears too this week. Another traumatic episode of home schooling where I just couldn’t get her to understand a fairly simple maths concept. She ended up sobbing on the bed as I went into some kind of shock, petrified that a part of her brain had stopped developing due to the lack of regular schooling.

In my downward spiral I questioned whether or not I should pull the pin on this project. Am I ruining my daughter? was all I could think. I am just so sick of worrying about her – not only the lack of a maths brain – but the fact she’s a single child with a single mum, playing on her own as I spend endless hours on the computer, processing images and working up these posts. And yes, travelling around the world should be an amazing experience but when people ask her if she’s enjoying it, she usually replies, yeah, but I don’t like the tagging along with mum ‘blogging bit’.

It doesn’t help that Berlin is an exhausting city to explore – fascinating but exhausting – and comes after six months of constant travel and work. We are both tired, the sort of tired that can’t be helped by a good night’s sleep; I’ve caught myself fantasising about the project ending so I can sit still for a week, a month.

And I’m suddenly homesick, really homesick. I’ve never felt more Australian in my life, never loved my country more.

But I can deal with me; this project is relentless and exhausting but ultimately incredibly satisfying and rewarding. It’s when my daughter starts showing signs of wear and tear that I start to wobble.

And then. Just as I was thinking through the repercussions of calling it a day. She utters these words: “I really like blogging now”. And then, “I realise how lucky I am.”

In the nick of time, Coco. In the nick of time.

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This suburb has been brought to you by Alison Reeve

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I’ll post the second Neukölln installment in a few days time. And then it’ll be back to regular programming – I hope.

 

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