Thursday, February 02, 2012

Guest post: What I discovered in Berlin’s hidden culture scene

I'm busy preparing for a trip next week ... more to come on that soon (what a tease!), but jumped at the offer of a guest post from Lela on one of my favourite cities, Berlin. So, without further ado, here's a bunch MORE stuff to do in Berlin, nearly all of which I haven't seen before. It's the thriving underground and I'm not surprised to read just how much interesting stuff is going on there in Berlin. Another reason to go back as soon as possible!


Deep in Berlin’s heart beats a primal pulse that beckons to the wild spirit lurking within us all. Dive off the shallow end of the tourist pool and plunge into Berlin’s thriving underground scene where untamed talent sparks those creative impulses lying latent in everyone’s inner beast. First find yourself a chic and cheap hotel in Berlin and do like I did - become drawn to the cosy inner city neighbourhoods where I could explore these eclectic hideouts brimming with throbbing music venues and free-form art that flows from the alleyways into the galleries.


I found my creative juices flowing in this fascinating converted railroad station transformed by a progressive non-profit agency into a kaleidoscope of artistic offerings. Spread out over four buildings, this complex presents an ever-changing venue of programs ranging from interactive art shows to live performances to lectures on social issues. I took part in a hands-on activity crafting my own drum in the morning, learning to play it in the afternoon and took part in a local drum circle at sunset. In the afternoon I joined the others to let off some steam(and calories) in the improvisational dancegroups but if you don’t fancy getting your groove on you can enjoy just sitting quietly and being dazzled by the in-house circus performers (it’s all about options!).

Kreuzberg Street Art

Taking a tour of the open art gallery displayed along the walls of the Kreuzberg neighbourhoods on a bicycle with a local guide encouraged me to savour all the nuances embedded in this fabulous blend of graffiti, cartoons and intricate street art that can be found on everything from street pipes to roof tops. Although English statements proclaiming “this is not America” are pretty self explanatory, the more subtle phrases scribbled in sketchy alleyways and city sidewalks deliver more impact when they’re put in the proper perspective. The huge murals represent a collective artistic effort as attested to by the multiple signatures. Some create powerful social statements about the plight of the oppressed while others poke fun at modern institutions, advertising gimmicks, government entities and the idle rich.

Kreuzberg Street Art
Rampenlicht

Deciding it was high time to lend credibility to street art and skateboarding, I discovered Rampenlicht, an interactive gallery at a former Stattbad recreation centre. Suspended over a drained swimming pool is a fascinating skateboard ramp shaped into a triangular optical illusion that resembles an MC Escher painting. That’s just the beginning of the trippy encounters at this free-for-all exhibition centre that led me through experiences ranging from revolutionary videos to otherworldly sculpture galleries to head-banging raves. Naturally, skateboarding is the dominant theme and visitors are encouraged to bring their wheels to show off their moves. But never fear, even foot bound visitors like myself get to walk around on the mind-boggling optical illusion that puts this skateboard park/art gallery in a class all by itself.


Along the banks of the Spree River is a small but lively Jamaican neighbourhood of Yaam with a Caribbean vibe that encourages you to let down your hair and wiggle your toes in the (artificial) sand. I joined the gatherings at the Cool Runnings Bar where smokin’ DJs keep the house hopping. Dance to the reggae beats or settle into the independent movie house (both tried and tested and recommended by me!) to enjoy documentaries on world issues that stress how harmony can be achieved from diversity. I made sure to stock up on unique souvenirs, T shirts and hoodies to back up tales of hanging with the Rastafarians.

Yaam Beach, Berlin
Greenwich

I found out only from word of mouth that the coolest place to chill in Berlin is at Gipsstraße 5 Mitte, this place doesn’t even bother putting their name on the door. Once inside Greenwich, you’ll understand where it got its name, everything from the walls to the upholstery to the lighting is a nuanced shade of green. But instead of overwhelming the senses, the decor produces an aesthetically pleasing result, maybe because the green glow is offset by the ever-moving dance of tropical fish in the embedded aquariums along the walls. Featuring fancy drinks served with trendy nibbles, it was easy to trance out in the mellow atmosphere while picking up tips from Berlin’s beautiful people about where the newest underground scene is blossoming this week, I knew it, I was captivated and probing for more of the same!

Lela is an adventurous traveller and works as a copywriter for Hostelbookers.

Photo credits via Flickr/Creative Commons: Berlin sign by m.a.r.c., Kreuzberg by von_boot, Yaam by angermann.

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