Monday, November 24, 2008

Ossie by the Grace of Gott

As a post-wall arrival to Berlin, I look at her geography a bit differently than a German would. Mentally I divide the city into east and west on a rough line from Friedrichstraße up to Gesundbrunnen. It's always interesting to cycle through Kreuzberg toward Potsdamer Platz, criss-crossing the cobblestones embedded in the pavement that mark the historic track of the Wall, because Kreuzberg is East to me. Potsdamer Platz (New West) is the only place in the west I ever spent any time. And of course, Berlin only exists for me within the Ring-Bahn, so it's an interesting experience to live one block outside of it, in the only area I would ever consider doing so, which is Schönhauser Allee. This means, during my current half-month sublet, I've added Pankow to my previous sojourns in Prenzlauerberg (the lion's share at 9 months), Kreuzberg (3.5), Neuköln (1.5), Mitte (0.5) and the extremely dull Wilmersdorf (1 month right at the beginning and the main reason I fled what, by anyone's definition, is West Berlin). In my one foray back into the Deep West on this trip, the Lively German took me to my favorite restaurant in Berlin -- Bete Ethopia -- where the food was as fabulous as ever.

What is it about the East (my East)? It's younger, more international, and more diverse (although PZLberg is far too white). It's still more alternative -- people ride schwarz on public transit either because they think the prices are an outrage in a city/country with far too many cars and far too much money, or because they simply can't scrounge up a couple of euros for the fare. Bikes and bike paths reign and Berlin drivers live in fear of ever slipping and hitting a biker. Graffiti is absolutely everywhere, even inside the altbau workers' housing from the turn of the last century, in a part of the city that was not bombed to smithereens.

Then there is ALEX, Alexanderplatz -- I cannot describe exactly why I feel the way I do about it. It's that monumental Eastern block grandeur without one single iota of aesthetic sensibility, evoking a crushing weight of historical failure so recent that even I can recall it, all underlain by the Alexanderplatz of Fassbinder and whiffs of a century of freaks and malcontents, washed-up dissidents and all-around failures, that somehow make me feel I'm not quite so strange after all.

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