After indulging at the Topography of Terror, and the historic sights of Berlin, we were now running late for dinner with friends back in their apartment. Once again, like many of our international friends, she is a friend from Japan – though not Japanese. Risa got the job of making okonomiyaki again (we couldn’t find octopus for takoyaki), and once again, it was fantastic. It’d been years since we’d last caught up, and the girls chatted and chatted.
They’ve got two young children, so rather than have a sleepless night with them in their amazing apartment, we returned to where we’d parked in a small residential street nearby. We’re not sure of the legalities, but we spent two nights there without problem – if it wasn’t legal, it was at least tolerated.
While Berlin was busy getting started for the day, we were still fast asleep. Kids were dropped at the kindergarten, and we were undisturbed.
We met up with our friend at a nearby bakery for coffee, followed by chats and a walk through their long public park. It eventually took us to their town hall at Schöneberg – which is where JFK gave his famous “ich bin ein Berliner’ speech during the height of the cold war.
We split up, letting Risa spend more time with her friend, while I rushed off to join an Alternate Berlin walking tour. I’d left enough time, however, I suddenly needed to use the bathroom. When I left the station at Alexanderplatz, I followed the signs for the WC, but I eventually found it closed. I rushed in search of another, which cost a ridiculous €1, but allowed me to think straight. All this rushing around to use a bathroom meant that I arrived at the meeting place late, and no group in sight. I was counting on them sticking around for a few minutes while background is explained, among other things, but wasn’t to be. I was at a loss of what to do for the afternoon, so I tried to find DIY walking tours.
This is how I ended up in Kreuzberg, what I hear is one of the hipster areas in Berlin – which seems to be a city of hipsters. I walked across from Warschauer Strasse station, across the river Spree, and to Wrangelkiez, taking in the fantastic street art. It definitely felt like an edgy, lively, place.
I got lost in the backstreets, but all too soon I’d left everything of interest behind, and was surrounded by grim blocks of old apartments.
I rejoined the main street, but I seemed to be in a void. It wasn’t until I’d arrived at Kottbusser Tor station that things started being arty, dirty and interesting again – but by this time I’d remembered something else I’d wanted to see/do in Berlin, so jumped on the train.
Perspective Playground Berlin
I saw a poster for what I thought was a Kraftwerk exhibition, only to find out that it was an exhibition in a disused factory, now event space, called Kraftwerk. I signed up and got some free tickets, not really knowing much about it – but the pictures looked pretty on the poster.
It turned out to be part art installation, part advert for Olympus cameras – but at least it made the entrance free. Upon arriving, you were given the option to trial an Olympus camera, which was a fantastic way of promoting them. I’m curious about 4/3 cameras, so I grabbed the best they had, as well as one of their pro f2.8 mid-zoom lenses. It was incredible how small and light it was, barely knowing that it was hanging from my shoulder – unlike my D800 with the hulking big 28-70. It was fun to play with the camera, but not really seeing it as a step up (and realistically not likely to buy a new camera), I stuck to what I knew for most of the time.
Anyway, the exhibition. There were several different installations set up in this giant old industrial complex. The building alone was enough of a reason to visit, with exposed concrete stairs, and giant steel girders.
One of my favourites was a huge collection of coloured circular mirrors placed on the floor, with high powered lights shining down on them, reflecting back a beautiful mosaic of colour above them. It worked perfectly in a building like this, with so many areas to illuminate.
There was an infinity room, which was like a modern take on the similar ones of Kusama Yayoi that we love – and recently visited in Denmark. Inside it felt like you were inside TRON, with sounds that were a combination of something mechanical and electronic (cross Transformers with lightning). These sounds caused light to ripple off into infinity around you. It was interesting that they chose to do this with a one-way mirror, allowing people to watch from the outside – though without the infinity effect, people’s poses and reactions were a little odd.
Another installation that used fantastic use of light and sound had a long bank of fluorescent tubes hung above a shallow reflecting pool. At seeming random intervals the entire bank would light up, racing up the pool towards you, and making some incredible futuristic, gut wrenching sounds as this wall of light came towards you.
Another, more mellow installation, which given my lax vocabulary, could best be described as a rainbow cloud, which filled the entire event space, curving from the outside inside, and up to the top floor. It was like an enormous shiny rug, hung from the ceiling. There were fans that would occasionally blow and cause beautiful shimmering ripples of refracted colour. It was like sitting on a hill watching clouds, but more extreme, and therefore better.
Esmod Berlin Graduation Show
Our friend’s husband was working in a university in Berlin that specialised in fashion. By chance, tonight was their graduation show – and we had been invited to join them. We’ve never been to anything like this before, and even if it was the work of graduating students, we were still excited to attend.
It was a rush for me to get there, compounded by the tram taking an eternity to arrive – and then just as long to get me to my stop. I was told that the doors are shut at 5PM sharp, and with nearly 1km left to walk from the station, I had no choice but to run. So, not only did I turn up to this fashion show dressed in hiking boots, khaki pants and a flannel top, I also turned up sweaty. I didn’t really know how seriously it would be taken, but as soon as I arrived at the queue, I realised I probably could have tried a little harder to dress nicely. I was surrounded by hipsters, in one of the hipster capitals of the world.
I had just enough time to catch my breath, and wipe the sweat before I joined Risa, and our friend’s husband on the side of the main stage. The lights came on, the music started pumping (FKA twigs, no less) and the first of the collections came strutting out. I felt like we were in Zoolander, which is the only fashion experience I can compare it to.
In all, we had twenty collections displayed in the first session, which were the runners up, missing out in the finals this evening. That said, I think there were many here that I preferred. They were much more coherent, and more like fashion than modern art.
Our friend quickly took us backstage to get a look at part of the show that few from the outside would get to see. It was chaos now, and the show had finished. I couldn’t imagine it during the show.
We ducked off between shows to get some food, but after we returned, there was a series of performances. It started with what looked like a filthy shower curtain – the kind of thing you’d expect to find in a horror movie/abattoir. One of the models came out, slowly walking around the curtain, touching and inspecting it as she went. And then she stuck her arms/head through some unseen openings, and began to dress herself, unclipping the curtain from the rail as she went. We, as well as everyone in attendance, were blown away. We had no idea this was coming.
For the final show, the Top 20, I stood with the official photographers, who blasted hundreds of photos as each model walked through the amazing elliptical doorway. He was shooting with a D5 at full speed – I guess someone else is going to filter through the thousands of photos. As suggested earlier, these collections often felt much more like art, and for arts sake. There were some really nice clothing in there, but my favourites didn’t receive any of the awards.
We skipped the after party, though part of me was curious what it would be like. Would it be like Zoolander, too?
It was a lazy last day in Berlin, walking through their part of town and taking things slowly. We stopped at a Japanese café/bakery for lunch. The food was great (I didn’t bother carrying my camera), but the service could do with some adjustment – it certainly didn’t feel like being in Japan.
It was well after lunch time when we bid farewell to our friends and joined the busy afternoon traffic leaving Berlin.
It was a fantastic couple of days here, and I left with just as much affection for Berlin as I did last time – now, if only I could speak German.