Tuesday 22nd May
I left the apartment in Glasgow early this morning to get to Glasgow International Airport, comparable to Coolangatta airport in Queensland, ie: not much going on. After a short flight to Schoenberg airport on the outskirts of East Berlin, I found myself for the first time in a country where I know absolutely none of the language. Combined with the concern of not much money, and possibly nowhere to stay after the first night or so, and having no conception of where I was, lead to the onset of some anxiety. It was also incredibly hot compared to Glasgow...
Thanks to the awesome directions of R, I was able to catch a few trains to her house where I was hoping to stay for my time in Berlin, thankfully that worked out. R lives in a now legalized squat just inside where the Berlin wall stood a decade or so ago. The squatters movement in Berlin is amazing, with nothing comparable in the U.S. or Australia (at least to my knowledge). Many squats started after the fall of the wall, and soon after the goverment gave the option to many to purchase the squats and have them legalized. The squat I was staying in is known as K9 (for the street address Kinzigstrasse 9), possibly the nicest place I've stayed in years, so not really what youd typically envision when the term squat is mentioned. I think around 40 or so people live there, including families with kids. Downstairs are a number of offices for different organizations such as Ladyfest, a bar, and on certain nights, a nightclub in the basement.
Outside the K9 squat
R was kind enough to loan me her spare bike for the 10 days I was in Berlin, and as I quickly found out, everyone rides in Berlin (well, almost). The sidewalks/footpaths (I'm getting more American by the day) are split in half for cyclists and pedestrians, and everyone tends to ride pretty beat-up bikes to reduce the likelihood of theft I guess. Most bikes are 3-speed internal hubs, complete with moustache bars and baskets...speed isnt the key here. It was such a refreshing change to see parents waiting outside schools to pick up their kids by bicycle, people with baskets overflowing with food shopping, and even a guy with a bird perch attached to his handlebars for his giant exotic birds to hang out on while he rode the streets.
I did however feel like the first time cyclist for a few days. In L.A. its not common to have to be mindful of the 1000 other cyclists surrounding you, so I was constantly cutting people off, or worse still, riding on the wrong side after having switched back to the opposite side in the UK.
I rode down to Kreuzberg to meet Anja, who I hadnt seen in over a year, so it was so great to see her again. I soon realized that Kreuzberg, though for a long time a largely Turkish neighbourhood, was also the center of activist circles in Berlin, but also a recently gentrified area too, ala Echo Park/Silverlake in L.A.
To my joy I also discovered the 60cent German pilsner beer, and that you can drink legally on the street. At this point I realized I belonged in Berlin. 10 minutes later I was witness to the first of many protests I would experience in Germany - they like to protest here. However, as part of police requirements, you must alert the police to any public demonstration 24 hours before it occurs. Given the climate of the upcoming G8, there were at least 20 police vans filled with riot police present long before the marchers had even gathered.
Anti-gentrification march in Kreuzberg, curiously comprised of mostly white youth rather than residents most affected by rising rent prices.
I returned to K9 and met 3 other Australians I would be staying with for the next few weeks, John, 'G', and Shane, who had just arrived from Spain, who I quickly came to realize would be the most fun people I could possibly hang out with and share a floor with whilst in Germany
Wednesday 23rd May
I rode back to Kreuzberg this morning to meet with Anja and some friends of hers living in Berlin, one previously from Melbourne. A little later the other Australians showed up, including Kate, another Australian living in Berlin. Kate and her partner would prove to be the best Berlin guides and organizers for us at the G8.
We walked across to the New Yorck squat (http://www.yorck59.net/), just across the park from where we were. NY was operating as an info point for the lead up to the G8, so we gathered a bunch of information and spoke with some organizers there. The squat was huge, though as we later found out, it was a new location after being evicted from a previous building
The New Yorck 59 squat from outside
From there we walked the short distance to Kopi, probably the largest, and definately the most punk squat in Berlin, that has been around for 17 years, and houses 100 people including the caravan park beside it (http://koepi.squat.net). It was also operating (somewhat) as an info point for the G8. Unfortunately the Kopi is facing eviction, as the owner had just sold the building, which will surely be demolished. This means there is a heavily fortified gate into Kopi, guarded 24/7 by friends or residents of the squat. It makes for an intimidating time getting in, as you are assessed by someone peering from behind the gate to determine if you are an undercover cop or not. As it turns out this is not without reason, as at least two undercover cops, unsuccessfully, attempted to gain entrance
Part of my reason for visiting Kopi was to meet with members of an Eastern European anarchist journal called 'Abolishing the Borders from Below'(www.abb.hardcore.lt). Though publishing out of Berlin, it is entirely dedicated to publishing report backs from anarchist groups and actions outside the E.U., including a number of No Borders actions. Through earlier email contact with ABB I had been told to go to Kopi and that I would be "very close to our office". I asked around as to where the office was, though noone seemed willing to tell me, or simply didnt know, where their office was. Eventually one guy who spoke almost perfect English told me that one of the members of ABB would be back soon and to hang around for 20 minutes or so. So I joined the others on gate watch for the next two hours and eventually S of ABB turned up. He then told me the office was actually inside Kopi...anyways. We organized to meet up the next day to do an interview.
I called the others to see where they were, and I was told to meet them by the Canal near the Turkish markets. From there we went to Goerlitzer park, where for each night up until the G8 there was a Voku (people's kitchen). So we headed there with a bunch of beer and ate at the food not bombs-esque kitchen. The park itself is pretty impressive, 100s of people there, and some old ruins of some non-descript building to hang out on.
Biking it up in Goerlitzer, with the television tower looming in the distance
Hanging out at the Voku
After that we ended up at some fairly horrible bar and proceeded to get relatively drunk. We met a friend of Kates who was heavily involved in organizing the 'Block G8' roadblocks for the 2 days that the G8 summit was meeting, who was amazingly friendly and helpful
I think Rachel arrived yesterday, another Australian to the crew. We cooked up a big breakfast at K9 and ate on their roof. I had to be at Kopi around 1pm so I pedalled over there, however S was unable to do the interview. After that I rode to the Hau cafe where the registration for the Summit: non-aligned initiatives in education culture conference was (I'll return to this in a moment). Later that evening a few of us went to see Pirates of the Caribbean 3, I'm still not sure how I was suckered into giving up 8 euros to see it but it was fun nonetheless
A few of us got up early today to get to a fairly radical bookstore in Kreuzberg today, as we had gotten word that there were some $10 bus tickets to the G8 still on offer. Turns out that essentially every single charter bus in Berlin had been booked to get to the G8, so tickets were running low. We managed to get the last few tickets available on some buses organized by one of the big unions in Berlin. After breakfast at a small Turkish eatery I rode over to the Summit conference.
Summit...where to begin? You can read about the conference and its purposes, along with viewing a lot of what happened here: http://summit.kein.org/
The conference was supposed to be a few days of meetings with artists, academics and activists to discuss the state of education culture, and to do so in a non-heirachical sense, or at least thats how I read its goals. The site states that its goal is:
"The goal of SUMMIT is to bring together a wide range of initiatives, projects and protagonists from the fields of art, education and political activism. The event is designed as an opportunity to find out about possible links and connections across different registers. On this basis SUMMIT seeks to enable joint strategical interventions in the current debate around education. SUMMIT is supposed to issue a declaration and an action plan, and by doing so it needs to reflect on the very conditions of what it could mean today to declare and to plan something in a collaborative fashion.
The idea of SUMMIT can be characterized as an attempt to turn the impossibility to define a common ground or common agenda into a chance to produce a perspective that reaches out beyond politics of identity, professionalism and representation."
The reality was, as far as I could gather, a bunch of artists and academics flexing their egos and spouting rhetoric till the point that most of us wanted to vomit. People heckled presenters, presenters went on for hours about themselves or name dropped theorists constantly, presenters walked out on panel discussions, so on and so forth. As Anja mentioned (who was presenting but was able to leave her ego out of her presentation!), it was a bunch of artists talking about things like migration, in order to appropriate such things for their benefit. In the end I think I gained absolutely nothing from being at the presentations.
Seeing as the Summit was close to Potsdamer Platz I decided to go check it out. Potsdamer Platz was a central transport and meeting hub in Berlin. However during the war it was one of the most heavily bombed areas, and resulted in almost all of the buildings being wiped out. After the war, it also became the western edge to the Berlin Wall. Since this time it has undergone serious rejuvination (for better or worse) and now has some of the most expensive infrastructure in the country, such as the Sony headquaters. However, close by are numerous landmarks, such as the Brandenburg Gate, the Jewish holocaust monument, the Topography of Terrors, some sections of the wall and various other buildings that evade my memory now.
After that I rode over to Hackesher Market to meet the others who were crashed out on the lawn near the canal that passes by Marx Platz and other landmarks. Hackersher seems to be probably the most gentrifyied and well off neighbourhoods around. However soon after getting there a huge storm rolled in so everyone was running for cover.
After the rain let up we headed back to Kreuzberg and randomly came across some other Australian friends who were in town from London to attend the Summit conference. This led to an exceptional amount of Gin being drunk and a long walk home with some further drinking.
Arghhh too much Gin...Everyone decided that minimal movement and a big breakfast on the roof was in order
Later I headed to Summit to see Anja give her presentation as part of the Future Archive (http://www.futurearchive.org/), which I think was one of the most successful parts of the Summit, though the heat and humidity was killing people, that and people wanting to get to the education protest in Kreuzberg (that was cancelled due to rain)
From there a bunch of us headed to another collective space/squat where there was an information meeting on organizing for the G8. Though all in German thankfully Renata and others could translate for us, which helped dispel a lot of concerns about being at the G8
After that the Australians had a meeting nearby. We had jokingly decided to refer to ourselves as the 'Skip Bloc', and were mostly concerned with working as an affinity group whilst at the G8, mostly in case of arrest or police violence, but also with the hope or coordinating some different actions
An attempt to see some friends present at Summit failed miserably, as we got the time wrong by about 5 hours. Later that evening the Skip Bloc met up to attend 'queer ballroom dancing' at a placed called S036, one of buildings that had been raided earlier in the month as a part of a fear campaign led by the police previous to the G8
Its needless to say that I can't dance, but thankfully having Kate as my partner (as as the leader given its queer ballroom dancing), I managed to bumble my way through the foxtrot.
After that me and G headed to the Kopi to see Severed Head of State play. My liking for crust punk is limited, but I figured this would probably be the most punk event I'd ever be witness to, and I was largely right. We met up with Chris from Australia who had been staying elsewhere (and featured in my photo of Pogo Cafe from London without me realizing) and proceeded to drink more 60 cent pilsner on our walk home
Monday 28th May
Back to the Kopi and more waiting around...Finally the meeting evolved, though was largely unsuccessful, so it goes. I did manage to acquire a number of back issues of ABB no longer available outside Germany so that was useful, and allowed me to further justify my travels as "necessary research"
Around 4pm we headed to the "Reclaim the Park" in Prenzlauerberg (further into East Berlin), though it seems reclaiming a public park isnt really reclaiming anything. On the way we passed a fairly large and established legalized squat in Prenzlauerberg that had burnt down earlier in the day. It was incredibly sad to see 50 or so people sitting outside their place with nothing they could do
As it turns out it was mostly a bunch of german drug-taking-trance-listening-wankers dancing on a patch of grass in the park...
We were blessed with meeting Simone from Canada, who we later affectionately dubbed "Simmo" and welcomed her into the Skip Bloc
Tuesday 29th May
This morning we went to the Turkish market, one for food, and two to make a giant Skip Bloc banner, which turned out to be a boxing kangaroo with a black hoodie on, ala Black Bloc style. Hopefully a photo will eventuate
A few of us headed from there to the Jewish Museum. I'd studied the building a few years ago back in my undergraduate days in Melbourne, so I was keen to see the building, moreso than the museum contents perhaps. It was designed by Daniel Liebskind, and asides from the actual museum display itself (mostly dedicated to the history of the Jews from 1200 a.d. on) it also contained the Garden of Exile and the Tower of...(I forget now). Though I am unsure how I feel about Liebskind (like many other "super architects") the Garden of Exile and the Tower were real examples of how architecture and the built form can effect haptic experience. The garden contained 49 slanted towers, about 15 foot high, on sloped ground. This lead to an incredible feeling of nausea and being lost/alone, and was supposedly meant to represent how migrants would feel when exiled to a new country. The tower was an almost pitch black room, that was probably 100 feet high with a small window to let in the slightest bit of light, entirely silent within. However a thunder storm had broken out making the experience even more surreal and unsettling
Later we had a failed attempt at a Skip Bloc meeting, and after eating at the Voku at New Yorck, I headed back with Renata to her place to crash
Wednesday 30th May
This morning me and G met up with Eve to go to the Hannah Hoch exhibition at the Berlinischer Gallery. Unfortunately I got us a little lost, so 20 minutes became almost 2 hours of walking. The exhibition was quite impressive, though the wider exhibition of Dada works was less so. The gallery space, dedicated to modern art from Berlin, was quite amazing, one of the better galleries I had visited of late.
We then walked to the Topography of Terrors, basically an outdoor gallery set in the excavated basement of the previously bombed out and demolished headquaters of the SS during the reign of the Nazi party, and adjacent to a remaining section of the Berlin wall.
On the way back to the train station we passed this pretty impressive squat...
I also passed by M99, a store in Kreuzberg that is basically a Black Bloc supplies store. Asides from being a radical bookstore, you could also purchase any number of black jackets, hats, shirts, sweaters, gloves etc, along with helmets, gas masks, handcuffs and so on. All that you could possibly need for your next militant protest against the riot cops
After that me and G headed back to K9 for an amazing dinner cooked by Rachel, and an amazingly bad dance party in the kitchen (bad in the "so bad its good" way of course).
Thursday 31st May
Another day, another severe hangover.
Managed to arrive an hour late to meet Kat and Ashley, friends from L.A. who had helped me in organizing the G8 info tour a few months back at the F-House. Finally I had made it to see the Bauhaus museum, something I had been wanting to see for years. Unfortunately it was an incredibly let-down, with very few works by the members of the Bauhaus I was most interested in. It seemed all the money had gone into the gift store (where most things started at over $100 euro). oh well...
Later I rode to New Yorck to meet with Steev from Arizona Indymedia/Dry River Collective/No More Deaths who had just arrived in Berlin. It was great to see him after a few months since we last met in Tucson at the No Borders organizing weekend
From there we travelled to Tacheles, a now legalized squat, and probably the most impressive art-space I have ever visited. Tacheles was a building built over 100 years ago, occupied by the Nazi's in the 30s and later bombed, and then occupied by squatters and defended from demolition in the 90s. Now it stands as a huge art-space, with galleries and artists in residence, theatres, etc etc. Every inch of the 10 storey building is covered in graffiti and artwork, and the backyard operates as a childrens playground and cafe/bar space, in between the bombed out buses and planes that I guess are relics of the war?
For a detailed history and info about Tacheles and some amazing photos, check out the "history" section on their website, its really worth a look http://super.tacheles.de/cms/
Later that evening after passing through Karl Marx Platz (complete with a Marx and Engels statue, with Marx sitting rather like Santa Claus), I headed to Prenzlauerberg, which I had seen little of, but quickly realized was the hip gentrified neighbourhood of east Berlin. I had organized to meet with An Architektur, a collective of architects who produce bi-annually an architectural and spatial-based publication. A.A. has done some great studies on the spaces of detention centers on the periphery of Eastern Europe, and have held the camps for "Oppostional Architecture"
For some reports on the work of A.A., and probably the best blog online to date run by Nick Brown, check out Critical Spatial Practice
A.A. was also involved in Projekt Migration
The interview went well with A.A. and they were able to pass on some back issues (in English!) on the detention centers that I had been unable to obtain in the U.S.
Friday 1st May
Last day in Berlin! I'll be sad to say goodbye to Berlin, easily my favourite city I have ever visited.
Today was mostly dedicated to getting organized for travelling to and camping at the G8. Lots of food purchased, and some banner painting by the artfully skilled G and Rachel.
I took a ride down Karl Marx Allee, the main boulevard of East Berlin, dedicated to all the greatness of Communist rule. The boulevard is 10 lanes wide, with a large median strip down the middle. The Allee is lined with buildings and other monuments to Communism, though was largely unfinished. At the northern end was the giant Television tower, that I later learned had a revolving restaurant that used to fully revolve over the space of an hour, but was sped up to half an hour to reduce tourists hanging out, now thats German efficiency in practice. Two buildings, now used (and maybe previously) as a cafe and cinema still stand that are excellent examples of Cold-war communist-era architecture, hopefully I can find some photos online
From there I headed the short distance to Alexander Platz, a popular meeting area for Berliners that was also bombed out during the war, though the replacement architecture (ie: a massive shopping mall) is largely dissapointing to view. The Migration Caravan (http://thecaravan.org/) was passing through Berlin before the G8, and a subsequent Freedom of Movement march was held from Alex to the Brandenburg Tor
That night, after eating a pretty good vegan hot dog, I returned to the bar below K9 for a final Skip Bloc meeting. Later that evening we had a few problems getting back into K9, as it was a Friday night, and in the basement was a drum 'n bass show (oh how the Germans love their drum 'n bass). This meant the main entrance into K9 was locked, meaning we were stuck in the bar, or in the nightclub. After some very bad broken-English/German bartering, we were able to enter the nightclub for free and convince the 'security' to let us into the building so we could sleep, though this took over 2 hours. This resulted in a solid 1 hour sleep before setting off to the G8 the next morning...