Blogging from Berlin

Berlin

Editors Note: GW Junior Jennifer Tchinnosian traveled to Berlin, Germany for the Berlinale, Berlin’s annual film festival. Jennifer contacted The Hatchet before embarking on her travels, asking if she could provide a day-by-day account of the festival and her time in Berlin. What follows is Jennifer’s personal account of her time spent in Germany – from the art, the culture, the food, the nightlife, and everything in between.

Day 1. Friday

We slowly start arriving at the hotel and meet in one of the rooms. Our ultra-modern Lux11 Hotel has evidently decided that enclosed bathroom spaces are superfluous, so the shower is directly exposed to the rest of the room and separated only by glass and a small mirror. Needless to say, it made for a very interesting showering experience. We go downstairs and meet the guide who will give us a driving tour of the city. He takes us to the major landmarks but has problems answering questions that are not a part of his repertoire, which, though not entirely complete, does seem to leave room for the word ‘meanwhile’ in every second sentence. He tends to avoid questions about Hitler, explaining it away as too complicated to discuss.

The difference between East and West Berlin is now marked by a double-brick line on the streets, but is not discernable otherwise. The city seems to have a sad gray air that is interrupted in parts by modern buildings and decorated everywhere with colorful graffiti. In the same way that one can guide oneself around Florence based on one’s position relative to the Duomo, the Berlin TV Tower stands above the city outsiders to discern their geographical positioning in relation to it. It also has a very scenic restaurant inside which rotates constantly to allow diners a panoramic view of the city. We took advantage of both.

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The Berlinale, Berlin’s annual film festival, is this weekend, and we will view several of their films. My friend Karim promised us tickets to the awards ceremony and after-parties, but repeals his invitation with a last minute excuse about it not being that big a deal anyways. Nice.
And this is just the beginning.

We nonetheless go to some of the films, starting with “East/West – Sex & Politics,” which presented a portrait of gay life in Russia. It was amazing to see how much slower their progress towards tolerance is. Many politicians publicly condemn homosexuality in the movie, while gays are beaten and subjected to biblical name-calling.

We leave the cinema and go in search of the Guggenheim museum, which apparently nobody has heard of. After running frantically around the metro in an attempt to decipher maps, and cajoling taxi drivers to find the address, we understand why. Instead of a museum, this could easily pass for a small art gallery. It’s no bigger than two rooms and exhibits only arctic photographs and film. We appreciate the unimposing beauty and head out.

We arrive at the hotel, relax, and head out for dinner. It is served at Borchardt, where a classically German waiter commands us to order our food within the next five minutes, and restricts each person to only one plate. Not the greatest businessman, he also refuses to divide the check into more than two credit cards. Dinner flows smoothly, highlighted by a weinershnitzel almost three times the size of my head and conversation about the nature of atoms and the expansion of the universe. Karim sends a text saying that his friend is going to check out one of the clubs/after-parties, and that he will call me in 10 minutes if its any good. I wonder how the awards show went, but don’t ask.

In the meantime, we finish dinner and head to Bar 1000 to experience the Berlin nightlife. I almost refuse to exit the taxi when he stops the meter under a bridge and in front of a heavy metal door. Courage prevails as we knock on the dubious entrance, which is opened by an elegantly clad bouncer. He offers a 10 Euro cover charge and a glimpse into a very stylish-looking interior. I am stepping my foot on the door as Karim calls to say we should go where he is, and, trusting his Berlin expertise (he has been here for a week and is involved in the Film Festival), we politely excuse ourselves and hop on another cab. Needless to say the bouncer was not amused, and neither are we after we drive halfway across the city to find him with two friends in a very (and I mean very) deserted hookah bar. One scared glance at each other, as we share our disillusion about the promised Berlin nightlife, and we all sit down and order drinks. It takes no less than 20 minutes for half the group to become half asleep, at which point Ariel (the one who flew in from Paris) takes executive control of the situation and herds us out of there. Karim gives us tickets to see his movie on Sunday and says we will be in touch before then.

We get back to the hotel and deplete our remaining energy supplies in conversation, listening to Lorenzo’s Italian music and drinking wine. We have not heard from Tio, our Spaniard friend, since we arrived, and decide to take more desperate measures if he has not been found the next morning.

Day 2. Saturday.

We wake up to homemade waffles and fresh-squeezed orange juice at the hotel. Tio is still MIA, which was worrisome throughout the first day, but even more concerning when we manage to locate his father who has not heard of him since Thursday morning when he called to say he had met up with us. We had arrived on Friday. He was either having the time of his life and was too busy to call, or had suffered from a telephone-impeding accident. A drive to his hotel and an anxious conversation with the receptionist reveals that it was the former. He doesn’t seem completely riveted with excitement by our sudden appearance in his hotel, but agrees to join us.

The group now complete, we head to Potsdammer Platz to pick up tickets for “The Feature”. Potsdammer Platz itself is quite a sight, a very contemporary set of glass buildings that somehow manage to cohabit with old hotel parts and pieces of the former wall. Having picked up said tickets, we zoom through the city in search of the cinema hall that was hosting the film. We have received our fair warning that Germans are quite strict on punctuality, but are fortunate enough to be allowed inside a few minutes after the movie had started. A very graphically sexual scene welcomes us to the two-story auditorium. We learn that we have missed many more such explicit scenes but that it’s not yet over. The Feature is a compilation of homemade movies from the 60s, is held together by a narration. Without a linear plot, director Michel Auder gives us the impression that we have jumped inside a different era. Guest appearances by Andy Warhol and Cindy Sherman validate the movie in the way that modern movies are validated by having an all-star cast. It’s a three-hour-long immersion into the attitudes/lifestyle of that time period.

We leave the movie and decide to visit the remains of a very victimized Berlin Church and its more modern counterpart. We see pictures of what the church looked like before the war and can observe in real life what it looks like afterwards. I am reminded of my disagreement with Christianity’s insistence on frivolously ornamented churches and demand Lorenzo for an explanation. He is not the representative of the church, but says that beauty should not go unappreciated, and so ensues a discussion about the hypocrisy of the Christian religion which I will not get into so as to spare the reader.

Off to the next spot, we find a taxi-van capable of holding all eight of us. Joy! He drives us to the Berguren museum where we appreciate a great selection of art by Giacometti, Picasso, and others (I particularly enjoyed a Giacometti cat that looked like a cartoon version of feline anorexia.)
We return to Potzdammer Platz for a very late lunch and another encounter with a classically German waiter. I order a Greek salad, which he interprets as ‘green’, and when I correct him about the problem, he responds with “oh ok, ill bring the feta cheese.” Right.

We then return to the hotel to regain energy for that night’s outing, and we would need it.

After dinner at Kuchi Suchi we find another van-taxi that will take us to our next destination: Bar 1000. Hopefully the man will not remember yesterday’s blunder and will gladly allow us in. Not so much. He takes one look at our rebellious bunch and denies entry. Undeterred in our party mission, we promptly respond by hopping on another cab and heading to the next bar on the recommendations list. The taxi pulls to a stop in front of a huge metallic block that could easily have been confused for a factory. Again I hesitate to leave the taxi but end up following the group. Just in case, we communicate to the taxi that we would like his phone number. As we pass through security after show our ID’s (I am still convinced the bouncer wanted them just to be amused by our foreign identifications rather than to confirm our age,) we pay 10 euros to go inside. It doesn’t take many sweaty men in tight shirts before we realize we are inside a gay bar. A woman offers to buy a drink for my female cousin, which she politely refuses, and we communally decide it’s about time to continue to our next location. Once outside we call our fellow taxi driver whom, if I forgot to mention, does not speak a word of English. And neither do we speak a word of German. Attempting to coerce him to come back, we settle on our very German-sounding invention of: “Comen Backen!!” He comes back.

I message my German friend Filip saying, “Heelpp!!! Im in Berlin, where to go?!?!” he comes to the rescue with the suggestion of another club: Felix, where we happily get a table and dance until we are ready to call it a night.
Back at the hotel, we sit in front of the television sharing stories until we are all exhausted and go to sleep.

Day 3. Sunday
It’s the final day and we wake up early to get the final sightseeing done. Ariel heads back to Paris and two of the girls head to the Parliament to commence the hour-long line. We catch up with them just as they reach the entrance and convert their group of two into a group of seven, much to the distaste of the other tourists in line (I don’t blame them). Inside the parliament it is lovely, very tidy, and there’s a glass dome (a result of post-war reconstruction) that we walk in circles inside of, where mirrors reflect downwards into the live goings-on of the parliament. Afterwards, Lorenzo and I wait for the Spaniard (Tio) underneath the agreed-upon EU flag, to which he arrives late and proceeds to call me ‘gilipoyaz’ (some Spanish insult.) The phonetic humor of that word distracts our attention and we happily get going.

We walk about a block to the Brandenburg gate, where several costumed characters take pictures with tourists (what is a judo fighter’s relevance in Berlin? Maybe the costume was on sale…) We then went to see the screening of “War Child,” which was delayed for half an hour due to technical difficulties. Like easily amused 6-year-olds, we made good use of our time by snapping away at a photo booth that should have been better placed inside an antiques museum. Our pictures came out nice, with an antique tinge to it. The movie was also very gripping, a documentary about a child soldier who becomes a rap star and is now living in London.

We visit and photograph Checkpoint Charlie, the only spot where East/West were allowed to cross (with proper documentation), and were amazed at people’s creativity for escaping their entrapment. Some contorted themselves inside cars, others inside canoes tied to cars, one man devised a pulley system whereby a chair was diagonally dragged on a rope from the top of a building, above the prohibited fence, and down into freedom below. I am horrified by humanity’s capacity for cruelty, and moved by those sporadic efforts by people to do extreme kindness.

We walk around a bit and end up in Starbucks (sad but true) where Lorenzo orders a cookie, drops it on the floor, and is then surprised to find hairs inside of (even sadder and truer.) My friend Cami gets him a new one (happy ending.) We dine at a typical German restaurant (need I mention, with a typical German waitor?) As a man displays the newspaper to a pair of diners, we learn that he is famous for getting several copies of the newspaper the night before it comes out, and reciting the news in the form of poetry. That is one of the things I love about traveling; How/where else would I have met a traveling news-reciting poet?

We return to the hotel and decide to forego sleeping in favor of enjoying the last minutes of each others’ company. We talked about Spain, Italy, Darwin awards, and other very profound topics until it became time to pack and head to the airport.

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