We’re shooting across Germany on these superfast autobahns. Both of us are excited to be heading to Berlin not least because of the dire events of yesterday but we’re both keen to discover more about this cool and edgy city (its Roddy’s first visit too and I know he’ll love it!) as well as recharge our batteries. We haven’t been on the road long I know but I forgot to tell my ‘not-twenty-anymore’ body we’d be sleeping on a wafer thin campervan mattress for three months and so it’s complaining already – stiff neck , sore bones and crumpled skin due to a general lack of sleep! It’ll get used to it but it just needs time. We are booked in for a few days to a former GDR campsite about 20mins outside Berlin ( helping to feed Roddy’s fascination with all things to do with the post war Communist era and leading to me sitting through several late night readings of ‘life in the GDR’ accounts and audio recorded interviews with ex-Stasi! ) which is a strange mix of Soviet era facilities and a beautiful nature reserve with shady pine trees and sleepy lake. The idea is that we alternate a day in the city with a day by the lake.
A day on and we are heading into the city by train. This will be my second visit to Berlin, the first was with three teaching colleagues and around twenty five college students back in 2005 . Oh the memories! Frantic searches for lost students – last sited with hangovers and bemused faces as the doors of the S-Bahn closed before they could get on (we did eventually track them all down thankfully!).
I do remember however being absolutely blown away by Berlin’s architecture, truly the stuff of dreams and nightmares. Opulent and flamboyant pre Soviet buildings were sat alongside austere, dismal constructions designed to confine, control and to limit imagination or aspiration. Remnants of the Berlin Wall stood like broken grave stones throughout the city interlacing shiny modern developments. These new builds were on a scale and form beyond the imagination – brave, optimistic and literally boundary-pushing architecture. Most memorable of all for me was the utter genius of Daniel Libeskind’s haunting Jewish Museum. Its disorientating narrow corridors and tilted floors that made you feel your way tentively, sliding doors sometimes slammed behind you as you entered a new room and a roofless dark space where you could literally feel the cold draught of lost lives. Its one of the most emotive buildings I have ever been in.
After a peaceful morning dog walk in the leafy Tiergarten, we pass through the Brandenburg Gate ( it has the same effect as I remembered) and on to the Jewish memorial – a slightly surreal maze of varying height giant concrete blocks, each representing a human life. This wasn’t complete on my last visit but its design by Peter Eisenman is not dissimilar to aspects of the Libeskind museum – an emotional and disorientating experience. I’m glad I visited many of the major sites, museums and galleries on my previous visit as this time we have a different agenda and a little ‘orange’ dog who, as much as he has been welcomed in Germany so far, just might not pass security smoothly in the more polished venues!
I didn’t spend too much time researching makers of artworks and design products in Berlin as I knew there would be so much going on and you only have to walk a few steps each way to discover them. We reach the Scheunenviertel neighbourhood of the Mitte district quicker than expected ( Berlin centre is big yet fairly easy to walk around) It’s a lively area with characterful bars, cafes and restaurants serving food from around the globe( even an authentic lunch time curry!). Many are in hidden places and most have been set up in re-imagined outdoor spaces or peeling, disused buildings around Oranienburgerstrasse. Have-a-go street art and murals on gable ends, doorways and railings provide a kind of gritty backdrop for what is actually quite a sophisticated and chic neighbourhood. Once considered a slum, thankfully it hasn’t fallen into the trap of sanitising the soul out of a place as it became gentrified.
After a tasty lunch, we nosey around some art galleries on Auguststrasse and then wander on to Linienstrasse. We find so many design shops and small independent emporiums selling really exciting interior products and there are just too many to talk about here but two stick in my mind. The first is on the corner of a pretty solemn looking building, it catches my eye with its soft pink neon sign – just a number 10119. Inside is a fantastic mix of cool furniture, strangely shaped textural vases, interior objects, sculptural lighting and more. There are new tech industrial materials; perspex, vinyl, formica displayed buddy-style with handcrafted gnarly wood ,carved stone and vintage pieces. I make a small ( but definitely audible) sound as I spot some Mad et Len products ( a small selection of course ) sat smugly alongside …..nothing else! They command their own space. I have lusted after their beautiful scented candles and amber stones for a long long while now and am still trying to find justification for buying a product for myself – this is luxury in the extreme.
I snap out of it when Sandra Muller owner of the shop approaches with a smile to ask if she can help me ( I’m not sure, I think I’m beyond help where these products are concerned). I ask about one or two of the pieces of furniture and it turns out that she is the designer! The other pieces she gathers from up and coming designers and makers around the world as well as vintage finds. She curates these to form this wonderfully odd display of products. I want to dig up the shop and transport it back to Scotland but after the struggle and exceptionally hard work she admits to having put in to getting the store open, she probably wouldn’t be too pleased. We wish each other luck and off I go.
Moving on down the street I peek into a couple of vintage furniture shops which have some very cool stuff including a traditional wooden legged gym horse ( I have an obsession for their animal-like leathery form but I don’t think we’d fit it in our van!) before being drawn into another shop that has what seems like a set of botanical prints but is in fact, an exhibition of hand-cut plant silhouettes by Paolo Giardi made from personal photographs. I can’t quite work out if this is a gallery or a shop but I settle on a bit of both as I see a several items with price tags.
As I go further into a back room there are vintage designer lights and chairs, a heavy duty reclaimed wood daybed, interesting furniture cum display units as well as super-sized framed photographs on the wall and quirky paintings on unusual surfaces. I’m interested in some little wall mounted light boxes with flouncy and classical nudes printed on paper and lit within glass jars. Another beautiful piece is a long coated steel box sculpture which is presented as a ‘calendar’ and has phases of the moon in glass globes (reused vinegar or oil casks with ceramic stoppers). Its interactive in that you can change the months accordingly. It would look fantastic mounted along the workspace wall of a darkly painted kitchen or even a hallway or vestibule. Both works are by Cuban artist, Paula Anguita. The shop is called Room Capacity, a newish addition to the Scheunenviertel neighbourhood and definitely worth a visit. Its been a long but very interesting and stimulating day but we decide to head back to camp to recover before preparing to submerge ourselves in this energetic city for another day.