Even before I stepped off the S-Bahn into central Berlin and was struck by the pervasive graffiti and street art, I saw a shocking sight. Two men chatting on the train, drinking beer. And more people drinking beer walking up and down the streets, or waiting for food at a truck. Jonas (a friend of a friend) told me that beer is regarded as a basic food in the German diet, and while there are special taxes on alcohol as in many other countries, the legal and cultural attitude towards beer is as relaxed as towards bread.
And many of my outings in Berlin were accompanied by beer. In Germany it is nearly impossible to escape lagers, which made me a bit uncertain about how happy I would be with my beverages, but I found them to be skillfully brewed and more interesting than I expected. I did eventually also manage to try some of Germany’s distinctive ale styles. But among the pils, helles, schwarzbier, weizen, and kolsch, one style stands apart as totally unique, sharing little in common with most well-known German styles (although somewhat similar to the obscure gose style), and the style calls Berlin its home. The Berliner weiße, a style I brewed before I’d even tried it, was the one beer I was determined to drink during my stay.
Bomb: Prolific painting or marking with ink. To cover an area with your tag, throwups, etc. – Graffiti.org
Most of the buildings in Berlin don’t bear the distinction of being designed by famous architects or under orders of King Frederick William II. Walking through the city you’re far more likely to pass by an imbiss shop or a residence (though that inconspicuous apartment building may have once housed Marlene Dietrich, like the one where I stayed during my visit). However, these anonymous shops and homes bear another distinction – many of them are part of the world’s largest canvas: the city of Berlin.
As soon as I stepped off the S-Bahn in the Friedrichshain district on my first night in Berlin, I was enveloped by bombed-out industrial walls. I had decided before I left England that I would be making a trip to the East Side Gallery, but I had no idea how pervasive street art would be in Berlin or that it would occupy a central role in the identity of many of its inhabitants.
The Fernsehturm towers over Marienkirche near Alexanderplatz.
Berlin’s history of destruction and division has filled it with visually striking architectural juxtapositions as well as made it a breeding ground for ideas in art and design exploring how to react, understand, and effectively handle these cycles of turmoil. In truth, however, Germany has been a hotspot for architecture for longer than since WWII (much longer if you credit them for contributions for Gothic architecture, though that actually originated in France and was later misattributed to Germany in an effort to degrade its cultural significance). In 1919, Walter Gropius established the Bauhaus, a school of art and design that pioneered much of modern aesthetics through careful study of color and geometry as well as a dedication to deference towards creating functional products that were well adapted to industrial mass production. The work of Gropius and his successor at the Bauhaus, Mies van der Rohe, are often cited alongside Frank Lloyd Wright as the beginnings of modern architecture, and it is here that my adventures in Berlin began – I paid a visit to the Bauhaus Archiv.