überlin

Volkspark Friedrichshain

by James Glazebrook

Volkspark Friedrichshain Fairy Tale Fountain

One for when (if?) the weather improves! Volkspark Friedrichshain is a beautiful park in the otherwise unremarkable area between Prenzlauer Berg and Friedrichshain. Officially opened in 1848, the park continued to evolve well into the Cold War, when the DDR used the rubble of bombed-out East Berlin to build two artificial mini-mountains, one 48m and one 78m high. The larger one, Große Bunkerberg, is worth scaling if you’re feeling energetic, but don’t expect a view from the top – the trees that now grow there obscure what could be a wonderful panorama of the city.

Volkspark Friedrichshain trees

Make sure you don’t miss the Märchenbrunnen, or Fairy Tale Fountain, which depicts the characters of the Grimm brother’s stories and was one of the few parts of the park to emerge from World War Two unscathed. For a bit of history and a great video about the Fairy Tale Fountain, check out Moving Postcard, and make sure to visit Volkspark Friedrichshain as soon as the rainclouds clear.

Volkspark Friedrichshain Fairy Tale Fountain French Bulldog

Volkspark Friedrichshain Fairy Tale Fountain statue close up

Volkspark Friedrichshain Fairy Tale Fountain French Bulldog close up

Volkspark Friedrichshain Fairy Tale Fountain statue

Volkspark Friedrichshain red flowers

Volkspark Friedrichshain French Bulldog

Volkspark Friedrichshain du wunderbäre

Volkspark Friedrichshain statue

Learn German with our favourite Berlin language school Expath

by James Glazebrook

Expath logo

We know it’s hard to learn German in Berlin. Ours is a city so international that some expats actually ask themselves (and us!) whether it’s worth learning German at all, and the business ventures they start can spark fierce debate when they are criticised for not adequately catering for Germans in their mother tongue. Of course, if you’re only in Berlin to party your summer away, you won’t experience much pressure to speak German and, given most locals’ readiness to speak English to you, you won’t be given much opportunity to.

But if, like us, you plan to be here long term, and you want to be able to communicate with the locals and learn more about them, their culture and their city, you need to learn German. Most jobs outside of the ultra-competitive startup scene call for at least basic German skills, as do meetings at any government building and phone calls to your landlord. The only way to truly integrate into Berlin life is to learn German and, we’ve found, the best way to get a solid foundation in German is with structured classroom learning.

Expath classroom

That’s why we’re happy we discovered Expath. They have been on our radar ever since they wrote some articles for überlin helping expats to look for jobs and accommodation in Berlin, and generally find their feet here – all services that they provide regularly on an individual or group basis. So when we were ready to commit again to learning German – after an extended break from our mixed approach of underwhelming classroom courses, expensive private tuition and pot luck tandem learning – we gave Expath a go.

Expath water coolerWe were happy we did, as Expath’s language courses are the best we’ve experienced. The classes are small (with an average of eight students), conversational, student-centred and taught by the liveliest, loveliest teachers we’ve ever had. We’re quickly picking up the grammar grounding and relevant vocabulary we need to be able to talk about the stuff that matters to us, and, at the same time, meeting like-minded and motivated students we can practice on. Another bonus is Expath’s location – in the Wye complex on Skalitzer Strasse, which is only ten minutes’ bike ride away from us, and convenient for anyone living in Kreuzberg, Friedrichshain or Neukölln… you know, where all the expats live!

So whether you’re an absolute beginner, or an accomplished German speaker looking to polish your skills, why not join us on one of Expath’s language courses?

Win tickets to Is Tropical at Comet Club!

by James Glazebrook

[EDIT: this competition is now closed. Click here to see if we’re running any open competitions] 

"IS TROPICAL - 17.11.2011 #6" by rockzoom_de under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

“IS TROPICAL – 17.11.2011 #6″ by rockzoom_de under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Why did I think Is Tropical were French? Maybe because they are signed to über-hip Parisian label Kitsuné, and their amazing video for “The Greeks” features French kids performing acts of cartoon ultraviolence on each other. Anyway, they’re actually from London – home of whatever we’re calling the second wave of new rave, the indie-electro bands that have followed Klaxons into the mainstream. But to add to the geographical confusion, Is Tropical have produced one of our favourite songs about the city we love, featured below. If you’d like to see the band’s storming live set, we’re giving away two pairs of tickets – scroll down for deets!

HOW TO WIN 2 X TICKETS FOR IS TROPICAL AT COMET CLUB ON 31ST MAY:

Want to see Is Tropical play “Berlin” IN BERLIN??? Just answer this question in the comments below:

What is your favourite song about Berlin?

You have until 6pm on Thursday 30th May. Good luck!

The Boring Bit (yawn, RULES):

1. You must be 18 years or older to enter.
2. ONE ENTRY PER PERSON!
3. We will keep a record of each comment in a database and then a random number generator picks the winner.
4. Remember to include your full (real) name or we won’t be able to put you on the guestlist!
5. We will announced the winners via our Facebook page on Friday 31st May.

The Berlin Batman

by Guest Blogger

Mike T West introduces us to the original ex-bat(!), the Berlin Batman, with illustrations from the original DC comic, reprinted with the kind permission of creator Paul Pope.

Berlin Batman Paul Pope

Meet Baruch Wane. A wealthy painter and Jewish socialite who lived in Berlin during the Second World War. Forced to hide as a closeted Jew after his parents were brutally murdered by racist thugs; this quintessential 1930s Berlin hipster also happened to be Batman.

Baruch Wane by Paul Pope

Elseworlds is a publication imprint, officially started in 1989, which challenges artists to take classic DC comic book characters and reinvent their mythos to create something related and yet totally unique. What if Clark Kent was born in Soviet Russia? Or Lex Luthor was Wonder Woman’s dad? Can you imagine Batman as a vampire, a pirate or a cult leader? Sometimes genius, sometimes downright awful, it is always exciting to see what interpretations will appear (or, at least, it was – the most recent edition hit stands back in 2010).

Enter New York-based artist Paul Pope, who experienced early success as an alternative comic book creator for various large independent publishers. Combining a European aesthetic with manga-style energy, Pope went on to write and draw the ultimate Elseworlds tale, “Batman: Year 100″, published in 2006.

Paul Pope

060627 LVHRD Bi-Fold 093.jpg by D. Robert Wolcheck. Licence: CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Paul Pope Komissar Garten and RobinHowever, Pope’s first work for mainstream comics appeared in 1998, in the now defunct anthology series “The Batman Chronicles”. The extremely rare eleventh issue saw our hero Herr Wane don his cape once again to retrieve the confiscated works of Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises (in reality a known anti-Nazi propagandist) from the clutches of the facist police.

Joining the Berlin Batman on this adventure are his friend, police chief Komissar Garten, and Baruch’s fraulein/assistant, Robin (see what they did there?). Garten is of course unaware of his close pal’s secret identity – one doesn’t want to spoil a bromance after all.

Paul had to say this about the project:

What if Bruce Wayne were a Jew, born into a Germany suffering under encroaching Nazism? That was the pitch. I had just read Christopher Isherwood’s Berlin Stories and George Grosz’s autobiography, both of which paint vivid pictures of this place and time, so it seemed a natural turn of events to imagine a shadowy superhero for that world as well.

The Berlin Batman Paul Pope

The Berlin Batman cover Paul Pope

Ironically, the book’s layouts aren’t even based on German architecture!

The building depicted on the page above is actually a building in Paris, a hotel on the corner of Boulevard Montparnasse at Raspail, near the Luxembourg Gardens. Not very German…

Despite such inaccuracies, the Berlin Batman is a quick-fire, jaunty take on the Bat legend, with a concept so extraordinary it’s a shame that 15 years have passed without a new chapter.

Interestingly, the story is set one year before Batman was actually created by Bob Kane, who was in real life of Eastern European Jewish descent (connect the dots, nerds!), and is former Presidential candidate Ron Paul’s all-time favourite comic book.

I strongly suggest you support your local comic store and seek out the fantastic “Year 100″ book, in which the Berlin Batman tale is also collected. I have purchased it many times, both as an introduction to non-comic book fans and as a “Berliner” myself.

Perhaps one day the Dark Knight will return to protect the streets of Berlin, one Späti at a time…

Berlin Batman epic Paul Pope

Olympus OM-D: Photography Playground

by James Glazebrook

The interactive exhibition Olympus OM-D: Photography Playground has been extended until Sunday June 2nd – which is great news, not least because it gave us time to share our impressions before they’re totally irrelevant! Situated in the vast former opera and theatre prop factory which hosted Pret A Diner this year, the playground is a triumph of branding, a showcase of the Olympus OM-D digital camera and a great day out for anyone, regardless of their level of photography geekdom.

Different artists’ installations across three levels of the impressive Opernwerkstätten are designed specifically to provide amazing subjects, and occasionally feature the OM-D itself – as with my favourite, which hooks up a Korg synth to a dish of water atop a loudspeaker, and uses the camera to project the resulting patterns. Entrance is free, including rental of an Olympus OM-D (with valid ID*), so visitors can capture the lights, lazers, blacklit thread and weird Alice in Wonderland-inspired scenes. Check out the Olympus OM-D: Photography Playground website for details of how you can visit while you still can!

*You need an official ID card or passport to borrow a camera; a driving licence won’t do. Because of this, these photos were taken with Zoë’s own camera, not an Olympus OM-D.

Music Montag: The Ocean

by James Glazebrook

The Ocean

These submerged sludge-metallers are my musical discovery of the year so far: The Ocean. The Berlin-born experimental act recently shook C-Club to its core at their record company’s eponymous Pelagic Fest, even upstaging headliners Cult of Luna – no mean feat! Their challenging sonic brutality, conceptual commitment and obsession with the sea all call to mind Mastadon, while another lazy comparison would be art-alt-metal masters Tool – both of whom The Ocean easily match live. Seriously.

I’m not entirely sure which of the above men rocked my world, because the band’s revolving door lineup has so far featured at least 40 members since 2000, with the one constant being guitarist and songwriter Robin Staps (front and centre). But it was definitely the same group that tore apart Moscow’s Plan B in the video below. Take a deep breath – we’re going under.

Berlin Portrait: Luci Westphal

by Zoë Noble

We think that the best way to discover Berlin is through the eyes of the people who live here. For our Berlin Portrait series, we’re asking artists, musicians and other interesting Berliners to introduce us their corner of the city. Join us as Luci Westphal, the filmmaker behind Moving Postcard, introduces us to her part of Prenzlauer Berg.

Berlin Portrait Luci Westphal

Introduce yourself!

My name is Luci and I consider myself a German New Yorker in Berlin – for the time being. I’m a filmmaker living in Prenzlauer Berg.

How long have you been in Berlin?

Since spring 2010 I’ve been splitting my time between Berlin and Brooklyn.

Berlin Portrait Luci Westphal Heimholzkiez

What brought you here?

I’m originally from Hamburg and had been living in Brooklyn for 11 years; it was time for me to live closer to my family. Also I had itchy feet to go explore a new place and be inspired by different people and culture. I love New York City and consider it my home, Hamburg will always be special to me – but Berlin had that magnetic pull of creative, international, innovative, experimental and critically thinking people. At first I was worried that I had missed the best years of Berlin because I saw it changed every time I had visited before. But it seems that the spirit of Berlin continues to thrive even as people moan “früher war alles besser”.

Berlin Portrait Luci Westphal Heimholzkiez 2

Tell us about your Kiez, and what you like about it.

Because I used to visit Berlin every few years I saw Prenzlauer Berg gradually change from its post-GDR grey façade abandoned building look to its current state of beautifully restored homes on tree-lined streets. Before moving here my husband and I thought this thriving gorgeous neighborhood is our kind of place. By the time we did move here we ended up subletting in Neukölln, then Kreuzberg and eventually Mitte – all neighborhoods I loved living in. At the same time I got sucked into the disdain many young Berliners seem to have about Prenzlauer Berg because it’s labeled as a neighborhood for well-to-do families with children. It wasn’t our first choice anymore (actually we didn’t have a choice when we took the current apartment in the Helmholtzkiez) and it took me a while before I could say: I love this neighborhood! So it was love at first sight, then I played hard to get and then P’berg won me over fully.

What I like most about the neighborhood is how stately beautiful it is with the old buildings, the trees, the parks, the cobblestone streets… dotted with some amazing street art and people from all over the world walking around and gathering in great restaurants, bars and cafés. By the way, after 8pm the children are usually off the streets and Helmholtzkiez turns into quite a nightlife scene.

Berlin Portrait Luci Westphal street art

What are your five favourite things in your neighbourhood?

This is too hard. Instead of just picking five places, I’ll pick five categories. Okay? Okay.

One of the great things about summer in Berlin is that you can socialize with your friends at night at public outdoor green spaces without having to be at a café or bar. This doesn’t happen much in the US because it’s illegal to have alcoholic beverages out on the streets and in parks. My favorite daytime outdoor spot is Mauerpark, with its flea market and outdoor karaoke on Sundays and lots of interesting people watching. Around dusk I like to hang out on the hill of the Wasserturm when the rabbits come out and you get a glimpse of the occasional fox. At night I’m all about the many playgrounds in the neighborhood, at the top of the list is the one on Helmholtzplatz with the pirate ship, the swings and table tennis. But it can get crowded so you might have to conquer the pirate ship. But shhh, don’t wake up the neighbors.

A very special place in the neighborhood is the Gethsemanekirche, which is stunning to look at inside and out, but to me takes on extraordinary significance because it’s one of the churches at the center of the Peaceful Revolution of Berlin, that led to the opening of the Berlin Wall and the end of the GDR. It is truly a place of peace, community and hope. And if you ever find yourself looking for a church on Christmas Eve, go to that one – their Weihnachtsbaum seemed as big as the one at Rockefeller Center.

Berlin Portrait Luci Westphal street art 2

There are so many cafes and bars that there is one for every occasion. When it’s beautiful outside there’s no other place like the Prater Biergarten, the oldest beer garden in Berlin. When I feel like chilling out on a cozy old couch and sip on a tea or a Grasovka Apfelsaft I like to go to Wohnzimmer. If I feel homesick and I want to pick loud rock, rap or punk from the jukebox, eat salted popcorn and have a genuine Brooklyn IPA then you’ll find me at Badfish. Because of the delicious goat cheese salad, live music, dancing until the sun comes up and the always super fun Rock’n’Roll Bingo (every 1st and 3rd Wednesday) I’m quite a regular at White Trash. And last but not least, for a Sunday Bloody Mary, an afternoon coffee meeting or a last nightcap I always count on Schwarzsauer.

Berlin Portrait Luci Westphal Prater

When it comes to restaurants, I’ve already mentioned White Trash. But it’s not the only burger place I frequent despite being a vegetarian. There’s also the The Bird. I mostly come here for the lively expat atmosphere and the super nice staff. The restaurant I visit the most must be Maria Bonita, where you can get amazing tacos like they make in those little taquerias in Brooklyn (sorry, I can’t compare to Mexican tacos because I’ve never been to Mexico). For any special occasion or just a fun dinner with friends you can’t go wrong with Tres Tapas – no matter if you want to share tapas or get your own full meal.

One of the silly luxury problem reasons I hesitated to move back to Germany for a long time was convenience, especially when it comes to shopping and transportation. So one of the things I like best about my Kiez is the 24/7 Späti downstairs from my apartment, the 24/6 Kaisers grocery store around the corner and the all-night trams connecting me to Mitte, Friedrichshain and Kreuzberg (besides the day-time trams, U-Bahn and S-Bahn).

Okay, yeah, I really do love my Kiez and Prenzlauer Berg.

Berlin Portrait Luci Westphal Prater 2