Rice and Shine, photo: Valerie Siba Rousparas.
Following the tragic shooting in Atlanta, Georgia that killed 8 Asian-Americans on March 16, 2021 the topic of anti-Asian racism has been in the spotlight around the globe, an issue that does not exclude our very own Berlin.
Especially due to the pandemic with phrases like “Kung Flu” and “China virus” being thrown around, Asian communities have become wary of increased anti-Asian racism. For myself, this past year has forced me to be aware of my Asianness more than ever, leaving me to wonder if the person who just moved away from me on the U-Bahn only did so because of my almond-shaped eyes smiling at them from behind my mask.
While COVID-19 has exacerbated the situation, racism towards Asians has been around long before the pandemic. Here in Berlin, I have had men fetishize my “exotic oriental beauty” and “ching chong” gibberish shouted at me on the street, just to name a few mild remarks. Attention needs to be brought to such experiences not to complain of our beloved Berlin, but because we care about this city and want to help make it feel safer for the communities that make this place so special.
It’s kind of hard to admit this, but to be brutally honest: I’m not doing great. It’s surprising after a year of the Corona crisis. I feel like 50% of my time I have to invest into staying somewhat sane which means a lot of other stuff gets left behind. But when I look around me, some of my friends seem in even darker places and that’s a scary thing because how can you be of support if you yourself are also not in the best place. Maybe you can’t. But maybe you can at least not do anything completely wrong.
Our friend and collaborator Sophia Halamoda who we co-created our Like A Berliner book with, has dedicated a brand new comic to this very sensitive topic. In it, she describes how she believes we should treat our friends that are in crisis mode and it takes a particularly close look at the very difficult but very real topic of toxic positivity. It’s something we have all probably mindlessly practiced once and this particular situation is making it clear, how that is a rather lazy cop-out than actual help.
I love the U1. I don’t live on the U1, and I’ve never lived on the U1, but I love the U1.
When I was 14, I moved to Berlin. I didn’t speak a word of German. I had never had a sip of alcohol. I didn’t know what techno was or even what weed smelled like, much less the intricate distinctions between der, die and das. Let’s just say I had a lot to learn. I learned a lot of it on the U1.
A few months into my first year here, I went to a concert at Bi Nuu, the bar located in Schlesisches Tor station. My friend Lisa and I took the U1 over, asked older kids to buy us tequila shots (they can’t have been older than 18) and stood in the front row, prepubescent heads bopping and bodies swaying as San Cisco serenaded us. I felt alive for the first time in a long time. I’d come from suburban New York where I needed parents to drive me wherever I wanted to go. And the year before moving to Berlin, I had lost one of mine to cancer, making my social options severely limited purely by the lack of a driver’s license holding adult in my immediate vicinity. My dad worked 9-5 in New York City and I sat at home and stared at Tumblr. I thought that was the epitome of existence.
A year later, Lisa and I sat on the platform above Bi Nuu waiting for the train home, no later than our midnight curfew and slightly tipsy on two-euro tequila. Lisa taught me how to say Schlesisches Tor (Schlaaay, zeeee, schess, TOR), and we took the U1 back towards Schöneberg, our haven of safe and familiar in West Berlin. I watched the city flash by and felt happy to be there, looking down on the world from above. Now this was the epitome of existence.
The U1 is the oldest section of the Berlin U-bahn. The first train ran on the line in 1902, 110 years before I rode it for the first time. It currently stretches from Warschauer Straße in the east to Uhlandstraße in the west, cutting a straight line across the BVG map. 8.8 kilometers, 13 stations, approximately 20 minutes end to end.
My favorite station is Schlesisches Tor. When I was 17, I got my first ever job at White Trash Fast Food, the legendary American restaurant that had recently moved to Am Flutgraben. I was hired as a “bar runner,” which basically meant I washed glasses and was everyone’s bitch. Every Friday night I took the U7 to Möckernbrucke and changed to the U1 where I would cruise along the stations to Schlesi. I’d walk down Schlesische Straße, past the dealers offering me dirty drugs, headphones blasting whatever garbage I thought was worth listening to at the time. At work I ran around and made mistakes and even kissed a boy in the walk-in refrigerator from time to time. When he told me his girlfriend wasn’t home one night and asked if I wanted to come back to his place I pretended not to hear and ran across the street to Club der Visionäre, which would offer us free entrance after work. I danced would until my feet hurt and the sun rose and the U1 whisked me back West.
But sometimes it didn’t. There were months at a time when the U1 was consumed by “Ersatzverkehr.” A replacement bus would drag me from Möckernbrücke over to Schlesi and I’d make my trek to work. After I finished high school, I went on a five-month backpacking trip around South East Asia. When I left, White Trash still stood resolute and the U1 ran every day and every night, like clockwork. When I returned, White Trash was gone and the U1 wasn’t running. I got a new job at another restaurant on Schlesische Straße and waited for my skytrain to run again. I spent countless nights watching Skalitzer Straße for approaching replacement busses after six hour shifts and eight-hour dance sessions at Chalet or Ipse or Arena.
When I moved to Amsterdam for university there was no U1. No way to view the city from above and travel across the best parts of it, like clockwork. Amsterdam’s public transportation left much to be desired when compared to the magic of the BVG.
Upon my return to Berlin last summer, I was dismayed to find my beloved U1 under construction once again. Just one more thing that I love about Berlin had been taken away, this time not necessarily by the pandemic, but I took it as a personal blow, nonetheless. But by the end of March the line will begin once again, day and night, like clockwork. I won’t be using it to every day to bring me back and forth to my grimy bar jobs anymore, but my love for the U1 will never falter. It showed me what it meant to be young in a city full of possibilities. And therefore, I will always love the U1.
Most cities have a clear “downtown,” meaning if you’re lucky, you can boast about living in the center. These areas usually have lots of shops, bars, restaurants and life in general. But in Berlin things are a bit more complicated. What is the center of Berlin? There isn’t one area that comes to mind as the “downtown.” Many would say Mitte because it’s quite literally in the middle, but I’d argue the center is the one-kilometer radius around my apartment.
Even though queer people are an integral part of the performing arts all around the world, their careers are in danger when it comes to coming out and they are advised to stay in the closet to keep their roles. We now embrace a new revolutionary move from 185 actors and actresses in Germany, who collectively came out as gay, lesbian, transgender, bisexual, queer, or nonbinary with their #actout Manifesto.
185 cultural workers came out in the SZ-Magazin to create a revolution. They want to fight against stereotyping, discrimination, and hiding. Even in today’s Germany, where being queer is widely tolerated, granted protection, and civil rights, certain groups still feel hesitant to come out for various reasons. As Markus Ulrich, the spokesman for the Lesbian and Gay Association in Germany (LSVD) reports, homosexual actors are often not trusted to play heterosexual roles authentically. The idea is that a heterosexual actor can pull up a queer character if he is feminine enough or she is butch enough, obeying anticipated stereotypical portrayals of LGBTQ+ people. But a queer person can only act in queer roles. Ulrike Folkers, known for her role in Tatort Ludwigshafen reports, “I was cast for a mother role, but when the director found out that I was a lesbian, she turned me down. That’s discrimination. Of course, I can play a mother.” She asks “How does it feel when you can’t show yourself off on the red carpet with the woman you love? What roles does a non-binary person dream of? And how does the television, film, and theater industry have to change?”.
photo: Notes of Berlin
Berlin’s meme accounts are at it again and so are we. We’ve covered them before and but today we’re discussing our cities best bits of quarantine comic relief in this winter slump. The weather seems to be reflecting our general mood these days, so today we’re rounding up Berlin’s best snow memes. Baby, it’s cold outside so cozy up with a cold club mate or steaming, hot Glühwein, and prepare to be entertained.
photos: Kseniya Apresyan.
Berlin’s nightlife and music scene are holding their breath. And they have been doing this now for close to a year. What is usually the number one reason for people to come to Berlin from all over the world is now in a strange limbo the city has never seen before. Clubs and bars are closed – or at best turned into Covid test centers – stages are empty and all the people who normally come to these places to dance and celebrate are most likely at home – hopefully not alone.
These are unusual times, we have to completely rethink so many things. But while party kids and concert-goers will just find other ways to spend their time, it’s quite a different story for those people behind the scenes and on the DJ decks and stages of Berlin’s nightlife. They are all facing an uncertain future, many are out of work or have to start completely different careers to make a living, some even had to leave the city going back to their home countries. It’s a tragedy to think that those who build up Berlin’s reputation of having one of the most thriving and influential nightlife and music scenes are left with practically nothing during this pandemic.
Shibari Study, photo: Viktor Herak.
Berlin is known for a lot of different things: the history and the wall, Berghain and techno, döner and currywurst, just to name a few. But two elements central to the culture in the capital are sex and art. These two intriguing aspects of life in Berlin perfectly unite in Shibari, a type of Japanese bondage that focuses on the aesthetics of the bound body. Although we’re in the middle of a pandemic and sex clubs and museums are closed, Shibari is a great way to satisfy your craving for something both kinky and creative. There are a number of organizations and instructors still offering workshops and courses about the art of Shibari during the pandemic.
photos: Maarten van den Berg.
With this post, we would like to share a very special gem with you that was submitted to us by our reader Maarten from the Netherlands. We are particularly excited about what he sent to us as we haven’t really had anything from that part of the history of Berlin on the blog – at least not specifically that decade. The story he shared with us is about his visit to Berlin in 1981 – a time when the reunification wasn’t even on the horizon, a time when Berlin was still a divided city with the wounds of this division still raw and open. During his visit, he took street photos of both the West and the East of Berlin, and of course plenty of impressions from the Wall that seemed to be some kind of tourist attraction at the time. It’s impressive to see the city that we are so used to today in this condition. So many of these former dead areas of Berlin are now integrated into the city life and filled with new places and buildings that make us forget the scars that they used to be.
Maarten has self-published a photo book of this stunning series which you can order here. He also shared some words about the visit and the photos he took that were long lost and just recently resurfaced. We hope you enjoy these images!
This year was quite different, wasn’t it? There was a lot of crazy stuff happening, but we can all agree on what the most significant thing was: the pandemic. If you would have told me a year ago that this would happen, I probably would not have believed you. But here we are, 9 months into a global outbreak of an airborne viral disease that has turned the world upside down.
Of course, this pandemic brought us a lot of negative things, but I don’t want to focus on those – you can simply turn on the news for that. I want to focus on the things that were good, specifically on how people responded to the crisis in positive ways. While a lot of us were struggling with our lives, our work, and our mental health, some people gathered their creative energies to come up with great things to brighten the days of everyone else and show some optimistic spirit.