Berlin, a day in the life
Jochen Sandig, one of Martin Reiter’s co-founders at Tacheles, moved on to transform other neglected buildings in Berlin, including RADIALSYSTEM V, an impressive cultural centre that opened on the banks of the River Spree in 2006. Once a water pumping station, it is now one of the city’s leading spaces for dance, concerts and contemporary art. ‘I love abandoned spaces, and Berlin has a lot of them,’ says Jochen, a sparky and gregarious veteran of the city’s counterculture. ‘Berlin has always been a city of poor people with big ideas.’
Late afternoon: Out of the ruins
Tempelhof Airport was once the international gateway to Berlin. In the mid-20th century, this vast building was a backdrop to news footage of arriving celebrities, and became a lifesaver in the Berlin Airlift of 1948, when Western air forces dropped in food and supplies after the Soviets blockaded the city.
In the years following reunification, Tempelhof found itself surplus to requirements, shutting down for good in 2008. Yet its closure proved the adage that where space appears in Berlin’s urban fabric, remarkable things happen. In 2010, Tempelhof was re-opened as a vast park. Walking through this windswept flatland is a peculiar experience: the runways are still intact, the airport building looks much as it did when it was receiving thousands of visitors a day, and signs warning pilots to contact air traffic control remain. It’s hard to shake off the feeling that a jumbo jet might be moments from landing on your head.
Berliners have now adopted Tempelhof as a public park. Every afternoon, its runways are packed with cyclists, joggers, footballers, rollerbladers – and rather appositely, one man zooming a toy plane over the landing area, its tiny shadow casting memories of a former life across the heads of the new visitors. Martin Dixon, a British ex-pat who has lived in Berlin for a decade, says that Tempelhof’s lack of trees and huge, flat expanse explains its popularity. ‘It’s completely exposed to the wind, so it attracts kite-fliers, wheeled windsurfers, or just those who enjoy the kind of bracing walk you’d normally find on the coast.’
A similar story of renewal can be found at Planterweg, just south of the city centre. Here a huge railway terminal, once home to battalions of steam trains and engineers, has been transformed into Natur-Park Schöneberger Südgelände. Thick woods have sprung up around the crisscrossing train tracks, some of which have been filled in and turned into woodland trails. The former train depot building has been turned into an art space, while industrial hoardings and even an old steam train are dotted across the park as art exhibits.
That this peaceful haven could once have been a pulsating mass of hot steam, burning coal and industrial noise seems somehow preposterous – which is a true testament to Berlin’s capacity for transformation.
Evening: Man cannot live on sausage alone
For a reason why Germany doesn’t have the greatest culinary reputation, look to the bratwurst. Around every corner in Berlin, you’ll see people tucking into cardboard trays of the German sausage, piled high with chips. Though undeniably delicious, it is more teatime snack than grown-up gastronomy.
For years, the city’s top tables showed off a cavalcade of multinational cuisines while German cooking lagged behind. Now, however, Berlin’s best chefs are returning to the food of their forebears. Matthias Gleiss’s restaurant, Volt, is set in a former electricity station on the banks of the Landwehr canal. Matthias takes elements of traditional German peasant food and local Berlin dishes – such as meatballs, veal chops and blood sausage (aka black pudding) – and expertly transforms the heavy, rustic ingredients into lighter meals.