We settled into our first apartment in Neukölln – the latest Berlin borough to be hailed as the centre of all things ‘hip’ – and began to explore our new surroundings.
It’s the same old story, really. After the closing of Tempelhof Airport in 2008, Neukölln experienced rapid gentrification. It began to lose its grit and rough inner-city reputation as the artists, students and bourgeois bohemians settled in, driving out the life-long residents who could no longer afford to keep up. Neukölln remains covered in rubbish, dog shit and horrific stenches, but its graffiti-covered walls now hide fancy cocktail bars, pop up art spaces and expensive sushi joints. However, the Turkish population continues to thrive in Neukölln, meaning its residents are never without the prevailing presence of falafel and schawarma. I’ve never eaten so many kebabs in my life.
Anyway, we made our way, eating and drinking, through the streets of Neukölln. This Berlin borough has some of the best food I’ve ever eaten (I’ll detail these drool-worthy expeditions in a food post at some point), and some of the best bars I’ve ever been to. One particular bar, owned by one of the dudes from Mogwai, became our local haunt. And although full of expats, it was cheap, unpretentious and the whiskey was always calling.
Christmas came around quickly in Berlin. We drank glühwein at the Christmas markets and strolled through the local parks in cold winter air. We wandered through the trees avoiding the herds of lurking drug dealers and stalking the cute dogs, because dogs.
Living in Neukölln, we had an excellent base to explore the city. Not so much the attractions in Mitte – although we still visited to them anyway – but close enough to the lesser known (and usually better) sights in the outer city areas. We would walk to the East Side Gallery, which of course was overrun with insensitive tourists and morons with selfie sticks, and then visit an awesome warehouse market in Friedrichshain. We would walk to the Brandenburg Gate and the Holocaust Memorial, and then over to Prenzlauerberg for some fantastic coffee and lunch at a hidden deli around the corner.
*This post was briefly interrupted by an impromptu batch of sweet potato and cranberry cookies. I will also feature this recipe on a page soon to come. A page solely dedicated to cookie recipes, perhaps? I think so.
*EDIT: No I won’t. The cookies were shit.
Berlin received one real hit of snow during the festive season. We woke to clear blue skies and a beautiful white city, so naturally the entire population of Berlin was outside carrying sleds and smiles. This hasn’t happened since.
Most of the winter has been grey, with the occasional spot of fleeting sunshine. But regardless of this, the residents of Berlin still drink their coffees outside and continue to attend outdoor markets, as though refusing to give in to the winter. Our Christmas was quiet and delicious; a cashew nut loaf with stewed red cabbage and a side of sweet mulled wine. The awesome owners of the apartment we were renting invited us over to their place for an ‘orphaned Christmas event’ – they also rent out a few other rooms in their flat, so the dining table was made up of a collection of individuals of different planets and different mindsets. We devoured Lizzie’s incredible vegan feast, drank too much wine and returned home after 3am.
We spent New Years Eve at a rooftop bar called Klunker Kranich. The Neukölln Arcade has turned the entire top floor of their building into one big rooftop bar, with markets, food tents, stages and even a sandpit for the bubs. This place will be absolutely ideal for drinking beers in the warm summer sun while overlooking the city, but it continues to rage on during the winter months. And so we were there, gazing out over the dark city as millions of fireworks exploded all around us. It was an incredible sight – a mix between a war zone and Aurora Borealis – and certainly one I will never forget.
So Christmas and New Year came and went and the festive atmosphere began to die down as the reality of winter set in. At least two more months of icy wind and grey skies. Already I couldn’t wait for it to warm up.
Although we had only been in Berlin for a month, it felt like this place had been our home for over a year now. Time ticked away slowly, but our days were full and we were never bored. We signed up for language courses at a school in Kreuzberg and began our search for jobs.
So far, Berlin had been everything I envisioned. Dirty, dark and full of freaks, but with the promise of a provocative and unpredictable lifestyle that will always leave you wanting more. And it never fails to deliver.