A February 2003 trip
to Berlin by Mr. Wonka
Quote: Nazis. Hitler. The Wall. These images have always been what came to mind when thinking of Berlin. But after spending a mere four days in this vibrant city, I realized those dark days are long gone, replaced by a cosmopolitan, laid-back vibe that permeates every facet of Berlin's infectious personality.
The respect that Berliners show for their city is inspiring. It’s legal to drink alcohol just about anywhere, but there wasn’t an empty bottle or can to be found littering the streets. Public transportation runs on the honor system, but there was every person dutifully buying his or her ticket anyway. Despite being one of the most culturally rich places on the planet, the people of Berlin are its greatest treasure.
Familiarize yourself with all the neighborhoods in Berlin before you go. Just like in New York City, where the difference between the Lower East Side and the Upper West Side couldn’t be more stark, each part of Berlin defines itself with a distinct flare and establishes its own personality. Having a general idea about where to go to see what is invaluable when laying out your plans for the day.
Finally, don’t forget to wet your whistle with the many fine German beers. They go down oh so smoothly.
Bring your phattest pair of shoes with you because you’ll be doing a lot of walking. It’s the best way to get around the city to experience its endearing character.
That said, Berlin’s public transportation system is just lovely--cheap, quiet, easy to figure out, and on time. The U-bahn and S-bahn trains will be your chief modes of transit, and will only cost you between Euro 1,40 (reduced) and Euro 2,00 each way. Now, the trains run on the honor system, but--not to encourage it--if you do get caught without a ticket, you better do a good job of convincing the attendant you don’t have any Euros and have a fake address ready to rattle off. But go ahead and buy a ticket ya cheapskate!
Located right off the storied shopping strip of Kurfürstendamm, the Berlin Mark far exceeded any modest expectations I had. After a short 15 minute cab ride from Tegal Airport, we arrived before the scheduled check-in time, but the amiable women at the front desk found us one of the few rooms that were ready. The lobby was modern, circa 1990, with black leather chairs forming a mini-seating area and retro circle designs lined up along the ceiling to complement the mint green colors that dominate the interior. I grabbed some fruit from the complimentary bowl on the front desk, and was assigned a room on the fifth floor. Each guest is given a key card – when you leave the hotel, drop your room key in a drop box, and upon returning simply flash your card to get the key returned.
There’s a shoe buffer on each floor outside the elevator, which cleaned up my grubby Converses nicely. We had a double room with two beds that included cable and pay TV, radio, telephone, and a mini-bar. There’s a huge storage closet with enough space to fit Marlene Dietrich’s legendary wardrobe, a small table, and two glass doors that opened out to an amazing view down Meinekestraße. The bathroom was kept immaculately clean, and came with a hair dryer, soap, vanity mirror, and the best shower I’ve ever felt in my life. No joke. Daily maid service changed your sheets, emptied the trash, and brought clean towels (don’t forget to leave your dirty towels on the floor, or you won’t get clean ones).
The Bistro Mark on the main floor hosts a complimentary breakfast buffet every morning from 6 – 10am weekdays, 6am – noon on the weekend. After a night of trying a German beer or two, this buffet was a godsend. As a vegetarian my choices were somewhat limited, but I did enjoy amazing scrambled eggs (when there wasn’t bacon stock in them), rolls, croissants, Cocoa Puffs cereal, jams, fruit, cheese (brie and Swiss), juices, yogurt, and Nutella. There was also sausage, bacon, and ham for the carnivores. Snacks are served throughout the day.
The bar has Happy Hour everyday from 5 – 7 pm, offering mixed drinks for 3,05 Euros. Tell the little Polish bartender I said hello, he’s such a nice guy. They also have a few beers on tap for only 2,50 Euro a pint.
Rooms start at 69,99 Euro a night for a single, and 79 Euro for double. Listed as only a three-star hotel, I felt like I was living in the lap of luxury throughout my stay.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on March 9, 2003
Berlin Mark Hotel
MEINEKESTRASSE 18 19
49 30 880020
I stepped into Abendmahl and was taken by the curious prints hung on the left wall like an exhibition in an art gallery. The rest of the seating area was moderately decorated, highlighted by an impressive chandelier that stoically reflected the dim lighting.
Our waiter came to our table sporting a small Mohawk, genial attitude, and familiarity with English. I asked him if the Pinkus Pils ale was any good, and he described it as "ecologically correct". I decided to do my part for the environment by drinking this beer.
As downtempo beats emanated from Abendmahl’s sound system, I gazed over their extensive list of alcohol offered, which filled up six pages of the menu. Wine lovers will appreciate the selection of wines from all the major wine producers, available by glass or bottle. Mixed drinks, shots, and beers are all well-represented too.
I started with Mozzarella with tomato and basil baked in spring roll pantry for 6,50 Euros, while my friend opted for Arugula with balsamic vinaigrette and parmesan for 7 Euros. There’s also a sampler for 13,50 Euros. Hot bread with garlic butter was brought to our table as we waited. The mozzarella was served in three separate pieces garnished in basil, and was cooked to perfection. This might be the lightest cheese appetizer I’ve ever had.
There’s four vegetarian and four fish main dishes to choose from. They all carry witty names like "Twilight of the gods in plushcity", "My sexy green neglijee", and "male, snazzy, tipsy seeks. . .". I chose "Affair Suzie Wong", described as trick chicken nuggets and shiitake mushrooms in mango-chili sauce with yellow basmati rice and pak choi (13,50 Euros). Let’s just say I demolished the whole thing and had to stop myself from licking the plate. The mango-chili sauce had just the right mix of spiciness and sweetness, and was expertly matched with the soft "chicken" nuggets.
There are 12 Deadly Ice Creams to choose from, and like the main dishes they’re tagged with clever names that would make even the most steadfast intellectual acknowledge as brainy. Names like "Scandal in Bethlehem", which is cinnamon ice cream and donuts on punch sauce presented as dead farm animals in pools of blood. We shared "Die for Love", peanut ice cream coated in brittle and strawberry-margerita sorbet. It lasted all of about two minutes. Don’t even think about leaving without sampling one of these culinary creations.
For two beers, one glass of wine, one dessert, two appetizers, and two entrees, our bill came out to only 60 Euros, a bargain price for the lasting memories afforded by a visit here.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on March 8, 2003
Muskauer Strasse 9
Berlin, Germany 10997
We ducked in just as they were getting ready to turn down new patrons, and although I hate being "that guy", they decided we’d have the honor of being the night’s last guests. The staff here hardly speak any English, so try to master a few basic phrases relevant to restaurants (Gibt’s fleisch drin? = Has it got any meat in it?) before coming in. More on that later. A few random locals occupied three of the candle lit tables that were complemented by wicker chairs. Cheeseball American pop from the likes of Huey Lewis and the News and Cyndi Lauper smoothly played from overhead speakers. I suppose you could say there was a little beach-like theme going on, but the shrine to Buddha next to our table kind of negated that effect. I would have liked the whole restaurant to be one big shrine to Buddha - now that’d be authentic.
The menu is still listed in Deutschmark, so the bill was going to be a mystery tonight. We ordered the mini-"vegetarian" egg rolls for an appetizer, and I got the Bami-Phad-Thua-Gok (fried egg noodles with soybean sprouts). In addition to a few meat-free meals, they offer dishes centered on duck, beef, pork, chicken, and lake + seafood.
Our egg rolls soon came, served with what looked like a sweet sauce. After one bite my friend pointed out these "vegetarian" egg rolls were full of pork. In broken German, I tried to ask the waiter if there was meat in the rolls, and attempted to point out that we ordered egg rolls without meat, all to no avail. It’s cool though, it’s not his fault I can’t speak German. My friend described the rolls as "good, porky, and spicy." Spoken like a true meat eater.
My main dish came, and the waiter kind of smiled and tried to say ‘no meat’, and I appreciated his effort. My noodle dish was ok, but as we say over in Queens, "eh". There was a good assortment of mixed veggies, and it was a huge portion, but I had to add a lot of the provided red sauce to give it some kick, and it was a bit greasy. I’d say it was good, not great. Actually, it really wasn’t all that good either.
The best thing about Bangkok though was the price. For two beers, one appetizer, and two entrees, the bill came out to only 12,45 Euro – that’s this restaurant’s saving grace. So if you’re in the neighborhood, and want fill up on some decent thai food, give Bangkok a whirl.
Member Rating 2 out of 5 on March 9, 2003
Prenzlauer Allee 46
Berlin, Germany 10405
(030) 443 94 05
Bergwerk is just that kind of place. Set on a quiet street on the outskirts of Mitte, this funky little joint obviously relishes its status as a prime locals hangout. A huge letter "B" hangs from the ceiling in the same fashion that Superman wears the "S" on his chest. The lit candles that adorn the solid wooden tables further bring out the warm, golden color of the walls on the main floor. A rack near the entrance is filled with magazines and newspapers to keep the soloists company, but the mellow crowd on hand when I visited was too wrapped up in conversation to worry about reading. Thick iron pipes protrude from the ceiling, and a couch in the back seating area adds a nice final touch to the homey vibe.
Reputedly DJ’s spin in the cave-like basement of Bergwerk on occasion, but unless they have Warwick Davis as their resident turntablist, I don’t know how they could possibly fit anyone down there. The spiral staircase to the bottom floor empties directly into a fuss ball table, a Monster Mash pinball machine, and a few tables, with little room for anything else. The slow path that pinball is marching towards extinction pains me to think about, so I always make it a point to rock one whenever we cross paths. Alright, pinball is pinball, but some of these newer machines are a little chintzy. This particular one had that angle to it that naturally draws the ball to the middle, and was equipped with the dull rubber arms that only Rainer Wolfcastle could get a good pop out of. Regardless, I got to beat up on Dracula and Frankenstein for a minute, and scored two free games, one of the loveliest features of pinball.
There were four or five beers on tap, reasonably priced at 2,50 Euros a pint. I got the feeling that some serious drinking regularly goes down here, as the bartender automatically started a tab for us, assuming we’d be sticking around for a while. We soaked up the relaxing combination of a few pints and music that ranged from folk to French pop, and then jetted to check out a few bars down the street.
It may not be the best place to shake that booty or to get crazy out on the town, but if you’re in the mood to take it easy (or to shoot some pinball), go ahead and find your way to Bergwerk.
+49 30 280 88 76
Attraction | "Die Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtniskirche"
This neo-Gothic Protestant church was built in the early 1890s by Germany's last emperor, Wilhelm II, as a lasting tribute to his grandfather, Kaiser Wilhelm I. Little did he know that about 50 years later, on November 22, 1943, it would be victimized by Allied bombing. After the rubble had been cleared, Berlin officials decided to keep the church in its debilitated state as a forlorn reminder of the destruction of war.
Today, the church is open for visitors to admire the tiled religious murals and the few statues that weren't irreparably damaged by the bombing. A modern building was constructed alongside the church, giving this site the ever-popular "old meets new" dichotomy. It’s one of the most well-known landmarks in Berlin, and is a must-see for anyone interested in exploring the historical roots of this great city.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on March 11, 2003
Berlin, Germany 10789
+49 30 218 50 23
Attraction | "Dachkammer (DK Bar)"
I walked into a warmly decorated atmosphere teeming with a placid crowd of young people sucking down cigarettes, drinking afternoon brews, and indulging in an attractive-looking Sunday brunch. Indeed, there wasn’t an empty table to be found, neither at the bar nor in any of the multiple seating areas. After waiting for about 10 minutes, I finally landed a small table off to the side of the main room.
Roots reggae music traveled in soft waves through the bar, briefly supplanted by a Stevie Wonder record. Old bottles rested on wooden shelves that comfortably mingled with the brick walls and dense wooden tables. A huge, circular wrought-iron candelabra, hung by a thick chain and supporting five lit candles, complemented the large mirror set on the neighboring wall. A stack of magazines rested near the bar area, which shared its space with a winding staircase that led to an upstairs bar, open from 7pm until late every night.
I decided to wait on getting some food, and just ordered a tall glass of Erdinger Dunkel for 2,60 euros to go with my half-empty pack of NIL Lights. The brunch buffet did look pretty tasty (though there wasn’t much for vegetarians): fresh fruit, breads, cold cuts, eggs, cheese, omelets, and desserts filled up the better part of three pushed-together tables. The menu also listed a good variety of food at pretty smashing prices, such as nachos with salsa for 3,10 euros.
The DK Bar, or Dachkammer, also serves up a long list of beverages, of both the alcoholic and the non-alcoholic type. There’s a fine selection of gourmet coffees and teas (roibosh vanilla, Japan Classic, Kamille), as well as a long list of beers on tap. The bar also has a lengthy lineup of liquors on hand, especially whiskies, which seem very popular in Berlin. Mixed drinks ("longdrinks") were reasonably priced—a gin and tonic or Jim Beam and Coke will run you 4,10 euros, while a vodka and Red Bull, my personal favorite, goes for 5,10.
Judging by the vibe in the downstairs area during the day, I would have liked to check out the upstairs bar at night, and plan on doing just that on my next visit. DK Bar was the icing on the cake of my Sunday sabbatical to Friedrichshain, and is a great representation of the area in general.
Dachkammer is open from noon until late Monday through Friday, and from 10am until late on the weekend. The upstairs bar is open from 7pm until late daily.
Berlin, Germany 10245
+49 30 296 16 73
We took the U-bahn 5 to Frankfurter Allee in Friedrichshain. The bar is in a pretty non-descript location, so pay careful attention to the street addresses. It’ll be on the left hand side of the road if you’re coming from the train stop.
I took one step in and immediately felt at home. This place was packed with all kinds of cool cats whooping it up and putting down tall beers. All the cliché German punk looks were in full effect – Mohawks, black leather, dreadlocks, etc. God, I love this part of the city. It’s like NYC’s lower east side, but without any posing or posturing.
Severin wasn’t anywhere to be seen, so we grabbed the last unoccupied table and ordered some drinks. Heavy music filled the bar, a la early ‘90s Sick of It All or Life of Agony type stuff. The bartender told me it was a band called Sheer Terror. Damn straight y’all! Like I said, this place wasn’t much on décor, looking like it had been bombed out back in the day. There was graffiti on parts of the walls and completely covering the bathrooms.
Suddenly a few guys started pushing on this "wall", and after a minute the bartender came and opened a lock, revealing a semi-hidden door. Just then I saw Severin, and we headed back through the door. It opened into an enclosed alley, and we walked a hundred or so feet to another door. I felt like I was going to a crack house or something.
This was no crack house though. We paid 3,00 Euro each for admittance to the coolest underground venue I’ve ever seen. It filled up quickly, and we started getting down on some tall bottles of Berliner Pilsner for 3,00 Euro. First up was a female-led punk group that was the real deal. This wasn’t like punk in the States – these girls were pissed off and proud of it. They embodied everything about the punk style – loud, mean, and rocking serious spit-in-your-face music.
Capping off the night was a hardcore band that sounded like a mix between Slayer, Sepultura, and Earth Crisis. They were unbelievably tight, and didn’t waste any time chatting in between songs. This was some old school, headbangin’ metal in the truest sense.
If this is your kind of thing, hightail it over to Supa Molli. It’s an authentic underground punk club that’s gonna leave you wondering whether it’s real or just a movie set for some futuristic cyberpunk flick.
Located on the corner of Grünberger Straβe and Gabriel-Max Straße, this bazaar was bustling with all kinds of people looking to score a good deal on whatever caught their eye. Both guys and gals rocking phat dreadlocks were out in droves, sliding from table to table in search of some choice vintage threads, a new pipe, or out of print vinyl records. Half of the experience is just walking around and observing all the people from different walks of life getting along with each other in perfect harmony. There was a punk rock mom with her lip pierced, lovingly pushing her stroller as her husband took their dog into the open field in the middle of the plaza to play fetch. Old women rummaged through a young girl’s shopping cart full of dresses, fabrics, and other random items. You could easily pass five hours at this market just shopping and people watching as the sun illuminates the whole chaotic scene.
Here’s a very short list of the different things I saw for sale: CD’s, shoes, clothes, books, t-shirts and sweatshirts, posters, smoking paraphernalia, dolls, jewelry, hats, toys, glassware, lamps, carpets. . . the list could go on and on. Some tables are neatly set up, clearly displaying everything for sale, while others were just cardboard boxes full of all kinds of crap. Chances are you’ll find whatever you’re looking for, but you might have to dig. But hey, that’s the best part!
What did I find for myself? Well, first I bought a hand-made wool hat and headband for my girl for only 10 Euro from a guy whose grandmother knits all the hats herself in Italy, then sends the finished product to her grandson here in Berlin to sell. I scooped up a rare live Bjork CD recorded at the Royal Opera House for 13 Euro, and supported the anti-war cause of a guy representing the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organisation by purchasing one of the fly t-shirts he was hawking for 10 Euro. I also met two friendly guys named Tony and Christoph who had started their own shirt printing and design business, and were selling their shirts for 15 Euro. I picked one emblazoned with a Space Invaders design for my roommate’s birthday present.
The Boxhagener Platz shopping market may not carry the glitz of a Berlin shopping mall, but since nothing’s open on Sunday anyway, there’s no excuse not to check it out. Besides, how cool are you going to be when you’re gushing to your friends back home about this little known cultural affair?
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on March 10, 2003
Sunday Market at Boxhagener Platz
Corner of Grünberger Street and Gabriel-Max Street
Attraction | "Checkpoint Charlie"
Once I found my way over to Checkpoint Charlie, I started thinking about how strange it must now seem to those who were stationed here back when it was a boiling pot of political anxiety. What used to be a tension-riddled area has been turned into a requisite sightseeing stop for any visitor to Berlin (myself included). Where once troops stood with their guns loaded, looking out at the enemy a few hundred yards away, now families happily take their pictures in front of the reconstructed American guardhouse (again, I, too, had my picture taken here). This can be said about any famous military spot of old, but to stop and think about why this place has gained notoriety is really something else. Though this is a Cold War–era landmark, I kept wondering what my grandfather, who was wounded in WWII, would feel walking around this area. I can’t imagine.
I broke out in goose bumps more than once as I slowly absorbed the weary sense of restlessness that filled the air. Gift shops and cafés can’t hide it—so much has happened here, a mere face-lift can’t make time forget Checkpoint Charlie’s past. The photos inside the U.S. guardhouse relay just how nerve-racking it was during the U.S. and Soviet face-off. Reminders are littered everywhere, from the last Soviet flag to fly to artsy chunks of the Berlin Wall to the Haus am Checkpoint Charlie museum. Don’t limit yourself to the museum when you’re here—take some time to walk around the whole area surrounding Checkpoint Charlie, thinking about the hefty military presence that was here not too long ago.
Just down the street from Checkpoint Charlie, at the corner of Wilhelmstraße and Zimmerstraße, is the Topography of Terror, 200 meters of the Berlin Wall that mark the border between Mitte and Kreuzberg. This section of the Wall was declared a historical monument and will forever be preserved as a reminder of the division this city endured for 38 years. A chronological history of the wall is presented through amazing photographs and German text in a trench on one side of the wall (audio tours in both German and English are available at the information center). These photos were so powerful—some of them made me wonder how the hell a photographer could have taken such horrific pictures with a steady hand. For information on guided group tours, call (030) 254 86 703, or fax (030) 262 71 56.
I remember watching Berliners break down the wall on TV when I was a kid. To now walk around here was amazing.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on March 13, 2003
Checkpoint Charlie Museum
Berlin, Germany 10969
+49 30 25 37 25 0
Attraction | "DaimlerChrysler Contemporary"
The DaimlerChrysler Contemporary gallery is located on the fourth floor of the renovated Haus Huth at Potsdamer Platz. It’s nearly impossible to spot—a small, historical building amongst the flashy architecture that now dots this area. Despite having the address, and later realizing I must have walked by the building at least four times, I was forced to ask about six different people if they knew where the gallery was. Apparently this isn’t a well-traveled art stop, as only one person (the last one I asked) was able to definitively direct me towards the gallery. Ah well, that should give you that much more motivation to check it out. Use the photo I took of the entrance to help guide you.
Ring the buzzer to get in the building and proceed up the winding staircase to the fourth floor, where a friendly gallery assistant will greet you and point out the postcards and press releases pertaining to the exhibited work. The space is wide open, with polished wooden floors, and provides ample room for pieces of any size to rest comfortably without being squeezed by other works.
The DaimlerChrysler Collection includes works from well-known artists such as Jeff Koons, Andy Warhol, Max Bill, and Walter de Maria. Pieces from these artists and others may be included in one or more of the four different exhibits that go up each year at the DaimlerChrysler Contemporary gallery, which alternately focuses on the permanent collection and new acquisitions. The gallery hosts exhibitions that spotlight single artists as well.
When I visited, the current exhibit was entitled Minimalism and After II, featuring works from artists such as John McLaughlin, Daniel Buren, Olivier Mosset, and Gerwald Rockenschaub. Rockenschaub’s Six Animations was one of the more striking, incorporating six DVDs, six DVD players, and six monitors on plinth and floor slab to study the relationship between mass media and its effects on the art world. I also enjoyed Mosset’s self-mocking Untitled (tic tac toe series), which references his work from the ’60s and ’70s. Minimalism and After II will be up until May 18, 2003. The gallery is open daily from 11am to 6pm.
With so much going on around Potsdamer Platz, take an artsy breather and give the DaimlerChrysler Contemporary a walk-through. For more info, check out the DaimlerChrysler Collection homepage.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on March 15, 2003
Daimler Chrysler Contemporary
Alte Potsdamer Strasse 5
As you wait to take the elevator up to the third floor, a sign promises "old Japanese and Chinese picture re-rolls, Indian miniatures, Balinese fertility demons, and Persian harem scenes" in the museum. Immediately upon stepping out of the elevator, you are greeted by a what-you-see-is-what-you-get statue of a man with a fully erect penis. I think he’s just happy to see visitors.
Most of this floor pays homage to 18th-century Oriental sex art. It’s extremely graphic, so be warned. Man, those old-school Asians were hard-core! There’s a little bit of everything sex here—porcelain figurines, sketches, sculptures, drawings, etc. A dominant theme to much of the work is over-exaggeration—wait, you’re kidding me! Exaggeration of one’s genitalia in artwork? No way! A 19th-century drawing from Japan named Geisha with Gynecologist is particularly representative of the works in this wing—it’s a very stark depiction of a doctor and his patient, and the doctor is seen collecting discharge in a pot and, well, you’ll see.
Off to the left on this floor is a section devoted to Beate Uhse, considered the German queen of sex. She was a former Luftwaffe test pilot who deserves sole credit for accelerating sexual expression in Germany after reunification. This is a really great exhibit, shying away from strictly showing the work she did in the sex industry in favor of highlighting her life in general. Here you see childhood pictures, photographs from World War II, books she both authored and championed, magazine and newspaper articles, and touching pictures of her bathing with her grandchildren. You also learn about the enthusiasm she held for sports such as waterskiing and golf. Her Internationaler Erotic Award Venus 1997 is on display as well.
There are SO many artifacts on this floor that it does start to get a little repetitive, and you find yourself becoming desensitized to straight-up, hard-core pornography. I barely batted an eyelash at one picture depicting a man with his entire head in a woman’s vagina as an oversized drum hung from his penis. I mean, you can only see so many tortoiseshell dildos before it gets a little old. That said, don’t miss the Marilyn Monroe tribute, featuring a truly absurd likeness of the blond bombshell doing the infamous bit with the wind blowing her skirt up (air intermittently shoots out from underneath her likeness). Also on display is a rare 1955 calendar featuring a topless Monroe, which was the first nude picture of her ever taken and the first nude picture to ever appear in a calendar. She was paid around $80 for the shoot, while the photographers, Tom and Nathalie Kelly, made millions off it.
The second floor is set up in much the same fashion. There’s a vast cornucopia of artifacts, including what can only be described as "sexual daggers." Homoeroticism is explored more here, notably by Sabine Specht, who painted in vivid, vibrant colors. Erotic fairy tales are also given the full treatment, as in frogs and dogs having sex with women. Prominent sex figures like Heinrich Zitte, Henri Monnier (a Frenchman who styled himself as a painter/poet of the unvirtuous life), and Gustave Courbet are given their own little sections, though none were too interesting. Near the back of this floor are a few glass cases containing pieces carved from ivory and tortoiseshell, a practice now vehemently looked down upon. Either by law or by conscience, a sensitive sign is hung near these cases, explaining that the use of tortoiseshell and ivory is a threat to the species that produce them, and that these items are antiques that are exempt from current legislation on the protection of the species.
As you descend the stairs to exit the museum, a sex store is on your left. It was closed when I toured the museum, but from what I could see, it stocked a pretty healthy selection of bondage gear, leather, videos, sex toys, lingerie, torture devices, and an assortment of sex accessories. Off to your right is a neon-lit bar that had a grand total of two girls at it—my friend and the bartender. Keep that in mind, ladies, if you want to stop and have a beer—you will get leered at. I wouldn’t really recommend hanging out here—it looks normal at first glance, and then you start feeling pairs of eyes boring into the back of your head—and I’m a guy! It got especially creepy when we were amusing ourselves looking over the comprehensive selection of adult videos (titles included Teen Town 10, Bondage Burglar, and Crunchy Tits). Put it this way—unless you’re planning on buying something, skip it. This may be a museum, but there were some FREAKS up in here! I guess the video booths didn’t do it for them.
If you’re going to stop by the Erotik-Museum, I suggest doing it before 9pm. That way, you’re more likely to dodge the seedier patrons that may lend the bar area a sketchy vibe. Other than the bar, though, it was just like any museum. Everyday, normal people were there, chuckling at the graphic artwork in front of them. You probably won’t need more than an hour or so to make your way through the whole thing.
The Erotik-Museum is located at Joachimstaler Strasse 4, near the Bahnhof Zoo station. It’s open daily from 9am to midnight, and can be reached at (030) 886 266 13. Admission is 4,50 euros reduced.
After paying admission, ride the see-through glass elevator up to the fourth floor (sorry, this isn’t Willy Wonka’s magical elevator, even if it may look like it). I struck up a conversation with a cool-looking dude with dreadlocks, who introduced himself as Severin. When I had dreads, I hated talking about them, but for some reason I had the urge to just ask him how he was liking them, how long he’d had them, yada yada yada. Severin turned out to be one of the nicest guys I’d met in some time, and we talked about this, that, and the other during the whole tour of the museum. The next night we met up with him at Supa Molli and had a riot.
A brief introduction to the museum outlines the set-up: first, the history of German film is presented from its beginnings to the present in 11 separate stages; then it’s time to "voyage into the artificial worlds of myth, utopia, and special effects." Okay, sounds lovely. You walk down a narrow hallway, and then HOLY SHIT!! Suddenly you find yourself in a large room completely covered in mirrors, with large screens playing movie images and excerpts. No kidding, where’s my light saber—because it felt like The Emperor could be right around the corner, with Darth Vader at his side. This stunning entry way is worth the price of admission alone.
The rest of the museum is just as sharp. The first room you walk into features the earliest days of German film, with oddly shaped partitions shooting out of the walls—some of them housing props, some of them with TV screens on the end, along with the more standard glass cases. Check out the KSB Normal film 33 MM camera from 1923. Give that little button underneath a push, and watch it magically work! Insanity! Some of the important people profiled here are Henny Porten (Germany’s first film star), Fern Andra (American tightrope artist), and Oskar Messter (founding father of German film). There’s also a great diorama, photos, sketches, costumes, and film clips from the perennial college film-class subject The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.
Step into the Weimer Republic era, which focused on expression of anti-republican attitude. People like F. W. Murnau, Fritz Lang, and Ernst Lubitsch are featured here, particularly Lang and his landmark film Metropolis (1927). This film’s exhibit includes prints, movie clips, oversized posters, film photos, the robot suit (awesome!), and the eight bronze figures that served as the design for the stone figures that come to life in the film.
Next is the Transatlantic. During the 1920s, Berlin became the center of European film, but many of its filmmakers and stars went to Hollywood to do German-language versions. Most failed. An interesting piece here is the death mask of F. W. Murnau, which had belonged to Greta Garbo for a long time.
This leads to the beautiful tribute to Marlene Dietrich. There’s nearly four full rooms dedicated to this star of films such as The Blue Angel, Shanghai Nights, and The Scarlet Empress. Don’t miss her traveling luggage, which consists of eight enormous metal cases and a few small ones. Take a few minutes to sit down on one of the seats in the black, circular room that sports images of Dietrich all around it, with film clips playing near the floor and six glassed-in mannequins draped in Dietrich’s signature outfits. This room is spectacular.
The next few rooms find Dietrich in Hollywood, angering her home country by speaking out against Nazism. She supported National Socialism, and was once quoted as saying, "I don’t hate the Germans, I hate the Nazis." There are some great photographs here of Dietrich hobnobbing with U.S. soldiers. Naturally, the end of the Dietrich "wing" marks the start of German propaganda films, made primarily from 1933–45. They are chilling at best.
The last part of the museum focuses on the Post-war to Present era of German film. People such as Angelica Domröse, Manfred Krug, Heinz Rühmann, and Mario Adorf are profiled. As you walk out of this room, you’ll see one of my favorite costumes in the entire museum, the outfit that Franka Potente wore in Run Lola Run. That’s one of my top five movies there y’all. Also on display is the German film prize the movie won in 1999. Right next to it is an illuminated mural of promo posters for the most successful German films, by year, from 1950 to the present. I thought that was a nice final touch.
Across the platform is the second part of the Filmmuseum Berlin, dedicated to the use of visual effects in film to create illusion, and to the work of the great Ray Harryhausen, the revered special-effects guru who was responsible for the groundbreaking effects in films like King Kong, Clash of the Titans, The Golden Voyage of Sinbad, and Jason and the Argonauts. In this cavernous room are actual props and replicas from these films set up in fake environments. For example, one display case has Calibos, Medusa, and Bubo from Clash of the Titans. There’s a neat demonstration of how Medusa was filmed that you should definitely check out. Walking around in this room made me think of all those Saturday afternoons I spent as a kid watching these mythical sci-fi movies over and over.
Sci-fi junkies will love the final room, which is dedicated exclusively to science fiction. Here you’ll find life-size replicas of an Alien and Robocop, as well as Darth Vader’s villainous suit, made up of both replica and actual pieces used during filming. The exhibit explains how George Lucas studied the arsenals of German newsreels and military propaganda dating back to World War II, and later based his story on the pattern of extermination wars, while rolling out the "nerve-racking sounds of Stukas." Among other things, this room also has a large screen showing various film clips, reproduction artwork from Final Fantasy, the mother ship from Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and a replica of a skinned corpse from Anatomy, also starring that hottie Franka Potente.
I ended up spending much more time here than I had planned on, but still left thinking that I should have stayed longer. Everything about the museum was top-notch. Though I’m usually not one to make multiple trips to the same museum, unless there’s a special exhibition, I know that on my next visit to Berlin this will be a repeat stop.
The Filmmuseum Berlin is located at Potsdamer Straße 2 in the Sony Center; telephone (030) 30 09 03 0. Take the U- or S-Bahn to Potsdamer Platz, or Bus #148, 200, 248, or 348 to Varian-Fry-Straße. Admission is 6 euros for adults and 4 euros for students, children, and seniors. It’s open every day except Thursday and Monday from 10am to 6pm, and Thursday from 10am to 8pm. Note the museum is not open on Monday. For more information, visit its website.
Brooklyn, New York