Thursday, August 2, 2012

A Walking Tour of Neukölln

We were once again fortunate in having a personal tour guide for another adventure in Berlin. Johanna, a recent PhD in German Studies, was going to be in Berlin one of the days we were, and offered to take us on a walking tour of the immigrant neighborhood of Neukölln where (by some counts) approximately 20% of the population is non-German, and half of that population is Turkish.

Arriving in Hermannplatz station, Johanna meets us, and locks up her bike as we stare up at the statue of the "Dancing Couple" in the graffiti-ed and gritty square.  As any good guide would, Johanna wants to gauge our interest and stamina before we start out.

"das tanzende Paar" ...

"I usually begin with one of the cemeteries in the area but if you..."

"I LOVE cemeteries," I interject and realizing we need no persuasion, she heads for the cemetery of the St. Jacobi Church Parish, a lovely patch of lush green and crumbling tombstones.  I particularly liked this one on the right:

We move from the cemetery to Rixdorf, the old section of Neukölln, site of an original Moravian/Bohemian village and on Richardplatz, the oldest continuously operating blacksmith’s shop from 1624 — even more astonishing than its past, is its present because inside, two females are busy at work! 

I am fascinated by the doors, doorknobs, and windows I see everywhere and the seemingly quaint lifestyle all around us.  People biking and walking with their children and their cloth bags of food — it feels very different from where we live. Yes, there are cars, but it's clear that not everyone is driving around from here to there to here.  And I never see anyone rushing!  

While there is "decay" and deterioration, that makes living affordable for artists and others who are seeking to be in Berlin at affordable prices, there is also preservation and the inevitable construction (Frank has told us, "Berlin is ALWAYS under construction") that will cause prices to rise.  Even though it's not a "flea market day," luckily we happen upon a small one with things getting soaked in the rain.  While Chris and Johanna peruse boxes of old postcards of Berlin and find some wonderful images inside, I'm delighted to search for something special (though limited by what I can cart around the rest of the vacation and then home) in the crowded outdoor stalls.   I rule out most things that attract me (breakable/not sure if so-and-so will like it/do I really need another pitcher/picture?) but cannot leave behind two small black frames that look quite plain and boring from the front, but when flipped over reveal that they have been handmade by someone.  The backs of the frames are cut-outs from what Johanna translates are salt boxes and feature these jolly German chefs.  At one Euro for both, these frames are a steal — and easy to transport.  I intend to hang them face-side out!

The continuing rain pushes us to head for lunch earlier than expected and we are delighted to have a Turkish meal.  After all, it's the closest to Armenian food I'm going to find — and the food at Hasir is unbelievably good.  The pureed eggplant, the lamb, the kuftehs were just delicious — but the dessert — oh my God, the dessert was outstanding.  It was kunefe, a baked concoction of crunchy-sweet shredded wheat, honey-syrup, and nuts, with gooey melted cheese inside — as good as the "kinaffeh" of my childhood.  Sure wish you could've been there...  (Thanks Johanna!)

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