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An alternative guide to Berlin

An alternative guide to Berlin


The alleys and backwaters of the German capital are a rich source of inspiration, and a means of communion with dear-departed talent. Pointing the way: singer-songwriter Lauren Napier.

Left Nico, right Ramones Museum.


Entering the S-Bahn, I quickly noticed that the lights were off and a grey had settled over the traincar: an unusual occurrence at midday in Berlin, but suitable for visiting Nico’s grave. She rests in a former suicide cemetery. Here she is kept company by: her mother; suicides that washed ashore the Havel over a hundred years ago; Russian prisoners of war; and unknown German soldiers. Though incongruent with her life of fame as an Andy Warhol creation — a character in the cast of Chelsea Girls or a resident of the Velvet Underground realm — there is something apt about her final surroundings. The mature trees enrobe and embrace. And the myriad of personalities beneath the soil mirrors the societal outcasts and rebels once present on the 5th floor of a Manhattan building.


Born to die in Berlin, or so the museum’s tagline declares. The notion of death invites the implication of a fading, a forgetting. The presence of the Ramones is far from succumbing to such fates. There is not an inch of blank space upon these walls: visiting musicians from MURS to Frank Turner to CJ Ramone have signed from floor to ceiling; Joey’s entertainment centre once filled a wall in his New York apartment and now calls Berlin home; Dee Dee’s shoes have found their last tour stop. Armchairs, and an endless queue of Ramones’ footage, provide the backdrop for coffee and pastries or, if you prefer, whisky and a slice of vegan cake. Perfection can come at the modest price of simple chords and small spaces.

Left Coretex, right Teufelsberg.


The record stores in Berlin are more divided than others in other cities in my experience. Techno resides at Hardwax or SpaceHall. Wowsville has all the rockabilly or garage vinyl a collection may desire. But CoreTex refuses to reveal a softer side: T-shirts printed with unapologetic “fucks” and anti-racist slogans; the dull thud of records being browsed, resounds. The Adolescents. Subhumans. Conflict. Total Chaos. They all await within the walls of CoreTex. Here is where I allow myself to give a nod to Penny Lane and to pay a visit when things get too serious or the city gets too lonely.


Devil’s mountain. Where spies once built their homes amongst the clouds over Grunewald, the crumbling buildings and sonic domes have housed an NSA Cold War listening station, a squat and artists’ community, and the possibility of David Lynch’s meditation college. The hill is artificially made from post-war rubble: a spy station hovering over the remains of an earlier Berlin. The walls are now covered in street art and the dome’s balconies are a playground for those with blankets, jazz cigarettes and curiosity about what watches — and watched — over the city. It’s oddly quiet up here for a place meant to steal secrets.

Left Death, right Risiko.


Half an hour prior, this Polaroid camera was happily resting in the Ramones’ museum. While enjoying a whisky and humming along to "Pretty Vacant", the fellow behind the bar, or vocalist in Gang Zero depending on the time of day, shares that Death is playing their first show in Berlin, a band wrapped in a gossamer of myth and musical mysticism. Arguably, the first punk band. Undeniably, living legends. The audience was present this evening: dreadlocks thrashing in the periphery, a GBH patch blurring due west, a couple kissing as they caught a guitar pick. Death resurrected what some call a dead genre. Magicians enlivening their craft. Death brought their 70s authenticity to the creative chaos of Berlin, which has been under construction since the formation of the genre.


Ignore the ticket office that now lives here. Picture, instead, a 1989 Berlin that had just been gifted with the presence of the Birthday Party. Nick Cave is slouching on the bar. Blixa Bargeld is tending the bar. Nina Hagen is parading around the bar. Today, it is nondescript, but guarded by two stone vixens: a cold homage to the Baudelairean temple it is rumoured to have been. Revisiting for this article, I met three young men from the Dominican Republic. Standoffish at first but, with the click of instant film and a seemingly odd interest in a storefront, they exchange stories and smirks — somehow echoing the tempting creative spirit and unlikely pairings that once were here.

Left Prima Donna, right Street Art.


Here, the sweat on your arm never seems to be entirely your own. Here, the drinks are always poured a little strong. Here, the chainsmoker in the corner is joined, not shunned. Here, a narrow space makes seeing the band difficult. And yet, it does not matter. It is a dive bar where a disco ball dangles in waves of audio distortion. You leave with your ears ringing and a new layer of grit, but you leave with a lightened load, lessened by electric guitars sounding internal thoughts.


Street art and graffiti is an artistic conversation with passers-by. From U-bahns to apartment buildings, Berlin is cloaked in spray paint. Dxtrxn’s latest paste-up motif around the city features an alien face: a disembodied paper head glue around Berlin. Perhaps the portrait is a nod to how one can feel like a bit of an outsider: alienated. Perhaps it is a nod to how dxtrxn’s own eccentricities make him feel within city walls. Whatever the accurate bend of the artist’s philosophy, he invites you to look up and create a narrative.