Standing only a few hundred miles away from the border of Poland and the capital of the Czech Republic, Berlin is a city sat architecturally and historically on the fault lines between the East and the West. The last century has sculpted this city more than any other, with the resulting body of streets and buildings, and its character, a demonstration of how a city wields its assemblage of influence and has then strove for a significant break away, seeking individuality and modernity.
Berlin is an exciting city, released from the cultural shackles that contain and restrict other great capitals, where costless experience is a norm rather than a rarity. Only in the last few months has the German government acted upon the incredible rise in rent and living costs in Berlin, becoming the first and most prominent example of a major European city to introduce rent caps. Berlin’s rent caps are very welcome to its inhabitants, who feel their city is becoming increasingly unaffordable.
This refreshing spirit that encapsulates Berlin, of a city taking on the past as an affordable and unique home for the future, is symbolised by the extraordinary Tempelhofer Park, previously named Berlin Tempelhof Airport. The Airport, constructed almost 100 years ago, has been used for many purposes throughout its history; the birthplace for Lufthansa, a concentration camp, and the site for the famous Berlin airlift between 1948-1949. In 1996 the airport was closed and its commercial usage was terminated, with the Berliners finally voting in the 2008 referendum for its permanent closure, and in 2013 the first trees were planted for the development of the park. Now, in 2015, it stands as the city’s finest example of freedom, in leisure and sports, the building of a new natural environment, and the home for pioneering and creative projects.
The airfield, though, is one of the more recent illustrations of Berlin’s free nature, with residents and visitors alike experiencing the 25 year old, but ever contemporary, East Side Gallery. At over a kilometre long, the gallery stretches along the remnants of the Berlin Wall, comprising over 100 paintings from an international selection of artists. The paintings document the joy of change and freedom in the city and the world following the events of 1989. The gallery is as it should be, in the open air and along a busy street, Mühlenstraße. Its position of exposure reflects itself as a representation of a changing world, as tourists gather to admire the artwork, while commuters take a quick glance across as the colours of their city flutter past, its originality is pressed against the mundane.
Moving north, the gallery ends, but the fragments and lines of the wall continue into Mitte, and then Prenzlauer Berg, home to Mauerpark. The park, a large open space in this dense part of the city, is a hub of life, and a mixing pot of culture. Relatively unkempt, the park appears rugged and used, and like many of the parks in Berlin, its presentation is not an exhibition, but a reflection of unconstrained autonomy. On Sundays the park is brimming with people, and the air is saturated with the smells and sounds of the flea market, with its huge range of items for sale, from clothes to bikes, food to books. Whilst ambling through the market, amongst its relative calm, the uproar of cheer and applause is unexpected, coming from the stone amphitheatre across the park. Along with the flea market, and various other events, Mauerpark is host to the Bearpit Karaoke, where thousands of people come to watch as brave singers take to the stage. A fantastic family event, with a wide range of abilities and ages taking part and a rapturous audience, combines into a euphoric experience. Like Templehofer Park and the East Side Gallery, the Bearpit Karaoke is free, free from cost, and free in the way that Berlin signifies, for its culture and its people.