Mark Espiner : Berlin in a nutshell

A few months back I asked for your views. I wanted your favourite views of Berlin and your response was overwhelming.

Blick in die neue Heimat. Der Brite Mark Espiner erkundet Berlin.
Blick in die neue Heimat. Der Brite Mark Espiner erkundet Berlin.Foto: Thilo Rückeis

A few months back I asked for your views. OK, it’s true, I ask for your views pretty much every time I write here - you know, where can I get the best wurst and so on. But when I last asked for your views I was being very accurate: I wanted your favourite views of Berlin and your response was overwhelming.

Thanks for all your emails and suggestions. It’s taken me a while to work through them and in the process I’ve met up with a few of you, travelled to a few eccentric places and along the way been offered (and accepted) wine, curry and even a personal tour of a museum. I’ve documented most of it on video. Trouble is I’m having such difficulty learning how to edit it. So although I had wanted to offer you my first film, you’ll just have to wait for the online premier of my now doubt Oscar-class master work. In the meantime, though, the links in this piece take you to a few clips on my YouTube site.

Tobias, one of the first to email me, wasn’t the only one to suggest Teufelsberg, it was a favourite for many of you. But he did offer to show me around. So we met at Theodor-Heuss-Platz on bikes and cycled up the hill with him telling me between breaths about the weird history of this rubble peak: the site of a Nazi weapons research centre, later made into a mountain with the bomb damage of Berlin heaped on it and perched on top, like a surreal Mosque overlooking the city, the four golfballs of the US spy centre listening post, now in ruins. Tobias was the perfect guide. He found a hole in the fence, we climbed through and then explored the ruins of the cold war. He told me how he’d visited the DDR spycentre counterpart of this building (as part of his research for this fascinating book). And he told how someone he knew had recorded a saxophone player in the weird acoustics of the huge dome. Graffiti, the detritus of several wild parties and no security guards, Teufelsberg seemed to me like Berlin in a nutshell. I admired the view through its ruins and from the hill itself there was something about Berlin spread out before me with the TV tower in the middle that reminded me of home. See for yourself.

I got back to my flat to find an email in my inbox from Annette and attached to it some spectacular snapshots of a sunset over the city from the roof of her house and the view from the Samariter Kirche, where she worked. She invited me to see the real thing. We tiptoed through the church while a choir gently sang and found the winding stairs that took us right up to the top of the spire. Friedrichshain lay below. “You should see the view from my house over the road, it’s even better” said Annette. How could I refuse? Perhaps I should have. Her roof had no railings and I felt my legs turn to jelly. There was a small ladder that went to the top of a chimney stack - vertigo stopped me going all the way. On our way down, she said her housemates were cooking dinner and would I like to join. It was a fantastic evening, cramped around a kitchen table with 10 people, being served vegetarian curry. Delicious. The conversation ranged over how Prenzlauerberg was being ruined as an area with some residents demanding gated communities, which just wasn’t in the spirit of Berlin, they thought, and how one of them had just been mugged in Kreuzberg for a cigarette. I had, on many of your recommendations, visited Victoria park only the day before, to see the famous cross on the hill that gives the area its name and which many of you told me was a great vantage point. Thankfully I wasn’t mugged while doing so.

Joachim, though, had some other tales from Kreuzberg and he shared them with me when I met him at Schönholz station a few days later. He told me how in the hard days after the war you’d take left over food to the dairy in Kreuzberg to feed the horses and get firewood in return. We were on our way to see Joachim’s best Berlin view in Lübars. A brief car ride from the station and we seemed to be in the countryside. “This place” he said, with a wide gesture over the Alte Fasanerie at Quickborner Strasse, “used to be the limit of west Berlin”. From the hill we had just climbed I looked out over the flat green land and imagined the wall - the outer wall that cut West Berlin off from the countryside - that he conjured up. He told me how it was now a place to sledge and ski in winter; I made a mental note. It was idyllic, but turn around and the view from the other side was as urban as it gets: a grim housing estate in gleaming concrete. Apparently the Märkisches Viertel has quite a reputation -I’d be surprised if that’s on account of its architecture.

It reminded me, though, of this picture of Marzahn that Tobias (not Teufelsberg Tobias, a different one) sent me. He said that it was great to enjoy this view while having a picnic. It didn’t strike me as the perfect picnic place (or, from the picture at least, the best time of day for one). I’ve yet to visit it, but I am curious...

Perhaps a better mealtime view, though, was the one from the canteen at the top of  TU-Hochhaus on Ernst-Reuter-Platz. @Uwesinah suggested that to me on Twitter, but advised against drinking any coffee there. What a spot for a canteen. From here I could start to connect the dots of the places I had seen, and I even thought I could make out the old gun tower at Volkspark Humboldthain which Keith had shown me - and several others of you had suggested - as his favourite viewpoint.

Seeing the city from so many high up and unexpected places was spectacular. It showed Berlin with several different faces, even if the TV tower featured in pretty much every view. But in all my travels, hill climbing and ladder scaling it wasn’t the highpoints that proved to be the highpoint. In fact, they didn’t necessarily give you the best view of Berlin. That came from the Berliners. The generous, hospitable Berliners. The best view of Berlin, I thought, is the people who live here. What you chose to show me wasn’t the tourist traps or squeaky clean side, but the personal, the unusual and the revealing. Thank you.

So after the highpoints, I’m now wanting to dig deep into squat culture. We used to hear all about squats in Berlin, but I have the feeling that they are fast disappearing. Any tips?

You can email Mark Espiner at mark@espiner.com with any suggestions and follow him on twitter at @deutschmarkuk.

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