Burners in Berlin

22:23 Paul Robinson 0 Comments

Marcy and I began our trip in Berlin with a vegan lunch at a cafe called Mele Pele. On the short trip from the u-bahn station we saw several vegan places and we were amazed at the popularity of vegan food in Berlin. The food was all freshly prepared and delicious. Whatever is popular in Berlin today will be popular with British hipsters tomorrow and will be everywhere in a few months - just like craft beer, beards and tattoos. The things that are edgy and authentic soon become fashionable and before long, dated.

We hit up the typical tourist sites - the Berlin Wall, Alexanderplatz and the Brandenburg Gate. They are pleasant enough but not the main reason to visit such a creative and open-minded city. Tourist sites are rarely everything they are built up to be.

The temperature in Berlin in January was a soul sapping -12C. I've never felt so cold. I could feel it in my bones and I lost all my energy and enthusiasm. I just wanted my warm bed. The following day I dressed with my pyjamas underneath my normal clothes. The cold wasn't going to beat me! With the tourist sites done, we decided to do something much more interesting - a graffiti tour. We were shown many different styles, discussed the politics and admired the abundant examples of graffiti in Berlin. Burners, stencils, throw-ups, roll downs... I have a new appreciation for how difficult and dangerous some of the pieces were to create.

Its also fascinating to hear how graffiti actually drives the gentrification of an area. Having a famous artwork visible from an apartment will drive up its cost, making it unaffordable to the original people who lived in the area. There are also developers who pay for graffiti works to be placed on their walls. There is a huge debate around authenticity in Berlin.

We were also told about the delightfulness of the German legal system. In English speaking cultures, we tend to value property over life. The moral outrage caused by graffiti means that if you are caught a few times you are likely to end up with a prison sentence. The Germans are a little more pragmatic. Our tour guide was once caught and given a small fine. The fine was calculated by the amount of paint needed to cover the graffiti, the number of minutes it would take a workman to paint over the graffiti plus 0.67 cents. That's it. The 0.67 cents was the cost of the postage stamp on the letter informing the tour guide of his fine. So whilst the rest of the world indulges in another bout of moral outrage, the Germans simply get their tape measure out.

Afterwards we went to a graffiti studio (big empty warehouse) and made our own stencils. The walls were covered in murals - it was very exciting. What's more, I actually seemed to be quite good at it. The tour guide was admiring my background fade and asked me how long I'd been painting. I told him that I'd never picked up a spray can in my life.

The following day we had a really crappy experience at a vegan breakfast. It had lots of rave reviews on Trip Advisor, so we thought the 'Oh La La' cafe would be a safe bet. And because the vegans had been banging on about this  cafe all over the internet, it was very crowded. It wasn't much bigger than a living room, but they had managed to squeeze in over 20 people. It is ironic that the closest I've come to experiencing the life of a battery farmed chicken is in a vegan cafe. I was squashed up against a couple of poor Germans on my left and right. I tried not to hit anyone, but it was difficult. Anyone who has sat next to me in a restaurant knows my left arm needs a bit of swinging room. And then there was the "food". Some of it was reasonable. A lot of it was over-processed attempts at replica food - cheese and meats - including one God-awful specimen that had the taste and appearance of shaving foam. It even had a light blue tinge! They even annihilated the pasta; Marcy refused to even try it. All around me though, the vegans were lapping up this crap. Vegans are so starved of choice they seem to think that choice is equivalent to taste. All the while Marcy was busy laughing at me as I sat uncomfortably with my elbows pressed against rips and tried to force down another mouthful of vegan gunk.

Evidently, I'm not vegan. But I am all for improving my diet and reducing my impact on the planet. I was just a bit disappointed with the food at 'Oh La La' cafe. Whenever I have vegan food that expresses it's own qualities it is lovely. When it tries to be something else it is not always great. The lesson? Be authentic!

Our weekend in Berlin was over far too quickly. I'd really enjoyed my time and felt inspired to be more creative at home. I'd also tried lots of vegan food and learnt what I liked and disliked. We had time for one last meal before our flight. I looked down at my plate and smiled to myself. It had been a great trip and I was thoroughly satisfied to be tucking in to a delicious, authentic Doner Kebab.

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