June 21 – Berlin
Our final roaming day. Time to see another side of Berlin. Time for an authentic Berlin experience. Time to roam away from the tourist hot spots and see how the locals do it. Time to see another face of this city.
We set out this morning, with my cousin Lisa, to visit another part of the city, to roam with the locals and experience a blend of cultures. Off to the train, a ride on the underground, a change of stations and then we emerged into a very different part of the city, to visit the Turkish Market. This market operates three days a week and sits within Berlin’s Turkish community. This part of the city is a vibrant blend of German and Turkish cultures, with many Turkish businesses and a lot of dual Turkish and German language visible around the streets on signs and shops. We waded into the tide of people walking the strip of stalls and vendors and we were surrounded by the most amazing sights, sounds and smells.
“Angebot, angebot, angebot, angebot” chanted the men on their stalls.
We walked past spice sellers and the pungent aroma washed over us as we edged through the swell of the crowd. I breathed in and took deep breaths of those spices. Mmmmmm, it was amazing. The smells, the produce, the food, the fabrics, it was all just wonderful. I watched the banter between stall holders and a group of three men on adjacent stalls. One would start chanting, to attract customers, another would start his chanting and add clapping to it, grinning widely, almost singing his chant as he clapped a rhythm to the passing foot traffic. Then the third man added a dance. He took up his chant and began bobbing up and down and swivelling left and right as he danced and grinned and chanted to bring in his trade. I mean, brilliant! Just brilliant! Down the length of the stalls we edged our way, then around the corner and back up the other side. More stalls, more amazing sights, surrounded by Turkish culture here in Berlin. Another man at his stall was smiling to a customer who was edging close to his stall. The customer smiled, as the smallholder began, “Come my friend, it’s OK, I speak English. I need the money. It’s OK, I speak seven languages and I’m now learning Chinese. Come my friend!” The customer smiled, the stall holder smiled as he simultaneously put fruit in a bag for the person he was serving, while also attracting and reassuring the passing potential customers that he could serve them easily and they could give him their trade. It was all fabulous.
We decided to find something for lunch and sit beside the river, so back into the tide we went and walked the length of the stalls again. Steve found a potato vendor and loaded his cooked potato with all manner of toppings, I chose some hummus and bread and fruit, while Lisa gathered containers of tabouli and salads and we went in search of somewhere to sit amongst the sea of people. No luck beside the river, but then we passed a stall selling Turkish tea and Turkish lemonade that had tiny little stools, under the curtain of fabrics beside it. Lisa spoke to the woman in German and asked, if we bought drinks, could we sit and eat at the little tables and stools. I didn’t understand the words of the reply, but I understood the message. The woman swept her hands across the little seating area, smiled and gave a “no problem” expression. She had told us, of course we could sit. Of course we could use the space. We asked for some lemonade, which the lady handed us as we settled into the little stools and arranged our picnic around us. I stood to pay for the drinks and waited for the lady to finish a conversation with her stall holder neighbour. When I handed her the coins, she said something in German. Lisa translated for me. “She said don’t stress about paying.” So the lady had happily let us take up her space, then gave us drinks and wasn’t fussed at all about it. She just let us sit, eat and obviously trusted that we would pay for the drinks at some stage and she wasn’t worried at all, she just handed us the cups and went on with a conversation, not bothered at all. It was lovely.
The food was great, then we took ourselves across the market to a cafe for a cup of tea and sat outside at a table, watching the people passing, the banter of the stall holders again and talked and talked, while taking in the amazing surroundings of the Turkish Market and the sights and sounds of the culture within it. It was a fantastic experience and one of those things we love to do. We mingled with the locals. We could leave the tourist feeling behind and immerse ourselves in a street market, shopping for food along with all the other Berliners and the Turkish families and feel just a little bit like a local. We love to blend in with life in a place and this vibrant market within this Turkish community allowed us to do that. It was great to feel a part of the place.
After this experience, we then decided to see Berlin from a different perspective and we hopped aboard one of the boats along the river and took in the city from the water. We cruised along, looking at the buildings and parks and the contrasts between the different areas within the city.
We sat beside a man and a little boy who were enjoying watching the scenery go by. As the boat came alongside the Reichstag, the man grew very excited and asked us to take his photo, with his little son, with the parliament building behind them. Steve snapped the picture and the man beamed, very happy with the photo. He then chatted to us and told us he was here from Iraq, with his son. His son was about to start first grade school in Iraq in three months and he had told his son, if he works hard and learns, he would have this trip. The man himself had lived in Germany for seven years, but the rest of his family were still in Iraq.
“I go back to Kirkuk in three days,” he said, “it is very hard. My son likes it here. He plays with the children. We go back and it is not secure. You walk outside and never know what will happen.” He said in three years he would be able to bring his wife to Germany as well. It was a reminder of what we take for granted. They made phone calls and spoke to family back in Iraq, as they sat on the boat taking in the sights of Berlin, with the little boy speaking to his mother and sister in Kirkuk as the ducks swam past and the music from the festival along the river bank drifted across the water. This man was sitting in the peace of Berlin, in the sunshine with his young son who was excitedly pointing at passing trains, the ducks in the water and all was peaceful and fun. Life in a few days time would be very different. It also struck me that of all the places we had passed on the boat, the one thing the man got excited about and wanted a photo taken with his son, was the Reichstag, the parliament building, the seat of government. It seemed like such a mark of respect, to be excited about the place that had given him a different home and a haven of peace. The contrast between this life in Germany and the life in Kirkuk really gave me pause. How much we take this peace and freedom for granted. Here was a lovely man, who sat and talked to us and talked to Lisa in German about her life in Berlin, having come from another country too, and I just kept thinking of the difficulties and challenges he would return to in Iraq. Another reminder to never take what we have for granted. To always be grateful for the peace, safety and tranquility of the life we have. To not have to utter the man’s words, “It is not secure. You never know what will happen.” We are so lucky.
We hopped off the boat and took the train back to the apartment and I people watched again. More sights of the casual, laid back, easy going city were all around me. Lisa told us that after the war and the terrible history people had lived through, subsequent generations have made an effort to be the opposite of the behaviour of the past. From the militaristic past, they set out to be very different from their parents’ generation. In the 60’s and 70’s, Berlin attracted a lot of artists and musicians and a vibrant hippie community established itself. The results of this time are what we see today in that casual, relaxed atmosphere. There has been a determination to be the opposite of the past. What Berlin has now, is a culture of relaxed ease, of welcoming others, of being unfussed by appearances. What might have been regimented in the past, is today laid back and casual. It’s a city that has incredible contrasts from the past and today. It’s an amazing city. A city that has busted my preconceived ideas in the best possible way. A city where it is easy to be at ease.
We have had an amazing time in Berlin. We have roamed and learned and mingled with locals, feeling a part of a vibrant, yet relaxed city. We have had wonderful, special times with a cousin who had only been a face in a photograph to me, but is now a special part of my family who I have connected with so wonderfully. Berlin gave us a lot. Lucky and grateful once again.
Time to move on. New horizons before us. New places to explore. Some changes to come. Tschüss Berlin. Bye.