Last summer I spent two months in Berlin, wandering the city and writing about it for a travel guide being put together by a team of young people (myself included). From roller-skating discos to swimming in my undies, I tried to experience as much of Berlin as possible and during one of my wanderings, I stumbled into Café Valentin.
Best described as a shabby-chic living room, this café is eclectic to say the least. Modestly stationed amidst apartments in the Kreuzberg district, Café Valentin opened in 2012 and offers a myriad of Swedish treats, such as sticky sweet Kanelbullar (cinnamon rolls). The threadbare carpets underfoot, wooden slats and rose pink walls give it a homely feel – including the bath in the washroom. Discreet tunes hum in the background as patrons contemplate having one of the many teas on offer or a Blåbärssoppa (sweet bilberry juice). Fresh flowers mark each unique coffee table, while a sassy portrait of Kate Bush watches over you from her position on the wall. I’m a sucker for the coffeehouse scene and Café Valentin easily became one of my favourites.
Mirroring my frequent stops in cafés were my visits to museums. From the Technology Museum to the Stasi’s old offices, Berlin had many to choose from and yet the me Collector’s Room snagged a high spot in my top ten.
This eclectic (seeing a theme here?) and often perplexing space, found on charming Auguststraße, makes you appreciate its name “moving energies” (me). Settled comfortably in the Mitte district, this untraditional gallery spans over two floors. The ground floor hosts temporary exhibitions that candidly challenge preconceptions of contemporary issues and of art itself. Upstairs is an extensive assortment of private art donated by Thomas Olbricht, a German chemist and doctor of medicine. This permanent exhibition includes Wunderkammer, a cabinet of curiosities. These cabinets were begun to indicate a lust for knowledge and adventure, a concept originating from the Baroque and Renaissance period. Essentially it is a fusion of peculiar objects, including a 235cm narwhal tusk, a sphere crafted out of interlinking mice skulls, an Edu (Japanese siren) created from fish skin, teeth and claws, as well as a 19th century shrunken head and a figurine of a dissected pregnant woman. Be prepared to walk out stunned and not all too sure what you just saw.
Berlin hosts many spaces that have the habit of grabbing you by the brain and shaking you with all its might until any fixed definitions and classifications you have are mocked into oblivion. And the abandoned ballroom in Grünau is such a space. Squatting on the riverside of a lovely suburban town, this boarded up building is left in a state of rotting grandeur, an open challenge to curious travellers and amateur adventurers to explore. A challenge eagerly taken up by my friend and I. After climbing through an opening in a bush and stumbling around in the overgrown garden, we soon realise that there is no sign directing us to the ballroom. So we scout around the building and find a wrenched open door and wander on in. However, we decide it would be in our best interests to not venture further into the pitch black basement and make a hasty retreat. Luckily our sense of adventure is spared from knowing defeat when we find a gap in the upper levels and clamour on in. Dirt and debris greet us, but we continue undeterred. And then we find it.
With the paint peeling free of the ceiling and graffiti reclaiming the walls, the ballroom glamour still peeks through, quietly mirroring modern day Berlin. At first we just stand at the entrance and allow our gazes to leisurely linger over every detail of the room. Silent, I imagine dancers laughing and swirling, with observers smoking over glasses of champagne while reality withdraws temporarily, to be dealt with in the new day. Despite holding such a prominent position on the riverside, the abandoned grandeur of the ballroom stands as another example of how Berlin fluidly melds the past with the politically hedonistic present.