Month: January 2015

Berlin rudeness? Much ado about nothing

Admittedly, Berlin isn’t exactly famous for its friendliness. Just try taking a bus ride through the capital. But even the city’s rude bus drivers can be good for an occasional surprise.

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Warning: What follows may be shocking for sensitive non-Berliners.

“How long does it take to Alexanderplatz station?” a tourist asked the driver of the Tegel Airport express bus.

“If more people go on asking stupid questions like you, it will definitely take a very long time,” replied the driver. It was 9 a.m.; the beginning of a typical Berlin day on the bus.

For those living in this city, similar scenes have already become routine. On a good-mood day, you might even chuckle at this behavior. But for a foreigner, or even a Berliner with no tolerance for “funny” dialogues, this is a nightmare.

Welcome to Berlin!

The rude bus driver phenomenon is, in fact, so blatant that the Berlin Senate invested 200,000 euros in a campaign aimed at convincing government employees and people in the service sector that good manners should be part of their job.

The Berlin campaign “Herz und Schnauze” (“Heart and Snout”), aka the “Friendliness Offensive,” began a few years ago, in an effort to spread the idea that Berliners are actually kind-hearted people. They just can’t do anything about their loud mouths. In other words, if you ask for directions and get the reply, “Do I look like an information desk to you?” don’t get angry. Feel welcome.

You have to be gifted with a cranky sense of humor indeed, in order to understand the local philosophy of service orientation. Hence, as city authorities came up with the idea that not all nations are as “talented” in terms of wittiness as the inhabitants of Planet Berlin, they made policemen, street cleaners and people in transport wear badges with “I” for “info” on the, spread maps and basically be all smiles with whoever should need their advice.

But you can’t just be what you’re not, right? Apparently, some bus drivers got even angrier about the newly imposed task. I mean, what would you think, if you got on the bus one day and the chauffeur screamed at you to get off, because he doesn’t feel like driving a crowded coach?

Sometimes, people just back off scared and wait for the next one. But often, such dialogues end up with loud altercations or even threats from the passengers. “I have connections, you’re going to lose your job, you beep…beep…idiot,” answered one particular passenger after having been sworn at for blocking the bus driver’s view through the rear mirror. Some commuters were nodding their heads approvingly; others were laughing out loud.

I doubt, though, that the former German Minister for Economy, Michael Glos, in 2009 found it funny when confronted with a real-life example of the capital’s friendliness. He was stopped by a policeman because he had been driving too fast. When the minister mentioned a state visit as an excuse for being in a hurry, the officer apparently replied, “I don’t give a damn.”

Berlin politeness: coming soon

Taxi drivers, on the other hand, always give a damn about your destination. I landed in Berlin late at night after a business trip and took a taxi home. “You’re kidding me,” the driver snapped. “Have I been waiting in line for two hours, in order to take you to the city centre? I must earn money; I can’t afford wasting my time with such short trips.”

My “short” trip was actually about five kilometers (about 3 miles). My tip was conspicuously absent.

In Berlin, it’s easy to get confused. The other day, a group of students asked a bus driver (in German) if he was going to the airport. At first, he was too busy to reply. When the students asked again, he gave them a bored “Yes” while indicating with a sweep of his hand that they should move along. Fortunately for them, I had witnessed the scene and could tell them the bus was actually going in the exact opposite direction from the airport.

As a matter of fact, the city’s former mayor, Klaus Wowereit was right when he said Berlin is poor but sexy. For 2.60 euros – the price of a bus ticket – you can get a two-in-one offer: a ride and a show courtesy of Berlin’s entertaining bus drivers.

And, like first-class entertainers, they’re also good for a surprise. One morning when I got on the bus, something seemed to be going seriously wrong. “This is the famous new railway station,” “You can see the German Parliament on the other side,” “Three minutes to the next station,” said a mild voice through the loudspeakers.

Berlin is still a beloved destination with over 10,5 million tourists a year

Everyone on the bus started murmuring, “What’s wrong with him? Is he crazy?” The gentleman who had been told by the driver, “Good morning sir, have a nice day!” suspiciously looked back over his shoulder with a stunned expression on his face.

To this day, I haven’t been able to find out what had gotten into that bus driver. Maybe he was the only one taking notes during the city’s friendliness campaign. Or maybe he was just having a good day. But it definitely wasn’t the show everyone had expected.

Maybe Berliners have a point: What’s the point of being polite and friendly if no one appreciates it?

Lavinia Pitu-Schwartz

Previously published on http://www.dw.de/english

Be on vogue! Be Berlin!

The fashion weeks in Paris and New York are all about Dior and Chanel. But here in Berlin, we’re done with the present. We’re making fashion for the future.

Berlin fashion, be en vogue, be Berlin

By:Isabel Da Silva Azevedo

“Berlin is so avant-garde, you really have to be good in order to make it here,” I was told by a designer at a past edition of Berlin Fashion Week. It’s time that international fashionistas showed their avant-garde ideas again to the world; autumn/winter 2015 collections are on show in Berlin through January 23.

For the retailers, designers, trend-seekers, and fashion journalists here, it’s not what’s on the inside that counts: Clothes, shoes and accessories are in the spotlight. For everyone here, crises and wars have ceased to exist, at least for a few days.

And even though the catwalks in Berlin are still unknown territory for the big established labels, we are already one step further here. Berlin is producing trends for your future.

And Chinese designer Yujia Zhai-Petrow knows it. That’s why she created her label 1913 Berlin in Germany’s capital rather than in London, New York or Hong Kong, where her cashmere sports and luxury clothes have already been seen.

“Berlin is definitely the future, because despite the fact that the Germans are known for setting rules, there are no rules whatsoever when it comes to art,” she told me. “Berlin is freedom.”

Did I mention it’s all about the future?

The future just can’t do without the crème de la crème of German designers, so the spotlights are shining this week among others on the decadent lines of Augustin Teboul and on the fluid, laissez faire creations of Kaviar Gauche.

German fashion star Guido Maria Kretschmer, whose dresses hang in the wardrobes of Charlize Theron and Karolina Kurkova, will also present his newest creations on the catwalk. The collection is still a surprise, but we already know that plenty of VIPs will be gracing the front row at the show.

The shoe must go on

After seeing some of the shows, my feeling is that this is the most fantastical Fashion Week yet in Berlin. I felt like the designers were screaming out loud, “Be free!” “Be brave!” “Be daring!” In other words, greet the autumn with an explosion of color, metallic details, romantic satin, unlikely pattern combinations, conspicuous headgear. And all these outfits are paired with the mandatory, indispensable, high-high-high heels.

Berlin wouldn’t be Berlin without its eco buffs. Green fashion is on the menu at the Green Showroom and the Ethical Fashion Show, pointing out that glamour and sustainability don’t have to be a contradiction in terms.

More high-high-high heeled shoes and trendy clothes can be found at the trade shows Premium, Panorama, Show & Order and Bright.

So, what to wear next? Anything – as long as you choose a feel-good-about-myself style and let yourself flow with passion for fashion. Put it out there, like the Berliners do. And above all, dress for the future.

Lavinia Pitu-Schwartz

Previously published on http://www.dw.de/english

Dating Berlin. An introduction to madness.

Most of the people I know in Berlin are no Berliners. And that’s not because I dislike the locals, but because it’s rather difficult to find them. My city is the city of everyone.

Berlin, Get lost, Dating Berlin

It was one of those perfect early weekend mornings, when you get out of the club and can smell the fresh air again. I opted to walk home, even though it took an eternity, instead of calling a cab or waiting for the subway. That was the moment when I started dating my city.

Berlin is mean. Every encounter is a new experience and, once trapped, you never want to leave again. I didn’t find a crumbling Colosseum on my way that morning, neither did I see an Eiffel Tower, or anything else that impresses at first glance. Instead, the smell of the cafes still open at 5 am, tired ravers ordering the famous after-party Berliner Currywurst at a corner stand, bizarre pieces of art in gallery windows, remains of the Berlin Wall turned into a canvas for graffiti – block after block, it slowly got under my skin. It was a feeling that outdid any Paris or Rome.

It happens to all the people I know: They move here and inevitably fall in love with the city.

It’s the imperfection

After visiting Berlin, a friend of mine decided to sell his flat in the US and move here. He had no plans, no apartment, and no job. But he had Berlin and that was enough. A Swedish friend of mine got a great job in London after spending a few years in Berlin. She earns much more than she did here, but is still desperately looking for any reason to come back to live in her old neighborhood again.

Another woman I know moved here from West Germany, right after the fall of the Berlin Wall. “It’s the imperfection of this city that I love – the chaos that makes it so special,” she told me. And to quote some famous Berlin fans, the guys from Depeche Mode, one could describe this madness as “No strings attached, just free love.”

Berlin makes you become someone else every day, just to adapt to its myriad facets. A journey from nonconformist Prenzlauer Berg, where you have to stand out to fit in, along the extravagant-trashy Mitte district, and ending in fancy Charlottenburg is like a trip around the world – a very inexpensive one.

One minute, Berlin is so German and the next minute it’s everything else: Russian, French, American, British, Turkish, Polish. And sooner or later it turns German again.

The best part is, here you can be anything, without being judged for it. I once heard someone on the local radio saying that Berlin is the place where you don’t know if something is a piece of art or a piece of garbage.

Flexibility required

And you have to be an artist, indeed, to appreciate thousands of paradoxes that make up this city. Here, you can spend an evening at the opera and later go to a sassy fashion show, organized in a church. You can go to a rundown bar and then have dinner at a restaurant just a few meters away, where the brand of your scarf will suspiciously be eyed for authenticity.

Leave on holiday for two weeks and your beloved bakery will turn into a shoe shop, your apartment building will start getting refurbished and the metro you usually take to work won’t be running for the next five months, due to construction work.

I had an Italian colleague at the university in Berlin who couldn’t speak a word of German (we studied in English). Well, just one word, actually: He could perfectly pronounce the tongue-twister Schienenersatzverkehr. It means that some alternative means of transport are substituting the metro you had been counting on because the rails are currently under construction. It also means your morning commute will be a nightmare. I guarantee it will be one of the first words you learn when you move to Berlin.

Love affair with the past

Berlin is someone else’s past meeting your future. And the best place to witness that is at the flea markets. Everything related to the socialist regime is more than trendy here: plastic kitchen utensils, empty boxes of washing powder, even worn-out 30-year-old shoes. In Berlin, GDR sells.

Nevertheless, Berlin is not entirely monogamous in its love affair with the past: There’s a market for new ideas, too. In Berlin you can even make money selling paper eyeglasses made of recycled cardboard – which have no lenses and, basically, no practical use whatsoever. A few years ago, a young Berliner started wearing them at parties, just for fun, and soon they created near hysteria in the city’s hottest clubs. Now, his so-called “Pappbrille” are a viable business.

Sometimes, this city is such a jumbled concoction that it can overwhelm. A local photographer once said, “I have to take Berlin in small doses, so I can digest it”.

But I’m still grabbing any opportunity to date my city. I’m ready for its imperfection and its nasty moods; I’m even ready for Schienenersatzverkehr and construction sites, as long as I have this beautifully arranged chaos, where garbage is art and vice versa.

It’s been a few years now and I’m far from getting bored.

Lavinia Pitu-Schwartz
Previously published on http://www.dw.de/english

This is…

Berlin skyline

Drawing by Sarah Uhlenbruch

It’s like an endless affair – revolting, mean, wrong, but equally magnetic, sexy, enticing. It’s where everything goes wrong just to hook you even more. It’s where always someone has the first idea. It’s where garbage means art and vice-versa. It’s where you have to stand out in order to fit in. It’s where you feel hot in the middle of the most annoying winter. It’s where you can get your moment of peace within chaos and experience anarchy in the country of the rules. It’s where religion is freedom but foremost…freedom is religion.

This is BERLIN.

Newcomers, connoisseurs, addicts, visitors, future visitors, BONJOURBERLIN is for you. I’ve been having this affair for quite a while. Somehow I feel it’s time I shared its best-kept secrets with you. Have a peep. But watch out: once hooked, no other place on earth will be good enough for you.