Pussy Cat Pussy Cat Where Have You Been

You may have been wondering what’s happened to me, many have, as I have received a many emails inquiring of my existence, and whether it persists.

From Amsterdam, I made the jump to Berlin. After hearing that it was good for artists I caught the overnight bus. I still do not like buses, and am looking forward to owning a vehicle to travel Europe.

I had an absolute nightmare with my mobile phone the day before my departure from Amsterdam. Details are not worth the space.

I will say that mobile phone companies are outright thieves, have no customer service, and just utterly fail to provide any decent and cost effective service when travelling between countries.

Berlin is huge, like London, but far more open. It has bountiful green parks, rivers and canals and reasonable support for cyclists. But, it is somewhat ugly. You can glimpse some of its former grandeur along Unter der Lindon, starting at the Brandenburg Gate. But much of Berlin was erased during the war, and what remained left to neglect. I think there was a time when Berlin could have been described as I do London; imperial. Imposing, grand and on a super human scale. Berlin is also odd in that there are no sky scrapers. It also lacks any central focus to the city.

Berlin is wonderful with its extensive urban decay. This means many studios, and cheap places. But you’d better be quick, the developers are moving in.

Squat spaces are a more common phenomenon here in Europe, but are fast disappearing as else where in the Western world, as the developers are just salivating over those undeveloped yuppie studio apartments in those old industrial areas. Many of the squats are no more, as the police violently removed the squatters. Its still possible in Amsterdam, but becoming more tricky. I saw some of the squaters in action before I left.

Berlin is unique, in that, it is a large city, but still very cheap. Owing to its history Berlin has been on hold for 60 years. It means its great for artists to live and work, but not so good to make money. You have to take your art to the other larger cities to sell. That’s where the money is.

Bicycles and dogs abound in Berlin. Including the copious amounts of dog crap, so watch your step. The city is absolutely huge, and you need a bicycle to get about, that is, if it doesn’t get stolen. You could alternatively ride the trains, trams and buses for free, as there are no gates and very few inspectors, but the fines are not cheap.

I made my first definite action to set up in Berlin, and bought an awesome mountain bike very cheaply from a shop run by old German men who could not speak English. They had to get the store owner next door to translate. I am noticing, that I could probably say more, but only after the fact. I suppose it takes time to realize what you need to say in another language. It’s all too easy to be lazy, and say ‘Ich kann nicht sprachen Deutsch.’

Berlin, is fun, but a little challenging, owing to the language. I’m doing alright. My limited Deutsch is enough to get by, but I am learning more. I’m very lucky that many people speak English. But if you really want to join in, “Du mus sprache der Deutsch”.

Most people have been super friendly and helpful, and it is amazing the kindness they have been extending to a stranger. I am blessed to meet such people. Although I have come across one or two people recently, who won’t even try, and been down right rude and hung up on me. I think it is because they can not speak English. I suppose there’s no point staying on the line if you can’t say anything to the other person. 8)

The language experience is one of the things I wanted to immerse myself in. I met Japanese set desinger today, and he tells me there are very cheap language courses in the Turkish communities.

Such an amazing array of foreign creatives here. Berlin certainly attracts many people. This is owing to it being a large cheap city, comparatively to other European cities.

Art wise, there is much here. So much! But to get to the interesting stuff, you need to plug into the underground networks. To that end, I have been doing quite well for the past two weeks. I have an approach I take when I come to new cities, and leads me to the people I seek. Visiting art colleges, squat spaces, smaller galleries or studio spaces, will set you in the right direction.

I wish I could have brought my paintings with me to Europe, but it cost me and arm and a leg just to get my box of paints here. I returned to Amsterdam this weekend to retrieve my paints so I can commence my international career of fame and infamy.

Today I went to an art warehouse on the outer fringes of Berlin. Wow, I felt like I was a boy in a toy shop all over again.

This place has everything! I have met friendly and helpful artists in Berlin, and they have pointed me to the best deals for materials.

I plan to put a few months in Berlin. I want to produce enough paintings to exhibit. Then I can start travelling the continent as an artist. Its one thing to say, ‘yes, I am an artist’ its another to have the proof. Easy if you are a performer or musician, its right there with you, but we painters, must collect many possessions.

I have found a place in Kreuzberg, one of the interesting areas of Berlin. Here will be my home and studio for at least two months. After that, if I can find a van or minibus I will take to the road with my things, and see more of Europe before its breif summer fades in the cold grey chill of Autumn. Winter, errr… I deal with that when it comes. Perhaps there could be time spent in warmer climes as Asia, before I return for the next European Spring.

It goes against my experience to have home and workspace in one, let alone the same room. But unitl I start making some money here, that’s the way it will be. Berlin, cheap as it maybe, still requires me to maximize the savings I have so I can continue my European journey.

A shocking surprise I met when house hunting was that it is considered quite normal in Germany to ask for a THREE month bond. That’s alot of money, especially when I only have Australian dollars. In Amsterdam, it is no better, they ask for one month bond, which you never see again.

It has actually been sunny here, and actually got warm enough to workup a sweat. Making the most of the weather, I went to Postdam with my bicycle and rode about the old Prussian palaces and estates. These are the real things! Wow, such opulence. Its like being allowed to ride around some of the Queen Elizabeth’s estates, except, the Prussian kings, and German Kaisers are gone. They have done a fabulous job of restoring them as they suffered much damage during the war, and were left derelict by the communist DDR, as they did not approve of such things. You can still see the war damage throughout Berlin, but the EU has approved funds to restore the old buildings.

Its eerie to stand next to a wall that is sprayed with bullet holes, and you can imagine the gun battles. Especially when they are concentrated about say a window for example. You can image a soldier taking cover there and the opposition trying to shoot him out. I did find some bomb damage in London also.

While sections of the Berlin wall still exist, and I have seen it, it’s not that interesting, its a wall after all. But it still has an effect in Berlin. You will still hear people speak of the East, and staying in those suburbs you can still see the differences. For starters, the flat I stayed in, required that you start a coal fire to heat your shower water. No quick showers in the morning, if you’re running late for work. Many skip it. Rooms have these huge ugly ceramic coal burners to heat the rooms in winter. On occasions, you can still smell the East.

As for smells, in many places throughout Berlin, there are sewer lids with open holes, which allow very pungent odours to drift out, even by some restaurants with street dining. Nasty.

It was great returning to Amsterdam for the weekend, and catching up with friends. Now I truly feel like I am tripping over the continent, going where I will. It was very balmy, and the Dutch do not differ from the Germans in that all of those urban dwellers are in the parks stripping off and making the most of the sun. The sun lasts for hours, and sets by 10pm. I’m finally getting used to it.

Holland may have the beaches to enjoy the sunshine, but it just does not have any surf. Plus there are so many people heading to the beach, its just not worth it, even if you could make it there through all of the traffic. The photos I saw in the news paper are just mad. Apparently when the Germans go to beach in Holland, they dig deep holes and sit in them. That’s how you pick the German beach goers.

I also made it to the Rijksmuseum this time. Absolutely fantastic to see those Dutch and Flemish painters. Even more amazing, is the museum will let you photograph the paintings. But not with a flash. I hate flashes anyway. I marvelled at the artworks and tried to soak up, burn, imprint onto my mind every detail and the techniques into my mind. It’s surprising to see in real life what I’ve seen in books. The book is no longer the reality, it becomes the facsimile.

Berlin is not shy of its share of galleries and museums either. But its older museums seem to be dominated by landscapes and Prussian princes. Different tastes to the Dutch I think.

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