Around the world in 52 suburbs: Berlin and New York City
52 suburbs: Berlin and New York City
Hansaviertel: after the boming - and now Photo: Louise Hawson
It's been hectic. In the last month I've explored and photographed my last three Berlin neighbourhoods, packed up our home of two months and jumped on myriad planes to get to New York City. The result? Me, frazzled, daughter, thrilled – there's been no time for any home schooling of late, something neither of us have quite got the hang of yet – and I fear, probably never will.
When I last checked in here I had just finished nosing around the arse end of Neukolln and was feeling somewhat glum. A combination no doubt of my own weariness after six months of constant travel, Berlin's shocking past and the depressing plight of immigrants there. That and the fact no one seems to smile in Berlin – and it wasn't even winter yet.
So I went in search of lightness and ended up in Hansaviertel, a neighbourhood with a good news story – finally. Destroyed by bombing during WWII, Hansaviertel was created by a bunch of big-name architects, the likes of Oscar Niemeyer, Arne Jacobsen and Walter Gropius, who were invited by the former West Berlin to design a variety of apartment blocks to be set among generous parkland.
I have a soft spot for architecture from the 1950-60s but what I also loved is that, more than half a century later, the only thing that's changed in this neighbourhood is the trees – they're bigger now. Everything else is pretty much the same. The fact that Hansaviertel was really a political stunt by West Berlin to one-up the East is a mere detail – it's a unique corner of Berlin that seems frozen in time boasting a handful of iconic buildings and lots of glorious green.
After that I veered east to check out an area called Marzahn. If you asked anyone living in former West Berlin what there is to see in Marzahn, they're almost certain to say, nichts – nothing. Well, nothing except a whole load of grim housing estates.
But you hear a lot of bad things about a lot of places and I was curious, was it as bleak as everyone made out?
The first surprise was Garten der Welt – Gardens of the World. It was so impressive that Coco and I spent hours wandering around the various gardens, including Chinese, Japanese, Balinese and Korean.
But what made it even more special were the people we met there. I'd expected to see shaven heads in Marzahn, but not ones belonging to a bunch of chilled out Thai Buddhist trainee monks.
The other people we came across in Marzhan were equally interesting. Aside from a handful of good lookin' punks, we met Katja and Paul, who were both born in former East Berlin. What intrigued me was how deeply they identified as East Berliners – they were only three years old when the Berlin Wall came down, so theoretically they grew up in a re-unified city, where there was no longer an East or West.
But as I talked to them, the penny started to drop – there may not be a Wall any more but there's still an East and a West. Katja and Paul explained that they would never live in "West" Berlin – “They're a little arrogant”.
And those infamous, endless apartment blocks? Well, they're not the prettiest but some of the Plattenbeau have been renovated and the area itself includes large chunks of green, and space for young families to grow up in.
For my final Berlin post I wanted to explore somewhere that would absolutely confirm the theory that Berlin consists of a whole load of Berlins – each one so different you'd swear you were in another city. So I headed to North Charlottenburg, a neighbourhood that contains a whole load of kleingartenkolonien - garden colonies - sandwiched between two churches and a prison memorial that commemorates those who stood up to the Nazis – and were killed for doing so.
While the garden colonies were like an enchanted miniature kingdom, populated by gnomes and bursting with energy and life, the prison memorial was eerie and incredibly sad.
It was a fitting way to say "auf wiedersehen" and "tschus" to Berlin, a city I found as uplifting as it was depressing, but always fascinating.
Next stop in my project was New York, a city I've long loved but know diddly about beyond Manhattan's shores. It was time to get off the island and for my first neighbourhood I chose Jamaica in Queens, one of NYC's five boroughs, and reputedly the most diverse place on the planet.
Jamaica itself consists of a handful of different nationalities but the dominant ones seemed to be the Bangladeshis and people from the Caribbean.
To begin with we checked out the Bangladeshi corner of the neighbourhood, on one of the most important holidays in the Islamic calendar – Eid Mubarak, the end of Ramadan – where everyone was decked out in their finest salwar kameez or sari. Having wondered what happened post-morning prayers I discovered the answer was, very little apart from eating; having just endured a month of fasting they were wandering around, visiting friends, eating whenever and as much as they wanted.
A couple of blocks south from little Dhaka was a whole other world, filled with Jamaicans and others from the Caribbean.
And that was just one week in NYC. Having had a taste of the Big Apple beyond Manhattan, I can't wait to have more. In fact, I'm totally psyched, dude.
Follow Louise and Coco weekly at www.52suburbs.com. Or read their latest installments here on the last Friday of each month.