A change of scenery: My stay in Berlin

A few days ago I came back from Berlin. I had planned on visiting earlier, but the severe heatwave made me decide to delay my visit. I had a good time there and ended up staying a few days longer than I originally planned. There are a few interesting things I learned. The first is probably that I don’t get the normal caffeine withdrawal symptoms most people get. Most people get a headache, I just get lethargic and depressed. Some coffee instantly cheers me up, but it took me a few days to realize I do in fact have a (socially acceptable) substance dependence after all.

Another thing I found myself realizing in Germany is that it’s possible to build a good-looking densely populated city. I’m not suggesting that all of Berlin is pretty. I’m arguing that parts of Berlin are good looking. an example is shown above. Why are these houses pretty? Well, the reason they’re pretty is simply because people took the effort to build good looking houses. The colours of the houses fit together, they’re decorated with a variety of plants and ornaments and they’re well maintained. The reason high-rise cities generally look depressing is not because high-rise buildings are per definition depressing. It’s because these buildings were constructed in a manner to keep costs as low as possible.

The people are friendly too and the city is relatively easy to move yourself around in when you figure out the public transport. It’s a bit of a shame the city was built in the after-war period, because this is how you end up with a car-oriented city. Cities like Leiden and Utrecht are pedestrian oriented, because they evolved over a period when most people had to get around by foot. The cars had to be fitted into the existing infrastructure. On the other hand, a city like Rotterdam is car-oriented, because it had to be reconstructed after the second world war.

Most importantly perhaps, the city has a lot of interesting places to visit. There are vintage clothing stores everywhere and most of the museums in Berlin are open until 8 PM. I went to a Salvador Dali exhibition with a bit of San Pedro cactus in my system, dressed up in my vintage 70’s style button up shirt and got a student discount from the guy at the desk despite not being a student. Most interesting was one of the clubs I visited, Griessmuehle, located on a former industrial facility. There was an open air cinema with wooden pallets everywhere that people used as seats, as rats and mice crawled back and forth during sunset. There were rusty car wrecks too, but I think they were specifically placed there to introduce more chaos into the place.

I booked a room through airbnb and slept beneath a giant psychedelic elephant. My camera sucks so it can’t possibly do justice to the explosion of colours. I find that a good room definitely makes a big difference in regards to the quality of your stay. I’m used to staying at youth hostels where you need to checkout at 9 PM and if you’re really stingy (as I am) sleep in a room with three other dudes. If you’re lucky you make new friends you never talk to again after you’re back home, if you’re unlucky there’s an overweight guy who snores. The only thing even better than airbnb would theoretically be Couchsurfing, but drop the first U and swap the H with a K and you figured out what couchsurfing is mainly used for in practice.

 

My host was nice, but despite being quite open-minded she wasn’t particularly impressed when I showed her my latest acquisition, a Peruvian (I suspect) torch cactus with a Peyote button grafted onto it. Ah well, such is life. Non-conformism can turn into a form of conformity of its own. Ironically, the tattoos and boyish haircuts on Berlin women can start to resemble a uniform in its own right.

For me however, this cactus is a typical example of how humans and nature can cooperate to produce something better than either of us would apart. The Peyote is a very slow growing cactus, increasingly endangered in its native habitat. The San Pedro and its close relatives are fast growing cactuses. Both cactuses are used for entheogenic purposes. Graft a Peyote button on top of a San Pedro cactus and you end up with a way to rapidly grow new Peyote buttons. My suspicion is that the resulting Peyote buttons inherit some psychoactive traits of both species, the San Pedro being mostly a mescaline trip, whereas Peyote represents a broader palet of alkaloids. If you’re wondering if this phenomenon insults the spirit of either organism, my belief is a resounding no. I know the San Pedro cactus as a benign spirit, a happy old man who looks at nature as his work of art and is proud of his contribution to the beauty around us.

I bought this cactus chimera in a giant cactus store in Berlin. They have the biggest collection of cactuses I’ve ever seen, the image here shows just a small part of the entire complex, filled with endless rows of the most peculiar specimens I’ve ever encountered. Rest assured that I brought many home with me, psychoactive as well as purely decorative ones. I suspect these cactuses may prove useful one day to terraform the German landscape when the dust settles, as the evidence was unfortunately all around me that my neighbors are suffering a nasty drought. Consider for example, that grass is not supposed to look like this:

This is of course a problem that plagues the entire world now. Our environment is changing at a rapid pace. While I was there, I heard in the news that the forest fires throughout Germany could be smelled in Berlin. These are problem we will have to live with in one form of another, these are the type of problems you can’t escape from by visiting another country. It’s inevitably going to get worse in the decades ahead, the question that’s being decided right now is how bad it will get in the latter half of this century.

How should we deal with that reality? Like everyone else, I have made some good decisions and some bad decisions over the years. I’d like to briefly mention two of the good decisions. As a child I decided to become a vegetarian when I became aware of the suffering that the modern food industry imposes upon animals. Cruelty towards the innocent is a bit like throwing a boomerang: It will eventually hit you in the head. The benefits to society and our environment of abstaining from meat are now obvious to most people. However, there are personal benefits too, most of which I was not yet aware of at the time.

By abandoning the Western diet, you grow up with a healthier body. Men who are exposed to the Western diet during their teenage years irreversibly damage their fertility. Meat and other unhealthy foods cause a lot of oxidative stress to your body and the absence of fruit and vegetables means you are not giving your body enough antioxidants. Although it is still possible to have an unhealthy vegetarian diet, most vegetarians who take their choice seriously will experience health benefits. “Oh yeah? Well soy turns you into a soycuck!” The alt-reich intellectual proclaims. The reality is that isoflavones found in soy and flax seed protect a man’s testicles against the influence of synthetic estrogens found in our environment.

Another good decision I made a few years ago was that I was going to stop flying. For me at the time it was initially a difficult decision. I grew up in a big city where I still lived at the time and I needed time away from home to recharge in nature. I visited Norway and I visited Sweden. I saw beautiful nature in Norway and I met a nice American in Sweden. However, I eventually came to the realization that I could not reconcile this kind of luxury with the limits placed upon us by nature. We have no good solution to the carbon footprint of flying and we are thus passing on a terrible burden to future generations and the natural world when we fly around the world.

This is not a very big accomplishment, as most people alive today will never see the inside of an airplane (good luck finding an Extinction Rebellion protestor on Facebook who doesn’t have a timeline covered with photos of foreign continents though), but it is still a small accomplishment. I was not sure how I was going to deal with not seeing the beautiful forests of Norway again, but a solution came in a way I had not expected. I found a job in a small Dutch town that lies next to a big forest. I also found a pretty house with ridiculously low rent, that’s just a five minute walk away from this beautiful forest. Is this a lucky coincidence, or is there an underlying logic to this? I don’t know. All I know is that circumstances I had no real control over made decisions I anticipated were going to be difficult easier for me.

At work it was difficult to sustain my commitment. As a college dropout with no genuine employment history I was glad to have any real job at all. The company had a tradition of a yearly journey to an exotic destination and so reluctantly I said yes the first time, because I did not want to seem ungrateful or inconvenient. The second time I explained that I could not join and nobody made a problem of it, it actually turned out to have some practical benefits.

Not much later, something happened that I had never expected. A young girl everyone has heard of by now decided that she was going to stop going to school and protest in front of the Stockholm parliament. Of course there have been many environmentalists from well to do families who sought to bring attention to climate change, but this was different in some substantial ways. Greta was very committed and had become a vegan and stopped flying. She even convinced her mother to stop flying, even though her mother had to fly for her work as an opera singer.

I am naturally a very cynical person, especially when it comes to people from well to do backgrounds, but it was clear to me that something was very sincere about her actions. Like me she had a difficult childhood, in fact she stopped growing at some point because she was depressed and stopped eating. It was a very big relief to see someone I could identify with who made such decisions. In addition, it was very pleasant to see how most of society responded to her. Like most people who are suddenly thrown in the spotlights, I expect she will make mistakes, but her story so far has been very inspirational and it has changed society for the better. When I look at how society is changing around me, how there are now music festivals that only serve vegan food, or how elderly men march in the street because they want children to grow up on a habitable planet, I feel less lonely.

Of course whenever you discuss visiting Berlin, the question that comes up concerns the terrible atrocities that were orchestrated during the second world war. Insofar as I feel like discussing it, I did not visit the Holocaust memorial. It’s good that the city memorizes the atrocities, but it’s not something that I wish to visit for a number of reasons. To start with, I don’t think you can sincerely do justice to the events by intersparsing your clubbing and shopping with brief occasions to mourn, it seems insincere to me. Second, modern day Germans are just about the least anti-semitic people you will find and I don’t like the idea that this is some sort of unique burden the Germans must carry.

I like to look around in the anarchist coops in Berlin and I consistently find that the favorite enemy of these people are the neonazis, a cartoonlike band of infiltrants from intelligence agencies and socially marginalized men who harbor the masochistic desire to play the role of a cartoonishly evil villain. In practice, these men of course are about as relevant to today’s affairs as the Khmer rouge or the Bavarian illuminati, that is, not at all. The biggest villains of our era are perhaps American men in suits, who refer to natural gas as “molecules of US freedom” and who actively attempt to sabotage scientific research that undermines their business model. Like the Nazi’s before them, they seem to take no effort to disguise how evil they are to anyone who doesn’t desperately wish to believe they’re the good guys.

Overall, my impression of Berlin is positive and I plan on going back sometime soon. I wanted to visit Berlin because I know a lot of my favorite artists moved to Berlin. When you mention Berlin and music, people immediately think of techno, but that actually bores the shit out of me. Nonetheless, there’s a lot of good music to find in Berlin.

As an example, Allison Lewis of Keluar moved to Berlin, as did IAMX, Sally Dige and some other artists I enjoy. Linea Aspera is probably the closest I have come to having seen a cult band live. It was in an Anarchist squat covered in grafiti in Amsterdam. I smoked a joint with a guy I met there, which still counts as one of a handful of times that cannabis had a good effect on me. I wandered into the concert room as they began playing and it felt like a form of perfection, not just because of the band, but because of the DJ who played a playlist of really good 80’s style coldwave numbers, I’ve never really encountered another DJ who had such a nice list of tracks.

The video that convinced me to visit the show was Malarone, which became very popular only after the band disbanded. It felt very alienating to me, because I had never before heard of this 2010’s second wave of coldwave. To me this seemed like some obscure 80’s darkwave band with a mysterious tropical vibe to it:

I met her once, when someone convinced me to buy her album and get it autographed. She seemed happy but surprisingly nervous, but I was just as nervous because I have a weak spot for smart androgynous goth girls.

Recently, a new compilation album was released, with a lot of songs most people have never heard of:

The thing about coldwave is that it’s not just minimalistic goth music, it’s supposed to leave you alienated (hence the term cold), but simultaneously it generally tends to be danceable. Like all Goth music it’s now dead and you’ll struggle to find clubs where they play it, which is just yet another sign that planet Earth is overdue to be recycled. For some more examples, look below:

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