by Sydney McGrane
Berlin is known for its incredible street art and the collectives that took the place of the Berlin Wall.
Where the unyielding Berlin Wall once stood, creative energy and free spirits now abound. Since Germany’s reunification in 1990, several collectives, groups of people with similar ideals working together for a common goal, have attempted to bridge Berlin’s still existing divisions. The cheap rent and abundance of open space in the eastern half of the city has lured artists, designers and entrepreneurs to come together and express themselves through fashion, art, and business. The result is a diverse array of collective cafes, galleries, and boutiques sprinkled throughout the city.
1 Cafe Morgenrot
Billing itself a “café-collective,” Morgenrot is a political and cultural nexus where students, hipsters, and academics can mingle. Although decidedly more capitalist than when it first opened in 2002—they once had a “pay what you can” policy for their drinks—it still features a morning brunch where the budget traveler can choose to pay anything between four and eight euro. Expect good conversation with your neighbors in a smoky haze, despite Berlin’s recent indoor smoking ban.
My first time there, I glanced a t a neighboring table and saw a pamphlet with “Neonazismus” emblazoned on the cover. Alarmed, I asked my German friend, Phil, what sort of “political” bar he had taken me to. He quickly reassured me that the pamphlet was about anti-right wing politics and combating prejudice.
Politicophiles, vegans, vagabonds, and anarchists all welcome.
In 2003, mayor Klaus Wowereit raised many eyebrows when he declared Berlin a new “fashion capital.” Currently, seven fashion designers are working to ensure that Berlin lives up to this new title. In December 2007, they founded thefashionccollectiveberlin in an attempt to rebrand the Berlin fashion as “Made in Germany,” not just as imports from other countries. “We united to represent a contemporary German fashion under one roof,” said Carola Ploechinger of thefcb.
Some of the clothing reflects the clash between Berlin’s sophisticated, yet rough flavor. From the brand Mongrels in Common’s blend of masculine silhouettes with effeminate fabrics, to designer Franzius’ playful formality, these designs showcase an apparent duality.
Thefcb’s efforts to expand Berlin’s fashion influence resulted in a showcase at Copenhagen Fashion Week this past February. They have plans to debut more collections and clothes at future events in Europe.
Economically depressed, with vacant storefronts for years, Berlin’s Quartiersmanagement, a government agency, enticed artists to move to the district of Wedding with low rent and lots of available space. Today, many artists are bringing a creative vibe to this rundown neighborhood.
Enter Welturlaub. This collective of a dozen artists operates out of three floors of an old apartment building. The group works with recycled and found materials. On a recent visit, they collected old milk labels, recycled school assignments, street tar, and discarded medical equipment.
Welturlaub, which translates loosely to “world travels,” exhibits their work every three months at a bar down the block.
All of the Welturlaubers are fulltime students or workers and pursue art just as a hobby. Check out one of their shows and decide for yourself.
4 Berlin Kollectiv
If nostalgia sets in after you leave Berlin, commiserate with other ex-Berliners at berlincollective.com. Former residents share stories about how their new cities remind them of Berlin’s culture, architecture, and lifestyle.
The collaborative blog—with entries in German, English, Swedish, French and Dutch—highlights just how cosmopolitan Berlin truly is.