Drugs & Grunge: Another Side of Berlin

by Christy on

I think a lot of travelers would agree that Berlin’s strength lies in its deeper charm rather than its surface beauty. While we love stunning landscapes and ancient ruins just as much as the next person, it’s the character of a city that really draws us in.

And Berlin? It has character in droves.

The city is a little hipster, a little grunge, a little bit anarchist, and very rough around the edges.
In other words, it’s wonderful.

Görlitzer Park in Berlin

We recently wandered through a large public park in Kreuzberg, the neighborhood we’re staying in. Reviews online portray it as “a drug dealers paddock” covered in “rotting grass, garbage, and ugly concrete”.

Very colorful descriptions, I’ll admit, but I’d have to disagree. Or perhaps they’re right, and I’m just willing to overlook its more coarse aspects and focus on the beauty?

Görlitzer Park is certainly no Golden Gate or Central Park, but it’s eccentric and unique and has a fascinating history.

Kali at Görlitzer Park in Berlin

The park is the former site of Görlitzer Station, a central train hub built in the 1860s and damaged in bombings during WWII. It remained in use even after the war, but the politics surrounding a Western station operating an Eastern line ultimately sealed its fate.

After the Wall was built in 1961, they tore down most of the bombed-out station and the space was left empty until the 1990s, when it was turned into a park.

A rather ugly park, some would say.

Görlitzer Park (and Emmauskirche) in Berlin

Görlitzer Park (and Emmauskirche) in Berlin

A few of the original(ish) buildings are still standing, and there are some remains of an old underground tunnel.

Old tunnel ruins at Görlitzer Park in Berlin

Görlitzer Park in Berlin

We visited on a sunny (but freezing!) Wednesday afternoon and found it full of joggers, tiny toddlers bundled against the cold, and dogs fetching balls for their owners. The park is huge, and in addition to the old train buildings there are also plenty of open fields and over-grown trails.

Christy in Görlitzer Park in Berlin

Okay, and there was probably also some drug activity as well… which I think we might have unsuspectingly walked into when we inadvertently caught two young men in one of our photos and they adamantly demanded that we delete it. Like, adamantly.

Which was fine, and once we figured out how to delete the photo they were actually quite chatty! And also very happy to stand behind us so I could take the photo again with no one in it.

Such friendly miscreants.

Görlitzer Park in Berlin Where the suspected drug exchange had gone down only moments before!

In our travels we’re not seeking perfection or sterility or even traditional beauty.

We just want to get to know a place’s true character, flaws and all.

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{ 50 comments… read them below or add one }

Andrea October 13, 2011 at

Love this! Interesting way to meet the locals =)
Andrea recently posted: A Day Out in the Swiss Alps

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Christy October 13, 2011 at

Haha, that’s for sure. I think we could make a lot of interesting friends in this park. ;)

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Christina (Jandal Road)twitter: christinahegele October 13, 2011 at

A great article. Had no idea there was a Görlitzer Park, I had never heard of it. You do a great job introducing us to the less well-known sights. Love this portrait!
Christina (Jandal Road) recently posted: Discovering Vancouver: Dr Sun Yat Sen Classical Chinese Garden

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Christy October 13, 2011 at

We love visiting the “big name” sites, but these types of places are like gems to us… maybe a little in the rough, but still awesome. :)

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Jeremy Branhamtwitter: budgettravelsac October 13, 2011 at

Great point of view about understand the true character of a place, flaws and all. The place is a bit colorful but is actually quite nice. Too bad it is a seedier part of Berlin but it sheds some light on a different aspect of the city most people don’t get to see.
Jeremy Branham recently posted: Where in the world am I?

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Christy October 13, 2011 at

The funny thing is that Kreuzberg isn’t that seedy. I mean, it’s got a bit of a counterculture and drugs seem readily available, but there doesn’t seem to be a lot of crime and we feel quite safe.

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Lisa October 13, 2011 at

Berlin has so many cool areas to explore. I loved living there. It looks like you are enjoying your time there.
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Christy October 13, 2011 at

I could definitely see living here; the city is huge and there’s so much to experience! One month isn’t even close to enough. :)

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Stevetwitter: vangrizz October 13, 2011 at

“a little hipster, a little grunge, a little bit anarchist”…I was waiting for you to add “a little bit country, and a little bit rock and roll” (Or is that showing my age too much?)
It’s amazing that you can get such nice pictures of such a non-nice looking place. I won’t ask for any night shots though. I can’t imagine that would end well.
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Christy October 13, 2011 at

That kept running through my head! I am a little curious what it’s like at night (there’s apparently quite a bit of dancing/partying), but we’ll see. I’m sure it’ll be fine as long as I don’t bring my camera, lol.

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Eriktwitter: eriksmithdotcom October 13, 2011 at

A classic adventure!! I wonder the kind of trouble you two would get in to in an actual dangerous place!
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Christy October 13, 2011 at

Oh my, I don’t even want to know. ;)

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Cathy Sweeneytwitter: TravelingWithS October 13, 2011 at

I’d love to see this side of Berlin. I totally agree that it’s the character of a place that really intrigues me, whether it’s beautiful to the eyes or not.
Cathy Sweeney recently posted: The Happy Couple

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Christy October 13, 2011 at

We’re of the same mind, Cathy. :)

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Christy @ Ordinary Traveler October 13, 2011 at

Lol.. That’s funny you caught them on camera. I have never really had much desire to visit Germany, but you make Berlin sound very eclectic and interesting.
Christy @ Ordinary Traveler recently posted: Travel Shot: No Hallucinogens Needed

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Christy October 13, 2011 at

Kali has always been interested in Germany, but I never really had much desire to visit either. I’m glad I just went with the flow, though, because I’m really enjoying Berlin! It’s not at all like what I had imagined.

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Adamtwitter: travelsofadam October 14, 2011 at

I had absolutely NO desire to come to Germany, but enough people told me to check out Berlin because it seemed like a place I’d really enjoy – and after arriving three months ago, I’M STILL HERE! :)
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Christy October 14, 2011 at

Ha, if our Schengen visa wasn’t about to expire I could definitely see staying here for months. Damn visas….

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Debbie Beardsley @ European Travelistatwitter: eurotravelista October 13, 2011 at

I too like your perspective on this part of town. I haven’t been to Berlin yet but do enjoy parks especially in large cities. This one seemed to have two sides to it! There were some beautiful parts.
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Christy October 14, 2011 at

The funny thing is that Gorlitzer really is pretty! It’s not pristine, but it’s pretty. :)

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Artitwitter: artisdiary October 13, 2011 at

Thats a pretty interesting post!! Dont think I will ever venture into such places!! Loved the color of those doors! Have a fabulous day:)
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Christy October 14, 2011 at

I really liked the doors, too! On one hand Berlin is a little drab, but then you find all this fantastic graffiti art and some brightly-colored buildings. It’s a cool juxtaposition.

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Annie - FootTracker October 14, 2011 at

Kind of reminds me of Berkeley in California. There are definitely a lot of drug dealers there, yet they also have some lessor known pretty areas.

By the way, if you read the graffiti, some of them represents a person’s “code name” in the hood. If someone’s code name has a X mark or got slashed out, it means the person either died or someone will seek their life soon ^_^ At least that is how it works in San Francisco & bay area.
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Christy October 14, 2011 at

I had no idea, Annie… obviously I’m not up on my gang knowledge. o_O That’s sad about the X marks, though; now I’m going to be checking all the names I come across!

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Cheryl Howard October 14, 2011 at

Lovely photos of what some would see as an “ugly place”! I live in Berlin too and well … just love it! :)
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Christy October 14, 2011 at

That’s cool, Cheryl – how long have you lived here?

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Adamtwitter: travelsofadam October 14, 2011 at

Gorlitzer Park is one of my favorite places in all of Berlin! It’s a great place – almost any time of day with such an eclectic mix of people. Also, I love that you provided some of the history about the space. Hadn’t heard all of that before!
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Christy October 14, 2011 at

Same here, Adam – we liked it so much that I was sort of surprised by all the negative reviews! I guess if you approach Gorlitzer like it should be a super clean and modern park it’s going to be disappointing, but if you take it for what it is Gorlitzer Park is super rad. :)

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Laureltwitter: ExpatGermany October 14, 2011 at

I haven’t been to Berlin yet, but I keep hearing that all the different sides to it, including the less glamorous ones that you’ve highlighted as what gives it its depth.
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Christy October 14, 2011 at

That’s a great way to put it, Laurel – Berlin has a lot of depth and a lot of angles.

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Sophietwitter: SophieR October 14, 2011 at

I haven’t been in Berlin since it was a divided city. But I think it’s just wonderful how Berlin is taking advantage of every bit of ground with new and innovative ideas. Old railway stations, old airports…
Sophie recently posted: Murder and Mayhem in London through the Ages – Part 1: The Bridges

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Christy October 14, 2011 at

I think it’s cool when cities turn funky spaces into public parks. I think it was Scott from Quirky Travel Guy who did a post recently on a park in NYC that was on an overpass?

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John D. Wilson October 14, 2011 at

Went to Berlin when it was still divided.
I cannot imagine the changes that have occurred.
Interesting take on the park – the good, the bad and the ugly?
Cheers,
John D. Wilson
John D. Wilson recently posted: The dissing of Cuba and America’s changing policy

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Christy October 14, 2011 at

It would have been such an experience seeing Berlin when the wall was up. Part of me wishes I could have seen it, but I am loving Berlin as it is now…

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inkatwitter: lilygogo October 14, 2011 at

Glad to hear that you found the city I was born in edgy. And yes, Berliner criminals are a breed on themselves. I know, in a former life I was an attorney there.

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Christy October 14, 2011 at

I didn’t realize you were born in Berlin, Inka! And to be a lawyer here, wow. Did you practice criminal law?

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Miketwitter: onajunket October 14, 2011 at

To know a city is also to know its bad side, which realistically, every city has one. I usually happily stumble on the bad side of town when I’m lost; it’s nice to know that there is a reality behind the tourist traps.
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Christy October 15, 2011 at

I’m completely with you, Mike! A lot of tourist traps don’t hold much allure for us, but somehow we tend to find ourselves in the seedy parts of cities. :P We lived in San Francisco for a year in the Tenderloin district (known for its large homeless population and drug use and dirty sidewalks), but we had a great time. I never felt unsafe, there were a ton of interesting people around, and there were multiple incredible food options within two blocks of us.

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Jason October 14, 2011 at

This one seemed to have two sides to it! There were some beautiful parts. I too like your perspective on this part of town. I haven’t been to Berlin yet but do enjoy parks especially in large cities.
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Melissatwitter: longhaulproject October 15, 2011 at

Strangely just read two blogs in a row about Berlin. Thinking it’s a sign because it’s been on my city hit-list for too long now. I love your perspective on the city! I like places that are a little rough around the edges, myself, so think I’d feel right at home in Berlin. Really like your encounter with the “miscreants”.
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Christy October 15, 2011 at

At first our interaction with the miscreants was very stressful – the language barrier seriously didn’t help, but mostly because I couldn’t figure out how to delete one photo and not the entire memory card. Oh my. Add that to the fact that they kept trying to press buttons on the camera, and it was a very wild five minutes. :) And you should def add Berlin to your hit list!

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Ashleytwitter: NOnionsXPickles October 15, 2011 at

Berlin is definitely on the top of my “must go to ASAP” list. I’m feeling the pressure to get their because the arts scene is so fantastic right now. I’ve read a lot about Kreuzberg – definitely the neighborhood I would want to stay in! – but haven’t come across anything on Görlitzer Park before. It looks awesome.
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Christy October 15, 2011 at

I’ve heard a little about the arts scene here, but we’re totally art ignorant so I haven’t paid much attention. =/ But we did just discover that a huge old warehouse (in Kreuzberg) was converted into a club and is now like a premier world-renowned techno space. We’re a lot more into techno than we are art, so that got our attention!

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Sailortwitter: CruisePictures October 17, 2011 at

Few of the pictures reminds me of the movie we watched few weeks back Rammbock: Berlin Undead
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Christy October 19, 2011 at

I’ll have to check that out!

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robin October 19, 2011 at

Kreuzberg is a wonderful neighborhood and somewhere I would like to spend more time. Is Berghain the club you mean? Or Tresor? I’ve been to the latter but not, sadly to the former.
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Christy October 19, 2011 at

Yeah, I was referring to Berghain! We haven’t gone yet, but it sounds amazing (aside from the whole “maybe stand in line for two hours and still get turned away at the door” thing). I haven’t heard of Tresor, though – I’ll have to look that up. Would you recommend it?

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robin October 20, 2011 at

Tresor is the home of European techno! It has changed premises so you wouldn’t be stepping on the original hallowed ground but it is still a pilgrimage for the techno lover. If you like techno then you have undoubtedly heard tunes on the Tresor label whether you knew it or not. Couldn’t recommend it strongly enough, especially the dungeon-like lower floor :)

I think Berghain has taken over in terms of trendiness and cool factor these days.

But I’m a Tresor man myself ;)
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Christy October 21, 2011 at

I’m so in love with Berlin. I could spend months here just dancing! Thanks for the info, Robin – Kali is in techno heaven. :P

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Adamtwitter: travelsofadam October 19, 2011 at

Oh Tresor! Still haven’t been there myself, actually – but I hear lots of good things.
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