Berlin

Claudia Herper in Berlin, Germany

Berlin Wall
Claudia Herper
Eisbein (Pig's Knee)

The Place: Berlin, Germany

“There are problems that come with such a size…Berlin, in a sense, feels as though it may topple under its own weight; but while it stands it remains a hotbed of diversity, culture and attractions waiting to be discovered.”

Read About Berlin

Berlin is a difficult city to sum up. As a capital, it’s to be expected that it’s a large city, but many fail to appreciate the true scope and extent of its boundaries. Berlin is big. Really big. So big, in fact, that it covers about nine times as much land as Paris, and is over half the size of London despite having just 1/3rd of it’s population. Such a vast urban environment is not a place you can check off your list in just a day. As well as it’s long list of popular historical sites like the Berlin wall, the metropolis holds secrets that need to be coaxed out over time, and you’d be remiss to rush through them. From a thriving and diverse culture that offers a myriad of different cuisines to an underground night-life that transforms the city after dark, it’s certainly more imposing and intimidating than any of the other stops I’ve made on the Arctic to Asia cycle tour, but one with no shortage of things to do.

There are problems that come with such a size, however, and those are particularly evident if you are able to hop on a bike to tour the city. You’ll see it in the housing, where rising rent prices can trap someone in a run-down home that they don’t want to be in, or the high-security prison not far from the busiest parts of the city. You’ll see it in the likes of Brandenburg gate and the Reichstag transforming into dilapidated, and occasionally derelict, remnants of the past as you venture further from the city-centre, and in Kinderkrankenhauß Weisensee, an abandoned children’s hospital that is slowly losing a decades-long battle with nature to claim the land it sits on. Berlin, in a sense, feels as though it may topple under its own weight; but while it stands it remains a hotbed of culture and attractions waiting to be discovered.


Please note that we do not fact-check our interviewees, and that their views do not necessarily represent our own.

The Person: Claudia Herper, 33, Receptionist

I was born in Berlin, and I grew up here. I took a bachelor’s in biotechnology, and moved to Münster in Western Germany for 4 years to do a masters in molecular biomedicine. I’m half-Polish, half-German; my father comes from West Germany and my mum is from Poland, of course. My mum came to Berlin via Syria, because before she was married to an Arabic guy… ‘Uncle Ahmed’. They lived in Aleppo for three years, but my mother couldn’t stand the climate there. It was too hot. It was easy for her to escape Poland via Syria, and then to go to Berlin.

See Claudia's Full Background

I would like to run a hostel one day. My first idea was to run one here in Moabit, but now I know there are several here already and it’s very expensive. 10 years ago it was really cheap, you could buy a building like this (Amstel House Hostel) for one million euros – a lot but affordable – but nowadays it’s closer to 10 million, so it’s not possible any more. Now I’m thinking… not ‘glamping’ but something like an open-air hostel. 

I was trained to be a biotechnological assistant when I was studying, but I don’t want to go into that yet. I need a break. I realised that the scientific field may not be for me because I knew I’d have to give talks in front of people. I’m educated to be a scientist, and that was what I wanted. I managed to pursue that, and I have a good master’s degree, but I realised it will be harder every step I go further, since I have these issues with giving presentations. All the people here say it’s crazy that I get so anxious about it because I’m fine working behind the bar; they say “you’re so sovereign, never making mistakes and you’re easy going…” But when it’s about my work, and I have to present my work and argue my point, it’s something else. I actually started getting real depression, and my master thesis was a mess for my mental health. I struggled eating and sleeping for weeks. My defence was learning by heart what I was going to say, like a speech, and I told the audience “please, no questions until the end.” I can’t explain it, even after a team meeting we had at the hostel, I told a friend of mine that I can’t talk in front of people, and that I was still shaking half-an-hour after talking in front of my co-workers – it’s like a disease or a syndrome or something.

What is home to you?

“…this district – Moabit – is the place I grew up… for me that’s kind of home. But that doesn’t mean I’m happy here all the time. Home doesn’t mean ‘to be happy’.”

See Claudia's Full Answer

Home is a place I feel comfortable. You feel accepted the way you are, and loved. It’s funny though, I lived for 6 months in Brazil as well, and I felt ‘home’ there. It’s hard for me to explain, because my family lives in Poland, and I’m very close to my Grandma and my cousin, but they live there, not in Germany. I’ve never lived in Poland for more than 2 months. Here, this district – Moabit – is the place I grew up, where my parents are, and for me that’s kind of home. But that doesn’t mean I’m happy here all the time. Home doesn’t mean ‘to be happy’.

What is special about Berlin?

“…the real ‘Berlinish’ community. We have a lot of immigrants from the 60s; a lot of Turkish people. But they are German now. They are Berliners.”

See Claudia's Full Answer

I think the community is special – the real ‘Berlinish’ community. We have a lot of immigrants from the 60s; a lot of Turkish people. But they are German now. They are Berliners. They aren’t foreign any more, not for us. So that’s one thing. There’s a lot of Turkish influence in the food, and ok, when there is a football match they fly Turkish flags, but when there is the European cup, as soon as Turkey is out, they are all for Germany. This quarter, Moabit, is a multicultural quarter with a huge Turkish community.

 

What have you learned from living in Berlin?

“In Berlin… you can be honest. ‘How are you doing?’ ‘Sh*t.’ ‘Ok so just take your time, take some space today, and it’ll be fine’.”

See Claudia's Full Answer

In Münster, when I moved there, it was hard for me to be so polite all the time. Especially in this kind of job, you had to smile all the time and pretend everything is fine – you are the greatest, you are the best and all that. In Berlin, though, you can be honest. ‘How are you doing?’ ‘Sh*t.’ ‘Ok so just take your time, take some space today, and it’ll be fine’. For other people Berliners can come across unpolite and angry. But we’re not. We have a very rough attitude maybe, but we are nice.

Where is your favourite place you’ve visited outside of Germany?

“I think Mexico… it was easier for me to get into the community, to talk, and to be on the same wavelength. I really liked the close connection to nature and the spirit. It’s from their ancestors, from the Mayan culture.”

See Claudia's Full Answer

I think Mexico. Maybe it’s the culture there, but they are used to Westerners. So it was easier for me to get into the community, to talk, and to be on the same wavelength. I really liked the close connection to nature and the spirit. It’s from their ancestors, from the Mayan culture. That’s something I really loved, and I felt comfortable and accepted there, and people understood me way more than in Brazil, for example, where the mentality is just a little different. It’s easy to meet people in Brazil but to get close to them is not that easy. I spent 4 months in S.E. Asia, where there was a big language barrier, and 2 months in Malta. The Maltese people are present, nice and polite to you, but it’s not easy to get in touch with them; to get really close and make friends there. So I would say Mexico. It’s not Poland, I have issues with the Polish culture, too. In the past it was different, but now the political situation… p*ss off P.I.S.

Can you think of a time you have been proud of Berlin/Germany?

“…in Kemnitz with the right wing party – the AFD – there was a big demonstration… People from Berlin really fight against that, saying the extreme right-wing “are Germans but not Germany”.

See Claudia's Full Answer

It relates to what happened in Kamnitz with the right wing party, AFD – there was a big demonstration here, like 3 or 4 months ago, and there were about 3,000 of them. But there were like 20,000 of them that came out to stand against them. People from Berlin really fight against that, saying the extreme right-wing “are Germans but not Germany”. People here try to highlight that, and tell the world that it’s just a part of the society that’s like that, and it’s not that Germans will be Nazis again.

What is your main concern or worry about Berlin/Germany?

“…the rent prices are going to rise even more. It’s not affordable for people like me not earning much money… I have an old contract… I have to keep this flat even though it’s quite expensive… I’m too poor to move out, because to get a new flat I would pay almost the same now for a one room apartment.”

See Claudia's Full Answer

That it turns back to what it was, or that finally with all the immigration, we’ll have a really big problem. We are a lot of people, a big city, so if something happens here it will spread all over Germany, and that’s something I’m afraid of. That’s really concerning, but then I’m also afraid that all the rent prices are going to rise even more. It’s not affordable  for people like me not earning much money. I live in a flat-share, my flat is big and I don’t pay a lot of rent because I have lived there for 10 years and I have an old contract. But I’m in a situation where I have to keep this flat even though it’s quite expensive, and because of that I have to share to get another income, so I can split the bills. But I’m too poor to move out, because to get a new flat I would pay almost the same now for a one room apartment.

In general in Germany it’s not common to buy flats. It’s typically German that we rent flats. We don’t want to the property that we have to care for. It’s the responsibility. You have a loan, you have to pay it back. Germans don’t like the commitment.

 

What are your thoughts on Stereotypes of Berliners?

The rest of Germany thinks that we are super cool and super hip, and some of them think that we think we are super cool and super hip but actually are not.”

See Claudia's Full Answer

The rest of Germany thinks that we are super cool and super hip, and some of them think that we think we are super cool and super hip but actually are not. We are used to a lot of things that other are not. People living in Munster – it’s a small student city – everything is fine and no one has any issues. But here, you grow up with the issues of the society. They also think that we are poor. The city is poor. Berlin had to sell a lot of land, because we were in debt.

What is the best thing to ever come out of Berlin?

The Döner kebab! It was invented here in Berlin, by the Turkish community. ” In the construction sites that many of them worked… they were always in a rush, so they didn’t have the time to sit down for dinner with a plate of food… they just said “ok can you just put everything into the bread?””

See Claudia's Full Answer

The Döner kebab! It was invented here in Berlin, by the Turkish community. In the late 1960, the Turkish came to Berlin for work, and of course they brought with them their own food. In the construction sites that many of them worked on they had these food trucks. They were always in a rush, so they didn’t have the time to sit down for dinner with a plate of food. Normally they would have some salad, some grains some meat and some bread, but since they didn’t have time they just said “ok can you just put everything into the bread?” And that’s how the Döner kebab was born. The guy who invented it died 2-3 years ago, and after he died, another guy claimed it was actually him who invented it, and there was a huge fight about it for a couple of weeks. Every hour it was mentioned on the radio. Maybe it’s not the most important thing, but it’s a funny one.

 

What is Something outsiders don’t know about Berlin?

“…people all over the world think we’re so rich… they hear that we earn €10/hr… But after taxes it’s like €6.50-€7.00. We have to pay for everything.”

See Claudia's Full Answer

There are a lot of things. The taxes. People all over the world think we’re so rich when they ask how much money we earn. When they hear that we earn €10/hr, they think that we really get that €10. But after taxes it’s like €6.50-€7.00. We have to pay for everything. So the salary here works out lower than in Munich, for example. I don’t know how much they earn in a hostel there, but I’m also an assistant. I was trained to be a biotechnological assistant before, and I know that here it’s €1,500/month after taxes, but in Bavaria it’s like €2,000, and you also pay less more for property there.

 

What do you eat during the Holidays here?

Not typical German food because my mum is from Poland; she’s catholic and we eat fish for New Years… my father hates it. So he gets fish fingers. I’m vegan so I don’t have the fish…”

See Claudia's Full Answer

Not typical German food because my mum is from Poland; she’s catholic and we eat fish for New Years. You know the fish ‘Carp’? With the moustache. That’s a classic Polish dish, but we don’t do that because my father hates it. So he gets fish fingers. I’m vegan so I don’t have the fish, I just have the side dishes. We have side dishes like barsczcz and pierogi stuffed with sauerkraut and mushrooms. The cold countries love cabbage.

What are your favourite and least favourite German Dishes?

“Briegenwurst, which is a pork sausage but it includes the brain of the pig. When I was a little I didn’t ask what was in it, but when I got older and found out I was like “What?!”

See Claudia's Full Answer

When I was younger my favourite was Grönkohl, with a special kind of sausage. In the village my father comes from, they used to have Briegenwurst, which is a pork sausage but it includes the brain of the pig. When I was a little I didn’t ask what was in it, but when I got older and found out I was like “What?!” And then I didn’t have it for two years. But then I just asked a butcher and he said times have changed and that they don’t use that any more, but they still have the same flavour.

I think in general there are just four or five things I dislike. Liver… it’s not popular any more, but it was. A typical dish from Berlin is fried liver with onions, apples and fried potatoes. The taste is really disgusting and I really don’t like it. 

Reccomendation:

You must have Eisbein at Tiergarten Quelle… my parents love to go there. They have a beer garden as well. It’s across the road so if you order the food in the garden they have to wait at the crossing for a green light! It’s a really old-fashioned bar from Berlin, with dark-wooden walls and floor.”

See Claudia's Full Reccomendation

You must have Eisbein at Tiergarten Quelle. I don’t go there because it’s mainly meet dishes on the menu, so I can only eat the side dishes which are way too expensive. But my parents love to go there. They have a beer garden as well. It’s across the road so if you order the food in the garden they have to wait at the crossing for a green light! It’s a really old-fashioned bar from Berlin, with dark-wooden walls and floor. There are two different names for this meal, it’s the knee of a pig – ‘Haxe’ or ‘eisbein’ – and my parents love it. It’s obvious from my father’s belly that he likes it. The beer there is really good, too; they have Lemke beer from a Berlin brewery.

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The Plate: Eisbein (Pig’s Knee) at Tiergarten Quelle

“Hypnotised by it’s mysterious location and candle-lit tables casting flickering shadows along wooden walls, you’ll find yourself allured to it’s arched entrance… Tiergarten Quelle gives you the sense that you’ve really discovered something; a true hidden gem that could trick you into thinking you’ve stepped back 150 years into a more industrial Berlin.”

Read About Pig's Knee

Tucked away beneath a busy railway line is the last place you’d expect to find a traditional German restaurant. And yet, strolling along a dark road in Berlin at night, you can be caught off-guard by Tiergarten Quelle. A brick wall supporting the tracks that sit atop it opens into an enclave of traditional German decor and soft orange light that spills out onto the street. Hypnotised by it’s mysterious location and candle-lit tables casting flickering shadows along wooden walls, you’ll find yourself allured to it’s arched entrance and, once inside, the experience only gets better. Soothed by the gentle rumble of a train passing a few metres overhead every five minutes, Tiergarten Quelle gives you the sense that you’ve really discovered something; a true hidden gem that could trick you into thinking you’ve stepped back 150 years into a more industrial Berlin. For the atmosphere alone, it clinches the spot as my favourite restaurant on this trip so far.

That said, It’s hard to imagine what kind of experience Pig’s Knee is before you’ve tried it. Beneath the late-night commuters, I sat before an enormous boiled chunk of meet resting on a golden throne of cabbage and potatoes. Many people are familiar with the idea the a Pig’s biology is not so different from that of our own. In fact, that’s why you can use pig heart valves to replace human ones. And that’s part of what unsettled me about this dish: the surface texture and colour, try as I might to ignore it, reminded me all-too-much of, well, that of the hand holding the knife that was cutting into it. Combined with a very strong flavour that was almost overwhelming at times, my appetite began to fail me. Despite the unshakable image, I pushed on, bite-by-bite, whittling away at a portion I realised quickly would be impossible to finish. At the time, I was innocently unaware of the fact that you’re supposed to avoid the fat, of which there is a lot, and so I fought my way through that, too. That mistake that meant the mound of vegetables were left almost untouched, and I was inflicted a decisive defeat by the sheer size of my meal. Though that all sounds like criticism, Eisbein is an old and traditional German dish that is rarely eaten by outsiders, and I knew it’d be a bold choice before I tried it. I wouldn’t order it again, but I’d go back to Tiergarten Quelle in a heartbeat.


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Attempting to cycle from Tromsø in Northern Norway to Baku, Azerbaijan while interviewing locals en route. Despite my chequered history with bikes, here’s to me returning home with an intact facial structure and at least as many body parts as I left with.

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