The VICE Guide to Berlin 2014
The German capital is one of the planet’s great party cities, where your every dream and darkest desire has been turned into a three-story nightclub with a merciless door policy. Sadly, everybody in the world knows this, so the only thing worse than the stupid fucking lines outside the clubs are the infuriating tourists within them. Here’s how to avoid pissing off the locals and convince everyone that you’re ein Berliner.
Jump to sections by using the index below:
– WHERE TO PARTY
– WHAT’S THE DEAL WITH DRUGS?
– POLITICS, PROTESTS AND JUST HOW RACIST IS EVERYONE HERE?
Legacy of the Squatters | May Day, Refugee Strikes and Neo-Nazis | Berlin’s Immigrants
– WHERE TO EAT
– WHAT DO LOCALS EAT?
– WHERE TO DRINK
– WHERE TO STAY
– LGBT BERLIN
– WHERE TO HANG OUT WHEN YOU’RE SOBER
– HOW TO AVOID GETTING RIPPED OFF AND BEATEN UP
– HOW NOT TO BE A SHITTY TOURIST
– PEOPLE AND PLACES TO AVOID
– TIPPING AND HANDY PHRASES
– A YOUTUBE PLAYLIST OF QUESTIONABLE LOCAL MUSIC
– VICE CITY MAP
Heil Hipster: German Nipsters (Neo-Nazi Hipsters) Are Trying to Put a Stylish Face on Hate
This winter, the German media came up with a new term, “nipster,” to describe the trend of people dressing like Brooklyn hipsters at Nazi events. Experts have noted that the German neo-Nazi presence on Tumblr and other social networking sites has become sleeker and more sophisticated. Neo-Nazi clothing has become more stylish and difficult to recognize. There’s even a vegan Nazi cooking show. “If the definition of the nipster is someone who can live in the mainstream, then I see it as the future of the movement.”
The Traditional Costumes of Peasant Women in Germany and Alsace
Traditional costumes have virtually disappeared, but until the 1950s, this kind of attire was very common across Europe. From the color and cut you could conclude whether a woman was married, how old she was, which family she came from, and how wealthy they were.
In 2008, Eric Schütt started looking for women who still wear traditional clothes for his photography project called Burenkleider: Burska Drasta, or Traditional Costumes of Peasant Women in Germany and Alsace. The women in these photos are never seen without their traditional costumes. They wear their costumes in the house and outside. In many cases, they are the last ones in their village wearing the clothes with their original purpose, and the other villagers look at them like as if they’re flamboyant, exotic birds. Some of these women have died by now—Eric’s photographs are the last document of this disappearing phenomenon.
Nazi Era Snapshots and the Banality of Evil
That theme of implicit absence dominates Daniel Lenchner’s found-photograph collection. Scouring flea markets, estate sales, and the internet, Lenchner has collected over 500 snapshots of Nazis taken by Nazis that document their daily lives: their families, their friendships, and their leisure activities.
As a Jewish man with ancestors who perished in the Holocaust, these intimate glimpses into the daily lives of his family’s persecutors bring him face to face with what political philosopher Hannah Arendt called “the banality of evil.”
I met the 68 year old Lenchner last month in his sprawling New York apartment to look through his collection and discuss its implications.
VICE: What’s striking about so many of these images is that without the uniforms you really can’t tell that these people are Nazis, can you?
Daniel Lenchner: Yes, that’s really what my thesis is: These people are normal in appearance, but appearances are deceiving. There is the modern news phenomenon of people being interviewed in the street after they discover that their neighbor is a mass murderer. They’re always expressing surprise, that they didn’t realize it, that they should have known. The underlying assumption is that they could’ve known. But, if the truth is that there is no way to know, then you shouldn’t be surprised.
I interviewed the great-niece of Nazi leader Herman Göring once, and her family albums are filled with pictures like these. She talked about feeling the love that’s evident in so many of the scenes: fathers holding their children, spouses embracing, friends laughing. How do you confront the presence of those kinds of emotions?
Yes, these guys went home to their wives and children, and maybe they sang them nice German lullabies, but it’s not an exoneration. I mean, Hitler loved dogs, and he was a vegetarian. Great. But, it’s all kind of irrelevant. At the end of the day these things are reconcilable. No, not exactly reconcilable, but they coexist. The evil and the not-evil coexist in a person. But, in Nuremberg, it didn’t come up that they were nice to their wives because it didn’t matter.
It looks like the man in this picture wasn’t such a great husband. Is this a Dear John letter written on the back?
A Dear Johann letter, so to speak.
Can you describe what we’re looking it?
Well, here we have this handsome studio portrait of a German officer, and on the back is this message from a woman, apparently his mistress. She writes that she’s giving back this photograph because it’s brought her back luck. He’s a playboy. She refers to his “wanderings in Weimar,” and makes reference to his wife.
What do you like about this picture?
It’s just so normal, so banal, just a man screwing around on his wife—nothing so unusual there. He’s a regular scoundrel, but put him in a Nazi uniform and all of a sudden we have a special kind of scoundrel.
The Polish Soldier Who Snuck Into Auschwitz and Was First to Report on the Horrors Inside
On September 19, 1940, Witold Pilecki, a Polish soldier, was captured by German SS officers and sent to the concentration camp in Auschwitz. Considering he was a spy, things had turned out exactly as he’d planned. Captain Pilecki’s mission was to organize resistance from within the most horrific symbol of the Holocaust, send information to the Allies, and record the horrors he witnessed for the sake of history.
Pilecki arrived in Auschwitz sometime in the evening between September 21 and 22, 1940, and described what he found as “another planet”—a hell in which every building’s walls were covered in swastikas and corpses lay everywhere. Pilecki went on to live in inhumane conditions for nearly 1,000 days and become the first person to inform the Allies about the appalling conditions of detention and the atrocities committed by the Nazi regime.
Pilecki’s comprehensive 1945 report on his undercover mission was published in English in 2012 under the title The Auschwitz Volunteer: Beyond Bravery. Yet, for some reason, his story still isn’t widely known. I wanted to know more about the career of this exceptional man, so I got in touch with the people who recently translated the book in French—former director of the AFP bureau in Warsaw, Urszula Hyzy, and Patrick Godfard, who is a professor of history.
VICE: The book was published in English in 2012, with the New York Times describing it as “a historical document of the greatest importance.” How come it was only translated to French now?
Urszula Hyzy and Patrick Godfard: Pilecki was a “disturbing” character for the Allies, who pretended for a long time not to know what was happening in the camps, and for the Communists, who were responsible for his death in 1948. In communist Poland, it was forbidden to talk about Pilecki and his children were barred from higher education.
The Auschwitz Volunteer remained in the archives of the Polish Underground Movement Study Trust in London [Studium Polski Podziemnej] before being discovered by the historian and former prisoner Józef Garlinski, who wrote Fighting Auschwitz: The Resistance Movement in the Concentration Camp in the 1970s. It was not until after the end of the Cold War that the book was published in Poland.
This Man Claims Hitler Is Buried in Spain
Julio Barreiro Rivas is a Spanish sculptor, composer, writer, and historian living in Venezuela. The octogenarian was born in the Galician province of Pontevedra and since then has led a pretty interesting life: heading up a family band called Los Hijos de la Casa Grande, masterminding an alleged orgy island for senior Venezuelan military officers, and claiming to have met Hitler. In fact, Julio has an interesting theory about Hitler: He says that history’s most despised man never killed himself at all and actually died and is buried in a cemetery in Galicia, northwest Spain.
“This finding wouldn’t change Europe’s history; it would just modify it,” he told me modestly during a 30-minute international call. “People in Berlin and Russia know that Hitler and Eva were very unlikely to commit suicide one day after their wedding. Their friend Franco needed to compensate them for their favors in times of war, so he kept Hitler’s gold in Spain.”
Admittedly, there are a vast amount of holes in Julio’s story. Who are these “people in Berlin and Russia” who “know” for certain that Adolf and his lover would not have spent their honeymoon killing themselves? And how does he know that the former fascist dictator of Spain owed Hitler a favor? Still, Julio is committed to his tale and tells it with a burning intensity. When you speak to him, you get the feeling that this isn’t a prank, a joke, an attempt at being snide, or even some kind of artistic allegory. When I spoke with him, he genuinely seemed to believe what he was saying.
"Even more nonsensical is the story about their bodies being burned with gasoline in the chancellery garden," Julio continued. "Only those who would be truly interested in eradicating the memory of Hitler would believe it. That is, the Germans, who might believe it out of shame, and the Russians and the Americans, because they weren’t able to catch him.” Or just people who don’t really care about where exactly history’s most evil man is rotting. But Julio went on.
Image of the three-engine plane on which the Führer allegedly travelled to Galicia
“Hitler set off early in the morning of April 29th, 1945, aboard a three-engine airplane. He landed in a small village called Córneas, hidden amid the mountains of Lugo, where an escort from the Guardia Civil [the Spanish military police] and some donkeys carrying saddlebags full of gold bars and other relics were waiting for him. He headed for Samos, through the towns of Cebreiro, el Hospital, and Triacastela, where he would eventually meet a committee from Samos’s convent. I don’t think anyone can refute my theory, since I saw Hitler, alive and kicking, in the convent.”
Can Anyone Fix the German Prostitution Industry?
Trading sex for money has been at least partially legal in Germany since 1927, but in 2002, Parliament passed a set of laws designed to improve the lives of the country’s prostitutes. The idea was to grant sex workers some of the rights and responsibilities other members of the workforce have, like receiving social security and having to pay taxes in return. As a result, the country became a magnet for hookers and johns, and it’s been reported that there are approximately 400,000 prostitutes servicing an estimated 1 million men a day inside its borders.
A lot of people don’t think this is a good thing. A study commissioned by the European Union released this year claimed that, globally, attempts to normalize the world’s oldest profession haven’t reduced human trafficking. Activsits have called for the criminalization of buying (but not selling) sex in an effort to stamp out prostitution, and the government planned to ban “flat-rate” sex, which is when men pay a set amount of cash for a night’s worth of hanky-panky.
I wondered what the sex workers themselves thought of this debate, so I called up Undine de Revière, the spokesperson for the Professional Association of Erotic and Sexual Services, who’s been in the flesh business for 20 years.
VICE: What do you think about the studies that have found many instances of human trafficking in the sex industry? Is that something you worry about?
Undine de Revière: One of the two most commonly cited studies is based on a number of governmental reports that vary significantly in quality. I have witnessed some human-trafficking processes in court for research purposes, and it’s very complex. Most trafficking cases are a mix of voluntary sex work and a third party trying to influence the number of clients, sex acts, or the general workflow.
German Babies Don’t Need to Be Boys or Girls Anymore
It’s tempting to interpret legislative shifts as progress. After all, plenty of times they are. However, what looks like progress on the surface often masks a much more complicated underbelly. Think about the fight for marriage equality: if marriage is a fundamental right, then everyone certainly deserves access to it. Insofar as the fight for this access has further normalized and entrenched the institution of marriage—itself a problematic tradition with a deeply troubled past—progress becomes trickier to gauge.
This complex relationship between progress and problem is quite clear in regards to Germany’s new third gender option on birth certificates. As of November 1, it is no longer legally necessary for babies born in Germany to be registered as male or female on their birth certificates. Instead—in cases of newborns whose bodies don’t fall neatly into male or female categories physiologically—the male and female boxes on a birth certificate can be left unchecked.