Thursday 12 November 2015

A fresh face, chatting with Phil

Our newest team member Phil was born in Dublin in 1989 and spent the 90s pursuing a soccer career which never quite materialised.  Turning to books he studied history with a particular focus on 16th century Ireland.  This in turn inspired the search for exotic escapes, Argentina, Japan, the travel seed was planted.  Phil finished his degree in Melbourne but found the incessant sunshine and general sense of optimism crushingly at odds with the Irish spirit.  In this light, Berlin seems an appropriate place for Phil to have settled down, for the time being as least...

With winter approaching, what are your plans, the to-do-list of getting acquainted with Berlin during its long, dark months?

Surviving is high on that list. This will be my first winter in Berlin and I've been told to prepare for something quite grim and cold, but having moved from Ireland I'm surely well suited, they are two of our main exports. A fact which may explain the current imbalance in relations between our two countries. Another priority during those long dark winter months is staying active. The tendency at this time of year is to over consume- in all areas- and do less but it's something I'm keen to avoid. If for no other reason than I'll quickly take on the physical appearance of a melted candle

Aside from those two relatively unambitious goals, I really want to immerse myself in the language by taking courses. In school I had the option to study Spanish or German. As I was deciding which, I vividly remember uttering the words 'I'll never live in Germany', before going with Spanish! Berlin is also a centre of ideas and I'd like to become more acquainted with some of the groups that organise and campaign for alternative solutions to some of the big issues of the day. Before I left home I was becoming a bit more politically conscious and engaged and I'd like to continue down that path, in a city of enormous importance.

It seems we have a few rock climbers on our team.  Brandenburg is not really known for its mountains though.  How is your new home treating you in terms of this hobby?  Have you explored any of the urban climbing centres in Berlin, or have you found some free climbing locations?

What Berlin lacks in 8000m peaks, it more than makes up for in 8000mm teaks. Actually, they're tropical and not native to Berlin so that doesn't quite work, for lots of reasons but the backspace on my keyboard is broken so it stays. No, this is not the place for climbers! I have sampled some of the indoor walls the city has to offer but the real satisfaction has always been that time in the outdoors. A beautiful setting, good company, a rope, some (climbing) gear and a crag. The fulfilment at the end of a day on the hills is impossible to get at an indoor wall, sadly! In every other facet of life Berlin is immensely satisfying but that is one void I've yet to fill. Unless there is an undiscovered fault line running under the city it's likely to always remain very flat, certainly for the duration of my stay here. I've made my peace with that.

May I probe the subject of how you ended up moving to Berlin anyway?  How does one working in a museum in Dublin come about a life opportunity in Germany?  Are you enjoying working outdoors, touring through the city as a living museum?

I moved to Berlin for a woman. Very cliché, isn't it? While in Dublin I met a student of Humboldt University doing her internship and here I am. Ira is originally Siberian, a fact which bemused my mother who thought only bears and wolves live there. We were quite fortunate finding an apartment and are nicely settled in leafy Wilmersdorf. I've usually lived in places next to cars propped up on bricks and areas filled with hooded youths masquerading as urban jedis so this has been an interesting change of scenery. Berlin's parks are wonderful and I'm right next to one with lots of ping pong tables and plenty of other facilities. Those small details make a huge difference. Walking through the city on a daily basis, I'm always amazed how much it's been through, a living museum, like you say. Everyday I feel like I'm discovering and understanding more, bit by bit, day by day. I can't think of a better way to gain that understanding than leading others through the city.

Many of our guides have commented on the spirit of Berlin, its freedom and creativity and general vibe of nonconformity.  I just discovered an illustrator who visualises those quirks which make Berlin so unique, those things that perhaps become 'normal' after a few years, but are definitely not the norm beyond the city limits.  With you having moved here fairly recently, can you share with us one of those moments where you thought, 'ahhh this is beautiful and strange and it only could happen in Berlin'.  I think you know what I mean, If not, call me crazy and skip the question!

Yes! There have been so many of those moments that only feel possible in this city. The one that leaps to mind happened very soon after moving here. Myself and Ira were wandering around Ostkreuz and stumbled upon a protest around the issue of housing on the grounds of an old derelict, abandoned warehouse. An interesting collection of individuals and groups in attendance- anarchists, environmentalists and so on. It was all very typical and standard but just as it appeared to be coming to an end a convoy of trucks pulled up and the protest hit the streets. Huge numbers joined in as they crawled along the busy roads while pumping techno music from enormous speakers which were mounted on top! The atmosphere was incredible and it felt absolutely unique to Berlin. Definitely one of those moments when I felt privileged to live in such a weird and wonderful place.

Your enthusiasm is contagious Phil, thank you!

Wednesday 30 September 2015

Germany's Reunification, 25 years later

With this BIG holiday just around the corner, I thought I would share some articles which put Germany's reunification into perspective.  Catch up with this reading list, and then celebrate with confidence on Saturday!

East Berliners go west on November 11, 1989. Source: AP 
By Klaus Wiegrefe
When the Berlin Wall fell in November 1989, nobody expected Germany to be reunified less than a year later. New documents released by the Foreign Ministry in Berlin shed new light on the dramatic negotiations that led to East and West Germany becoming one. 

Reunification Renovations: A Massive Facelift for Eastern Germany

By Solveig Grothe 
During a trip to East Germany in 1990, photographer Stefan Koppelkamm discovered buildings that had survived both the war and the construction mania of the East German authorities. Ten years later, he returned to photograph the buildings again. The comparison threw up some unexpected contrasts.

'Two million fewer people in former East' since German reunification

More than 25 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, official statistics show two million fewer people live in the former East German states. Eastern states' economies are still weak in comparison with western ones.

Germany 25 years after the Berlin Wall: 5 charts shown its transformation

Thursday 13 August 2015

Olympic Village Day Tripping

one of the smaller cottage-like sleeping quarters
This past weekend I hopped on my bike and explored a place in Berlin that had been on my to-do-list for a long time, Olympic Village.  Located to the west of Berlin in the town of Elstal in the Brandenburg countryside lies this ruin.  Unlike Hitler's 1936 Olympic Stadium which has been renovated and is used regularly, Olympic Village is mostly un-touched aside from a few boarded up windows.  There are bits such as the indoor swimming hall which have been updated and host youth-group sport teams, but as you can see by these photos, the majority of the buildings sit in a state of decay.

House of the Nations canteen


Elstal was located in East Germany and the Olympic village was used by the Soviet Army.  A series of pre-fab buildings were added.  The army resided here until 1992 when they officially withdrawal from German soil.

housing, now without windows or doors, Soviet era I believe

more of a villa looking building on the premises

housing, Soviet?

another view of the House of Nations canteen

4,000 sportsmen slept and trained here.  Woman were not allowed.  The above building must be Soviet era though, the pre-fabricated plattenbau which is very commen throughout former East Berlin.

more information in German

and an interesting article from our friends at Slow Travel Berlin

Friday 17 July 2015

summer in Potsdam

our guide Maria on tour

Have you been to Potsdam?  From April to October you can join Insider on a day trip to this amazing gem of a town less then an hour away from Berlin.  As the perfect weather returns I highly suggest you take the time, get out of the city, and discover this UNESCO World Heritage site.  Not only is the city incredibly picturesque, with its many palaces, lakes, manicured gardens, statues and water fountains dotted over hundreds of green acres, but it is brimming with an equally fascinating history

Monday 25 May 2015


We are VERY busy hosting all our wonderful guests!  Hence the delay in posting the next Tour Guide Interview.  Please stay tuned, and in the mean time, enjoy a quick peek at the action!

Thursday 30 April 2015

May Days of Berlin Past

Civilians in May Day parade in East Berlin

May Day In East & West Berlin (1960)

Monday 6 April 2015

East, West and stuck in the middle with Nickolai

Born in what was then the communist capital of Bulgaria, Sofia, Nickolai's family fled from behind the Iron Curtain and made for sunny California, where he spent the bulk of his young life.  He still remembers though, his first visit to Berlin at the tender age of twelve, when the Wall left an indelible impression on him.
 Are there any parts of this city which remind you of your childhood in Bulgaria, aesthetically or in terms of atmosphere Nickolai?
In the States I used to live in New York, New Jersey, Chicago and Santa Cruz. I am such an odd mixture of West meets East and NATO meets the Warsaw Pact that my move to Berlin 10 years ago made the perfect sense and no, I never get to feel any kind of nostalgia towards my old countries; if I miss the USA I just go to Potsdamer Platz with its glitz and glamour and if I miss my childhood in communist Bulgaria then I can just go to the remote East Berlin districts of Lichtenberg and Marzahn with their depressing tenement high rises and I´ll feel right at home. Of course, one has to add that, contrary to stereotypes, not everything in the east block used to be grey, there were pockets full of colour and one such example would be the overpowering and exhilarating Karl Marx Allee, formerly known as Stalin Allee and often times dubbed Stalin´s gift to the people of the DDR. A stroll along Karl Marx Allee happens to be one of my favourite walks in the city. The feeling is very special and it also never fails to surprise the western tourists.
apartment block on Karl Marx Allee

 You are an avid traveller, most recently visiting Ethiopia.  Did you bring anything in particular back with you?  I hear Langano on Kohlfurterstrasse is quite a good restaurant.  Would you recommend it after having tasted authentic Ethiopian food?
Indeed, my number one hobby is travelling and for me the best education any human being can possibly receive is to visit foreign countries. I loved Ethiopia and what I brought back is what Ethiopia is most famous for: coffee. Thanks to a growing Italian expat community, Berlin´s coffee scene is improving but it is still not yet to the level of the country which started the entire culture of coffee drinking: Ethiopia. So Ethiopian coffee was the souvenir of choice from that country. Langano is a very good restaurant indeed but I also really like Bejte Ethiopia on Zietenstrasse 8 in Schöneberg, very close to Nollendorf Platz.

 On that note, can you recommend any Bulgarian restaurants in Berlin?  (I suppose I am hungry as I ask these questions!)
Berlin´s ethnic restaurant scene is fabulous and that also goes for the Bulgarian restaurants in Berlin, they are very authentic. My favourite is a place called Pri Maria, located on Gärtnerstrasse 12, right on Boxhagener Platz in the super trendy district of Friedrichshain and the reason why I enjoy it so much is because the owner, Maria, has managed to put her own twist to the otherwise, meat heavy Bulgarian cuisine, by turning her kitchen into a very vegetarian friendly kitchen and thus creating a very interesting spin to Balkan food in general. And it goes without saying, not all of the dishes on offer in this restaurant are vegetarian, there is something for everyone.
 With your travels often bringing you far beyond Europe, I am interested in your opinion on Berlin's plan for its Ethnological Museum collection,  due to be moved from Dahlem, on the outskirts of the city, to Schlossplatz, the reconstructed city palace.
Ha ha ha. If anyone wants to see traditional Bavarian clothing, lederhosen and dindlr, one does not need to travel all the way to an ethnological museum located all the way in Dahlem; one can just visit Alexanderplatz´s Hofbräuhaus and look at what the waiters are wearing. Of course, joke aside, museums such as the Ethnological Museum of Berlin and Haus der Kulturen der Welt (the house of the cultures of the world), go way beyond traditional German clothing, they are intended to show the citizens of Berlin what the world looks like outside their borders and introduce foreign cultures to the people of this city, so moving such places to central locations is a positive thing indeed. Now what my opinion is on the entire Schlossplatz project, well, you´ll have to just join my Famous Walk Tour where I have a thing or two to say regarding this controversial topic.
Berlin city palace, prior to WWII
 As with many of our guides, you have a background in theatre.  Do you feel as if you assume a role when guiding?  If you could have a Berlin street-stage name, what would it be?
A background in theatre really helps with tour guiding since tour guiding does require a level of performance and in my case the city of Berlin is my stage. If I have to take on a tour guiding stage name it would have to be ridiculously German sounding and it would have to be associated with Berlin´s 1920´s decadent cabaret scene, such as Fritz Grünbaum or Peter Hammerschlag (actual cabaret performers that really existed). And on this note if non German speaking tourists are interested in seeing German theater then I would have to recommend the Volksbühne on Rosa Luxamburg Platz which is an experimental theater where one does not need to follow a text in order to understand the production. 
Thanks for all the tips Nickolai, and see you on the streets, Hammerschlag!

Wednesday 4 March 2015

road trip to Colditz

This week we staff snuck out of the office to join a few guides in exploring the infamous Colditz Castle, aka WWII POW camp.  Nick Jackson, one of our star guest guides, hosted us on an amazing behind the scenes tour! Nick, a jack of many trades, works for the great Berliner Unterwelten association, documenting and researching Berlin’s underground history.  When not in the city he can be found exploring Third Reich sites, working as a travel journalist, and excavating, touring and lecturing in the Eastern Mediterranean.  Nick had us all hanging on his words as we visited the locations where so many unbelievable escape attempts, many successful, took place.

a bit of history first
"From 1939 - 1945 Colditz Castle becomes a prisoner of war camp for Allied officers from Great Britain and the Commonwealth, France, Belgium, Holland and Poland. The official name of the camp is "OFLAG IV C" and it is claimed that the castle is escape-proof. However, prisoners succeed in making their escape over 30 occasions despite the rocky crags on which the castle stands, the barbed-wire fences, the numerous guards and the searchlights" excerpt from

the train station where prisoners would have arrived
we head through town and toward the castle
Colditz town square. anyone who thought it would be warmer in the castle was wrong!
we arrive

site of one escape attempt, through the theater's stage floor
and another, through a basement store room
and out this very small hole

one can get an idea of the steep drops surrounding the castle

view of the former hunting park below, used as a sport area for prisoners. guess what, some successful escapes took place from there!
one escape route, through a shaft in the wall
the views were great
with the knowledge we could leave

Monday 23 February 2015

mumpitz, mountains and surviving the Berlin winter, with Michael

Originally from London, Michael became addicted to the history of ‘the definitive 20th century city’ - Berlin. This complimented with two years training as an actor brought Michael to tour guiding. How and when did you move to Berlin though? Did you visit much before you took the plunge? 

It was in July, 2008 that I forsook my island home and travelled across the sea, from the port of Harwich to the Hook of Holland, to The Continent. Although the overnight crossing was more expensive than a flight in both time and money, the sea journey felt more dramatic and final. I was also carrying the rest of my life with me and there was no weight restriction on board ship.
Dare it be said? I had tired of London. Struggling to meet my rent, to pay for that second pint, to get around the edge of my bed in my too small bedroom, also well into my thirties without having found traction in my life and tiring of London’s frenetic pace, I left.
I had thought of Italy, Basilicata or Calabria, where the sun shines and where the women are said to be very beautiful. I thought I might teach English there, as I had in London. As it happens though I met a beautiful woman in London, a German, who lured me to her native land instead.
I lived in Munich at first, because the mountains are near and my parents live there. They are EU migrants like me. However, my woman, Katja, could not find work in her line in southern Germany and so we were separated. I became despondent because I am a social animal and I was soon bored of Munich and lonely.
I had visited Berlin a number of times in the autumn and winter and didn’t really like it, but I missed Katja and decided that I had nothing to lose by moving north. To my great surprise and hers, Katja suggested we live together and find a flat to rent. I tried to play it cool but jumped at the chance.
We have been living together in Berlin for six years now, and have since been joined by two other Germans, Berliners indeed, our cats Polly and Franzi.

You are an avid climber. What do you think of Berlin's city climbing options? Have you ever climbed Humbolthain?

I am a below average rock climber in my spare time. I like to justify my poor performance on rock by seeing myself as an all-rounder, a mountaineer who can also ski and climb ice, albeit rather clumsily. However, Berlin’s geology presents the climber with a problem because Berlin is built on sand. About 16000 years ago and during the last Ice Age, a 1 kilometre high ice sheet (3 times the height of Berlin’s T.V. Tower) pushed through the Urstromtal flattening everything that was not flat already. Eventually the ice began to melt and was in retreat. The meltwater from that thaw is effectively today’s groundwater, on average just 3 meters or so below the surface. Inbetween us and the water is the glacial silt or sand that was groundup and pushed about by the ice sheet. 
So there is no rock for the rock climbers to climb. We make do with concrete boulders as at Volkspark Friedrichshain, the Magic Mountain climbing hall at Gesundbrunnen or the new German Alpine Club members’ hall near the main railway station. There are more surprising venues such as the north face of a former flak tower used for air defence in WWII in Humboldthain, but I find the routes too hard there. 

view from Humboldhain, photo credit

Speaking of high places, what is you favourite vantage point in Berlin?

My favourite vantage point in Berlin is from my bed with a cup of tea with the curtains opened on a beautiful clear blue sky. Another was within a particular café with a view of a particular waitress. Of more practical interest to the reader might be the canteen of the Federal Ministry of Defence. This has an expansive view of the Tiergarten park, the Reichstag, the Victory Column, Potsdamer Platz et al. The canteen is open to the public at lunchtime from 1pm and from Monday to Friday. It is also very, very reasonably priced and is in the same building as the German Resistance Memorial and exhibition. 

The city is petitioning to host the the 2024 or 2028 Olympics. What is your opinion on this matter? 

Berlin should not seek (with Hamburg) to host the Olympics. First, Germany does quite well enough at sport already without making an extra effort. After all, they’ve just won the football World Cup again, what more do they want? Second, neither Berlin nor Hamburg are very good at managing big projects at the moment. Witness Hamburg’s Elbe Philharmonie fiasco, the debacle of Berlin’s restoration of the Staatsoper Unter den Linden and the scandal of the still unopened Berlin International Airport. Unless there are absolutely watertight proposals for an enduring economic benefit, and Berliners would take a great deal of convincing, it is too risky a venture for a city that has about 60 billion Euros of debt. Still it would be good for us tour guides wouldn’t it? 

On a lighter note, can you recommend some tactics for getting through these (last, hopefully!) months of winter? 

A sure fire way of getting through a Berlin winter is to leave now and then. Otherwise wear everything when outside and later hunker down with friends over meat and potatoes. Of course, during Advent and the Christmas season there is hot sweet wine (Glühwein) which is an essential at the Christmas markets. And the winter can be embraced with a spot of ice skating or such. Actually, it might even take counselling which saw me through the winter before last. Another good option are the saunas and spas in and around Berlin, but beware the Germans take all of their clothes of in such places and it is expected that you do the same. Well if you can’t beat them, join them! 

As a perpetual German language student myself, sometimes it is necessary to come at the challenge with a bit of humour.  What is your favourite German word? 

My favourite German word changes from time to time. For some reason or none I used to keep using the term ‘genau’ (exactly) when speaking German. My favourite word for a considerable time now is ‘mumpitz’ (nonsense) which appeals to me because I have a taste for mompitz anyway and it is even quite a fun, silly word to hear and say. 

Well then, thank you Michael, for all the practical, entertaining and purely nonsensical bits of this interview!

Tuesday 3 February 2015

industrial Rock and the fourth Wall with Maria

Maria, half Swedish and half Japanese, was brought up in Sweden.  At a young age she became restless and went to Paris and Milan to pursue modelling work, and then onto London to study drama.

How and why did you move to Berlin?  What was your first impression of the city?

I was always fascinated by Berlin and it’s dark history. When I lived in London, I didn’t have any money so I used to stay at home and watch History channel, which might as well be called World War II channel. My situation there was getting quite unbearable. Because of my Theatre work I had managed to amass huge debts. To survive I had about 3-4 different jobs. I was working early mornings at Heathrow Airport with security and customer service, guided tourists, promotion work and wrote some articles for a Swedish Rock magazine.
It was my interest in German heavy industrial Rock that brought me to Berlin.

The magazine I used to work for got me an interview with the drummer in Rammstein so I came over here to report on them. I just fell in love with the city. Never had I been to such a unique place. It is like it is newborn. Constantly changing and growing out of the ruins from the 20th century. You never get bored here. There is always something going on, it’s vibrant and creative. I returned several times and for awhile I was almost commuting from London. My situation there was getting worse so after awhile I thought: It’s time for a change and it’s in the EU so I can work there and make a fresh start. During my visits I had also met a guitar player who turned out to be a jerk but love is blind. After a few years I realised but my love for the city remained.

You studied theatre and worked as an actress. Do you attend much theatre in Berlin? Do you have a favourite venue?

I am ashamed to admit that I haven’t been as much to the Theatre as I would like to. My music interest has taken over and I am writing for another Swedish magazine now, Slavestate. All my free time is being taken up with attending Rock festivals and gigs. When I first arrived I went to the Berliner Ensemble and I also went to some smaller youth theatres because friends were performing there. My favourite venue is still the Berliner Ensemble because of the quality of their work.

Berliner Ensemble around 1908
Postcard, scanned by Andreas Praefcke

You travelled a lot before settling in Berlin, and still do travel a considerable amount. What has kept you in Berlin?

Travelling is my life and I usually get a bit restless when I stay in the same place for too long. I still travel but I think Berlin will be my base from now on. The place doesn’t feel stagnant and there is so much life here. What kept me here is the creative scene and the energy of it. The city is cheaper than most western capitals and because of this, people can afford to express themselves. Other big cities have become so expensive and money oriented, that all people do is running around trying to stay afloat. Here it is not so important to have a car or a flatscreen TV which makes it feel so more relaxed.

Your knowledge of the city is really impressive. Do you have a specific story or figure from Berlin history that has inspired you?

The 1920’s before the Nazi’s came to power, when the city went through an unprecedented wave of creativity and decadence is my favourite era. My inspiration is the playwright Bertolt Brecht. His concept of the epic Theatre that broke down the fourth wall towards the audience was a new and brave concept. The style and music by Kurt Weil made his plays into a unique experience. My very first Theatre experience was Brecht’s “The Good Person of Szechwan”. I think I was only 9 years old and it blew me away! I was so impressed with how you could tell such an engaging story in such an abstract way that I decided to become an actress. Then I saw “Cabaret” when I was twelve and my obsession with Berlin started seriously. Unfortunately it took me a long time before I got here but I am so glad I finally did and I think I am staying.

Bertold Brecht, Lotte Lenya, Kurt Weill

Friday 16 January 2015

underappreciated amazements with Maisie

Hailing from London, Maisie has a fascination for all things Teutonic.  After finishing studies in art and architectural history with a specialisation in German cultural politics she worked as an assistant on the BBC's flagship radio news programme, Today.  These days she co-hosts an English-language Berlin-themed radio show.  How did you make the move from London to Berlin Maisie?

I first came as a student in 2000 to do my Erasmus year at the Free University. It completely blew me away. I spent the year on a real high. It's a total cliche to say it now, but it was very exciting, like nowhere else I'd been before and very different. So much space, dirt cheap, really a big playground for people with no money.  Coming from London, it was very refreshing to be somewhere where cash wasn't king. It felt pretty egalitarian. You could live pretty much anywhere in the former East, including the centre. It was very common for students to live in villas and huge, palatial apartments, albeit slightly run-down.  I had friends living on Kollwitzplatz, which is now Berlin's most expensive street, in 4 bed apartments by themselves.With coal heating of course.

In a lot of the East, there was obviously still a very strong post-communist feel- it was very bleak in many areas- and the parts of the former West which had been near the Wall- like east Kreuzberg- were quite edgy. The other thing that struck me was the space. So many vast empty spaces, especially in the area where the Wall had stood. They've mostly been filled in now. There were also a lot fewer people around. Hardly any expats, at least that I knew of. I remember being amazed to hear some American voices once at Brandenburg Gate, like: "What are THEY doing here???!!".  Berlin felt very free. There was a lot of spontaneity and parties in the most unusual places. It felt like anything was possible. Except making money or getting a well paid job. It made a massive impression on me. 
I finished my Erasmus year in 2001, then went on to do an MA, worked at the BBC for a bit, then came back permanently in 2005. 

Can you tell us a bit about your baby, Radio Spätkauf.  How has your experience been, going into spätis and asking to record introductions?  Any stories to share?

Radio Spätkauf is a joint effort between me and my journalist friend Joel and an artist called Andrew. It's a kind of news and culture show for Berlin, trying to keep people in touch with what's going on here on a local level. 
Most of the Späti owners have been very obliging and nice, although I must admit, Joel was the one asking them. We once found this really feisty Thai woman running a Späti out in a shed in Grünau in the former east. But she was so scary, I couldn't bring myself to ask her. I regret that, because she'd probably have been very entertaining!

There is a lot of frustration and talk about Berlin's hyper gentrification these days.  Do you see Berlin going in the direction of London, or do you think there is hope for us here?
Berlin has changed a lot over the past 8 years or so, but I don't think it's going to be turning into London in the immediate future. London has been gentrifying slowly for decades. Plus the poverty gap is and has always been much greater there. The Germans are more, dare I say it, 'socialist' in their outlook, even the Christian Democrats, with regards to welfare, housing, etc.  Social & economic inequality don't seem to be quite as pronounced here, although I can see things changing.  That said, although they are gradually being legislated, tenants, for example, have a lot more rights and protection from ruthless landlords than they do in the UK. Random rent hikes and evictions are much harder to enforce.  That said, we shouldn't relativize the situation too much: there is now a big deficit in affordable housing in Berlin. Poor people are being forced out of the centre, kicked out of the areas they grew up in. I hope that the city government starts building more social housing and does more to protect people on lower incomes. The property & rental price hikes in Berlin have made them really vulnerable. Affordability is a large part of Berlin's appeal. If it loses that, it's lost much of what makes it such an interesting and attractive city.

We at Insider know your great love for East Berlin architecture.  Why is this style so close to your heart, is it purely aesthetics?  Can you choose one favourite Berlin building to tell us a bit about.

Komplex Leipzigerstrasse, a series of tower blocks designed by Werner Strassenmeier and the Joachim Näther collective, which were built from 1969 onwards.

I think for me it's about aesthetics, but also what it represents.  The GDR ceased to exist a year after the Wall fell, but one of its legacies- architecture- has taken a lot longer to go.  Architecture was such a strong part of GDR visual culture. Buildings and the accompanying deco or public art- murals, mosaics, sculptures-  were supposed to reflect the ideals of the state- built socialism, if you like.  But if you take it out of its context, much of it is not explicitly political. Apart from the Stalinist stuff from the 50s, like Karl Marx Allee, or the big housing projects, it is not especially 'communist'.  A lot of public buildings from the 60s and 70s, like Ulrich Müther's structures, really just reflect international building trends of that time. They seem pretty space-age and futuristic. The same applies to a lot of GDR public art. It's so utopian and stylised- like the one by Walter Womacka on the Haus des Lehrers on Alexanderplatz, but some of it could come from Britain in the 70s.

I can also get interested in a bit of GDR architecture or deco, that might even be really ugly,  purely because of what it represents. Since I moved here in 2000, a lot of stuff has been demolished, for various reasons. It's on it's way out, it's ephemeral, unlike say, the Reichstag. I think that adds to its appeal. You never know whether something will be pulled down the next week or not. 
That's what my blog GDR design is about. It's not trying to idealise the GDR or put a positive spin on anything, it just tries to document all these quirky structures or bits of public art which have survived communism but won't be around for much longer. 

Walter Womacka’s mural ‘Der Mensch dass Mass alle Dinge’ (Man, the measure of all things) removed from the side of the Ministerium für Bauwesen in Breite Strasse prior to demolition in 2011.

My favourite East German building is probably the former State Council building on Schlossplatz, behind the new city palace. It's 1960s representative architecture and they spent a lot of money on it, so it's got that 'people's palace' vibe about it. It now belongs to a very expensive business school, ironically. But it's been renovated, and they did a good job. It's essentially been done up, but has kept its original character, like the TV tower. There's a huge stained glass window in the entrance hall, again by Womacka, THE state artist in the GDR. Worth a look if you're in the area.

Womacka stained glass, former State Council

Thanks for opening our eyes to all the architectural treasures we have hidden amidst Berlin!