The Scene: Berlin with Sylvain Tognelli, Michael Mackrodt and more.

From Kingpin Issue 126 - June 2014

„Berlin, Berlin, Berlin, Berlin, Berlin, Berlin, Berlin, Berlin, Berlin…
Wir fühl’n uns gut
Wir steh’n auf Berlin“ – Ideal, „Berlin“
(“Berlin, Berlin, …, …
We’re feelin’ alright
We really dig Berlin”)

“Berlin as a skate city – it’s first of all a myriad of spots and skaters! The city is so big that a fresh flow of new spots and skate crews that no one had ever heard about keeps coming up. Yet, the vibe is really friendly regardless of where you go or who you meet.” – Lennie Burmeister, cornerstone of the Berlin scene as we know it.

Berlin – there barely is any other city out there right now as attractive as Berlin. It seems everybody wants to come here for a quick taste of the much cited “poor but sexy” flair, once coined by the city’s illustrious mayor, Klaus Wowereit; and of course skateboarders naturally want to dig their teeth into a piece of that pie!

Reasons that make Berlin so darn attractive are aplenty: culture left and right; every happening artist or musician has Berlin far up on their hip-list – plus the city’s quite unique history, in which the divide and later reunion just form the latest of many moving chapters. The cost of living still is relatively cheap, though a definite rise in rent cannot be denied and shark-biting investors have long snatched up the cream of the real estate market. The fictitious “Döner-index” ranks Berlin at an estimated average of 2,50€ – more than reasonable realms! Yet, there is one thing people these days seem to come here for the most: parties! Celebrate yourself, life or lustre… no curfew, no limits.

A soil practically made for a vivid and lively skate scene.

„Und warm sind die Nächte in Berlin.
Wir taumeln durch die Straßen, so als wären wir jung und schön”   – Element Of Crime, „Jung und schön“
(“And warm are the nights in Berlin.
We stagger through streets, as if we were young and beautiful”)

The beauty of Berlin? No idea; beer, broads and spots?” – Martin “Ente” Zierdt, sessionkeeper, Radio skateboards- and Search & Destroy-representer.

Today Berlin holds a vast number of skaters. Yet, at the beginning of my memory horizon this clearly wasn’t the case. Back in the eighties for West Germans the city of Berlin laid far off, remotely placed inside GDR territory – almost abroad – only reachable through the heavily guarded transit highway. The then separated city had a couple of hands full of riders – who, therefor, did turn heads quite massively. In the West there was the child prodigy Sami Harithi shining bright on several Powell video-appearances, and the East retroactively claimed his fame through the award winning mockumentary This Ain’t California. In any case, the scene was straightforward and familiar. Everyone knew each other and skated together at several landmark spots such as the then “Baustelle” (building site) of the Kulturforum, the Memorial Church’s “Schnalle” or the Alexanderplatz.

Ilja Judizki, kickflip. Ph. Adam Sello.

However, when the wall crumbled in 1989 Germany’s reunification turned a lot of things inside out. Not just the city’s architecture, the skate-scene, its spots and customs also received a collective makeover. The Eastern sector saw people migrating massively towards bigger and brighter shores in the West, leaving behind decrepit, yet dirt-cheap housing and deadbeat industrial lots – an oasis for the creative and bohemian – the skater types! The scene began growing. Enforced separation turned into avid openness: more people, more influences, more ideas; if nothing else this is what feeds the fascination currently emanating from Berlin.

Had to get the train
From Potsdamer Platz
You never knew that
That I could do that…“ – David Bowie, „Where Are We Now?“

Skateboarding has changed the cityscape tremendously. In ’my’ time Berlin skateboarding existed in no way whatsoever on any international map. There was our posse (Sami Harithi, Robert Stoye, Hesse, Arne Krüger, Skism), as well as a few dudes in Märkisches Viertel and Spandau and a couple of others here and there. That was it! Everyone knew each other… like a family!

Today you couldn’t think of a Berlin without skateboarding.

I sometimes sit and try to imagine the number of skaters in the city right now. But I quickly come to the conclusion: I might not even be able to count that far…!” – Alex “Foley” Flach, Civilist and OG-Berlin-photog.

Today Berlin has many spots and parks to offer. There are so many more skaters than back in the late eighties. It was all small and familiar back then. Today people are creative and able to skate every construction site.” –Sami Harithi, OG-Berlin skate-legend.

The reunified Berlin spans a vast urban area. And though the scene has grown consistently over the last decades, these days you won’t necessarily meet everyone whilst out for a skate. Though the central spots such as Kulturforum still hold relevance, today’s scene is more on the go. A number of more or less tight crews like Chinchillas, Mongo-Bongo, LoveMe-collective, Basta, Salty Boys or Kippenflow roam the city and venture – even collectively – from spot to spot. Established meeting spots are Wassertorplatz in Kreuzberg, the “Polish monument” in Volkspark Friedrichshain, the Hasenheide park or the one at Maybachufer or the benches at Warschauer Straße. Throughout the central districts of Kreuzberg, Friedrichshain, Mitte and Prenzlauer Berg you get a fair chance of bumping into familiar faces. Yet, for inner city skaters missions to more outer districts, even Potsdam, comprise more of a “trip” flavour. The common means of transport are bikes. This way you best avoid the recurrent surfacing construction sites on which rush-hour traffic thickens or the rather regular of out-of-service S-Bahn trains. And along the way you get a chance to check courtyards or a foreign “Kiez” (district) for new or forgotten spots.

Louis Taubert, 360 flip up the steps.

„I’m guided by the beauty of our weapons

First we take Manhattan, then we take Berlin“ – Leonard Cohen, „First We Take Manhattan (I’m Your Man) 

The Berlin skate scene is relaxed like the rest of the city. On one side it means good vibes, welcoming, open minded skaters and a good time guaranteed every time you go skate. On the other side this general feeling of relaxation makes the skaters/filmers/photographers not push themselves as much as they could in my opinion. We are just too happy.

I love the variety of spots and the way they look. And cycling around in summer really isn’t that bad.” – Sylvain Tognelli, Bohemian, pusher of artistry in Berlin and worldwide skateboarding.

Once again, Berlin has been under constant change since the wall came down; so has the skate-scene. New faces at known spots are as common as resurfacing faces at brand new spots. Next to non-natives from all over Germany there has been a recent move of skaters from abroad that are relocating to the German capital. But no matter where from, amongst local skaters pretty much everyone is welcomed. The vibe is really chill: a rat race or envy for spots or tricks is pretty unheard of. What’s more common is the post-hangover sesh or the “Sterni” (Sternburger Pils, cheapest in town) àpres-skate.

In respect to the average Berliner, who in any case is said to be rather grumpy: he might moan at the weight of continuously doubling numbers of tourists over the last half-decade or the many “Schwaben” (Swabians/ southern Germans, said to be yuppieish and of lack of understanding for the Berlin ways of living). But no matter what, deep down they’re all nice people here. In any case, Berlin would fail terribly and be long gone down the river Spree without the constant afflux of solvent visitors.

„Ich fahr mit meinem Fahrrad Slalom durch Touristenkoffer
In dem Park vorbei an jamaikanischen Faschistenblockern
Hier hat jeder was er will
Die Spanier Pill’n, die Schwaben Vill’n

 An der Straße spielen Kinder Baklava-Baklava-Kuchen
Ich hab Hunger, ich glaub ich geh bei Italien-Ali ‘ne Pasta versuchen
Oder pflück mir’n Döner vom Baum, hier ist’n guter Boden
Gottseidank sind selbst die Ureinwohner zugezogen“ – Marteria, „Kreuzberg am Meer“

(“On my bike I slalom through the tourists’ bags
Into the park past Jamaican fascist-blockers
Here everyone is getting what they want
The Spaniards pills, the Swabians villas
On the streets kids play Backlava-Backlava patty-cake
I’m hungry, think I’ll head to Italian Ali, try some pasta
Or I pick me a Döner from a tree, good soil here
Thank god, even the natives re-locators here”)

I put a lot of effort into not learning German in the last 5 years, it has to mean I must find some kind of advantage being ’der Franzose’” – Sylvain Tognelli, “the Frenchie”.

Daniel Pannemann, ollie up ollie over the gap.

Since the “Die Wende” pretty much everywhere in Berlin has been under constant construction – yet, due to constant lack of funds, this has usually involved a lot of improvisation. No wonder, compared to Barcelona’s, Berlin’s spots come off as an alternate draft: this city is rough around the edges. However, just that is part of the allure. Rough ground, rusty edges, cracks, cobblestones – yet it still possesses unique shapes, variety and freedom. This one is for sure: usually skateboarding doesn’t seem to faze anyone here!

This might be another reason why Berlin has seen a bunch of interesting DIY sites pop-up over the recent years. Betonhausen making a start by Skatehalle Berlin, then the courtyard at Mellowpark in Köpenick, the Dog shit spot by Warschauer bridge or the Mongo-Bongo spot at Greifswalder Straße and a few other more or less long-lasting ventures. And despite gentrification and on-going development you’ll still be able to find free spaces, creative potential and able hands if you just look close enough.

„Und wir schreien’s laut:
Ihr kriegt uns hier nicht raus!“ – Ton Steine Scherben, „Rauch-Haus-Song“
(“And we shout out loud:

You won’t get us out of here!”)

“Throughout the Wende’s commotion there were many derelict and abandoned places in town. Add a little phantasy and you can go a long way. Betonhausen pushed things forward…!” – Lennie Burmeister, DIY machine.

In complexity Berlin is hard to beat. Every district has got its own face, its unmistakable ambiance: from the endless GDR-style prefab concrete slab projects in Marzahn-Hellersdorf to the genuine villas with vast gardens in Zehlendorf. Swabian stronghold Prenzlauerberg, period property “hipster-hausen” in “Kreuzkölln” aka. “New-Brooklyn” or “Indy-Ballermann” (chav paradise for Indy’s) in Friedrichshain. However, what almost every Berlin “Kiez” has in common is bumpy pavement bordered and intersected by cobble brinks and entrances. Relaxed rolling on average street wheel sizes is a rarity. On top of that some districts suffer from an acute contamination with doggy landmines. And at some spots – for example the famed Warschauer benches – you’ll more often find the party crowd’s remains in your hand in the form of tiny shards of booze bottle glass after you slam. Well, what doesn’t kill you…

 „Überall liegt Scheiße
man müsste eigentlich schweben…“ – Peter Fox, „Schwarz zu Blau“
(“Shit everywhere
In fact you should rather be floating…”)

“I hate not being able to push around in the city I live due to flatground retardation and the six months winters” – Sylvain Tognelli, not a fully ruff ryder.

To be exact, Berlin has two faces: rompy, boisterous, hot and carefree summers, and bitterly cold, grey and bleak winters. In summers there are a variety of parks and lakes spread in and around the city to make sure you get through the heat without suffering a stroke; the vast Mellowpark compound in Köpenick with its access to river Spree, lots of green and a ridiculous amount of skate-able terrain (DIY-concrete section, 20m mini, indoor and outdoor street park, vert, etc.) might offer the best package. But also the former Tempelhof airport airfield with its “Vogelfreiheit plaza and the various spots in Gleisdreieck park are always worth a visit.

Regarding the winters, fortunately the days of shivering in the cold of U-Bahn stations at Potsdamer Platz or Convention Centre ICC belong to the past since the formation of Skatehalle Berlin. And since its upgrade to Nike SB Shelter even the most die-hard street fanatics can get their tech ledge moves on there.

Dickes B, Home an der Spree
Im Sommer tust du gut
und im Winter tut’s weh…“ – Seeed, Dickes B“
(“Fat B, home by river Spree
In summers you do well
And in winters you bring the pain…”)

Winters in Berlin are always different; some tolerable, some unbearably cold. I try to get away as much as I can. Filming is not going to happen anyway: grit everywhere!” – Michi Mackrodt, temperature sensitive globetrotter who resides in Berlin.

But no matter which time of the year it is, anyone coming here will get to experience Berlin. Besides a vast variety of spots you’ll find clubs, bars, restaurants, galleries, museums, sights and shops for any taste. Come by and see for yourself, just don’t let the odd rough comment put you off! Given you’re not a complete idiot, I’m pretty sure you’ll find your session with The Scene no problem!

Kreuzberg, Friedrichshain and Neukölln: countless bars and clubs, visited by tourists from all over the world in summer.

Positive: City development that lets skateboarding merge into the cityscape more and more.” – Valeri Rosomako, Berlin skate-wizard.

Berlin. Halleluja Berlin, halleluja Berlin,
alle wollen da hin, deshalb will ich das aaaaaauch …“ – Rainald Grebe, „Brandenburg“

(“Berlin. Hallelujah Berlin, hallelujah Berlin, everyone wants to be here, thus I wanna be toooooo…”)