Berlin and its pneumatic robots

Pneumatic robots-musicians abruptly twitched and hissed like snakes. It seemed sometimes that they were moving independently, not under command of their own artist Kolja Kugler. The left robot touched the bass-guitar strings, the right one banged the drums with the wooden sticks. Iron birds sang a simple melody in the middle. The impression of live performance dissipated only when a robot got broken. Then Kolja went on the stage, returned a stubborn detail on her place with the help of a hammer or changed the wooden stick broken by a rude iron drummer.

I stumbled upon the Wild Waste Gallery accidentally, when I was looking for the toys for my son at the flea market on the Greifswalder Street next to the eponymous station S-Bahny’s. This is abandoned territory, where former industrial warehouses are located. Now, on Sundays, poor Berlin families that sell old toys of their children for nothing gather there from time to time. When I was leaving the flea market with a tiny catch, I noticed a banner with a map and the words on it: “We won’t tell what it is, but it’s here”. I became curious and followed the specified route. At the entrance of the gallery a slightly surprised pickup was standing and further, a man like a smiled drug dealer collected donations: want to enter – give at least twenty cents.

A bit further an artist-engineer with big earing in both ears mounted cyberpunk of astrolabe. The visitors approached him and he told about the principle of work of this device.

I stood a little near the folk-musicians, who played on the stage, made out of an old rusty container, and came up to the scene with robots. They reigned there, but their retinue impressed: the pieces of androids and fantastic beasts were around. Pterosaurs made out of an old iron pump peculiarly impressed.

Kolja Kugler became famous in 1990 when he turned the archaic machinery of the Cold War times into the peaceful artworks. The most famous work of those times is the Soviet fighter MIG-21, which flies just out of the four-storey building. Within the course of the time, Kolja learnt to animate his sculptures with the help of pneumatic automatics. Back then he created his “One Love Machine Band” and calls himself “the director of the pneumatic robot-sculptures band, which express the joy for life, playing on the real instruments”. He creates his sculptures without any plan. “This is the play of chaos, I call it mutation”, Kolja says. “The more life I manage to gain from the pile of iron waste, the better”. Kugler’s robots don’t only play, but also dance, clack the jaws and wink.

There were few people around, most of them were punks in ragged clothes or the youth connected to the art movement. Tourists, like those robots, go from Alexanderplatz to the Brandenburg Gate and Bundestag down Unter den Linden, they never drop by. Although this gallery consists of the waste, it’s utterly clean: nobody dumps cigarette ends and empty beer cans, everything is collected into the plastic bags.

Another interesting Berling location is near the Warschauer Strasse Station. If you, not reaching the station itself, face the Spree river, on the left you will see the recess, where former factories and warehouses were located. Now, there is the complex of cultural warehouses, which resembles our Kyiv art-factory on the Lisova Station.

There are a bar and a street-art gallery at the very entrance. There you can buy albums with authors’ stickers, which literally cover all of Berlin.

A bit further – BIMM Institute Berlin – famous musical school. The poster with Oleg Sentsov is stretched on its front.

Further, there’s a music club, where the festival of the electronic music was being held on that day. I entered the building with a note on the doors: “No place for hatred, sexism, racism, fascism, homophobia and antisemitism”. Inside, a programmer showed how to write music without musical instruments, only with the help of software code.

At the entrance of the music hall, I saw an immense tower caked with the chunks of coloured pebbles. Holding them and simple equipment, several local climbers climbed up the tower.

Then I saw a sauna and garage with small cars. Adult men sat in them and, led by the owner of the service, drove in circles before the entrance of the abandoned workshop.

This complex ended with several shops with antic furniture. One of the impressing peculiarities of this city is, perhaps, the highest concentration of street art per square meter of the walls.

Moving from the Warschauer Strasse Station to the Spree river, you’ll find yourself on the remains of the Berlin Wall. This previously known macabre artefact of the Cold War now is a trivial touristic detail. Behind it carivurst is eaten (sausage with curry, ketchup and fried potato) and before it, a selfie is taken and the souvenirs are bought.

However, it’s worth crossing Spree by the famous bridge Oberbaumbrücke and getting to the West Berlin, namely its Kreuzberg region. There is a huge amount of interesting street-arts and original shops as well as nightclubs. Sometimes their visitors make performances. It looks impressing. Several hundred people are walking along the street, in front of them is a car with enormous dynamics, from which deafening techno music is coming. It’s heard within miles, but just after a car, merely with their heads stuck in the dynamics are walking some people. I suppose they have after this a real concussion.

If you come to Berlin, multistory Dussmann Library near the Friedrichstrasse underground station is a must-visit. For those who don’t read in German, there’s a big two-storey section for books in English. The books in it cost from 5 to 60 euros. This time I picked a full edition of stories by Flannery O’Connor for 15, even though I wanted to purchase all premium release stories by Kurt Vonnegut for 50. Actually, if you know a bit of German, travelling across this library for hours is more interesting, than doing the same in the supermarkets. Here you’ll find the thing that you don’t have for sure. All the books from Dussman you’ll keep safely for many years.

Another peculiarity of Berlin is its numerous flea markets, which are called Flohmarkt. Search them on Google maps by the keywords Berlin Flohmarkt: they all are marked on the city map. Each of these flea markets, compared to Kyiv Pochayna (former Petrivka), is quite small, but you can find unexpected things there. For instance, I got interested in the boxes with ancient coins at the flea market near Mauerpark. There I found two coins, both for two francs dated 1943 and 1947. In occupied France, Nazi established the motto: “Work, Family, Motherland”. At the moment France had been freed, its democratic motto was back: “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity”. What is the fascist in the work, family and motherland? Manipulating by these notions, fascists try to divert attention from equality and liberty to restrict human rights. “For the sake of family and motherland, you can reject liberty and equality”, they said.

To explore Berlin, you have to meet it. Except for typical tourist attractions and a standard list of museums, there is a bunch of interesting things. You have to hunt them.

Oleg Shynkarenko

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