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Frankly … Berlin
A snack bar owner for 15 minutes

Hard Rock Café Berlin
When the Hard Rock Café is hidden from view by crowds of tourists, then yes – we are back in Berlin. | Photo (detail): Britta Pedersen © dpa

Our man in Berlin: to launch his “Frankly ... Berlin” column, Gerasimos Bekas throws himself into the hustle and bustle of the big city, trips over a dog lead and almost embarks on a career in the restaurant business.

By Gerasimos Bekas

Welcome! Great that you are all here. My name is Gerasimos Bekas and our tour can get started. From now on I’m your man in Berlin. So what’s the story in the big city? How do people here live? Once a month, I’m going to be setting off to find some answers for you.   
Let’s begin where I find Berlin most difficult to fathom: on Kurfürstendamm, not far from Zoo Station. Tourists end up here every day, staying in the countless hotels and strolling along the shopping boulevards. They stop off for coffee at Café Kranzler or visit Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church. Generally you only encounter locals round here when they need to buy a last-minute gift or are hurrying off to work in one of the nearby office buildings.

Rich and poor, young and old

There are not many places in Berlin that bring such a wide variety of people together in such a small area. It is not only the rich and the poor, the young and the old who meet here on Ku’damm; foreigners and locals also crowd the pavements between new buildings that are more reminiscent of spaceships and grand old buildings from the Wilhelmine era. No matter how much this city has changed over the past one hundred years, it has always remained true to itself in one respect: Berlin is an eternal building site – which perhaps is just part of its flair. And this is no less true of the Ku’damm, this splendid avenue that suffered an unfortunate dip in popularity: hoardings and barriers are just everywhere as Berlin seeks to make itself look just like every other European city centre, dominated by flagship stores and hotel and restaurant chains.
Gazing all around me, I fail to notice that my legs have got caught up in the lead of a meticulously coiffed poodle that is trying to make a run for it, and I trip. Its owner mumbles something about behaviour therapy. Her branded shopping bags are evidence of a successful shopping jaunt. She hardly has time to apologize as her poodle drags her off and she does her best to keep up on her high heels. It is not only humans who are agitated by the temples to consumerism with their brash calls to prayer.

“We now also have chia pudding”

A third homeless person asks me for a cigarette. I don’t have one and find that I am blocking the path of a group of people hunting for the Hard Rock Café, though they are quite clearly standing right in front of it. Tourists. I escape into Meinekestrasse. If we are going to start off in this touristy area we might as well eat a Currywurst. I pick the least glamourous-looking place and hit the bullseye. A genuine Berliner is operating the fryer and serves me up a sausage on a plastic plate. The yellow spots of curry on it are hidden under a paper napkin. I ask her if the place has changed much over the past few years. “We now also have couscous and chia pudding”, she replies.
Then she presses the key into my hand. I am a snack bar owner for 15 minutes while she takes some food to the hairdresser’s around the corner. I wait for my first customers – in vain. She is back before I have the chance to put my skills as a restaurateur to the test. I stay until the snack bar closes. She then heads off to Hellersdorf, where she lives, and I go to Neukölln. Nobody stays on Ku’damm for very long. 

“Frankly …”

On an alternating basis each week, our “Frankly ...” column series is written by Gerasimos Bekas, Maximilian Buddenbohm, Qin Liwen and Dominic Otiang’a. In “Frankly ... Berlin”, Gerasimos Bekas throws himself into the hustle and bustle of the big city on our behalf, reports on life in Berlin and gathers together some everyday observations: on the underground, in the supermarket, in a nightclub