Berlin Exposed

There’s more to Germany than irate gas-station attendants.

It’s a shame that when you mention Germany to skateboarders they automatically think of Münster. From what the majority get to see in magazines and videos, they may be under the impression that German skateboarding only goes on for one weekend a year inside huge auditoriums and is limited to a 40-minute practice and two one-minute runs. You would, of course, be very wrong.

Nowhere is there more skating going on than in Germany’s capital city Berlin, but the city gets so little coverage, you wouldn’t know it. So just after the Dortmund World Cup contest (which was a riot … literally), Kerry Getz, Mike Maldonado, Brian Anderson, Eric Koston, Rob Dyrdek, Ed Templeton, Arto Saari, Geoff Rowley, Elissa Steamer, Matt Mumford, and I did a four-day stint in Berlin. I’d heard only good things about the place, but I’d never yet been there. At the contest I heard the Adidas team (namely Quim Cardona and Matt Beach) were going to Berlin for a basketball clinic, where they’d possibly do some skate demos, and Koston and Dyrdek were into checking the clinic out. So we gave it a shot.

The first thing we did when we got there was to go see the last day of the clinic, which was being held on the east side of the city, in the former communist section of town once called East Berlin. A lot of street corners looked straight out of World War II newsreel footage, and even though it’s been a decade since the Berlin Wall came crumbling down, the difference between the two sides was still evident.

The Lakers’ Kobe Bryant had been at the camp all week, but we missed him by a day. However, Seattle Supersonic Detlef Schrempf and ex-Laker superstar Kareem Abdul-Jabbar were there coaching two European youth all-star teams. Half-time saw Quim Cardona thrown into the deep end when he did a solo demo before the slam-dunk contest. He entered the course through a haze of stage smoke with something MC Hammer-esque blasting and ran straight into a court barrier. In all fairness to Quim, he came through under some extreme pressure (once the smoke had died down, that is).

The next three days were spent checking the whole city out. The weekend before we arrived, the Love Parade – the world’s biggest open-air rave with over one-million participants – had been in town. People bumped to the music wearing nothing but Euro fluoro body paint and Johnson’s dental floss, they got down and dangerous in the park with busloads full of DJs and dancing girls – all really mental stuff. A week after the parade of love, friends were still scooting overindulgent acquaintances out of trees with pool cues.

Once we’d sussed out where we were, the group’s preferred terrain broke down into two spots. The first one was outside the Berlin Zoo, and it stank of monkey shit. Matt Mumford and Elissa hit up some of the ledges early on in the day, and skating-wise things were going well until the smell got so bad we had to leave.

Talking of shit situations, because he’s Australian, Matt Mumford had to go to the Czech embassy to get a visa to go to Prague. Mums spent all morning trying to get it sorted out, only to be told that he had to wait a week for them to process his request for a travel visa. In other words, Matt couldn’t get his visa sorted in time to make the trip to Prague with us. Bureaucracy wins again. But before we left him to travel further east, Matt dropped in on the 50-foot transition of a curved black metal sculpture that was toasting hot from sitting all day in the burning summer sun.

The same day, Finnish musical genius Arto Saari also noseslid a kinked brass ledge while two girls tried to chat him up. The girls were only fifteen, but that’s okay, because Arto’s only seventeen; he must’ve dazzled them with his skateboarding and impressive knowledge of music.

The best skate area by far (now keep in mind we only skated two areas of the city while we were there) was in the district where the modern-art museum and Berlin concert hall lie. There’s more culture in that square mile than you could wave a stick at, and it also had more than its fair share of skate spots. Over the next couple of days the museum district played host to three insane sessions. Kerry, Mike, Arto, Geoff, Matt, and the Tempster all threw down on the ledges and other fine architectural mistakes.

The spots they skated were outside many of the best art museums in the world; one spot opposite the modern-art museum could be skated all day without so much as a peep from security. Around the other more high-profile museums security continuously marched, but that only went on until 6:00 in the evening when the guards literally gave an “all clear” wave for the skaters to come on in and skate as long as they want. Most of our group were stunned when we saw this; we lay hiding disguised as girder art.

When we departed Berlin, we got on a train crammed with schoolkids on their way to Prague to play in a chess tournament. Some of us had to sit in the corridor and watch endless games of Dungeons and Dragons for eight hours. What fun that was. As I sat there, I wished I was back in Berlin, where the security guards care for property as much as skateboarders do.