Berlin Portrait: Luci Westphal
by Zoë Noble
My name is Luci and I consider myself a German New Yorker in Berlin – for the time being. I’m a filmmaker living in Prenzlauer Berg.
How long have you been in Berlin?
Since spring 2010 I’ve been splitting my time between Berlin and Brooklyn.
What brought you here?
I’m originally from Hamburg and had been living in Brooklyn for 11 years; it was time for me to live closer to my family. Also I had itchy feet to go explore a new place and be inspired by different people and culture. I love New York City and consider it my home, Hamburg will always be special to me – but Berlin had that magnetic pull of creative, international, innovative, experimental and critically thinking people. At first I was worried that I had missed the best years of Berlin because I saw it changed every time I had visited before. But it seems that the spirit of Berlin continues to thrive even as people moan “früher war alles besser”.
Tell us about your Kiez, and what you like about it.
Because I used to visit Berlin every few years I saw Prenzlauer Berg gradually change from its post-GDR grey façade abandoned building look to its current state of beautifully restored homes on tree-lined streets. Before moving here my husband and I thought this thriving gorgeous neighborhood is our kind of place. By the time we did move here we ended up subletting in Neukölln, then Kreuzberg and eventually Mitte – all neighborhoods I loved living in. At the same time I got sucked into the disdain many young Berliners seem to have about Prenzlauer Berg because it’s labeled as a neighborhood for well-to-do families with children. It wasn’t our first choice anymore (actually we didn’t have a choice when we took the current apartment in the Helmholtzkiez) and it took me a while before I could say: I love this neighborhood! So it was love at first sight, then I played hard to get and then P’berg won me over fully.
What I like most about the neighborhood is how stately beautiful it is with the old buildings, the trees, the parks, the cobblestone streets… dotted with some amazing street art and people from all over the world walking around and gathering in great restaurants, bars and cafés. By the way, after 8pm the children are usually off the streets and Helmholtzkiez turns into quite a nightlife scene.
What are your five favourite things in your neighbourhood?
This is too hard. Instead of just picking five places, I’ll pick five categories. Okay? Okay.
One of the great things about summer in Berlin is that you can socialize with your friends at night at public outdoor green spaces without having to be at a café or bar. This doesn’t happen much in the US because it’s illegal to have alcoholic beverages out on the streets and in parks. My favorite daytime outdoor spot is Mauerpark, with its flea market and outdoor karaoke on Sundays and lots of interesting people watching. Around dusk I like to hang out on the hill of the Wasserturm when the rabbits come out and you get a glimpse of the occasional fox. At night I’m all about the many playgrounds in the neighborhood, at the top of the list is the one on Helmholtzplatz with the pirate ship, the swings and table tennis. But it can get crowded so you might have to conquer the pirate ship. But shhh, don’t wake up the neighbors.
A very special place in the neighborhood is the Gethsemanekirche, which is stunning to look at inside and out, but to me takes on extraordinary significance because it’s one of the churches at the center of the Peaceful Revolution of Berlin, that led to the opening of the Berlin Wall and the end of the GDR. It is truly a place of peace, community and hope. And if you ever find yourself looking for a church on Christmas Eve, go to that one – their Weihnachtsbaum seemed as big as the one at Rockefeller Center.
There are so many cafes and bars that there is one for every occasion. When it’s beautiful outside there’s no other place like the Prater Biergarten, the oldest beer garden in Berlin. When I feel like chilling out on a cozy old couch and sip on a tea or a Grasovka Apfelsaft I like to go to Wohnzimmer. If I feel homesick and I want to pick loud rock, rap or punk from the jukebox, eat salted popcorn and have a genuine Brooklyn IPA then you’ll find me at Badfish. Because of the delicious goat cheese salad, live music, dancing until the sun comes up and the always super fun Rock’n’Roll Bingo (every 1st and 3rd Wednesday) I’m quite a regular at White Trash. And last but not least, for a Sunday Bloody Mary, an afternoon coffee meeting or a last nightcap I always count on Schwarzsauer.
When it comes to restaurants, I’ve already mentioned White Trash. But it’s not the only burger place I frequent despite being a vegetarian. There’s also the The Bird. I mostly come here for the lively expat atmosphere and the super nice staff. The restaurant I visit the most must be Maria Bonita, where you can get amazing tacos like they make in those little taquerias in Brooklyn (sorry, I can’t compare to Mexican tacos because I’ve never been to Mexico). For any special occasion or just a fun dinner with friends you can’t go wrong with Tres Tapas – no matter if you want to share tapas or get your own full meal.
One of the silly luxury problem reasons I hesitated to move back to Germany for a long time was convenience, especially when it comes to shopping and transportation. So one of the things I like best about my Kiez is the 24/7 Späti downstairs from my apartment, the 24/6 Kaisers grocery store around the corner and the all-night trams connecting me to Mitte, Friedrichshain and Kreuzberg (besides the day-time trams, U-Bahn and S-Bahn).
Okay, yeah, I really do love my Kiez and Prenzlauer Berg.