Berlin Portrait: Phia

by James and Zoe

We think that the best way to discover Berlin is through the eyes of the people who live here. For our Berlin Portrait series, we’re asking artists, musicians and other interesting expats to introduce us their corner of the city. Join us as Phia, a solo artist who creates beautiful music with a thumb-piano and loop pedals, shows us around Neukölln and Kreuzberg.

Introduce yourself!

My name is Phia and I’m an Australian musician living in Neukölln, Berlin.

How long have you been here?

My boyfriend Josh (also a musician) and I moved here 15 months ago.

What brought you here?

Well in part it was for the reasons so many people move to Berlin – it’s cheap, in the centre of Europe and is a hub for other artists and musicians…

I also have a family connection – my grandfather was from Berlin. He moved to Australia in 1938 where he met my grandma, who was originally from Vienna. I didn’t think too much about the family connection until I got here, but once I arrived, knowing my ancestors lived in the same city as I now reside in was very poignant. In fact it is something I think about nearly every day. My grandfather may have walked the same streets that I do now, strolled along the same canals.

Of course, Berlin is a very different city from the one he left behind: the street he lived on isn’t there anymore, due the bombings in World War Two. Germany was his home, and he made it a part of my childhood, but he was also forced to leave. The emotions are complicated! But every now and then I see or read things that remind me of my grandparents – hearing a nursery rhyme they used to sing to me, seeing the particular way apartments are furnished here. I now realise how European their suburban Melbourne apartment was! Even the fact the chose to live in an apartment in a city of standalone houses.

They both died years ago, so it’s lovely to feel close to them.

Tell us about your Kiez, and what you like about it.

I live on the corner of Neukölln, Treptow and Kreuzberg, which is sometimes described as Dreiländereck (“three border triangle”). My apartment looks over the intersection of two canals and very often the sound of ducks quacking will drift through our fifth floor apartment. There is a bridge over one of the canals and this is a real hub – people riding to work, walking to school… very often you see two people meeting and sitting on the bridge having a beer. And I love that in my Kiez everything I need is only a bicycle ride away.

What are your five favourite things in your neighbourhood?

The canal. I like that Berliners like to just get outside – go for a walk, ride their bikes or just sit in a park somewhere… and all of that happens along the canal outside our apartment. The idea that you can buy a cheap beer and go and sit somewhere, it’s really nice.

Ä bar in Weserstrasse is just around the corner from my place. They have a regular Wednesday concert series, and I’ve done two shows there this year. The bar is always crowded, hectic and full of atmosphere, as are the gigs! I’ve loved playing my music there, hanging out, and then slowly riding my bicycle back to my place, across the wooden footbridge over the canal.

The Croissanterie on Pannierstrasse makes the most amazing croissants – particularly the nuss-nougat one. And if you get there early enough (well early for a musician, maybe 10am) the croissants are still warm.

Nowkoelln Flohmarkt. Being on a Berlin salary, I only really shop for clothes at markets now! The Flowmarkt runs every two weeks on Maybachufer. They have nice food stalls too and I always run into at least two or three people I know there. I’ve performed a few times at the market at Prinzessinnengarten, which is run by the same guy and is also really lovely.

Five Elephant has great coffee and simply amazing cheesecake. I don’t even like cheesecake, but I love theirs. I was introduced to this cafe by a good friend of mine, who is also Australian but we only became friends since we both moved to Berlin. We’ve collaborated on some creative projects since then, so I guess the cafe reminds me of the wonderful connections that can be made in this city.

Phia is performing at Supamolly on Saturday, and a handful of other Berlin shows before going back to Melbourne for Christmas: check out her website or Facebook page for more details.

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