INSIDER GUIDE

Berlin by Fabia Mendoza

We caught up with the local multi-hyphenated creative to get her take on the German capital

Berlin by Fabia Mendoza

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Raised in Berlin, Fabia Mendoza is a multi-hyphenate: photographer, director, producer, writer, lecturer, and even a muse to her husband, renowned American artist Ryan Mendoza. She is best known for her work on the award-winning Detroit documentary The White House.

Fabia released her book, Berlin Art Diary: Chronicles of a Muse, earlier this year. Based on her eponymous column in the magazine EXBERLINER, Fabia’s book documents the stark realities of living the life of an artist, almost like a reality show in book form. “Who is Fabia? I ask myself…A Berlin girl, I think. And, of course, this Berlin girl is inside her. You can feel it. Streetwise, fearless, seen everything, done everything,” writes Mirna Funk in her prologue for the book. And if anyone knows Berlin, it’s Fabia… So we caught up with her to get her take on the German capital.

What do you do, and how did you get here?

I grew up in Berlin Neukölln in the 90s, before my mother town became the cool art metropolis it is today. The sky over Berlin was gray, the people cold, the streets dirty, and I never really felt that Berlin offered me many prospects. Today, of course, it’s different. The Berlin scene has become more chic and sophisticated without losing its rough authenticity.

And I just published my first book, ‘Berlin Art Diary: Chronicles of a Muse’ with iemme edizioni. My second novel has just been finished, and I plan to film it in Berlin and Sicily.

How long have you been in Berlin? 

Since forever. 

 

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What is your earliest memory of Berlin?

I used to play in the filthy backyard of Neukölln with my Turkish bosom friend Hülya Yaman. The Reuterkiez was a pretty tough place back then. It’s still a bit dirty, and my parents live there until this day. It’s my real home.  I was in Naples for a few years around 2010 and when I came back to Neukölln, I saw that a stylish bar had opened in one of Berlin’s old gambling taverns in Weserstrasse and I thought,  “What’s going on here?” Today many cool bars and restaurants shot from the earth in my old ghetto neighborhood — the Boister Bar, for example. 

Describe a perfect day in Berlin.

To experience a perfect day in Berlin, you would spend the morning hours at Mauerpark or Maybachufer fleamarket and cool off afterward in one of the numerous lakes in the Berlin area in summer. If you want to let it rip, go on Sunday at noon to rave at Berghain/Panorama Bar. For me, that is too exhausting. I prefer having brunch — that’s what we Berliners love.

How does Berlin inspire your work and your creativity?

I think Mama Berlin equipped me with a thick skin and a give-a fuck-attitude and that can help at times in life.

Fabia at Soldiner Eck Tavern. Photo by Luka Godec
Fabia at Soldiner Eck Tavern. Photo by Luka Godec
Fabia at Soldiner Eck Tavern. Photo by Luka Godec
Fabia at Soldiner Eck Tavern. Photo by Luka Godec

If you could choose a hotel to stay in, anywhere in Berlin, which one would it be?

Of course, the Soho House Berlin — during hot summer days, there are always lots of good-looking people standing in the pool in waist-high water on the rooftop, nipping at their cocktails and swaying to the electro beats. I love it.

If you could give travelers one piece of advice for their stay — and for life — what would it be?

Berlin has many faces. You should take a few days to explore the whole city. You shouldn’t miss out on Gemäldegalerie and the Pergamon Museum! If you decide to call Berlin your new home, I recommend learning some cheeky answers in German to be able to defend yourself at the immigration office or against the gruff, bad-tempered Berlin bus driver.

“Na, da hat jemand aber schlechte Laune heute!” (“Well, someone is in a bad mood today!”) or “Bitte seien sie freundlich, ich bin Tourist” (Please be kind, I am a tourist) — should do it. 

What is the most unexpected thing that ever happened to you in Berlin (name changing allowed)?

I think Berlin is a place for excess. There is never an end, and people go on and on. Berlin is an experience, but you must be careful not to lose yourself. It’s not a place to find yourself but rather a place of distraction and adventure. In my book ‘Berlin Art Diary-Chronicles of a Muse,‘ I tell about how I, at a private party in one of the bars I mentioned above, was accidentally drinking MDMA punch. I had no idea that drugs were mixed in. That’s the ultimate Berlin story — even if you’re not looking for it, the excess will find you!

Fabis at Paris Bar. Photo by Luka Godec
Fabis at Paris Bar. Photo by Luka Godec
Photo by William Minke
Photo by William Minke

Restaurants:

The classics for people watching and being seen are — Paris Bar, Le Petite Royal, and The Grill Royal. Under the huge photograph of naked 68er icon Uschi Obermaier, I had the very first date with my husband Ryan over 15 years ago and the Grill Royal is still hip — that’s worth a steak…

I also love a small, unknown vegetarian restaurant on Brunnenstrasse called Chay Viet

For the real Berlin experience go to Markthalle 9 on Eisenbahnstrasse (great food and drinks). A Berlin classic since 1913 is of course Clärchens Ballhaus and Spiegelsaal in Mitte, an authentic Berliner Tanzlokal. 

Bars:

131 Bar at Chausseestrasse in Mitte: My friend Elizabeth Paige Gordon has been doing exciting dinner parties and art events there since 2017. Ali, who also runs the Berliner Kantine at Berliner Ensemble from the former Temroc, regularly cooks at 131on the 1st floor. Above Ali’s lovingly prepared food, you can watch various artists paint or perform live. Afterward, the chairs are cleared away, and you can dance until the early morning hours on the black and white tiled floor.

The Torbar in Mitte and the Victoriabar in Schöneberg are a popular destination for Berlin’s bohemians.

The unique Frank Künster from King Size is about to open a new Tanzlokal near S Friedrichstraße. It has no name yet but is already on everyone’s lips. Stay tuned…

From Fabia's book, Berlin Art Diary: Chronicles of a Muse. Photo by Tina Dubrovsky
From Fabia's book, Berlin Art Diary: Chronicles of a Muse. Photo by Tina Dubrovsky

Shops:

A cool, new Berlin-born label is Cotiere by Cheyenne Tulsa and Marcel Porcher. They’ll launch soon. Cheyenne and Marcel are a great inspiration: globetrotters, a mix of the surfer-dream couple and big city bohemians. 

Legendary Berlin-Glamour-to-wear can be found at DSTM by Canadian designer Jen Gilpin on Torstrasse. DSTM is Lady Gaga’s choice of a wardrobe when she visits Berlin. 

Don’t miss out on Lala Berlin by Leyla Piedayesh — beyond her clothes, and she has created a Berlin community with her label — a kind of Lala Berlin family, so to speak — with inspiring, creative Berlin women as ambassadors of her fashion. Shop at Victoria Geiser if you fancy timeless and natural elegance.

XOUXOU cell phone chains by Yara Jentzsch are the absolute Berlin accessory. 

Parks:

With this insider tip, I probably shoot myself in the knee: but this small lake is north at the Berlin border in Mühlenbeck — it is called Kiessee. It is tiny and cozy with real original Berlin guests who have been bathing there for decades. There is also a nudist area. The first time I went there with my American husband, he was quite startled by all the bare bottoms in front of his picnic blanket. As a little girl, I had to accompany my parents to the nudist area in the back of Prinzenbad in Kreuzberg and hated it as a teen. But now I associate the naturist culture with a real piece of Berlin. At the Kiessee you can eat Berlin-style fries and chill. The hipsters haven’t found it yet — but now that I’ve revealed it….’

Wellness: Vabali Spa, need I say more?

Seibert Collection, Berlin
Seibert Collection, Berlin

Museums:

It’s rather a private collection than a museum but the Seibert Collection is worth a visit. Ulrich Seibert collects exceptional art, far away from the mainstream. His collection is young, fresh, and unconventional, just like Berlin itself. We meet there regularly to network with other young artists. The Seibert Collection is one of the settings for my book Berlin Art Diary — there is always something funny happening. 

Galleries

Next to the König Gallery, the Sexauer Gallery is a good place to experience contemporary art. If you are searching for young Berlin underground art, I recommend Studio Hanniball by Henriette and Viktor Seibert.

 

Insider portrait of  Fabia Mendoza by Celyn Nicholson

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