Friday, 26 June 2015

Last Days of Friedrichshain

Antje Øklesund is tucked away in a street running parallel to Frankfurter Allee. Or at least, it was. After 10 years of serving independent musicians and artists, the old location is being torn down to make way for the Am Friedrichshainer Møbelturm, a general recreation space. Apparently, nobody wants this to happen, apart from rich investors. The small consolation is that the new development will have a concert space, but it won’t be the same.
On the event page of Last Days of Friedrichshain, her final voyage, Antje acknowledges her fate but still encourages everyone to keep their chin up: "Everything has an end; only a sausage has two." And so the last night promises to be an explosive mix of bands and DJs.

It begins with Schnipo Schranke from Hamburg. They are two ladies who play charming, upbeat piano songs about the realities of oral sex and even Harry Potter. Although they don't seem to have any places online where you can purchase their music, they do have a strong fanbase; there are many people in the crowd singing along.

I'd previously been to a set from What Difference Does It Make? there, which was the main attraction of the evening. WDDIM is a DJ collective playing pop music ranging from the 1950s to 1980s, as well as some twee and indie pop from the modern day. I had attended one of their sets once before. Although, to be honest, I actually prefer dancing to Rihanna, it was still fun.

It’s about 4:00am when we finally decide to leave. People are sitting on moulting sofas outside, trying to make the night last as long as possible, although it’s already getting light and the birds are beginning to chirp. As I take in the crumbling brick courtyard for the last time, glassless windows draped in fairy lights, I am reminded of one of my earliest impressions of Berlin. In the film Goodbye Lenin!, two main characters are at a party at the time of the Wall coming down, sitting on the edge of this abandoned warehouse, fireworks going off in the sky. It’s an environment that heralds something special about to happen and it captures the spirit that Berlin seduced me with.

It also brings to mind of some sort of modern version of castle ruins in my native England. Maybe this is Berlin’s heritage, in the same way castles of legendary kings are Cornwall's heritage. Just as those old, romantic ideas of England are long gone, it could be time to also accept that this a time of contemporary takeover in Berlin. I consider how many of these sorts of places still exist in the city; if they still do, how long they are going to last?

Antje Øklesund’s Happy End may not be as edgy as certain circles in Berlin might like it to be, but we can always hold onto the memories. Where Friedrichshain is developing at a rapid place, there are speakeasies and tiny venues popping up in Neukölln and Wedding, for example. I believe that Berlin's just experiencing a switcharound; the creativity's not going to disappear, just the mask it wears and the company it keeps.

Friday, 19 June 2015

The Vegan Menstrual Survival Kit

All the talk lately about the tampon tax and that girl on Instagram has got me thinking about how basically all of the time, those of us who menstruate have to go to great lengths to hide that fact.

Cast your mind back to your teen years. Remember when you had to ask the teacher to let you go to the toilet because you knew that it had arrived? And if it happened to be a male teacher and he'd told you to wait until break, it was super fucking awkward because you'd rather die than explain to him why you urgently needed to go? And even if you were granted permission, you had to return to your seat, discreetly get some form of sanitary protection out of your bag, stick it up the sleeve of your ugly school jumper, then dawdle out of the classroom? Everyone in the whole world now knew you had your period.

Societal weirdness surrounding periods aside, I have been having them for 13 years now and it's always been hell. I've woken up in a pool of my own blood, I've been on and off the Pill, I've even been convinced I had TSS. I also know people who have worse stories.
And do you know what the kicker is? I don't want to have children, so it's all for nothing!

As a vegan, the plot thickens: whereas many people find themselves craving steaks, beef burgers, etc. when they've got their period, for us that's not an option.
A common misconception around veganism is that you're doing yourself out of something, that by "avoiding" so much stuff you're selling yourself short; in my case, at least, it's quite the opposite. It's all about being innovative and taking pleasure in foods and materials you hadn't noticed before, and generally finding peace with yourself and nature through that.

Maybe one day I'll settle on some sort of long-term surgical solution, but here's how I cope in the meantime.


This simple, free app has revolutionised my menstrual experience. It prides itself on being a period app that's not pink (i.e. ungendered) and doesn't have frilly euphemisms (i.e. periods and sex are nothing to be ashamed about).
As you can see from the screenshot above, you can fill in details about discharge, cramps, other symptoms like acne and mood swings, plus you can log intercourse. In return, Clue lets you know when you are most fertile and when your period is due - up to four months in advance!
Clue has really helped me make sense of my cycle. The other thing I like about it? It was invented in Berlin.


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Any vegan worth their nutritional yeast knows that Oreos are the ultimate "accidentally vegan" snack and can basically pinpoint the day when the whey powder was dropped from them (er, sometime in 2012). I don't know about you, but when I have my period I have the hunger of a lion. I am wary of eating too much sugar, but sometimes you just gotta do it - if only to marvel afterwards about just how quickly that cake disappeared.
They are sold in basically every store. Oreos are almost flawless; I only wish that they'd get rid of the palm oil and that they didn't make your teeth go black.

Iron-rich vegetables

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When you go vegan, a lot of folks are suddenly very concerned about where you get certain nutrients from. You can get all of them from vegetables and pulses! However, if you're losing blood each month, you need to pay attention to the fact you are also losing a lot of iron. This is linked to illnesses like anaemia.
During my weekly shop when I know my period's coming, I make sure I buy broccoli and spinach in inordinate amounts. Some of my other favourite iron-rich foods include lentils, apricots, wholemeal bread and, of course, tofu.

"Women's tea"

I did once think that this was a bit of a gimmick - the boxes usually boast having some kind of hidden connection to the moon and not in a cool way - but really, the ingredients are very pleasant. Chamomile to give you nice sleepy feelings, ginger to decrease cramping pain and orange peel to soothe swollen breasts.

Hot water bottle

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Ah, my trusty old friend. Not just for cold winter nights when you're trying to save money on central heating, this can lie on your tummy as you sleep to ease cramps, or be pressed between your lower back and your chair if you need to spend entire days at a desk.

Anything else?

One stereotypically vegan/eco thing that I know is missing from this list is the menstrual cup. I haven't tried it; it seems a bit precarious if your flow is heavy, and I'm worried that I'd end up leaking in public quicker than a new Drake mixtape. (If I do ever try it, I'm not going to tell you all.)