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Scene in Berlin

Lavinia Pitu, BerlinJuly 24, 2014

In Berlin, getting involved in illegal things is like having an affair. You may get caught and the consequences could be terrible, but the danger associated with it makes it all more exciting, says DW's Lavinia Pitu.

People picknicking at the Thaiwiese in Preussenpark in Berlin, Copyright: dpa - Report
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

While the Germans work all year long so they can afford a well-deserved holiday on some island in the Indian Ocean, Thailand is just around the corner. In Berlin.

I went there last week - Thailand, that is. Here it's known as the Thaiwiese, or Thai meadow. I'd heard about it from a friend and couldn't resist seeing it for myself. Just when you think you know Berlin, the city surprises you.

The Thai meadow has been going on for a few years in the Preussenpark in the western part of Berlin, but it wasn't until just recently that my friend and I found out that this is where to get the best Thai food in town.

Illegal lunch

At the Thai meadow, you're immediately greeted by the scent of curry. Gas stoves have been fired up right on the meadow as expats from Thailand whip up rice curry, papaya salad and chicken biryani.

The prices are also similar to what you would pay in Thailand, with most dishes costing around 5 euros ($6.70). The best part, though, comes after lunch: an authentic Thai massage.

Scene in Berlin logo, Copyright: DW

Even though that's enough to put even the biggest coffee addict to sleep, don't doze off quite yet because the best is still to come: It's all illegal.

Besides its penchant for surprises, freedom is what defines Berlin. And sometimes it's the kind of freedom that borders on anarchy. While Germany in general may be famous for its rules, Berliners aren't big fans of authority.

The Thai meadow began as a meeting point for the Thai community in Berlin. But the enticing aroma of authentic cooking drew more and more locals to the park. And that's how a private Sunday picnic turned into a small business that's been up and running behind the authorities' backs for years.

When officials do show up, they're offered a tasty meal and business continues as usual. It's a win-win situation.

Be anarchy, be Berlin!

Under-the-table deals in Berlin don't stop at the Thai meadow. Here in the German capital, thousands of people sublet their apartments to tourists for cut-rate prices, for example. There are numerous platforms where people can advertise and rent flats on a daily, weekly or monthly basis. And there are just as many customers dying to live like the locals and take the offer. Many of the deals are illegal because rental agreements often include a no-subletting clause.

I remember once handing a tourist from Norway the keys to a friend's apartment. She was on holiday for a week and thought that would be a convenient way to finance her vacation. Her landlord, however, was kept in the dark.

Spices, Copyright: Fotolia/Natalia Klenova
If you like Thai food, the best can be found at the Thaiwiese in BerlinImage: Fotolia/Natalia Klenova

In the meantime, this kind of business has become so widespread that some hotel chains have started feeling the competition.

Berliners also like to spend their Sundays at the flea market at Mauerpark. Besides digging through a lot of junk for some valuable antique treasures or authentic East German artifacts, you can also snack on cakes and goodies baked by students looking for a bit of tax-free cash.

I'm not even going to mention other kinds of illegal smells that waft through the air in some Berlin districts.

Artists in the night

Disused, abandoned factories and empty, run-down buildings are a common sight in many districts of Berlin. They shape the city's countenance - and its lifestyle. Why leave old buildings to raccoons and stray dogs when they can be transformed into hip party locations?

That's all done illegally, of course, because registering the building would mean paying taxes and taking care of some repair work to make sure the roof doesn't cave in on revelers.

Berghain, Copyright: Juska Wendland
The entrance to Berghain, Berlin's most famous club(where, rumor has it, some illegal substances may be consumed)Image: Juska Wendland

These kinds of parties, however, have been dwindling since the 1990s - shortly after German reunification - since the authorities were quick to catch on to them.

Graffiti spraying, however, is much harder to keep an eye on, and precisely that plethora of deserted structures provides the perfect canvas for clandestine self-expression. Berliners have been doing just that since the fall of the Berlin Wall, turning the city into a Mecca of urban art.

Even though spraying is not officially permitted, 10,000 graffiti offenses are reported every year.

The police may not like it, Berlin, it seems, tends to break the rules. And, like the chicken biryani on the Thai meadow, it can taste pretty good sometimes.