“Ich bin ein Berliner…”
I’m just back from a four-day trip to Berlin, and it only reaffirmed my love for the place.
This was the third time I’ve visited, but the first with my wife, and she quickly understood why I’m such a fan.
The previous two trips (I blogged about the first one 10 years ago) were with friends and revolved around beer, football, clubs and not much else, so this time I ticked a lot off my Berlin to-do list, from the amazing atmosphere of the Bearpit Karaoke to the peaceful expanse of Tempelhofer Feld.
So what is it that elevates Berlin above so many other cities?
For me it’s simply the open-mindedness of the place: the almost unbelievably laid-back and laissez-faire attitude to life, and the sense that anything can (and probably will) happen, if you stay long enough.
Berlin’s urban landscape may be changing rapidly, but it will take more than a few chain hotels or Starbucks branches to diminish its gritty, creative ethos.
Street art still adorns practically every wall (including that one), any scrap of wasteland land has been reclaimed for fleamarkets or art studios, and you can still buy a beer in a Freidrichshain bar for €2 (Kaptn on Simon-Dach-Straße).
Of course, in any major European city gentrification and globalisation is an almost inevitable force, but in Berlin, unlike London for example, it feels like the rampant commercialisation is still being kept at bay, somehow.
As much as Berlin is resisting the Disneyfication of its cultural identity, it’s also still refreshingly forward-thinking.
This must stem from its unique history (flattened in WWII, carved up then divided for 40 years) – but the result is that Berlin feels far less like a snapshot of 1850 (like Paris or Munich) and more like a youthful upstart, always willing to rip it up and start again.
So the reason Berlin is my favourite city for now? Its energy and attitude.
And its currywurst:
Maybe one day we’ll move there.
Some Berlin tips:
- Bearpit Karaoke in Mauerpark on Sundays from 3pm: great fun and a genius idea
- 1990 Vegan Living in Friedrichshain: scrumptious and cheap Vietnamese scran
- DDR Museum: a fascinating look at post-war life on the east side of the wall
- Tiergarten: just wander around and relax on the grass on a sunny day
- Holzmarkt: riverside bar on the Spree with a pleasant, hippy vibe
- Tempelhofer Feld: former airport turned huge park – hire a bike and cycle down the runway!
- Khwan in Friedrichshain: Thai-style BBQ restaurant in the RAW complex
- Klunkerkranich in Neukölln: roof bar at the top of a shopping centre with great sunset views
- BurgerAMT in Friedrichshain: one of the best burgers I’ve ever had!
- Mein Haus am See in Mitte: arty, trendy bar for people-watching and drinks
- Hops & Barley in Friedrichshain: they make their own beer at this welcoming bar
- East Side Gallery: walk along a large strip of the Berlin Wall, now covered in street art
- Kptn in Friedrichshain: I like to think this dive bar is what all East Berlin used to be like
- Hamburger Bahnhof: not a station but a large modern art gallery
Some things I didn’t fit in:
- Climb the glass dome of the Reichstag
- Get into Berghain (we didn’t try)
- Take a tour of the Hansa Studio where Bowie recorded Heroes and Low (although I did walk past it and take a photo)