I left Berlin a week and a half ago and I can tell you that it earned a great place in my heart. Klaus Wowereit, mayor in 2003 said it best, “Berlin is poor, but sexy.” I had spent only three days there on my first trip when backpacking through Europe in 2006 and could instantly tell that I had unfinished business. Having spent three and a half weeks there this year, I feel the same. I guess next time it has to be for three months or longer…
Berlin is a huge city with unbelievable amounts of history and character. The best way to describe the city to someone who hasn’t been is that Berlin is a place for all. All kinds of people with all kinds of interests and tastes WILL find something in Berlin. I don’t say that without believing it. I can honestly understand how some people may not enjoy other great cities like New York or London (though I really do). Berlin is different. It honestly has twenty-four hours of entertainment – and best still, it does it without pretence. That’s right, Berlin is open to all. It is a centre for fashion, music, art and other forms of culture, and yet, it is still very much a city that wears blue jeans. There are more nightclubs where you don’t need to worry about how you dress than the ones that you do. It is pretty much the opposite of most cities in that regard. Wrinkled t-shirt and running shoes? No problem.
On my last Friday night in the city, I went to Magnet Club in Kreuzberg and had a great time. It was “late” by Canadian standards when I arrived, but I was there in time to see a great up and coming indie artist, Twin Shadow. Great show! Twin Shadow (George Lewis, Jr.) is an artist that mixes 80s new wave with some R&B sensibilities. I had never heard of him before, but was glad to be won over by a great performance in a small music hall, something that Magnet is known for. When that set was over, Karrera Klub, local DJs, took over and “spun” a bunch of fantastic indie rock and pop that kept the hipster kids dancing. That’s right! Hipsters do, too, dance! It’s not just sad swaying. Loved it. In my thick-rimmed glasses and Adidas Sambas, I only felt out of place by my lack of German vocabulary. But when the music playing, whether from Toronto, Montreal, New York, London, or Stockholm is in English, we all felt at home. Ever get chills down the back of your neck? Yeah, that happened when I heard one hundred Berliners singing the lyrics to Arcade Fire’s “Ready to Start”. So far from home, but not alone.
Currywurst. That is all.
A surprising thing to notice at first was the amount of graffiti or “street art” there was in Berlin. It made it interesting to go into any neighbourhood and see what was there. I don’t know if that sort of thing could happen in any other city without it being seen as a scourge. Nobody seemed to care too much in Berlin, and it just was part of the norm. It should be noted, though, that for all the graffiti, all the major monuments seemed to be untouched, as even street artists have some reverence.
One thing that was really hard to do was fit in as much museum going as I had wanted. Berlin happens to have 175 museums/galleries; making it likely that if you were to go to a different museum every day (ignoring the likelihood of them being closed on a Monday, etc.) it would still take six months to make the rounds once. I certainly can’t handle immersing myself in a museum every day, as I have mentioned I find the experience overwhelming, both intellectually, and as a reflection of my own insignificance. However, I managed to put a decent dent into the list (sadly, my neighbourhood’s Zucker (sugar) Museum was not visited) including:
-Dali – Die Ausstellung
-East Side Gallery
-Willy Brandt Museum
Even if I include things like standing outside the Reichstag, at the foot of the Brandenburger Tor, and the Fernsehturm, that still leaves over 90% of the city’s cultural attractions untouched, showing just the breadth of the wonders of Berlin.
At the top of the Canadian Embassy, there was a wonderful sight.
I guess, in conclusion, all I can say is Berlin, “Es war toll” and “Ich liebe dich”.