A tug of shame bugs me in conversations concerning Berlin. Who wouldn’t be embarrassed if you had been in Germany for almost two years but had never set foot in the capital. But now, this is true no more. Thanks to my friends Omar and Billy who sought my generous umzug service. After ten of hours in and out of the autobahn, three stops, and driving through six German states, I felt worthy of proclaiming, ‘Ich bin ein Berliner!’
We entered the city a little past seven in the evening. The city was still alive. There was heavy traffic- light early morning traffic by Manila standards- accumulating in stop lights, while pedestrians merged occasionally in between the red light. I haven’t yet gotten a chance to experience the night life of the city as we had to carry the boxes of stuff all the way up to the third floor (4th floor in the Philippines) right after we arrived. However, as a reward to our laborious day, we had a dinner at Salamat, an Arabic restaurant a few minutes walk from their flat in Prenzlauer Berg. I said Salamat (thank you in Filipino) to myself after a hefty serving of couscous, lamb and chicken.
Today I set out to see what I’ve been missing for the past year and eight months. Here’s a personal account, albeit not a comprehensive one. These are simply my impressions of the city in less than 24 hours.
I have to admit I miss city life. Despite my affinity for the mountains, suburbs, and the laid back environment, I miss the sprawl of a big city. My city instinct that went into hibernation once I settled in Freiburg kicked in again. Cars, bikes, and pedestrians alike zip through main roads and side streets. Earlier, near the ‘Dem Deutschen Volk’ Reichstag building, I saw a cyclist crossing the street. A car tooted its horn twice, stopped and let it pass, as if it were the most normal thing. Not getting lost in the mix is a balancing act. Berlin is also awash with parks and squares. If you are claustrophobic, live in Berlin. If you get lost in the city’s sprawl, look up and orient yourself via several landmarks: the Fernsehturm, the Brandenburg Gate, the Dom, which then leads me to…
The sights of Berlin
If by some chance you have the misfortune of seeing Berlin in a day, which I’m glad I don’t have to do, start from Alexanderplatz. Walk to the east along Unter den Linden to get a breathtaking sight of the Dom, a museum, the Lustgarten, the Humboldt university, all the way to the Brandenburg Tor. Walk some more heading to the southwest of the Brandenburg Tor to reach the Bundestag (Day of the federal government?), and the modern Bundeskanzleramt (Federal Office of the Chancellor). You can also buy a day-ticket for €6.10 and take the Bus 100, the poor man’s tour bus. It’s a double-decker, and if you have to fight for it, get a front seat on the top deck. Its route takes you to most of the major sights of interest in the city. I haven’t checked out the Berlin Wall though.
People in the tram, on the streets, and even the bus drivers, Berlin citizens seem more hip, cool, and loose. I noticed an old German couple chatting in the tram, pedestrian traffic violation seems to be tolerated, and bus drivers who find a second or two to crack jokes to passengers and yet remain on schedule.
Poor, but sexy (?)
You bet. These were the words of Berlin’s mayor Klaus Woworeit back in 2003. Graffiti sprays, peeling paint, and semi-spartan architecture of some living quarters. These seem to be a reminder of the capital city state’s history. I’m not complaining though. These imperfections are probably characteristic of a city’s longevity and non-pretentiousness. One man’s dirt might be another’s concept of art. I consider them a minor trade-off for living in a place teeming and thriving with life.
Toss in the sunny weather, a seven-day ticket (€26.20), and the beauty that is Berlin. This is not a city for those looking for pretty quaint houses and picket fences. Go to Freiburg instead! I have met non-Germans who have said that Berlin is the coolest place in Germany. It’s just my first day in the city, and I still (will!) need to confirm that. Some even say Berlin is not Germany. In that probably I tend to agree.
Read more about Andrew’s adventures on his blog: