To celebrate the end of one year, and the start of another, I visited Berlin with some friends, ringing in the first week of 2016 at -12°! It was a week in the ‘coolest’ city I’ve ever visited, enjoying the company of friends, crispy flammkuchen and frozen toes.
I can sum up my time in Berlin with the following: visits to the Brandenberg Gate, Memorial to the Murdered Jews, Checkpoint Charlie, Typography of Terror, Berlin Wall, Hitlers Bunker, Berlin Cathedral and the TV tower.
Exploring the Nikolaiviertal Christmas markets, graffiti staircases, walking tours, Anne Frank exhibitions, Mauerpark markets, smoking bars and fake outdoor beer gardens.
Appreciating falling snow, official New Year countdowns, camel wool socks, frozen fingers, numb toes, winter fashionable dogs, icy rivers and Ampelmännchen.
Warmed up with hot chocolate, gluhwien, schnitzel, curry hurst, apple strudel and log fires to beat the -11° (feels like -18°!) temperatures!
Berlin is like no city I’ve ever visited. When compared to the likes of Paris or London, it’s not a beautiful city. The weight of their recent history weighs heavily, creating a very sombre feeling (probably emphasised by the grey skies and plummeting temperatures!).
It does, however, have it’s own unique vibe, fulfilling my preconceived ideas of what Berlin would be. It’s edgy (overgrown alleyways and under road/train tunnels), arty (talented graffiti artists, street art with meaning, painted murals and bright posters, flags and stickers), secretive (you need to know where to go as almost all the cool bars, cafes, restaurants, shops and galleries are out of site, generally behind a non-descript door), laid back (none of the rushing about of London or loud road-rage of Rome, Berliner’s have a relaxed chill to them which is kind of contagious) and safe (except for the crazy lightless fireworks which young men had a habit of throwing at your feet, which is followed shortly after by a very loud bomb sound).
I learnt that Berlin’s history is not as taboo as I first assumed, and that they’re willing to discuss the mistakes of their past, and to learn from them. The city has taken great steps towards righting the wrongs of their past, including new memorials for victims and informational museums.
On the outside, Berlin is nothing like what I expected: it’s regimented, uniform, grey, almost soulless in it’s façade. But once you delve a little deeper and begin to experience what’s it like to live there as a local, enjoying the SpeakEasy type lifestyle, the concealed bouts of self-expression and the meaningful stories behind the street art, the city begins to take its place in a special little corner of your heart.