Berlin captured me. Its history, its honesty, its energy, its architecture – two weeks later I am still struggling to order the rich and resonant cacophony of images and thoughts, remnants of my few weeks there.
The next blogs will be an attempt at such order but first I want to list some of the superficial impressions – to clear the mental decks.
• This is a city being continuously reconstructed, not just through history but actually. Cranes abound.
• Because it is built on swampy soil, Berlin is a relatively low rise city and surprisingly green.
• It is a city of illusions, not just of historic ideas but actually. Inside the seemingly historic buildings everything old is new again. They kept the frames but updated the paintings inside.
• Berliners are superficially abrupt but given a few days, have bright smiles. They remind you of your manners with a strong “Morgan”.
• Everybody seems to be eating large servings of great creamy cake yet few overweight people are around.
• Young berlin boys have the best range of carefully coiffured hair I have ever seen.
• Bike riders are well catered for and you had better look out if you stray into one of the many footpath bike paths.
• There is a stunning public transport system and after 2 weeks even I could change lines with some confidence. Conversely traffic is amazingly light given this is a city of 3.5 million people – but then again I am comparing it to the unacceptably heavy situation in Sydney
• Accessibility is helped by the large number of people who speak English.
• While the streetscape is mostly post-war crisp, cigarette butts adorn the pavements.
• People drink beer in the streets and on the trains yet I never saw a drunk. Part of the response to the oppression of history has been to turn from the nanny state – bike helmets are not worn; there aren’t rules about alcohol in the streets, nor are there any CCTVs and it all seems to work.
• Neighbourhoods outside of Mitte (the centre) each have their own character although gentrification is closing in on much of the alternative areas.
• Exhortations in unlikely places – on foundations and footpaths, as well as street art street art, remind you that this is a city of culture.
• Department stores have not taken over given the range and number of small boutiques although the for hall in the big KaDeWe is the best I have seen.
• Under the city I see, I know there are other Berlins invisible to me – club central is one, high culture another and I suspect, history and European politics has left more than the usual number of distressed people.