My weekend in Berlin was record breaking.
On the day before I arrived, the city received more rain than ever in history. Most people would be bummed and may have reconsidered a visit. I, on the other hand, was happy that tourists would be washed away.
Now, going in I actually had absolutely no idea about Berlin, deliberately. The only thing I knew was that there was a wall, lots of bombs dropped here, and this is one of Germany’s most important cities. To be honest, after all my travels, I don’t even know what to consult before I go to a city; Wikipedia? Promotional articles about the city? Is there a movie? A city, especially with a massive history, is just too much to “prepare for.”
As a result, I have discovered the best thing to do is let yourself go and let happen what comes your way.
The thing that stands out the most is that Berlin is one of the most progressive cities I have ever visited. If I were to compare, the city that has the most similarities is Portland, Oregon where I spent several months in 2015.
First, upon arriving you will notice that the residents have a very eccentric dress. There is both a very present sense of fashion and style, as well as a clear departure from what is normal. It almost feels as if there is no judgment whatsoever, and people let their imaginations run wild. It makes walking around exciting and there are more smiles on people’s faces resulting from exceptional characters.
Second, graffiti is everywhere. Everywhere. It can be both pleasant when you come across a brightly colored, thought provoking mural; or unpleasant when you see simple tags repeated haphazardly over clean walls, glass windows, or multiple flat surfaces. However, I see this as part and parcel to a thriving art culture – and a positive sign of self expression. The Berlin Wall itself encourages the behavior with a variety of graffiti-esque paintings. In fact, it is so prevalent that one might think that taking an afternoon nap in the park, you’d wake up tagged.
Third: party, drugs, and alcohol.
I also discovered that Berlin is apparently the place to party. People come from hundreds of kilometers away from the city for weekends to let loose. This goes hand in hand with visible over-consumption of alcohol, problems with drugs like heroin and meth, and clubs that don’t close. No, really, clubs are open 24 hours a day in Berlin and the “real” Berliners stick it out to the end for three straight days Friday to Sunday.
There’s even a club where the bouncer is a celebrity and to get in you have to be cool. Rules to get past this man include; no talking while in line, pretend not to be part of a group, no photography, and the most important thing – look cool. From what I understand, the most outlandish, grungy, sexy, leathery, loud, and fashionable outfits will get you through the door. So, don’t bother with the button-up, and instead opt for the leather corset with matching high heels and whip.
Unfortunately, this last feature of the city tends to spill out on the streets. It’s easy to spot empty bottles everywhere and pretty much all stores seem to sell alcohol. In addition, there’s a visible population of intoxicated people. Fortunately, tourists are generally spared from begging and the streets do actually feel safe. Unfortunately, seedy characters are present everywhere, and especially in parks and at busy tourist places.
It doesn’t help that there’s also bullet holes on the sides of buildings and in windows. The photo in the slideshow above was from the window of a cafe on what seemed like a quiet street.
One final observation is that trees, bushes, and grass are growing out of control. A benefit of this is watching as residents of the city pick fruit and forage in the parks. A drawback is an uneasy feeling when paired with the party and drug culture above. However, I do enjoy wilderness and actually found it pleasant to see nature seemingly bursting out of every crack in this city. I wonder if this is deliberate…
All in all, Berlin was one of the most fun experiences I’ve had in a while. It’s unique, has incredible history, lots and lots and lots of entertaining activities, and a beautiful culture.
Just… avoid using the metro if you can. You can usually walk to your destination faster with less transfers.