A tug of shame bugs me in conversations concerning Berlin. Who wouldn’t be if you’ve been in Germany for almost two years but have never set foot on the country’s capital. 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 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 in Manila standards- accumulating in stop lights, while pedestrians merged occasionaly in between the red light. I haven’t gotten a chance yet to experience the night life of the city as we had to carry the boxes of stuff right all the way to the third floor (4th floor in the Philippines) after we arrive. 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 the 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 the city life. Despite my affinity for the mountains, suburbs, and the laid back environment, I missed 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 I saw near the ‘Dem Deutschen Volke’ a cyclist crossing the street. A car tooted its horn twice, stopped and let the cyclist pass, as if it’s the most normal thing. Not getting lost in the mix is like a dance of balance. 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 with several landmarks: the Fernseherturm, 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, 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 a bit more 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 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, pedestrain traffic violation seems to be tolerated, and bus drivers who find a second or two to crack jokes to passengers and they remain on schedule.
Poor, but sexy (?)
You bet. These were the words back in 2003of Berlin’s mayor, Klaus Woworeit. Graffiti sprays, peeling paint, and semi-spartan architecure 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’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 a 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.
A couple more photos in my flickr page. Thanks for viewing!