Upon your first visit to Berlin, Germany some things are going to immediately flag your attention. Not just the language that, to me, makes little sense right now, or the strange feeling of spaciousness but other things. They will be different to each of us. What we notice depends of course upon what we have known. What can I tell you? Well, three things appear to exist in Berlin in abundance. Bikes. Bars, and Babies. More than you could throw a stick at. Of course for the former and latter, you wouldn’t want to. It may prove injurous.
Flying to Berlin from the UK is a breeze. I’m more used to gruelling schleps of 10 hours or more cramped in economy class, 33000 ft in the sky. I hopped over from London in less time it would take to watch Lord of The Rings, tea break included. This got my trip off on a good foot. Though I swear I still felt some jet lag. My body stubbornly reminding me it is more natural for humans to walk.
I had had little time to research my destination. Life can be like that sometimes. You wake up and suddenly it is time to stop what you were doing and get on a plane. I felt the usual excitement/terror of flying to a new land and encountering offical signs written in a language I don’t understand. The S-bahn train took me efficently from terminal to Prenzlauer Berg (the neighbourhood I’d read to be the hippest…and some rumour to have the highest birth rate in Europe). Huge stone apartment blocks rose from a rather desolate landscape. Then, hugging the tracks almost, a single strip of single-storied houses with the prettiest gardens, stocked with bright bobbing Dahlias and rampant garden vegetables.
My finger jabbing at points on the map for directions met with a tumble of unfamiliar oral sounds, and gentle smiles. I never saw a station guard then, or since. Tourist prompts were also scant. For the first time I’m my travel history I’d packed only what I was sure to need, and a little less. Determined as I was to travel without having to pay extra for baggage or dislocate a shoulder dragging my possessions like a hoarding gypsy. I was so glad I’d made this decision, being lost or in the process of finding where you need to be with a heavy case and wheels with minds of there own is now joke. Packing light from now on is the only way to traverse lands and run the gauntlet of unfamiliar airport terminals.
In my first week in Berlin I have discovered many of Berlin’s kiez (immediate neighbourhoods within districts). Day one, I familiarised myself with my own. When staying in a new place for more than a few days I acquaint myself in a few ways. I run/walk the streets (keep fit, gain geographical awareness). Plot all vegan restaurants, good cafes and organic supermarkets. Fridge stocked, tummy satiated, I am then free to roam. Day two, I needed an injection of historical information. New Berlin Tours filled in some (very large) gaps. The guide, a young bearded guy (Chris P) from Wiltshire in the UK, with an accent all of his own. Think British mixed with South African, German and sprinkled with the theatrics of an American and you may get a feel for it. I hung off his every word. I forgot myself and the fact I appeared to be the oldest in the 40-strong group (how is that possible?!..it’s not possible..is it?….no) I’ve never enjoyed a tour so much. It was delivered with the aerial view of an academic historian. Philosophised. Considered. With unchained opinion. We wondered around from points of interests, monuments, museums and one ugly domed church. We got to hear about the Glass dome of the Reichstag (German parliament), the spot where Hitler committed suicide, now under a paved car park. The entrance to the infamous bunker, now a children’s sandpit. The steel-grey concrete of the Memorial To The Murdered Jews. So much to absorb!
I walk around the city with comfort and ease. The city breathes and air of openness, if you steer clear of the bawdy ugliness of the main tourist sights it feels inclusive, almost like you’ve been invited. The TV Tower, looming like a giant hatpin and a useful point of navigation is never far from view.
Public transport is a dream. Metro bus/trams the S & U-Bahn, pretty much cover every part of the city. All are clean and efficient. Biking is a choice of many. It is reported 15% of all journeys are taken in the saddle. I bought a bike. I usually do when visiting any city for longer than 3 weeks. It makes me feel at home. Part of city life. It was a transaction via ebay (classifieds). It was marked at 55 euro. I gave 50. Since purchasing I’ve been adding to my asset though, in the form of a new tyre and inner tube (unbeknown to me it had worn perilously thin and the tyre exploded with a hair-raising BANG as I attempted to pump air into it) and a service on the gears (after peddling like the clappers in a thunderstorm..legs like pistons on turbo and getting nowhere this was a must!). Cycle lanes seem to cover most of the city. Quite a number on wide pavements, shared with pedestrians and safe from traffic. What little there is of traffic. Driving here would be a breeze. But why would you need to. Berlin is as flat as a frying pan.
Another thing that notably struck me, despite Berlins newness (over 80% of Berlin was razed to the ground during the war) is lack of kempt and clip. The plazas and parks are wild and overgrown. I find myself (involuntarily) mentally clipping hedges and sweeping up mountains of brittle leaves. I don’t know the reason for this. Perhaps they have far more important matters to concern themselves with. Perhaps we in the UK are wrong to expend so much energy clipping everything to within an inch of it’s life. Their way is a better reminder of the power of nature.
After a week, I’ve yet to find my ‘go-to’ cafe. Though today, I write for the first time at Cafe Morgentrot (translates to red dawn) situated on a hip strip along Kastanienalle. It’s friendly, despite being uber cool, and the music is good. Perhaps it may become my muse in the coming weeks. I already have that creeping feeling of attachment. So much to see and do. However slow your travel, unless you hang up your walking boots for good, there pervades the feeling of never really getting to know a place. How does one ever decide to commit, put down anchor and plug into somewhere new? For now, I’ll enjoy it for the time that I have apportioned here.
Here are a few snaps, taken in my first week. More to come in the coming days..weeks. I’m steadily building up a library of food and restaurant happenings too.