Berlin: A City as Unique Today as its History
I 🖤 Berlin
I adore Berlin. It's difficult to put it exactly into words, but there is a special feel to Berlin's energy and culture. Everything is stylish, yet understated. In a word, Berlin is cool. Very cool.
Berlin is not just unique because of its modern counterculture-bohemian style; it has a rich and troubled Cold War past that has undoubtedly shaped it to be the city it is today, which is truly unlike any other German city I have visited. For example, my hostel's decor was entirely devoted to David Hasselhoff, a 1980's icon on the American hit tv series "Baywatch", also known for performing his song "Looking For Freedom" at the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, a performance which firmly embedded him as another brick in the Wall's History.
The city itself was divided by the Berlin Wall, and although West Berlin was considered an occupied Allied city, it was geographically isolated from the Western powers and completely surrounded by Soviet-controlled territory. To stop the flow of people fleeing to the West, the Soviets closed the borders between East and West Berlin on August 13, 1961, in what is known as “Barbed Wire Sunday”, as East German troops tore up the roads alongside the border and erected miles and miles of barbed wire and fences. Within days, the barrier was built into the monstrous concrete wall that separated Berlin and so many of its families until the fall of Communism in 1989. Pictured here are a couple examples of a common scene in the days of the Wall: Parents holding up their children to show family members on the other side. In some very sad cases, parents were separated from their child.
Berlin today is a world centre of arts and creative culture. The city is vibrant and bursting with life on every corner. Everyone is outside, and even so much of the nightlife is outdoors in the summer.
When the weather is nice, there is nothing better than getting on a bike to explore. Biking has long been a German choice for getting around, but there’s something extra infectious about biking in Berlin and seeing how Berliner's bike around together for function, not just for fun (but it is really, really fun).
The cuisine matches the counterculture of the city in that it is imaginative and inspiring. There are places worth visiting which require a reservation in advance, such as La Soupe Populaire, which is also an art gallery and has a very unassuming entrance with a bus crash-looking art piece.
But even their casual street fair is a step away from the ordinary. I stopped into a random pub with a bunch of travel friends from my hostel, and even the traditional schnitzel dish had been reimagined to feature a light but crispy, crunchy oat-based crust. This was not my Oma’s schnitzel.
Along with the fantastic culture of Berlin comes equally fantastic shopping. I stayed in Rosenthal Platz (one of the U-Bahn ghost stations of the Cold War) and spent 2 days exploring the surrounding stores, galleries, and vintage shops. Germany has an artisan leather legacy, especially with 130-year-old companies like Braun Büffel, so buying leather in vintage shops is like a treasure hunt. I left Berlin with a vintage leather handbag; two unique vintage leather belts; the works of a very talented young female photographer; a pile of boutique clothes which would have been impossible to find back home, and a crush on a tall, handsome American scientist (pictured below biking towards Brandenburg Gate) who 6 months later I would travel to meet... but that’s another story.