Visiting Berlin ꟷ Expectations and Reality


For a while, the word on the street has been that Berlin is the new hip and happening hotspot. Having recently been absorbed by several Netflix series set in Berlin in the post-war Roaring Twenties, I was intrigued, and soon we had the opportunity to find out what the fuss is all about.
For one, Berlin is a great sprawling city that is hard to make sense of on foot. There are central city areas that are walkable (… and did we walk) but Berlin also has multiple outlying neighbourhoods, each with its individual character. Luckily, the city’s transport system is excellent and as efficient as the Germans’ reputation. But you do find out the hard way. After a jaded tourism advisor’s roll of the eyes ꟷ “The Berlin metro works just like any other in the world” ꟷ we discover: the S-Bahn leaves from upstairs in the enormous Hauptbahn station, the U-Bahn leaves from underground in the station, and the Metro Tram from outside the station. Never mind the 12 or more colour-codes of the different lines. (NOWHERE do you find a little key with the colours and the line numbers next to them.)
That said, Berlin was an interesting experience. More grunge than I expected, less 1920’s nostalgia than I’d hoped for. The city’s architecture is pretty industrial-looking, with less elegance than Madrid and less panache than Prague. It is most definitely a developing city. You just can’t escape the massive construction activity, wherever you pass by.
You could say Berlin is a great exploratory city for the younger generation. They gather with their backpacks outside the Hauptbahnhof in their droves, arriving, departing, or just hanging out, sitting in hippy circles on the dirty ground and drinking beer (at all times of day). On the streets one gets a sense of personal self-expression — and an awareness of the freedom to self-express: lots of inked body art, young women wearing Doc Martens with spring dresses, guys growing a single dreadlock sprouting out of the back of their heads — trending right now!
There are sights you have to go to while you’re there: the spiral and walkable glass-domed Reichstag building, the Brandenburg Gate with its mythological statue of a horse-drawn chariot, the Sony Center’s ultra-modern glass canopy with its fabric sails designed by Helmut Jahn, the sumptuous and lavishly furnished Charlottenburg castle.
We hugely enjoyed the outdoor East Side Gallery, a long series of old concrete panels from the Berlin Wall that, in 1990, were painted by artists from around the world. It stretches for 1.3 kilometres along the Spree River. Most of the wall paintings were restored by the original artists in 2009. This is in the East side of Berlin … think decayed grunge areas that are now attracting artists and creatives and young free-thinking individuals as a place to settle and do their thing. It’s where the cool, hip dudes of Berlin hang out.
So, unlike me, pack your expectations away, arrive with an open mind, and fresh feet to do a lot of walking, and you could find that Berlin surprises you.
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