If you travel to Berlin without having any clue where you are going and expect to find similar glamour and fanciness as in other European capitals, you may be disappointed when arriving. At the first glance, Berlin can just seem like an overly large, trashy and even ugly concrete hell of a city. At least that was my first impression one dark autumn day several years ago. Then what made me change my mind from that to barely wanting to leave and had me come back so often? Here’s how I arranged my thoughts and adoration to four parts:
1. It’s cool
Take a closer look and you may realize that the industrial vibes with it’s shady looks are actually cool as hell. All the billion graffiti, poster overdoses on public walls and such stand for something different. Several places only enhance the rebel spirit with adding or leaving tons of posters, stickers and obscure decoration around.
Berlin has a reputation as a European party mecca. From what I’ve heard, in the 90’s the city had it’s world techno capital reputation growing after the Berlin wall fell and unity and freedom became a movement. At those times of cultural awakening, people could just march in abandoned buildings and start their pop up nightclubs of the time. These days the scenery is regulated, as expected, but the mindset for a city providing everything worth asking for, is still there. If you want, you can party throughout the week or spend your time with activities or in pubs and museums one more interesting than the other. If anything is sure, it is that shady techno clubs in old factory buildings are still a thing.
You’ll notice that unlike everywhere else, Wall Street looks only get you rejected from entering the most famous clubs. Formal clothes don’t really belong in Berlin nightlife , so the more bizarre and ragged you look in those all dark clothes, the better. Those regular fit jeans and second hand windbreaker jackets seen regularly in daytime, also give you the feeling of being back in the 90’s. Putting all the above mentioned together, Berlin can feel like you were stuck some 30 years in past in an industrial utopia.
2. It’s packed with history
When you stroll around the city, you may eventually realize that you are where some incredibly noteworthy historical events have happened. If you don’t, I suggest you to try out a walking tour. I always hated group tours, but the one I did, surprisingly ended up being one of my highlights of the trip. The guide on this free tour was highly entertaining and managed to refresh my poor memory on several interesting events. You can stop to think for a moment for example at Brandenburg Gate, Holocaust Memorial, Checkpoint Charlie or right above Hitler’s bunker.
Or somewhere along the remains of Cold War’s symbol: Berlin Wall. Despite East and West uniting 30 years ago, the differences of the two still exist as a topic of conversation for the locals. The city was under spotlight for decades and the separated human lives are stories worth telling. The confrontation of political beliefs and world powers, and the final fall of the Berlin Wall are still in fresh memory for some.
German history goes way beyond Nazis and the last wars, but concentrating on the events of the last hundred years will already keep you occupied for quite some time.
3. It’s cheap
According to research, Berlin is the only capital city in Europe that drags down it’s nation’s GDP. Those who have traveled around Germany’s other main cities, should therefore find Berlin cheaper and well, poorer than expected. Two to four euros will already get you a good pint or a kebab whereas prices for regular restaurant dishes start from six euros.
The so called “Späti” culture is also a real deal. There are late-night stores (Spätkauf) all around the city where you can get your cheap drink and snacks. Next to store entrances, there are often a few modest benches where locals like to hang out with their drinks before hitting the club. Or home. Spätis are even considered a cultural symbol and the soul of the city, and no doubt about it. Sipping from that glass bottle on a trashy bench with nice and open strangers is a very Berlin experience.
4. It’s an open-minded city
So talking about the unity and freedom movement, the saying goes that as long as you are not causing harm to anyone, you can do whatever you want. The more open-minded and liberal vibes mean that taboos don’t exist at the very same level as elsewhere. Berlin has a wide and wild scene of sex and fetish parties that seem to be a norm, and advertisement for them can be seen here and there. I also remember seeing a huge billboard for sex store DILDOKING, which probably wouldn’t get much applause if it was put up somewhere in my hometown.
In some of the regular techno clubs it may sometimes feel like you are the only one drinking beer, since drugs are so widely used. I’m not personally into narcotics, but I am fine with the fact that people are making their own choices.
Even if you were in this adult Disneyland, it doesn’t mean that you’d need to go snorting coke and raid the most notorious sex clubs with a latex mask and a strap on. The possibility for some people to do so only underlines that in this city of ~3,7 million inhabitants you are likely find whatever you want. Everything is definitely not for everyone, and the other extreme existing means that there will be plenty to do and find from both ends. There are surely different personalities and communities that are and do as they please, which is something I respect.
The wide range of ethnicity is also exciting. Berlin is so multicultural – or “multikulti” that everyone seems to belong. When immigrants bring their culture with them, you can once again choose from the ever widening set of ethnic restaurants and bars. You can perhaps spend your time in the African or Middle Eastern restaurants or areas, have a cup of tea in Central-Asian tea house – or just stick to the Curry Wurst.
Berlin can really be an exciting and inspiring thing to happen for so many people. You can choose a topic of your liking from culture, history, culinary sides or partying, and you are likely to have a great time. As long as you are open to the sometimes trashy setting and the different kinds of people realizing themselves, you can just concentrate on finding whatever works the best for you. No wonder Berlin has found it’s place among the most visited European cities. Some people can sure go too far with the nastier sides of the city and the possibilities it offers. Those wilder souls should use their self-control to remember that you are always welcomed back. Just like a friend of mine once stated: “in Berlin you never feel like a foreigner”.