In 2010, Berlin-Without-A-Wall celebrated its 21st birthday. It officially became a grown-up, able to party and vote and go to war. But hear this: the war is over, the city has voted in a gay mayor, and don’t tell anyone, but Berlin started partying a long time ago!
Here are the Top 10 Reasons Why Berlin is the Greatest City on the Continent.
1. Recent, and Relevant, History
Your grandparents were probably alive during Berlin’s darkest days through World War II, your parents may remember the construction of the Berlin Wall, and you might even remember its fall. Even if you’ve never cracked a history book, you’re probably intrigued by the prospect of seeing where the Nazis were headquartered, you want to touch the Berlin wall with your own hands, and you want to read all about the daring escape stories from Checkpoint Charlie. The city is still rebuilding, re-painting, and its history is still only yesterday’s news.
2. Monuments that Make You FEEL Something
Like all European cities, Berlin has its share of old kings on copper horses. But it’s the more evocative monuments that make Berlin stand out. The disorientation of walking among the concrete slabs of the Holocaust Memorial, the spookiness of the empty bookshelves below the ‘Book Burning Square’, the jubilation of the colourful murals on the East Side Gallery. Berlin will teach you its history, but you might shed a few tears before it’s through.
3. Alternative Lifestyles
Once you’ve got the sites out of the way, head into the back streets of Berlin to see why this city really earns first top spot honors. The people are edgy, the drinks cheap, the artwork vibrant and the bars underground. Rule: if something looks like a regular wall in the daylight, come back at night and it’s probably the entrance to the greatest bar you’ve ever visited. The most likely place to mingle among Berlin’s citizens who have embraced alternative lifestyles is on Oranienburger Strasse. If you weren’t aware that you love metal-wearing, graffiti-painting, jewellery-designing, green-tea-drinking, retro-clothes-shopping, noodle-eating and flowery-dress-wearing people, walk to the end of this street and you’ll feel your inner punk start to bop her head.
4. High Octane Nightlife
Budapest and Belgrade might put up a strong argument, but they have to cede first-place nightlife honors to the original home of cool; there is nowhere but Berlin where you can dance barefoot at a beach bar along the banks of the Spree, then party in a 6-story squatters’ tenement/art gallery/movie theatre/bar, and finish the night at a panorama nightclub above Alexanderplatz, while watching the sun rise over the city where techno was born.
5. Dining Diversity
If you’re a sushi fan, you’re in luck. Afternoon-long happy hours abound through-out the city mean which means cheap maki and inside-out rolls. But if sushi isn’t your thing, you’ll find whatever cuisine you fancy in Berlin, one of the most diverse cities in Europe. Indonesian, Thai, Japanese, Italian, Spanish, Ethiopian, Mexican; the only thing that might be hard to find is traditional German food! The best showcase of Berlin’s diversity is in the Kreuzberg neighbourhood. Berlin has the highest number of Turkish people outside Istanbul, and you’ll find them here along with the rest of Berlin’s cool kids. You will also find coffee shops with lounge-chairs on the sidewalk, markets, second-hand clothing shops, vegan restaurants, and in the middle of it all, a water park.
6. Art and Achitecture
Government officials work under a dome built by Norman Foster, businesspeople do their banking in the Frank-Gehry-designed DG bank, and everyone goes for after-work drinks in the Modernist Mecca Potsdamer Platz. From their clothing to their street-side artwork, to giant astronauts painted onto the sides of buildings, and, of course, the ever-present graffiti, Berliners have plenty of creativity to spare.
Paris has its green fairy, Berlin has its little green man in a hat; look closely and you’ll see him on every street corner that once was East Berlin. The most classic piece of ‘ostalgia’ – nostalgia for East Berlin after reunification – is Ampelman, the figure on the traffic lights. When it was suggested that he be replaced with the average walk and stop symbols, East Berliners kicked up such a fuss that officials were afraid they might tear down another wall. Ampelman was left alone, but given a new responsibility: to guide not only East, but now West Berliners, to safety.
8. Berlin Admits its Wrongdoings
The Nazi regime, one of the worst things to happen to the world, was based in Berlin. How do Berliners move on from that? For one thing, by building a glass dome over the Reichstag to symbolize transparency and openness in the German government. It is at once, an admittance, an apology, fun to climb, and a treat to behold. But, at the same time, Berlin certainly doesn’t exploit its wrongdoings. For example, the bunker where Hitler committed suicide, a fairly pivotal moment in history, is now a car park, and good luck in trying to find it. To prevent neo-Nazis from making it into a pilgrimage site, Berliners won’t put up any sort of memorial there. Most of the memorials and museums to WWII, such as the Holocaust Memorial and Museum, the East Side Gallery, and the Topography of Terror, are free. Berlin’s way of saying ‘Yes, it happened here and yes, we admit it, but damned if we’re going to profit from it.
9. Airport Staff Smile at You! (and even flirt!)
You’ll be sad to leave the city, but an extra surprise may await you at the airport; the pleasure of flying with German Wings! From the 3 sexy, flirtatious women in their adverts (note: their hair colours are black, red and yellow, a subtle shout-out to the German flag), to the friendly staff, to the comfortable planes, German Wings is a far cry from other budget airlines that make you pay in other ways for taking their cheap flights (Wizz Air, I’m looking at you!)
10. You never know where you’ll end up!
My last night in Berlin went like this: my friends and I had hoisin duck for dinner, then as we strolled down Oranienburger, we noticed the sex shop on the corner was having a book-launch party. Three glasses of pink champagne, 20 sex toy-demonstrations and two nipple tassles later, we stumbled back onto the street, giggling as we passed the gorgeous Russian prostitutes in their thigh-high white boots. We heard music coming from a beer garden; long-lost songs from the 1930’s while couples waltzed to it. Next stop was Tachelles, the squatters bar, where white flowers wafted through the air along with the reggae music. On the top floor, at 3am, a designer showcased his paintings. When I asked how much one cost, expecting the answer to be in the hundreds of euros, because it was definitely worth that much or more, he said it wasn’t for sale. It was merely to be enjoyed.
Written By Andrea McDonald for EuropeUpClose.com