So here we are in Berlin and in one breath I have so much to say about this fascinating city yet in another you feel like its so hard to describe because its all about the vibe and heart beat rather than about what we saw.
We’d flown up from Budapest, and on the train into the city met a delightful Aussie girl who seemed to want to take us under her wing. She was a great example of the young people from all over the world who are being attracted to Berlin and falling in love it. Sometimes it easy for us to forget our age when you’re around young excited ones like that who are passionate about a place like this and all it offers. To help create the vibe we discover we are amongst thousands of young, mostly men, from Italy and Spain arriving to support their teams, Juventus and Barcelona, in the final of the Europeans Champions League tomorrow. And we not only heard them over the next couple of days but saw the remnants of their celebrations as the thousands who had come had been treated to one huge party in this accommodating city.
To our delight we discovered we are staying in Friedrichshain, one of the most diverse and eclectic areas of Berlin. Which over the next few days we got to know really well. If we weren’t out there getting amongst it with a drink and a bit to eat, then it didn’t matter because it came to us or at least it sounded like that under our window every night!! A lively, buzzy area that is lined with bars, cafes and masses of restaurants but also family friendly and interspersed with some fascinating work by young local fashion designers and artists. Shops that are more like galleries but then next door are vintage or quirky second hand stores . The wonderful open air East side Gallery is only a few minutes walk away. The best coffee and atmosphere of cafes that we’ve found since leaving NZ. And every time we were amazed at what great value it was. It's such a combination of local glamour, vibrancy and yet so unpretentious and you feel so comfortable draws you in. People are positive and open to chat and one cafe owner described the people around this area as "sometimes looking a bit scruffy or rough but predominately friendly and kind."
Everybody rides bikes, old, young, tourists, professionals etc and there are even tables and chairs made available along the river paths to stop with your picnic and enjoy. So relaxed and accommodating that nobody seems to be take themselves too seriously - no pomp and ceremony here.
Wow its such a multicultural metropolis and is attracting people from all over the world. Some describe the city as being addictive - offering the party lifestyle for those of us that love nothing more than to have a good time. The city never sleeps and with this reputation it draws performers from every corner of the globe catering for every taste, budget and age group. Even our tour leader was an Scottish girl who’d been drawn to Berlin years ago and never could never drag herself away.
Known also as the greenest city in Europe, we were continually amazed at the spaces they are used to soften what at times could be a harsh environment. The huge Tiergarten in the middle of the city seems to be a never-ending space of lushness, over 520 acres (thats almost twice the size of Hyde Park in London). Originally a hunting ground for the king it is now kept as a very natural park landscape with a huge reforestation of the park around 1959 when over 250,000 trees we replanted.
We also came upon Prinzessinnengarten which is a fascinating project using wasteland to create urban farmland and green meeting places. http://prinzessinnengarten.net/about/
The dark history of Berlin is very much part of the city and I’m sure the whole reunification of the East and West is part of what draws the young energetic people here. But it was great to also understand prior to this what a major world city Berlin was. Know for leadership roles in music ( the city is home to the first free standing Opera House in the world and still renown as one of the very best in the world), science, higher education, museums, government and military affairs. Even a British expert once described the city as ”a marvel of civic administration, the most modern and perfectly organised city there is”!!! And yet within the 20th century this city saw a revolution, was home to the leader of the dreaded Nazis, bombed to bits and then divided in two.
But over the week we spent here we could see and enjoy the wonderful architecture of years ago mixing with the new innovative modern. From the Brandenburg Gate, the Reichstag, to the French and German Cathedrals, Museum Island, to the silent Jewish Holocaust Memorial, Westside Gallery with is colourful parts of the Berlin Wall, to the splendour of the Prussian palace, or Checkpoint Charlie. And yet amongst all this we saw more than more than eighteen cranes working within the central area of the city which surely gave us a feeling of movement in the right direction.
This capital city with a population of 3.5 million people has a unique mixture that kind of gives it a rough charm, but in the next breath a modern vibrant city that needed to be visited and experienced!!!!