Returning to Berlin

I’ve said it before in my Paris v. Berlin post, and I’ll say it again. To travel to Berlin is to be inspired – creative minds flock to Berlin. I made sure to again return to Berlin and explore all the history, innovation, and art in every form.

Everyone, from every walk of life, can be found on the streets of Berlin. The sidewalks are shared by blue-haired punk-rockers, young German yuppies in suits, dreadlocks, piercings, covered in tattoos, the elderly in grayscale simple clothes, fashionistas, big thick framed glasses. It is an organic city – filled with thinkers and alive with new opportunities. Berlin is a city in transition, a city regaining an identity after its long, turbulent history. It is a city where people can have an impact, and where people go to impact.

The Berlin Wall fell in 1989 and the city seems to be in constant flux since. For 28 years, Berliners were heavily controlled, and now – Berliners control themselves. The pendulum of history has swung from the tightly controlled Berlin under the Third Reich and the Soviets and is now on the opposite side of the spectrum of total and absolute freedom of expression.

Graffiti covered nearly every square inch of the city, but the graffiti in Berlin has an identity that is entirely different from the graffiti you see in other large cities. Often, especially in times of economic struggle, graffiti marks a city as a desperate cry for political reform or covers buildings as a testament of outrage. Berlin graffiti is not vandalism, it is true art: surrealist paintings, incredible 3D images, and poignant political statements. City streets are like walking through a museum with the artists walking right next to you.

Berlin is a blank canvas, a massive blank canvas, with endless space for people to create and leave their mark. That is what Berliners do – create, and then create again. Think, and then think some more. Another artist covers one person’s graffiti art, and the endless cycle of creativity ensue. The graffiti in Berlin is just a small snapshot of the giant web of creativity and ideas that define the city. Ideas are almost self-destructive in Berlin – one idea leads to another and everything changes, rapidly. The Berlin you saw yesterday is not the same Berlin you see today.

The openness of ideas in Berlin is a direct response to the Berlin Wall. East Germany is still regaining an identity. While history might be the catalyst behind the now creative identity of the city, the prices make it possible. Berlin is unbelievably cheap. Housing prices are student affordable, and a nice meal won’t cost more than 4 Euros. This insanely affordable city attracts people from all over the world, and these ex-patriots quickly become Berliners. There is no definition of a Berliner; the Berlin community is like an island of misfit toys that, taken as a whole, have a bizarre but welcoming charm.

If you want to open a business – head to Berlin, real estate is affordable. If you want to sit in a cafe and think with other intellectuals – you can do so on every street corner of Berlin. If you want to visit a destination that is perfect for young travelers on a budget…Berlin. Students, entrepreneurs, artists, thinkers, lovers of ideas, creativity addicts and impactors – Berlin is your city.

Berlin, where even the dogs are trendier than you:

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A story I’d like to hear:

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Kreuzberg – the neighborhood just south of the River Spree and a must-explore location for anyone traveling to Berlin. A conglomeration of hippies, artsy folks, and high-tech businesses with art covering every inch of outdoor walls – Kreuzberg is the perfect neighborhood to get lost for an afternoon.

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Behind graffiti walls, a graveyard with tombstones from the 1800’s

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Berlin has over 2,500 parks and gardens throughout the city, and nearly one fifth of the city land is covered in trees. Check out the Berlin park listing here. In the summer, expect to find outdoor festivals sprinkled around the city:

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Travel should be enjoyable, but it should not always be easy.  The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe is a difficult but necessary experience. Architect Peter Eisenman and engineer Buro Happold designed the memorial. Walking through the stark and enormous memorial creates a sense of the magnitude of the destruction from history.

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While I’d recommend skipping the Checkpoint Charley museum, a visit to the Berlin Wall is a must. I enjoyed walking the entirety of the wall, though bikes are also available for rent.

Surrounding the Berlin Wall are newly constructed office buildings. The new development reaches right up to the street across the wall, and challenged me to consider a difficult question: when does history cease to triumph the future? At what point is new development justified to replace history?

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If there is ever a city to a read a history book before visiting, it is Berlin. To help make sense where the city landmarks fit within the timeline of history, TAKE THE BERLIN FREE WALKING TOUR. Yes, it is long. Yes, it is probably hot outside. Yet, I cannot recommend the tour enough. My tour guide held a bachelor’s history degree and was able to answer all my questions with full answers. Hitler’s bunker is underneath an apartment parking lot. Buildings through Berlin have multiple purposes and uses throughout history – your guidebook will not do you justice as a source of historical information.

Make sure to take the tour that meets outside of Starbucks near the Brandenburg Gate. I’d recommend taking the New Berlin Free Tour first, then delving into another more time period specific tour such as:

  • Red Berlin Tour
  •  Best of Berlin Tour
  • Cold War Berlin: Soviet secrets, CIA spies & more
  • Third Reich Tour
  • Berlin’s New Architecture
Posted on by Reagan J Payne in Part II, Uncategorized

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