Starting off the year (quite late) on a positive note, I’d like to share 5 little things I love about Berlin.
When discovering a city, there are of course the staple things to see and do: museums, restaurants, clubs, historical monuments etc. They all give you a comfortable and satisfactory peek into everyday life, without scratching too deep beneath the surface. A little dip of the toe if you will.
After living in Berlin for a little over a year, I by no stretch of the imagination assume to have unearthed even a fraction of what it has to offer. I have, however, come to really enjoy certain details that make it incomparable to other cities I’ve visited or lived in. These are features easily overlooked or that blend into the background over time. They are nevertheless remarkable in their own way and make time spend in “in between spaces” that much more enjoyable.
There isn’t anything revolutionary or exciting about public garbage cans or transport. Don’t get me wrong, I very much appreciate clean outdoor spaces, and can talk about trains running on time as much as the next person, but wouldn’t put these two on any “must see” travel list. This is in part why it’s so lovely to see that the people running the two Berlin services are injecting a little humour to these, otherwise utterly mundane and utilitarian, amenities.
Every BSR public garbage can not only stand out against the gloomy grey city because of their bright orange colour but thanks to the quirky slogans plastered over them. Some of my favourites include “Thank you for the ‘Hot Dogs’” and “Please feed”. Who would have thought dog shit disposal could put a smile on your face?
As for the public transport service BVG, contrary to other public transport systems, they maintain a fun, and at time sassy level of engagement with their commuters. Not to mention, you can get to your destination in a timely fashion (take note TTC). From their strong Twitter presence to comedic media campaigns, they definitely know how to stay relevant and have a laugh. I mean, they even invited U2 to perform on the U2!
Berlin is not a place that can hide its history, nor does it try to. Over the last century alone, it has gone through a considerable amount of changes, quite drastic ones at that. Although there seems to be a willingness to move on from the past, there is consideration and debate on how to honour it in a dignified manner.
The street names for one, are themed, for the most part, according to neighbourhoods. There’s an area in the South West for instance where the streets are all named after famous composers and musicians. Atop of street signs named after certain people or places, you can often find a short description of them. An interesting little detail that can sometimes give you a hint of the area’s history and its influencers.
One of the more stark reminders of the past can be seen in the architecture. Having been heavily bombed in the Second World War, today the city’s housing is made up of a patchwork of old and new buildings. The styles of pre- and post-war buildings are so shockingly different, that you kinda can’t miss it.
The newer builds are of course more angular and simple, serving up some of that socialist realism, but they also have an extra floor compared to their older, more extravagant counterpart – because you know, putting roofs over people’s heads quickly after the war took precedent over high ceilings. However, this can be more or less common depending on the area – highly industrial neighbourhoods and train stations being primarily targeted.
Berlin is a curvy city. Be it its physical border, the ring-Bahn train lines, or the actual streets themselves. This ain’t the right angle cookie-cutter North-American layout I’ve grown up knowing. The cardinal directions won’t get you anywhere here!
In the beginning, I must admit it was a little confusing, especially when trying to be somewhere on time. You can’t really take another street that heads in the same general direction and expects to end up where you intended. Nevertheless, once you get used to it, it’s very wanderlusty and takes leisure strolls to a whole new level. You can basically never stop discovering the city.
A rather quick one: the sidewalks. Not a great place to be strutting around in heels because they’re so unbearably uneven, but it’s rather nice on the eyes. I thoroughly appreciate the effort put into pedestrian spaces, especially when you see road workers sitting down and taking the time to place each little stone back where they belong. Much nicer than the big boring slabs you see in North America, that when needing replacing, get absolutely butchered and patch up with bumpy asphalt. It’s all in the details, right?
The last nod of appreciation goes to the green spaces. Not because they appear particularly well kept, sleek, or organised, but rather because people seem to let their plants do their thing. Much like Berlin itself, there seems to be a sense of controlled chaos in (almost) every courtyard, park, and Schrebergarten – don’t even get me started on the Schrebergartens! There’s definitely a lot of fun that goes into the green spaces, however small they may be, and I must say, what a delight it is to witness!
And there we have it! The 5 little things I love about Berlin. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off on a little stroll, perhaps whilst holding an ice cream cone?