Ja/Nein: Berlin, Deutschland

I did not plan on coming to Berlin during my trip in the planning stages. Everywhere I went people kept on telling me how amazing the city was and eventually the chorus could not be ignored. Shocked I became when I found out that Berlin is…well, it’s like an American city! Or at least like a not-as-awesome-but-cheaper New York.

In a way this was relief. I would not have to dodge leiderhosen clad sausage salesmen or Neo-Nazis or any other stereotype I could drup up after all. But the streets were wide again, the buildings new, the exoticism non-existent.

My timing probably did not showcase Berlin at its liveliest, either. I arrived on Good Friday, had my Saturday taken up by another walking tour and pub crawl, Easter was Sunday, a Bank Holiday followed the next day, finally saw some of the city crowded–but it was a Tuesday, and then spent my final day at a concentration camp. Additionally, I was hobbled by more old man problems (my shin felt like it was about to explode).

For as historic Berlin is, it is filled with mostly post-war buildings due to the bombing campaigns (and self-destruction). Additionally, it’s sort of hard to get a grasp on Hitler’s bunker when it is now a dirt lot where people take their dogs to shit. The new architecture filling in the void of the Berlin Wall is surprisingly not that impressive. Conversely, the interior design of the shops and restaurants is pretty much without fail always great. I haven’t made it a point to visit Hugo Boss stores on my travels, but I would recommend paying a visit to the Rosenthaerstrabe location if you go–it’s very fashion-y (like that Will Ferrel sketch with the teeny phone) but the space is genuinely awesome looking.

The biggest surprise, by far, was the food: It was cheap, delicious, and vegetarian options were aplenty. I ate at 2 veggie-only restaurants, passed by a vegetarian street cart that looked greasy and amazing, and–because an influx of immigrants–had plenty of ethnic options such as Thai, falafel, and Chinese.

Well, it wasn’t traditional Chinese, but it was extremely cheap (3 euro) and made me want to steal their idea and bring it to America. (I realize it’s probably somewhere in the States, already, but not in Austin.) Regrettably named, China Box, is a nicely-enough designed restaurant that offers you two options: Stir fry noodles with vegetables and chicken or stir fry noodles with vegetables. You can also add Red Rooster sauce, some other sauce from the same company, and fried onions. From odering to eating takes about 30 seconds. It’s genius and Kevin’s friends who I randomly bumped into also agree the idea must be hijacked. I ate there three times.

Amazingly–for a city of 3 million people and pretty serious unemployment–I saw 3 homeless people. In 6 days. I thought that was impressive, though I don’t know the reasons behind it.

Even with the current unemployment and economic problems, Berliners seemed to be in good spirits. The city is extremely afforadable (especially for such a big and cosmopolitan capital), has a surfeit of creative talent starting new projects, and still seems to be celebrating the fall of the Wall. I didn’t fall in love with the city like so many others have, but I would like to go back in the future to see how it keeps on re-inventing itself.

[A post on the personal politics of Berlin is coming, so hold off on comments related to facism and all that for now, please.]

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