Honestly it took me three days to warm up to Berlin. It wasn’t a city I felt I could identify with. Perhaps I was still too in love with Prague to be able to see Berlin’s qualities?
This is one huge city! The vastness is impressive if not a little overwhelming. I arrived into Berlin on a weekday during rush hour. It was a shock to the senses after a series of smaller quaint cities. The public transportation system is very extensive; there are M-lines, S-lines, U-lines and many bus lines. You can get to pretty much anywhere you want with public transportation. The transportation map is so huge that the only place it will fit on the underground car is on the ceiling!
Cycling is a very common mode of transportation. You can even rent bicycles from the corner convenience store. What is great about cycling in Berlin is that the cyclists actually have their own “roads” and they obey the traffic lights and signs. There aren’t any cyclists weaving in and out of traffic zooming through lights or riding recklessly onto and off of sidewalks. All bicycles are equipped with bells and if a pedestrian accidentally weaves onto the cycling “road” (like yours truly while reading a map), you will hear a friendly “ding-ding” letting you know to move!
One thing to note is that a lot of the roads and buildings in the city center are undergoing extensive restoration. Many roads are partially blocked and the skyline is riddled with construction cranes. I counted 12 cranes in only one 3-block radius. Apparently these restoration projects will be ongoing for another 5 to 7 years.
In addition to the museums with beautiful and historical art and the many moving Berlin Wall and Holocaust memorials, there are interesting sculptures, art installations and beautiful parks.
There is even the Mengenlehreuhr. A public clock that gives the time with colors. In this photo below the time is 20:07. Can you figure it out?!
So what was the problem? The city just seemed to be lacking something that I could not quite put my finger on.
I thought of quotes I had read about Berlin; “Berlin, the greatest cultural extravaganza that one could imagine.” – David Bowie or “You are crazy, my child, you must go to Berlin.” – Franz Von Suppé
Where was this sense of the off-beat and edgy artfulness I had expected?
Then on my last day I went to the East Side Gallery and crossed over into the neighborhoods of Wrangelkiez and Alt-Treptow and voilà! There it was!
The East Side Gallery is a 1.3 kilometre section of the Berlin Wall that has been turned into a gallery for 105 different street artworks. Unfortunately, some of the paintings have been damaged and destroyed by the elements and vandalism. Work is under way to replace and restore these works. In the meantime, in many sections metal fences are positioned about four feet from the wall and it is no longer possible to walk right up to the wall and touch it.
After crossing over the Spree River via the Oberbaum Bridge into Wrangelkiez you think you have been transported into a completely different city. Gone is the modern metropolis with hundreds of construction cranes littering the skyline. Here, in amongst the residential homes, graffiti, specialty vintage shops and quirky restaurants rule. Even the people look different and are far more artistic in dress and style.
I was so glad that I had seen this part of Berlin and as I was heading back to my accommodations at the end of the day, I could happily say as JFK did, “Ich bin ein Berliner” (I am a Berliner).