A few weeks ago I posted on social media about how much I missed and desired to return to what I believe is one of the greatest cities in the world – Berlin. Instead of everyone agreeing with me as they always do and going “yeah Dave, you’re right” (preferably while patting me on the back and pouring me a scotch) – I was actually asked why I like it.
I responded by saying that I would write a blog, so here it is.
1. THE SPACE– As someone who hates the sound of a foot being tapped near me, the confines of peak hour public transport, listening to people on the phone and generally having to share space with people, Berlin is a paradise.
It’s the second most populous city in the EU, so how is this possible? Berlin is one of, if not the only (I genuinely can’t remember) European city to have never recovered it’s pre-WW2 population. In 1939 Berlin had a population of 4.3 million, and now, nearly 70 years after the end of the war, it still only stands at 3.5 million.
This means you have a large city, built for a large amount of people, not even filled to capacity. You can walk down the street of this big European city on a weekend and see about as many people as you do out in Western Sydney. Not having other people breathing down your neck, being stuck behind slow walkers or just having to deal with the general asshole-ry of everyday people in close confines might not sound like a big deal, but it is to me.
Of course, I could go out into the bush or the dessert if I really wanted some peace and quiet – but perhaps that’s what I love about Berlin – serenity in the City.
2. THE HISTORY – One thing we Australians don’t really get to understand is the concept of history. We’ve only been a colonial outpost since 1770. Berlin has population statistics going all the way back to the 13th century, so take that. This period of time alone means that most areas of the city have a historical component that might just amaze you if you choose to investigate.
Then, of course, there is the obvious history. The city, while no longer divided, has a distinct difference in feel between East and West, and the checkpoints that stopped people moving from one to another. You can learn the love stories, family stories and more that compelled people to take amazing risks to get to the other side. You can still see a very small remnant of the wall that divided this town. You can stand on top of what remains of Hitler’s bunker, knowing that he put a bullet in his head just beneath your feet.
There’s the Brandenburg gate, impressive enough on its own until you learn that Napoleon actually stole the monument from the top and took it with him back to Paris. The holocaust memorial will fill you with an indescribable feeling irrespective of how you feel about it all. There’s a whole island of museums, and the city is covered in art – from the majestic commissioned pieces to some of the best (and most poignant) graffiti you’ll ever see.
Yes, many tragedies and terrors have occurred in the city. From the fervency of Nazism to the window Michael Jackson dangled his baby out of, there’s something around every corner. There are a multitude of city tours offered, and I can’t recommend enough that you take one.
3. THE FOOD – Berlin is the home of my 3 favourite (edible) S’s – SCHNITZEL, SAUSAGE AND SAUERKRAUT. Yes, I know that this essentially sums up German cuisine to most people who don’t know but if it’s going to be good anywhere, of course it’s going to be in Germany.
Now I’m not saying that Berlin schnitzel is better than Munich schnitzel, or even that Germans make the best in the world – but you will NEVER eat a shit schnitzel (or a shitzel) in Berlin. Never will you have the feeling that your Schnitzel was made in a factory and has been sitting in the freezer for weeks like at an Australian RSL – and there are so many to choose from! Chicken! Beef! Veal! Lamb! And they’re all amazing. I can’t even remember how many schnitzels I’ve eaten in Berlin, suffice it to say that the answer is A LOT.
Then there’s the Sausage (or the Wurst). Here in Australia we consider ourselves sausage lovers (oh grow up!) – hell, I’d say as a nation we chuck far more sausages on the barbecue than we ever did ‘shrimps’ (we call them farken prawns!) – so we know a thing or two. Once again, though, we pale in comparison to the Germans. It probably has to do with that extra 500 years of history and all – but everything from Bratwurst, Gelbwurst, Weisswurst, Nurnberger, Currywurst and more – IS FUCKING DELICIOUS. We’re not bad, of course, but when it comes to using the innards of a pig to make a delicious snag, the Germans have it all over us.
Then, of course, there is the Sauerkraut. It’s an acquired taste to begin with I guess but I was brought up with plentiful exposure to it, and I love it. Of course, who knows how to prepare a native food better than the natives? It tastes better over there than the stuff you can only buy here in a jar. It’s wunderbar!
4. THE BEER! – Another field where, in terms of quality, Germany craps all over the rest of the world. Not only is there the wonderful novelty of being able to drink out of a stein bigger than your head in most places, there are also Bier halls, filled with wonderfully drunk people drinking delicious beer and eating wonderful food while listening to Polka music through someones piano accordion.
Why is German beer better than everywhere else? Why, the Reinheitsgebot of course! For those not in the know that’s the German Beer Purity law – that’s right, this country enforced beer making standards through governmental decree! The key point relates to Hops, defined in the decree as a preservative – but this was only to ensure that manufacturers weren’t attempting to use any other chemical or biological means of preservation that could sully the quality of the drink. While times have changed and not all manufacturers still abide by the terms, many do, and wear it as a badge of pride. It’s also this wonderful absence of preservatives that means you can get absolutely SHIT FACED (Aussie term for drunk, people) and not have to worry about a world-ending hangover the day after.
It’s fresher, better made, larger and doesn’t leave you with a hangover. Tooheys New? VB? Carlton? Go fuck yourself.
5. THE PEOPLE – Much like the Food and Drink categories, I realise that this can apply to practically all of Germany. Yes, I’m sure there are assholes in every country in the world – but it seems incredibly difficult to meet them in countries like Germany or Holland.
These people aren’t stressed, they’re sociable, they’re friendly, fun, a little bit sensible and they fucking LOVE anyone who isn’t from Germany but can speak the language (or at least try to) – but that being said, I embrace the culture. I’ve read a fair few articles that claim Germans are rude, particularly to those from the UK or USA – but I have to wonder if this is because of these people not willing to adjust themselves to consider and observe the society they’re in.
If I had the choice between partying with a bunch of Aussies or a bunch of Germans, I know which one I’d be choosing.
Now, you might disagree with me on one, more, or all of these points, and that’s too bad. If you’ve been to Berlin and still disagree, I’m sorry you had such a shit time. If you don’t enjoy space, delicious food, friendly people or an interesting history, then Berlin might not be the city for you. Hell, travelling might not be for you full stop.
I’ve been to Europe twice, and despite my Dutch ancestry and my at times ridiculous love for Marijuana, Berlin still shits all over Amsterdam. You should go some time.