An old city with a young vibe, Berlin will take you unawares.
If, like me, your impressions of Berlin were formed by watching way too many World War 2 documentaries, Berlin will take you by surprise. Physically, very green, lots of parks and lots of trees, many of which line the river Spree that winds through the city.
Beyond that, Berlin has a really young, energetic, sexy vibe to it and an ethnic diversity you wouldn’t expect in the capital of the nation that gave the world Nazism and the “Final Solution.” Maybe this is Berlin’s way of saying “in your face, Adolf” to the Nazi legacy.
All this youthful energy is good compensation for the air travel getting here. The flight into Berlin TXL on Delta was a perfect storm — if you’re a masochist. Old-fashioned seats with no entertainment system built into the backs, just enough legroom for a hamster and narrow enough to give Twiggy a thrill. Surly flight attendants. Loud, obnoxious teenagers just across the aisle whose every third word was an F-bomb. The lady sitting in front of me spilled her cabernet sauvignon all over my foot.
This flight was part of a super-cheap package from Go-Today.com, which means it wasn’t my choice. Otherwise, I would’ve looked up the seating on SeatGuru.com or one of the other airline seat Web sites. Whatever. We made it.
Summer weather in Berlin will be instantly familiar to anyone from New York, New Orleans or Washington DC — sweltering heat and so humidity that you feel like you’re swimming standing up. You can lose five pounds just waiting for the light to change.
Berlin has been in the midst of a building boom for a long time now, and the recession doesn’t seem to have slowed things down much. In most directions you look, you can see construction cranes.
Much of Berlin looks very modern, as you’d expect from a city that received regular visit from hundreds of Allied bombers during “the war.” You can still see reminders of those days — churches with blackened, broken spires, buildings with bullet holes.
But you also get the feeling that even if Berlin hadn’t been bombed and blasted into Europe’s largest rubble pile, the city would still be hell-bent on renewing itself, as if it were trying to put as much aesthetic distance as possible between its past and its future.
The fall of the Berlin Wall gave Berlin another excuse to break out the cranes and give itself a new look. The area of Potsdamer Platz, which had been just on the east side of The Wall, today looks more like the set of Bladerunner, but updated by about 30 years — ultra-modern high-rises and arcades like the Sony Centre.
But go a little further into the former Easter Berlin and you find conditions not much changed from when The Wall as in place.
Like other European capitals, getting around is easy. Berlin’s subway system is the U-Bahn. Their city-suburban trains, that run on the surface, are the S-Bahn.
Hit the KaDeWe department store. KaDeWe is the acronym (spelled out phonetically) for Kaufhaus des Westens. This is an old-school department store of the type you used to see all over the States before America was “malled” to death. Think Harrod’s in German.
Three floors of this place are devoted, in whole or in part, to food, including a sixth-floor food court that staggers the imagination, with prices that are lower than you’d expect for the mother of Berlin department stores. On Saturdays, the only weekend day that Berliners get to shop in KaDeWe, the mobs are so huge that you can barely move.
Next up, a hop-on, hop-off bus tour around the city.
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