I thought Paris was difficult… Until I got to Berlin. Berlin is ROUGH. It’s crumbling and grey and smells strange in many places. You can feel the blunt affects of war on this city, perhaps more than any other. Graffiti stains monuments and people don’t stop often to help you. It is an aggressive city, not unlike Bogota.
A few weeks after my trip, I sat next to a man in In-n-Out and we got to talking to about Berlin. He was enamored by the city and he called it a diamond in the rough… Nonetheless, it is rough.
However, (just like in Bogota), I witnessed some moments of pure and unforgettable beauty. Our first night in the city, we roamed around the streets at dusk and stumbled upon a man and his guitar on the steps of a church. For an hour we sat in awe as he played the most beautiful acoustic versions of Green Day, Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Beatles, and Pink Floyd for a crowd of over 50 people.
On our last day, we took some pastries and sat in Tiergarten for a few hours to read and relax. I was lying in what felt like the only green space in of all of Berlin. As I stared up at the sky, surrounded by trees, I felt like time had stopped. Only the loose clumps of pollen were floating in slow motion above me like tiny fairies. I could hear children laughing in the distance and water from a creek rolling by; but in that moment I felt like the only person in all of Berlin. I felt over 500 years of complicated history seep into my soul. The triumphs and the falls, laughter and tears mingled with fear and despite everything, love.
Berlin is complicated, once the center of classical culture, now stained by the pain of war. But maybe the man at In-n-Out was right: it is a majestic diamond in the rough.
What I’ve come to learn from Berlin is that you either love it or you hate it. It’s not for the faint at heart. Berliners are unapologetic and fierce in their ways, perhaps that has to do with years of war or being at the center of Europe. That history is reflected in the vibe of the city, as it was so integrated into every day life for so long: the food (a cross between classic German and the immigrant population), the local’s style (edgy, practical, and rugged). Drunk, shouting homeless men lived in cohesiveness with young 20-something girls sharing a photobooth outside a liquor store. Guys dressed with chunky dog collars and everyone waited in line at 3am to enter the nightclubs. Nothing is off limits there. Even Tiergarten seems like a place of escapism. Home to the beautiful landmarks of the city, people spend long, leisurely days in the park, eating, drinking, doing exercise, or protesting. In other corners of the sprawling park, you’ll find groups of nudist lounging next to their bikes getting some sun. (I told you, unapologetic).
Maybe I’ll go back. If I do, I’ll approach the city differently. I’ll embrace its crumbling architecture and dig deeper into the city.