A Guide to Berlin
In its vastness, Berlin resists consensus, indifference and the feeling of ever having fully arrived in or understood it. Though this is sure to be contested by one of its near four million inhabitants, there is hardly anything one could claim quintessentially, undeniably Berlinian.
The city’s polarising magnetism has created a pulsating haven that, for centuries now, has been host to just about any imaginable life’s design – a weird, erratic ecosystem, a barren island insufferably obsessed with itself, an urban enigma that is either loathed or loved. There is no middle here, even if its geographically central neighbourhood Mitte ("Middle" in German) may beg to differ. Instead, it thrives off of its many opposites, its inner clashes, rich history and an inability to remain and linger before something or someone enforces a shift again. The ubiquitous juxtapositions of a past, present, and future Berlin are integral to both the city’s charms and blemishes, the two of which often intersect, wherever you go, whatever you look at.
Most would argue for summers as the most inviting season, and considering Berlin’s many parks, canals, even lakes just outside its fringes, that might be true. Nevertheless, there is a certain brutalist appeal to Berlin in cooler months too, when hazy shades of crisp darkness rest atop its streets, when bars, cafés and clubs faintly flicker to lure you into their thumping warmth. If you’re looking for solitude – which I’m guessing not really if you’re vacationing in Berlin of all places – visit here during Christmas, when, as per a running gag, the megacity becomes a ghost town. Unlike other European capitals, Berlin is surprisingly calm between Santa season and NYE, with loads of its inhabitants returning to their parents’ homes either out in West Germany or across state borders.
The reality is that Berlin can seem cold, bleak and grey, with its endless concrete, Siberian winds, and year-round abundance of audacious tourists. It’s not all pills and parties and pay-per-pound vintage shopping. Not everyone takes pleasure in the perverse novelties offered sub-surface. It’s important to know where you are, whom you’re with, and what you want, to make the most of your stay here, however long or short, however fluent your German – although the latter’s more of a plus, less of a must, and visitors will easily get by with English. Remember also, cash is king here! If places do accept card, it usually only works once your bill exceeds a minimum total. Other than for proper stores and touristy venues, you should always have some Euros on you. Finally, while you’re at it, to be in on these and yet-to-come tips, tricks and punchlines, check out @berlinauslaendermemes.