First off, it’s the capital city of a nation that most know for its state-sanctioned racism. It doesn’t have the romance factor like Paris or Florence. The language isn’t fluid or beautiful like, well, French or Italian. It isn’t the setting of countless romantic comedies like London.
But, for reasons I don’t really understand, I had a strong desire to visit Berlin from pretty much the second I landed in Europe. My host family in Paris, being extraordinarily well-traveled Parisiens, immediately discouraged my plans.
“Do you know someone in Berlin?” They asked me. Nope, I told them. “Then you really shouldn’t go to Germany. It’s depressing and the food isn’t good. Go to Italy instead—it’s beautiful.”
After weeks in Paris, I had kind of had enough of looking at really pretty stuff, maybe. I met a couple of cool Germans in Paris who encouraged me to visit Berlin, hyping up how modern and open-minded and fun the city had become in the years since The Cold War.
So, with a little over a week before I needed to get back to Paris to show my family around, I AirBnB’d a cute apartment near the Berlin neighborhood of Wedding to see what was what.
Friends, it was better than I’d imagined! I’ve told everyone who would listen how much fun I had during my time in Berlin and I need to tell you, too. (Again.) If you’ve already seen the usual suspects—London, Paris, Amsterdam, somewhere in Spain—I’d highly suggest taking a trek out to Berlin for a few days.
It’s a beautiful city in its own right. Not Paris or Florence beautiful. But, pretty, maybe. The architecture is more varied as things were rebuilt after wars and it doesn’t have the same sense of oldness that a lot of other European cities have.
The food and drink are not bad, despite what Parisiens think. Anyone who enjoys the delights of a neighborhood Jewish deli will really like what Berlin’s got going on in terms of traditional German fare. Bagels, potato salad, pretzels and all the cheap, really strong beer you desire flow like water.
But, like any large city, there’s a ton of international influence in the form of Turkish, Persian, Japanese, Chinese, American, French, just about anything. The prices, like the city, are caught between the exorbitance of Western Europe and the dirt-cheapiness of Eastern Europe.
The nightlife lasts all night. As a person who spent the better part of my young adulthood in Washington, DC—a city that shuts down promptly at 3 a.m. so everyone can go to their responsible adult jobs in the morning—I love a city that stays up late. The weekend that I was there, I didn’t head out until about midnight and kept finding things to do after each activity was done.
Of course, there was tons of beer pre-gaming, then lots of meandering around the neighborhood of Mitte (which encompasses a lot of Berlin’s city center) and lots of meeting new people who took us to different places. Then, ultimately, back to another place for more beer.
The people are really, really nice. There are only two places in Europe where I want to re-visit and stay longer: Barcelona and Berlin. The former because it was near the beach and so incredibly laid-back. The latter because the people were phenomenal and it was also incredibly laid-back.
Since my visit, I’ve been noticing American journalists hasten to christen the city as some sort of hipster haven. Yes, beards, tattoos and flannel do overfloweth, but there didn’t seem to be any snooty, crunchier-than-thou seriousness about the ways in which people in Berlin indulged in the types of activities that many would deem hipster-ish.