So, I’ve done it. I’ve made my first capital city stop in Berlin and, in the process, fallen utterly in love with the place.
Berlin is a strange one, to be honest. It’s by no means a pretty city – sure, there are gorgeous buildings scattered here and there, but it’s difficult to see true beauty in somewhere that’s largely covered in graffiti and is on the whole made up of grey, depressed-looking buildings that have certainly seen better days.
But despite this, it’s hard not to feel that Berlin has something special about it. I’ve said this way too many times since I’ve been back, and it’s beginning to feel like a meaningless cliché, but Berlin is so alive. There is so much going on, so much bubbling beneath the surface. There’s no denying that it has a very ‘alternative’ identity about it, but that’s not necessarily what does it for me, actually.
Berlin manages to feel small enough to walk around – and you can, easily – while at the same time retaining its allure as a sprawling cosmopolitan metropolis. Maybe it was the cold snap of weather and the thick snow on the ground that kept people at home while we were out trawling the streets, but they seemed relatively empty most of the time. Compared to London, the whole place felt deserted – which was lovely. And though a stroll from our hostel on Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz down to the Brandenburg Gate felt like just that – a short stroll – one look at the map afterwards and it’s a deceiving two mile stretch each way.
The other thing about Berlin is the sheer amount that has happened there. You’d expect to find quite a lot of history, given how pivotal it has been in European events and that it has been at the epicentre of two world wars. But, while in most cities you might expect things of historical note to have taken place in one or two well-known locations, in Berlin I couldn’t help but be struck by just how widespread everything had been.
Time and again while standing in a museum, I would read about an uprising or a book-burning or a parade or a protest, and think, ‘Wow, we were there this morning!’ In most cities you’d need to do the reverse – learn the history and then visit the places where it happened. But here it’s all around you, you can’t miss it – just by walking through the streets you’re walking past site after site where history was made.
Berlin as we know it today is still only young but, while it is still finding its feet as a capital city, it packs one hell of a punch. I’ll be back – and soon.