I thought Berlin would be like Vienna, Milan, or Madrid, with a sprinkling of Cambodia. I have never been to any of those places. Sometimes I pretend that my favourite David Bowie album is Low. It isn’t.
- In Berlin, you can smoke pretty much anywhere, although most Berliners chose not to bother.
- Berlin spent a lot of money on some of its street lights, so there are very few of them.
- There are tattoo parlours everywhere, but hardly anyone has a visible tattoo.
- You have to stamp your train tickets yourself, put them in your pocket, never show them to anyone, then throw them away when you get home.
- The people of Berlin have an effortlessness sense of not-fashion. They walk around like the best versions of themselves, without conforming to any sweeping trend or mania.
- There’s no millennial culture. Themed bars and quirky cafés are everywhere, but they’re just that, and aren’t treated like there’s something magical or smart about them. They’re just nice.
- Traffic signals in Berlin are a suggestion, and should be ignored rather than observed.
- Gentrification has happened and is happening at random, not in any urban pattern.
- German people don’t understand friendly muted sarcasm and never will, so don’t try it.
- The Berlin Wall isn’t as a big a deal as everyone thinks. Don’t get me wrong, visiting it at dusk was a powerful experience, drenched in history and reverence. It was a truly surreal experience to cross from former West Germany to former East Germany and back again, after having submerged ourselves in the history of how problematic that was. But I expected Wall themed stores, Wall-painted taxis, Wall chocolates, Wall-themed jugglers, Wall hats, Wall ponchos, build-your-own-Wall playsets… instead, the Wall is treated to the just the right kind of non-floodlit fanfare, and a quiet and organised respect.
- Even the homeless people are polite.
- Berlin is drowning in art, both political and pointless. There is so much that none of it is treated preciously. An etching on a bookshop wall, an old master in a gallery, the miles and miles of street art… it all sits in a single, nebulous bubble of art, appreciated for what it is and what it says, not for how smart or cutting edge it is.
Well, there it is. I’d ask what I got right and what I got wrong, but all I know for sure is that I loved just being in Berlin, and haven’t felt such a sense of fresh belonging and comfort on streets and behind doors since I first moved to Manchester.
Wohin Sie auch gehen, Sie sind.