Since the start of 2023, I have been gallivanting around Germany visiting family and friends across the country. I travelled in numerous cities including Stuttgart, Munich, Nuremberg, Göttingen, and Frankfurt. But, I returned to Italy completely in love with just one: Berlin.
Forget New York, here’s why Berlin is the greatest city in the world!
- The Berlin Wall
- The Diversity
- The Berlin Public Transportation
- The Berlin Techno
1. The Berlin Wall
Like most European cities, Berlin has a long history. The city was first documented in in 1244, almost 250 years before the Europeans “discovered” the Americas. Berlin was the capital of Brandenburg, Prussia, Imperial Germany, and has maintained it’s capital status for the current state of Germany.
This “main character energy” is infused all around the city. From the universities with notable alumni like Karl Marx, Erwin Schrödinger, Max Planck, and Angela Davis to the repaired bullet holes in the Brandenburg Gate, there are pieces of history everywhere in Berlin. But what makes Berlin extraordinary (at least to me) are the markers of the Berlin Wall and its consequences that surround the city.
“Forget not the tyranny of this wall…nor the love of freedom that made it fall…”-Anonymous graffiti
Prior to my visit, the Berlin Wall was just a story my dad remembered and talked about. We learned about the significant of World War I and II on Europe in school but the story ends with the death of Adolf Hitler. In the United States, the Cold War is taught from the perspective of the Americans in mainland USA and the existence of East and West Germany were just introduced as context to our history. So when I went to Berlin, I didn’t know why the walls were built, what Checkpoint Charlie was, or why the traffic lights looked so weird. Thanks to Tina’s tours, I was able to grasp the full and beautiful story of post-1945 Berlin.
In the best of worlds, the Berlin Wall was a way to preserve the idea of collective humanity. A world in which we work with each other. A world that guarantees jobs, medical care, holidays, daycare, leisure, and recognizes hard work. In the worst of worlds, the Wall was the ultimate symbol of tyranny. A world with no space to speak, dress, travel, read, think or exist as an individual. A world under the constant watch of a nosy government.
The rise of the Berlin Wall separated families, friends, and countrymen for 28 years. During this period, many risked and lost their lives in pursuit of freedom. And some 5,000 lucky and creative folks successfully managed to escape. On November 9th, 1989, the Berlin Wall fell swiftly due to a humorous error on East German national television.
After the fall of the Wall, the people of Berlin could have continued the cycle of trauma and division. Instead, they turned Berlin into a diverse city with exceptional person freedom (more than most American cities). As Tina said:
Today, Berlin is only separated by symbols of these historical times like remnants of the Wall, brick markers on the ground, and distinct traffic signals. But they forever tell the story of East and West Berlin.
2. The Diversity
When I say Berlin is a diverse city, I mean it! I grew up in a very diverse county in the United States, and I have never seen so many different people in one city.
My heuristic for judging the diversity of a city is how many kinds of international foods are available. Germany as a whole has a good mix of cuisines. I had great Thai food in Frankfurt and one of the best (Italian-approved 😉) pizzas in Munich. But Berlin takes it to another level.
They have Turkish, Syrian, Greek, Chinese, Vietnamese, Sushi, Ramen, Thai, Ethiopian, Sudanese, West African, Bosnian, Italian, French, and most likely Martian food.
The diversity of the city and its consequences on local cuisine is remarkable! It also makes Berlin one of the better cities for non-German speaking folks. When many different types of people live as one, it becomes difficult to draw clear boundaries on who belongs and who does not.
3. The Berlin Public Transportation
The public transportation in Berlin is phenomenal! To get around this giant of a city, you can choose between the trains, buses, trams, or subways.
Berlin was a refreshing break from the infrequent buses and non-existent tram, train, and/or subway systems in Tuscany and California. As a non-driver, I didn’t have to worry about not reaching a restaurant, attraction, or any other destination I wished to go to.
The BVG, Berlin’s Transportation Authority, even has a convenient app to buy tickets of all kinds. My favorite was a 24 hour ticket that lets you ride on any system for less than 9 euros/day. And best of all, if you end up missing a connection, you only have to wait 5 minutes for the next one!
4. The Berlin Techno
Now this one surprised me. I am not such a big fan of electronic music but when in Rome, you roam like the Romans!
So, I was playing the Spotify playlist Berlin Techno as I walked through the city, the parks, and museums. Unfortunately, I had to stop listening when I caught myself doing this in the Nazi museum:
The history of techno in Berlin follows directly from the 1989 fall of the Wall. The youth of East and West Berlin came together to start organizing illegal parties in the abandoned buildings of reunified Berlin. Some of these illegal parties later became the famous clubs of today!
Unfortunately, I did not have the nightlife/club experience during this visit to Berlin. But, I’m already planning to go back to dance to Berlin techno in a more appropriate venue. Until then, I have my Spotify playlist to remember the city by!