April 2008


Big Berlin

It wasn’t that long ago that I didn’t love Berlin.

And actually, I still don’t love Berlin. It’s not that Berlin isn’t a fun city, it is, it’s that Berlin is enormously large and, as the BVG promotes, it takes only twenty minutes to go from the Berlin Zoo to Alexanderplatz—basically going from the center of West Berlin to the center of East Berlin. These two areas represent the cores of the divided city, and now that the city isn’t divided, there’s a third center: Potsdamerplatz.

That’s a lot of centers for a city of 3.4 million people.

The odd thing is that each of these centers is miserable: the Berlin Zoo area was never meant to be a center and took on that role because it could. The result is that the area is a hideous mess of tourist flea-bag hotels, expensive shopping, all while being completely and utterly soulless. Alexanderplatz is awful because it was designed to be a city center by the communists and accordingly is built on such a scale that individual humans feel rather small; that and it’s under construction, and has been for a long time. Potsdamerplatz is an example of what happens when the Sony Corporation decides to build its own Mecca by combining the very worst aspects of the Berlin Zoo area (soulless over priced shopping) and Alexanderplatz (built on such a scale that I feel like an ant when walking through it) into a monstrosity that really ought not to have ever been built.

Save for the fact that I was connecting from U- and S-bahns at Alexanderplatz to get to my apartment this past weekend, I neatly managed to avoid spending time in these three spots. Instead I took several long walks that explored a variety of neighborhoods in the eastern (physically speaking) part of the city. This included wandering down Bergmannstraße and looking at all the shops that I missed the last time I was in Berlin and staying a five minute walk away. It’s when you are in these neighborhoods with the locals that one can find the charming and soulful Berlin.

Really my only stated destination for the day was to hit the Overkill sale. I made it, but I didn’t buy anything because I didn’t immediately spot anything I wanted to buy and because I was suddenly embarrassed. I had stepped in dog shit shortly before arriving and although I scraped it off before I went into the shop, it was while in the shop that I realized that perhaps I needed to find a twig (or ten) and scrape out each of my shoe’s treads lest somebody start asking about that hundscheiße cologne-scent following me around.

Molecule ManFrom there I paralleled the Spree, until I could see the Molecule Man standing in the river. It’s an impressive piece of art and quite pretty. I hadn’t really walked directly to the Molecule Man, so I decided it was time to take a train somewhere—up to Schönhauser Allee, where I got off the train and started walking south, poking my nose in five or six different shops along the way, including a very cute shop which had a lot of little cool trinkets for sale at reasonable prices—and sex toys too. I wish Disenchanted could have joined me. (FYI: I didn’t buy anything, I have limited space in my backpack this trip, but some of those toys look like a lot of fun.)

Eventually I caught a tram and headed back to my apartment where I took a nap and felt generally exhausted. Berlin’s greatest asset is the ability to wander a very long distance without ever actually duplicating what you’ve already seen. Although it’s a major city, it seems to me that it lacks the density that one finds in other large cities like London, Paris, Amsterdam, or New York. It’s why it takes 20 minutes to get from one center to the other—it takes a whole lot longer to find your way out to all of the suburbs.

Other than a light breakfast and a somewhat interesting chicken burrito for a very late lunch (like 4pm late), the only thing I purchased Saturday was a book—which I’ll talk about another time, since it’s not really Berlin related.

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