It’s almost a year since I left you. There is so much I dislike about you, but I also miss you intensely.
You are a gray city, and in winter you become extremely unfriendly. It becomes too cold to bike, so one is forced underground and inside. I start to wonder why people choose to live here and why everyone seems to be focused only on themselves. The unfriendliness of many of your residents is harsher in the winter, and it’s hard not to let the negativity get to you.
At the same time, I love your bleakness. There is beauty in your gray buildings. Although you barely see the sun for months, it’s an aesthetic that is reflected in your cold, Soviet-era buildings. Although there is always a housing shortage, you are a city that spans so much space. I remember taking a walk with my friend and commenting on the many playgrounds around: she told me they were built on the sites of buildings destroyed in the war.
How Much Has Happened Here
To me, you show us our history; the Holocaust is present at every corner. You can’t walk a street in Berlin without realizing how much has happened here. My grandmother once told me about crossing the border from West to East as a tourist, and my mother remembers being intensely scared of the guards with guns. This history means little to me personally but it is evident how it has shaped the city and its residents. Moving to the eastern part of the city for me was entering a world I knew only from photos. I was amazed by the flats of Lichtenberg and the grandeur of the Karl-Marx-Allee. The colors of East Berlin’s metro stations are so characteristic, and the architecture of the Alexanderplatz stuns me every time.
My grandmother once told me about crossing the border from West to East as a tourist, and my mother remembers being intensely scared of the guards with guns.
Spaces to Think
Berlin, I love you because you are intensely political. You are a center of power nationally but even on the smaller scale, you are intensely democratic. I have never been in a place where there is so much activism, also in small, everyday encounters. It was such a beauty to be in a city where people care about what is happening around them, and care enough to try to make a change. You offer us spaces to think. You have gathered people that come together and think publicly about bigger and smaller issues relevant for society. There are lectures, there are forums, and there is debate. Your people care about what happens around them, and they’re not scared to be loud about it.
Berlin, I love you because you made me question so many ideas of what life should be. You present an alternative of what paths life can take, of what it means to not follow the norm.
You are an amazing center of the world. So many people end up here or choose to spend an important part of their lives here. Berlin is a meeting place and it is a place where you begin to question what it means to settle down, living in a city that is constantly changing and being shaped by everyone who lives in it. Berlin, I love you because you made me question so many ideas of what life should be. You have people who gather here because you present to them an alternative of what paths life can take, of what it means to not follow the norm.
Art, Chaos and Food
And most of all there is art. People are free to express themselves on your streets and in so many cultural forms you give them, whether these are theaters, exhibition spaces, or the walls of apartment buildings.
How I miss your chaos and I miss your food. I love your medley of hipsters with their cultivated “nonchalant” style and the groups of Arab guys who gather in front of the shisha bars in Neukölln. I miss walking to work through Görlitzer Park, where drug dealers and parents walking with their toddlers to the ponies at the petting zoo meet.
The Concept of “Wegbier”
You are an ode to drinking and drugs but respect just as easily those who want nothing to do with either. The concept of “Wegbier”, the beer you enjoy on your way to wherever, was something that I had never heard of and something that I wish all other cities had. Living in Berlin, one learns to appreciate the 70 cents Sterni beer bought from a Späti. Your crazy nights are made possible by more-or-less illicit substances, but people watch out and take care of each other. I miss your nights, which are not so much “nights” but can also span entire weekends. I miss standing in line for hours at clubs you have no guarantee of getting in. The feeling of coming home hours later is even better, mingling with people going about their everyday lives.
Everyone Complains about the BVG
Experiences in public transport, travelling with or without a ticket, is something that is integral to my idea of you. Everyone complains about the BVG. But the sounds of the warning beeps when the S-Bahn doors close is also something anyone who has visited you can recognize. People-watching in the U-Bahn is unpredictable. In the winter, when everyone stares blankly ahead and no one speaks, it’s depressing. In summer, it’s stifling and crowded and you can’t wait to get out of it. Anyway, it’s clear how many people live here and how different everyone is.
In summer, the warm air that rises from the U-Bahn smells distinctly like Berlin. Remembering nights barbecuing on Tempelhofer Feld, sitting with friends drinking beer and eating Döner, makes me realize how special you are and what amazing people you attract.
Your summer is beyond comparison. After May 1st, one big party, the city starts to heat up and people remember what they love about being here. Nights become longer and we stay out. We celebrate the beauty of this city that becomes greener by the day. The warm air that rises from the U-Bahn when it gets warmer smells distinctly like Berlin. Remembering nights barbecuing on Tempelhofer Feld, sitting with friends drinking beer and eating Döner, makes me realize how special you are and what amazing people you attract.
I miss you and can’t wait to see you again.
The Love Letter Project
The Globonaut Love Letter Project is a team effort by international travel enthusiasts that examines the fascinating relationship between cities and people. We explore how people make a city come alive, but also how a city becomes part of who you are. Most of all, the Love Letter Project is a celebration of strong local bonds in an age of rapid globalisation, showing how local and global aren’t necessarily opposite terms.
I’m Katja and after finishing my university studies in history, I’m now enjoying exploring, I can’t wait to see more of the world! My ideal trip is walking around a new place, sitting down with a drink and some good food, and people watching. I’m happy to be part of the Globonaut community and am excited to see the experiences others share!