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My Three Favorite Places

1. New York City

Beauty at its peak

A survey of Americans asked which city they would most like to live in or around. New York was number 1. The same survey asked which city would be the worst to live in or around. New York was number 1. If you like cities, you love New York. If you don’t like cities, it’s the bottom rung of hell. What sets New York apart from other places I’ve visited is the density. There’s more interesting shit in one block of downtown Manhattan than there is in my entire home town.

Not to mention the skyline. It’s fantastic, especially as seen from Williamsburg or Hoboken.

The public transit system runs 24 hours and it’s significantly cheaper than most other major cities. New York is also one of the most diverse places on the planet. If you speak a language, you’ll find someone in New York to speak it with. If you love to travel, you can live in New York and feel like you’re travelling because people come to you.

The rent may be exorbitant, but the benefits heavily outweigh the costs. There’s a level of vitality in New York that is not to be taken for granted.

2. South Beach

SoBe has one of the best beaches you can hope to find

I like Miami, I love South Beach. The shoreline is beautiful, Italian super cars disrupt the peace, and there’s a fantastic Spanish influence. I thrive in diverse places and South Beach is a meeting spot for people from Puerto Rico, Mexico, Venezuela, Argentina, Colombia, Peru, Cuba, and more. To a lesser extent you also meet people from Asia and Europe. SoBe is not a well-guarded secret.

While some aspects of South Beach are heavily commercialized (the hotels and shops selling glamorous crap), much of it still retains an authentic South Florida feeling. There are hotels and bars that look like they came out of a Scarface set. Ocean Dr. and the park that runs along the beach is pristine. So long as there isn’t a hurricane, the weather is ideal. I would be happy to spend several years here, learn Spanish, and build a nice life for myself.

3. Berlin 

Berlin is a beautiful blend of old and new

The city is modern, but you frequently encounter historical reminders. Bombed churches, holocaust memorials, and the famous Brandenburg Gate. The metro is affordable (or free if you’re a delinquent American named Sam) and will take you anywhere you need to go. That’s helpful when you need to get to the club, which is a smart move because the club scene is second to none. Berlin has the best techno in the world and you can experience it in a wide range of fascinating spaces.

Not only is the city a wonderful place to exist, but I’ve consistently found Germans to be the most enjoyable people to spend time with. They’re fun, they love to travel, and they make great friends. I get a kick out of Berlin and I warmly look forward to spending many more months there, perfecting my German and listening to techno.

Honorable Mentions

Best cheap place – Kiev

Best beach – Koh Pha-Ngan

Best place to avoid at all costs – Bangkok

Best food – Dubai

Best insanely expensive place – Copenhagen

Everything There is to Love About Berlin

After visiting more than a dozen countries I’ve come up with a list of my favorite cities. New York, Miami, Kiev, Berlin, and Hanoi. I’d be happy to spend a good chunk of my life in any one of them. I’ve written about first impressions from Hanoi and Kiev, and New York and Miami require no explanation. So what’s up with Berlin, why does it make the list?

Use Less, Waste Less

As global warming threatens our planet, I like that Berliners use less energy. There are bike paths everywhere and people take advantage. The cars are smaller and plenty of folks drive motorcycles. When you go to the grocery store you have to pay for a bag, you don’t automatically get given seven of them for five items. People don’t have dryers, they hang their clothes out.

I realize these things exist in many European countries, and I wish that I could say they do in America as well. But they don’t. We drive large cars, dry our clothes in the summertime, and get our gallons of milk double bagged. So much energy wasted, so many plastic bags floating around getting stuck in trees.

Live Where You Want To

There are great neighborhoods in Berlin where young people can afford to live. Vibrant places with young couples, college kids and so much happening. I imagine places in New York like Chelsea and Soho used to be like this, until it got to the point where a studio costs $3,500 a month. Not so in Berlin! Regular people can afford to live in nice areas that are pulsing with energy. My favorite spot is Kreuzberg and I can get a studio there for less than $1,000 a month!

In general Berlin is easy on the wallet. Public transportation is affordable and it works good. Food is cheap and you can have a night out at the bar or club without taking out a second mortgage. Which leads me to the next point.

Go Out for the Whole Night

This is what it looks like when you leave Magdalena at 7am

This is what it looks like when you leave Magdalena at 7am

I already wrote a post dedicated to Berlin’s phenomenal night clubs. Now, several weeks later, I’ve gotten to go to a few more spots and I’m even more impressed. When an American thinks of a club he probably pictures lots of flashy lights, celebrities, bottle service, and some form of music. Berlin clubs turn that idea on its head. They’re often grungy and exist in old buildings, like power stations, old factories, or random spaces not designed for bass and beer. The result is a fantastic space which is exciting and chaotic.

Chalet has an outdoor garden with a koi pond and a small bonfire. Magdalena has an outdoor area large enough to fit several hundred people. Tresor is large enough to be a basketball stadium from the outside. Although admittedly, inside it’s slightly smaller. Also, the party doesn’t stop. Rare is the club that closes before sunrise, and rarer still is to find a place that doesn’t have inspired music.

Meet Some Amazing People

The River Spree Sunrise

Sunrise over the River Spree, as seen from Watergate

When travelling I frequently find Germans to be coolest people. They’re often respectful of the local culture, fun to hang out with, and they like to drink beer. It’s all you can ask for when you’re in Thailand and your greatest responsibility for the day is deciding what to eat for dinner.

In Berlin I’ve made some great friends who are a pleasure to spend time with. We’ve gone out to clubs, thrown impromptu parties in Doner-Kebab restaurants, and discussed the differences between American and German culture. I also get along with Germans especially well because they like to travel. When meeting someone we’ve often been to at least one of the same places and we have something to talk about. Further, I relish the fact that I know my German friends may actually visit me, whether I’m in New York or anywhere else, because they realize that any excuse for travel is a good one.

Study a Nifty Language

Learning German is like driving a tank through a field of daises. Learning Russian is like being a daisy while a tank is driving over you. While German isn’t the easiest language for an English speaker, it’s way easier than the the lobotomy inducing task of studying of Russian. German and English make sense together, like two friends from different neighborhoods who bond over shared interests. I don’t know how long it will take me to learn German, but with two or three Skype lessons a week I expect I’ll be able to hold a decent conversation within six months.

This will prove useful when travelling. Even though every German I meet abroad speaks fluent English, it’s always nice to surprise someone by saying something zany like Du bist ein Spast!

Realize the Goal

I rarely know where I’m going to be in three months, let alone a few years, but I would like to set the goal of coming back to Berlin and staying for a summer. I could perfect my German, make awesome friends, and spend time in a country that suits me. Or if that falls through, I’d love to go on a huge Eurotour with my German friend Michael.

Forgetting everything else, I know of at least one reason that I’ll be back to Berlin. Berghain, one of the greatest techno clubs in the world, denied me entrance more than half a dozen times during my month long stay. Until I find a way to visit Berlin’s Church of Techno, there’s no telling how many times I’ll be compelled to come back to this brilliant city.

New York vs. Berlin Nightlife

I used to think the clubs in New York were cool. Then I came to Berlin and found out that I’ve been lied to! The club scene in New York is a joke compared to Berlin. It’s like drinking Franzia for years, then you go to somewhere new, you try real wine and your eyes are opened. That’s how I feel about only just discovering the Berlin club scene at 24. Even though I’ve come to the party late, I plan to make the most of it while I can. Here’s why I enjoy Berlin so much more.

The People Come to Enjoy the Music

Most places you go in New York, you don’t find people there to enjoy the music. People are out to have a good time, have some drinks, have too many drinks, whatever. It’s an expensive riot and loads of fun. But the music is always background noise. In Berlin the music is in the foreground. It’s the focus and it’s appreciated. Berlin is the home of the best electronic music in the world, and I don’t think that fact is lost on the people who go out.

The People Dance

There are a few clubs in New York where people dance. Looking at you, Cielo, Jane and Output. But those places are far outnumbered by the clubs where people stand around, clutching their drinks like a bum clutches a twenty-dollar bill. They glance about with flicking eyes, trying to figure out where the party is. In Berlin people make the party. You dance facing the DJ. Rows of people facing the DJ. It’s actually freaky the first time you see it. Like a bunch of zombies staring at a piece of meat swinging back and forth. But then you get used to it and it seems natural.

The Clubs are Huge

berghain-lineIn New York most clubs are on the small side because space costs $1,000,000,000 per square inch (give or take). Berlin doesn’t have that problem, and what you get is a proliferation of oversized clubs. The most obvious example is Berghain, which rests in an old power station and can hold half of the population of the town that I grew up in. Besides the legendary Berghain, there are plenty of other large clubs containing multiple dance floors. It’s exciting to explore these places, the energy is nearly visible.

Obscene Hours are in Effect

When I first started going to clubs in New York I bemoaned the late closing time. 4am, that’s passed my bedtime. Then I discovered that Output stays open till 6am on the weekends and I thought that was really something. You can go home after sunrise!

And then I came to Berlin. Some example closing times: 10 in the morning, noon, 4 in the afternoon, two days later, never. So should you feel inclined you can party till 6am, walk home with the sunrise, get your 8 hours, shower, then go back to the same club and the party will still be going. Fancy that.

The Fuck You Attitude

New York City is synonymous with wealth. Cash gets you whatever you need. There’s some of that in Berlin, but as far as I can tell it’s a lot less prevalent. People dress down to go to the club. I’ve gotten rejected several times from clubs when I’ve shown up in my best New York clothes. Thinking practically, I made some quick wardrobe readjustments. Black t-shirt with a mysterious hole, my brand new ripped jeans that make me a poser by definition, and a pair of black shoes. Good to go, you get in.

Once inside you’ll find people smoking, which is technically illegal. You may also end up crunching and swaying around on broken glass. Smashing beer bottles on the ground is a way of life. Even though I don’t like all the second hand smoke, I appreciate being in a culture that seems to be casually saying fuck you to civilized living.

What’s New York Got?

le-bainPent house clubs. They’re fun as hell and you get an awesome view of New York City. It’s nifty to have a beer twenty stories on top of Manhattan. And New York has Output, which is marvelous and has a subwoofer the size of a Mini Cooper and funky lighting ideas that make you feel like you’re on a submarine. I can’t say that there’s a whole lot else. When it comes to clubbing, New York is a Volkswagen and Berlin is a Koenigsegg.

All that being said, please leave Berlin alone. It has enough tourists already and I selfishly want the exciting, underground club culture to last as long as possible. Come to New York, we’ve already got one quarter of the Earth’s tourists (approximately), and a few more won’t hurt a thing.

Nightlife with my Sister in Berlin

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The windows opened wide out over the streets of Berlin, and it would have been the perfect place to jump to our deaths. Another unique feature of our hostel was the lack of doors on the men’s room showers. This was interesting because it didn’t look like the showers were built without doors. Rather, it looked like someone had deliberately taken them off. Presumably this was to stop people from having sex, but the only thing it did for me was bring about a vague feeling of uneasiness. Public nudity is not something that Americans are designed to handle.

Downstairs on the ground floor there was a large lounge area with overpriced beer and a strict ban on outside alcohol. This hurt the wallet but the vibe was good. I found that Berlin attracts heaps of Russian tourists, and I got to speak Russian nearly every time I went downstairs.

Even though the hostel bar was cool, there was no way we were going to let that be the extent of our fun; Berlin is famous for having some of the best clubs in the worlds. Clubs with the longest and most intense parties that me and my sister were determined to check out. Friday night we got dressed up, took the elevator down, and started walking towards the club district on a beautiful night in August.

The Worst Cartographer

One of my reoccurring failures as a person is my inability to accurately estimate distances on Google Maps. What looks like 15 minutes on the phone screen often turns out to be 45 on the pavement. On that night I checked out the map and guessed the distance to be an easy jaunt. So we started walking towards Kreuzberg with the impression that we would be there in no more than half an hour.

It didn’t quite work out like that. After half an hour, when Irene asked me where we were, I refused to tell her. Once I zoomed out on the map it hardly looked like we had made any progress. When she asked me again at 45 minutes, all I could say for sure was that we were definitely, absolutely, without a doubt almost halfway there.

This might have not been so bad if it wasn’t for the area that we were walking in. Most of it was along a fairly dark street, and we were frequently the only people on the sidewalk for minutes at a time. We walked past cheap apartments and dive bars that looked like caves. They had great, gaping entrances that attracted like mosquitoes men who enjoyed leather and cigarettes. The city that had seemed so warm and inviting during the daytime seemed more oppressive under the moon.

After more than an hour of walking the atmosphere began to lighten, more people appeared on the streets, and in the distance we could see the bridge that we needed to cross to get into Kreuzberg. Such joy, such relief to have the end in sight!

Drinking Beer on the Bridge

While living in a hostel in Kiev, a guy named Chris had told me that we had to visit Watergate. Me and Irene checked it out online and it seemed like we would be able to get in (as compared to other Berlin clubs, which are notorious for their door policies). Unfortunately, when we got to the door we found out that Watergate wouldn’t open till midnight. Disappointing, if not totally unexpected. Berlin’s club are known for staying open well past sunrise. We had plans for the next day though and staying out till four just wasn’t going to happen.

So we walked down the street through the heart of Kreuzberg. The sidewalks, cafes, and bars were packed with people. Most of them young, speaking German, and glued together in large groups. A few blocks away from Watergate we found a liquor store and bought a couple of beers. I think it’s amazing that you can drink in public in Germany. While you can do the same in Russia, it’s technically illegal and if a cop is bored he can give you hell for it. In Germany though you don’t have to watch out for cops and you can enjoy your beer just about any place you like.

Failing to find any other interesting club or bar, we gently drank our beers and walked back in the direction we came. To get into Kreuzberg you have to cross a fairly long bridge and this is where we ended up. The bridge is intriguing and mysterious in that it looks like something straight out of Hogwarts. It’s decorated with arches and a large covered sidewalk runs the length of it. Walking towards the middle we passed a DJ with a portable speaker and turntable, a man playing guitar, and dozens of kids sitting on the concrete, drinking beer and smoking dope.

Directly in the center of the bridge we stopped and leaned against the railing. The water flowed quietly below us. Even though we hadn’t been able to get into Watergate, the experience still felt special. All the people around us were young and in high spirits. The freedom to drink in public resulted in an electric outdoor atmosphere where everyone was happy, and nobody was worried about being hassled by the police. We watched some people dancing off to our right, and I thought about how I wished I could have come here when I was in high school.

Spontaneous Greetings

Ten minutes later the highlight of my time in Berlin came floating down the river. It was a midnight sightseeing ferry and the upper deck was battened down with people. As the ferry approached the bridge, more of the young crowd took notice and began to line up at the edges of the bridge. As soon as the river passengers were within a baseball’s throw, everyone began to whistle, smile and wave, as if the people below were leaving on a great ocean voyage to another continent.

We didn’t know them, they didn’t know us, and yet we all waved. Everyone was happy. We were all out in Berlin, enjoying a beautiful night and a good life. This exchange with the ferry people below had such a deep impact on me because it felt like a shot of happiness and optimism straight into my veins. I had only gotten free of the Russian culture a week ago, and I was quiet aware that this is the type of thing that would never happen in Eastern Europe. Spontaneous outbursts of joy are frowned upon and discouraged. I was happy to be free of that and in a place where we were free to celebrate life as we saw fit.

Hardly had the other boat disappeared down the river before another one came in its wake. This continued for ten minutes, and we cheered and waved to each new group of people passing underneath us. What an incredible sight! Before that night I had liked Germany. After that I loved it.

This vivid experience of Berlin has stuck with me, and it’s been a contributing force in my wish to return to that beautiful city. As I study German and speak with my German friends, I’m continually preparing for that day when I’ll go back, and find a whole new side of Berlin to fall in love with.

Homes, Offices & Other – Unique Buildings in Berlin

Today, walking around Berlin hopelessly lost, I snapped some pictures of cool apartments. If you have the cash, I definitely think Berlin would be as cool city to spend some time in. Everything is super clean, the people are nice and there are lots of cool sights to take in.

So with that in mind, which apartment would you choose to live in?

Leave a comment below, I’m interested to find out!

I’ll accept debate to as whether this is a home or an office. I call it The Hoffice

Hoffice

If you can’t live in the penthouse, why bother?

Balcony

 

If you live here, you’ll never have to worry about people peaking into your windows (slats).

Privacy

 

Plainer than others, but all the balconies on this building look out over a cool river.Plane Jane

 

I can’t even imagine how much this penthouse must cost.Penthouse

 

Sort of boring, but I’m a sucker for the color scheme and design.

Orange and White

 

Black and white, or is it white and black?

Black and White

 

This building is offices.. But I couldn’t resist taking a picture of the world’s largest slice of cheese.

Cheese

 

Top floor for the wind, and for the sun.

Red Brick

 

I don’t think I can afford to live here just yet.

Expensive

 

What’s the point of having a sick ass apartment if you can’t drive to it in a 458?

Black on Black