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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.

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.

Impressions from Germany

My father’s grandmother and grandfather emigrated to the United States after World War Two. When they left, Germany was not doing well. There were few job opportunities, the country was still being rebuilt, and the future looked bleak.

When you walk through Germany today, none of that spirit remains. Germany is a vibrant country with a lot to offer. The public transport system is top notch. The streets are clean, the people are wonderful, and the beer is reasonably priced.

Getting Around

What struck me most was the fantastic public transit system. Trams and buses are an omnipresent sight. They are clean and quite. A far cry from the trams in Ukraine, which simulate the experience of driving a car down a brick road. Also, a world apart from the buses in my home city of Buffalo, NY. Inviting would not be the first word you’d use to describe them.

At most bus stops there’s a little board that tells you when to expect the next tram or bus. This is brilliant! The extra million dollars that this must have added to the budget is money well spent. Why can’t America do the same thing?

Accommodations

While in Dresden we stayed with my friend Zhena. She’s studying in university and has an apartment ten minutes from campus. Her place is one of the cooler apartments that I’ve ever been in, and I was surprised to learn the price. Every month she pays 180 Euros in rent.

What?

When I was in college we had $200 dollar apartments too. Typical problems included: a leaky roof, former tenants were crack addicts, broken windows, no running water, holes in the wall, bedbugs, poor heating, no insulation, general look of deathly disrepair. That’s loads different from Zhena’s modern, inviting apartment.

This trend of affordable rent holds true in Berlin was well. While touring around Berlin on bicycles, we encountered a brilliant neighbor called Kreuzburg. I fell in love immediately. Fantastic clubs, bars everywhere, lots of young people, right on the river, a general feeling of youth and vibrancy.

The New York City equivalent would be SoHo. However, unlike the ludicrously priced SoHo ($3,500 a month for a studio) an average person can afford to live in Kreuzburg. At 900 Euros a month it’s not cheap, but it’s not prohibitively expensive either. In fact as soon as I’m earning $2,000 a month online, I plan to rent a place there for a few months.

The Culture

CheersGermanyBefore going to Germany I asked my friend Sergej to give a rundown on the culture. Anything I shouldn’t do, any norms that I should be aware of? He thought about it for a second, then shook his head.

“Germany is a lot like America, you’ll be fine.”

While that’s a gross simplification, I understood his point. The difference between Germany and America isn’t that great. That is, as compared to America and China, or America and Russia.

While there, the thing that took the most getting used to for me were the bikes. Like cars, they have a right away. They often have their own lanes. At large intersections they sometimes even have their own stoplights. You have to be careful with them. In Germany a person riding a bike has a right to use the road, and you have the right to get the hell out of their way.

That’s different than America. I’ll make a disclaimer that I’ve never been to a bike friendly city like Oakland or San Francisco. However, in New York and Buffalo, it’s a bike rider’s responsibility to avoid you, not the other way around.

Transitioning from the healthy to the unhealthy, I really love that you can drink in the street in Germany. Is there anything really so wrong with sitting in a park, or in a public square, and having a beer? Germany doesn’t think so, and neither do I.

It’s illegal to drink openly in Russia, Ukraine and America. However, in the Russian speaking countries people just do it anyways. Nobody cares, it might as well not even be a law. On the other hand, you can get a ticket for doing it in America (I’ve verified this law twice). I think that’s silly and annoying. As is America’s irrational belief that you must be 21 to drink. A blog post on its own could be written on this.

Germany and Me

Six months ago I didn’t know what second language I would study. The choices were: French, German or Swedish. Thankfully, Germany made the choice easy for me. I’m going to study German!

In the short term I’d like to spend a few months in Germany. I think that as soon as I have the cash to back it up, I’m going to rent an apartment in Berlin. My visa will limit me to three months. In that time, I hope to find out whether Germany is a country that I’m interested in for the long term.

I think it sounds poetic, like the ending to a cheesy B grade movie. Grandparents leave Germany to pursue a better life in America. Two generations later, grandson returns to Germany, pursuing a better future in a fascinating country.

Here’s to you Germany, prost!

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