Copenhagen is well known for it's bike culture, but the bicycle presence in Berlin was a gratifying sight. There were lots of bikes everywhere we went, driven by all body types and ages invariably on heavy clunkers.
Based on that observation alone one would have to think it's not a hilly area. Reading about the city confirmed that. I've seen the clunker predominance in large US cities- LA, SF, Portland and know that it's due to thievery. Unfortunately the locals confirmed that bike theft is very common. I know the feeling having had three bikes stolen over the years. As for riding in foul weather, the locals also acknowledge that common sense prevailed in the winter with the bike traffic much diminished.
Also lots of it and of very high quality. Just by luck, we happened upon one of the densest expressions of it on the street we walked just about daily to get from Rosenthalerplatz to Alexanderplatz.
I wished I would have read The Ghosts of Berlin before the trip. For one thing, it was published by the University of Chicago. Instead it was purchased at a neighborhood bookstore on the basis of its title. Marks of Berlin's storied and often tragic past are everywhere. The postwar reconstruction and development are a tug between the desire to remember and to forget. So there are museum restorations where the interior reconstruction takes care to preserve the battle scars of WWII and the exterior shows the bullet/shrapnel holes as well.
The are many institutions with Third Reich era themes. We respected the Germans for their unsparing presentation of that unsavory and catastrophic past as we Americans still have not come to terms with the culture and class system that produced slavery and the conflicts between oligarchy and democracy that led to the Civil War.
We spent two afternoons at The Deutsches Historisches Museum collection covering the period starting after WWI to the end of WWII- the contents were so compelling that it deserved the two hours we had initially allotted. My fascination with WWII began in grammar school in Mexico- a three volume collection my aunt bought me is one of the few childhood items I've kept.
As an adult, the Weimar epoch has proved to be just as fascinating. The cultural fertility and impact of Berlin during that era on world history has few equals.
What was truly engaging about the exhibit were the artifacts and artwork showing the development of fascism in Germany. The primary material from the era has a more profound effect than absorbing that information from secondary sources. Another source of the exhibits power is how hauntingly similar Germany's path to disaster feels to the post Great Recession American zeitgeist to where the US is today; from the observation that the opposition's message was weak and disorganized compared to the more visceral and simple appeal of the fascist message to the bending of facts until information became propaganda. This poster had a particular poignancy in the context of that war and our present times.
On a lighter note, the exhibit also had examples of the Fuhrer's aesthetic bad taste; by what I've seen and read, the Donald also has that trait. What is it about tyrants (or at least wannabe tyrants) and kitsch?
Then there are the communist era legacy landmarks. The transmission tower remarkable in that no matter where we were, there it was. We wondered how the locals felt about it, albeit the thing has monument status.
DW and I both lived through the cold war era bomb drills, basement shelters and general angst over nuclear war. That background and repeated exposure to remnants of the era as we mostly stayed in the ossi side of Berlin further piqued our interest to explore the outdoor exhibits dealing with that era.
The Ghosts of Berlin was helpful in understanding its impact on the city; again, it's recommended reading for anyone visiting the city.
Our first morning in Berlin began with a walk to Museum Island. I was happily taking photos with my new M10 for the better part of two hours until I decided to check the exposure on a shot by looking at the LCD. Turns out none of the photos were readable for review. Ouch. By training, my differential in assessing the condition includes the worst cause in this case the camera being defective, or the most likely, the card that I transferred from the M9 didn't work in the M10. We went back to the hotel so we could find a store that carried memory cards. Googling camera store, I found one less than a mile from the hotel. We walk there and find that the place only sold film cameras. No memory cards, but they had film. I knew then Berlin was my kind of town. Gotta love a neighborhood where there's a camera store oblivious to the digital age within walking distance.
Bookstores are one of our tourists-things-to-do. As above mentioned, we stopped by a bookstore that was one of several in the neighorhood and seeing a nice bench in front of the store asked a friendly guy sitting there if he could take our photo. He said sure, then quickly added- "my friend inside is a photographer, I'll go get him". It turn out his friend was checking to see if the bookstore had copies of one of his books. We left with two books and our picture taken by a published photographer.
Like any self-respecting metropolis, there was a wide variety of food choices and price points. Unlike many of the cities we've visited, we found them to be good values.
Democracies have been a balancing act between individual freedom and government authority. Berlin serves as a stellar exemplar that tolerance for cultural and personal diversity can co-exist with for the most part respect for the rule of law. Yes there is the above bike theft problem and need for being aware of surroundings.
Notwithstanding, we felt safe in all the areas we visited. While on the topic, for a pair of heterosexual boomers, we found ourselves experiencing yet another gay parade. We stumbled onto our latest one while returning from visiting Kruetzberg's open market (which reminded me of LA's garment district- which my mom loved visiting) and stopping at the Hard Rock Café. Collecting HRC's guitar pins is one of DW's ongoing travel-things-to-do and as it turns out the HRC was right on the parade route.
It was loud,
There was plenty of alcohol and pot consumption and expression of unconventional lifestyles.
But at the same time, other than borderline unhealthy noise levels, without compromise to the rights of nonparticipants.
We also felt that the city comprised a mix of economic classes, ages and ethnicities which ultimately was its most attractive aspect. The city had so much to offer just by walking around or stopping for a bit to take it all in.
London, NY and SF all had that quality in years past. I'm grateful that I was able to experience those cities before they became playgrounds for the rich.
Several months have passed since our stay there and our appreciation and fondness for the city have only increased. We look forward to a return visit with our greatest worry being that its blend of all the above will be lost to the economic and cultural polarizations of the 21st century.