Monday, July 6, 2009

Reflections on Berlin

Like many great or nearly-great cities of the world, Berlin manifests the energy, ethnic/demographic mix, and creative, bohemian youth culture that keeps a place somewhat off balance, unpredictable, and fascinating. Not sure how I would deal with it as a day to day resident (actually I DO know), but as a tourist, it's a delight. Both Jase and I were turned on by what we saw and experienced and will be back, separately, if not together, some day. We had that moment of fantasy when we imagined getting a place here for 3-4 months next year and commuting around Europe to the media (for me) and arts (for us) centers for work, fun, and enlightenment. Dream on, eh...!?

The Berliners and German govt have created a very liveable city. Great transport infrastructure (we loved the surface trams), and there are no turnstyles for the trams or subways---everyone buys or possesses the appropriate ticket and it's an honor system after that. There are allegedly inspectors around to spotcheck tickets, but we never saw them. Oy. Imagine that system in NYC, damen und herren.... !

Many public parks, museums, great architecture, and a first rate cultural life that rivals NY for its diversity and sophistication. The people are warm and friendly and most speak passable English, many near-perfect English.

They do have a graffiti challenge here. Some of it, fine, it's art (see above). The rest, well....just plain vandalism and scars on a city that is building and polishing its way back toward greatness in this century.

As the seat of government and not commerce or finance, Berlin lacks a business or financial markets mentality that gives NY a lot of its anxiety-laden pace and edge. Some would celebrate the absence of this in Berlin; I say it's the element that holds the city back from world class status.

There is history everywhere here, of course, and some of it deeply saddening. My attitude about Germany has shifted dramatically since the first time I visited Frankfurt and Munich over 30 years ago. Some, because of changes in me but also, this time, due to the realization, frankly, that many of those who were present (and responsible, to varying degrees) for the worst of it in the 20th century are gone now or old enough to have ceded the fundamental flavor and direction of the country to the next generation (mine) and our offspring. With all due respect and love for my parents and their generation that fought the War to make this possible, there was something vaguely comforting to know, as I looked around me, that very few people I saw in Berlin on this trip were alive during the Horrors.

Anything goes in Berlin. Bohemia writ large. And you can live very cheaply and very well here. We were constantly, pleasantly surprised by the costs for meals, museums, apartment rentals, hotels, and so forth.

They say the weather is awful here about 8 months out of the year. So, plan your trip here for summertime, or, if you're somewhat of a culture vulture like me, come in mid September, when the opera and symphony, theater, and ballet scenes are in full swing. Bring an appetite for great food and great fun.

We loved Berlin. Danke und auf wiedersehen !

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