Berlin – September 2018
Berlin is almost certainly a much better capital city in which to live (and appreciate) compared with London, New York or (of course) Paris.
First of all, it really does seem to have a distinct culture that is different from the rest of Germany – as well as the world’s other capital cities.
The people are decent, thoughtful and leave you to get on with whatever it is you want to do or to be. One of the most attractive features is the fact that education is free. So I met lots of people of various ages doing different interesting degrees at different levels. The person in Hard Wax (the best place on earth for contemporary off-beat vinyl) was doing philosophy and the next year she told me that she will be specialising in aesthetics; another who lived in Neukolln was writing her Masters’ thesis on Power, people and the machine …
Because the city is extensive and spread out one hardly ever gets the sense of a scrum or of people rushing about. Unlike other places there isn’t much pushing and shoving. There are wide and safe bike lanes – and so many open park spaces – that large numbers of people cycle everywhere.
The look of the people from 15 to 50 – or even older – is as individual as they wish to adopt and to portray. This is a great relief because no one gets overly bothered about what other people look like or about being looked at and being judged. We saw large numbers of alternative society types – but it wasn’t an aggressive sort of person – just people who felt that the whole drift of modern living was absurd (which it is). Mauer Park on a Sunday has an amazing open-air festival atmosphere; and this, along with the mood around the Landwerhkanal (at the end of Kottbusser street) and the arts/social centre in Mariannenplatz were just about my favourite places to enjoy. (And probably far better if you are under 50.)
The public transport system is excellent; after a day or two it’s very easy to master.
I also liked the different character of the various quarters – although, for me, Kreuzberg, Friedrichshain and Prenzlauer Berg – as well as Neukolln were probably the best.
The clubs for dance and trance and techno are legendary. Just go to any of them.
My wife, Jocelyne, had one of the best meals she’s ever eaten (!!!!) in a Vietnamese restaurant – in Prenzlauer Berg – whilst I had the best chilli burger I’ve ever eaten in a Mexican restaurant – also in P.B.; in fact my cheese-topped chilli burger came with chips, various sauces, all sorts of salads and other bits and bobs as delicious garnishes. It was all so huge I had to take about an hour to eat everything.
Terrific places to visit are the Berliner Galerie and the Martin Gropius Bau. The former has explanations about the art on display – written in perfect english, an english that is better in its quality than most people in England can ever achieve. All around there is high art, an elite art that requires hard thinking, and more intimate kinds of art that deal with local or even national issues. The range of styles is enormous. I saw one exhibition devoted to cartoons and which, surprisingly, included a room full of chickens. The ‘Topography of terror’ (a long extended exhibition with a special focus on the year 1933) next to the Martin Gropius Bau is obligatory – although it caused me to have a subsequent disturbed night full of dreadful images. I spent about four hours there.
The history of Berlin carries a charge, that makes it unique and creates an ethos – which encourages everyone who is there to create and think – and to enjoy being alive.
In fact, as I’m writing this, I have to ask myself why I’m having to live in the idiocy of post-Brexit Britain. The deep-psyche of so many English people is pretty dreadful. It really is shameful. I’d certainly rather be in Berlin.