…because I have a new metropolitan love affair. Berlin is amazing. It’s hip, vibrant, easy to get around, and just drop-dead gorgeous. I had last night and all day today free, and I really made the most of it. Spent last night seeing the remnants of the wall, Checkpoint Charlie, and the Wall museum, then walked through old East Berlin, which reminded me of the East Village in NY. Awesome little shops, cafes, bars, bakeries. There’s even a bookstore that ONLY sells science fiction and fantasy. My heart fluttered.

At night, the city absolutely glows. And while you can disappear underground in the U-Bahn, it’s the S-Bahn that makes this a city like no other. For much of its stretch, these aboveground trains glide through the city a few meters above the streets. The stations are huge glass domes, so even when you stop “inside” you are still “outside.” Museums fly by just a few paces away. Old buildings and new buildings. Snowy streets. Rivers. Berlin is extremely spread out, which makes it feel uncrowded, and yet it’s a cinch to get around.

The best part is the German people. Berliners, especially. Yes, they run from me and my camera, but it’s hard to blame them. What’s incredible about this place is how most people play by the rules, which means the rules are set up to reward the law-abiding rather than treat everyone like criminals. When you get on and off the train, there are no turnstiles to swipe your ticket through (which it doesn’t read, and then you bang into the bar and bruise your thigh, and the person behind you gets all annoyed, and someone else is waiting to exit from the other side). You simply buy your ticket yourself, stamp it yourself, and then walk on and off trains, subways, trolleys, and buses for the rest of the day.

Theoretically, someone could ask to see your ticket. (“Papers,” I imagine them saying). But I haven’t seen it happen. What I see are people who stand on a street corner with no traffic in sight — boulevards empty for blocks in either direction — waiting for the walk signal to turn green. Only then do they cross.

Taxis drive you around at a sane pace. There is hardly any traffic to speak of. The food is amazing, the museums world-class. I barely got a taste of what this city has to offer, but a love affair has begun. Thanks for having me, Berlin. Now I have to make sure I pick up something for New York while I’m on my way through the airport tomorrow — so she forgives me.

10 Responses to “I Hope NYC Doesn’t See This…”

  1. Frederic says:

    A friend of mine lives in Berlin. If you see a cute blonde girl, say hi from me will you?

  2. greg says:

    Knew that you would just love it there.

  3. Lara Martin says:

    Sounds amazing. I will put it on my to do list ;) Thanks for sharing the experience, HH.

  4. Matt K says:

    We’re going ourselves this summer – you totally validated our reason for going, as it’ll be our first trip to Germany. Glad you got the time to explore!

  5. Christian says:

    It was great to have you hear and I hope you’ll visit Berlin again in October! The city can be cold and tough sometimes, but it also has plenty to offer!

  6. It is fascinating how Germans follow the rules. I lived there during college, and being brash Americans we didn’t always wait for the traffic lights to cross the streets. They were scandalized.

    I’ll be going to Berlin this spring. Haven’t been there since before the Wall went down…

  7. Gregory Gerhardt says:

    Glad you enjoyed it. I am in Western Germany and things are a little different but the trains are the same situation. I want to make it to Berlin and East Germany though. It sounds great.

    So with the trains they fine you 40 (Maybe 50?) euros if they catch you riding with no ticket. It’s funny how you’ll see people jumping through closing doors when the ticket checkers come out. The ticket checkers are also in plain clothes and make it a habit of jumping on the train just as the doors are closing so no one can escape. haha.

    • Gregory Gerhardt says:

      Also please come to Frankfurt or one of the other larger cities down this way, soon. Would love to come say hi and grab an autograph.

  8. I loved this piece on Berlin, Hugh! It’s been three years since I moved here from the US and I love it, and for many of the reasons you point out. It’s definitely a law-abiding place–even I now think it appalling for someone to cross a street when the little Ampelmann is still red. ;) It’s got a great burlap-bohemian meets glass-chrome-biz feel to it and I can’t imagine living anywhere else. Glad you stopped by!

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