Though not unique to Berlin, it does have more than its fair share of allotment gardens with over 800 complexes. You frequently see them along side the railway tracks and on other pieces of land close by. Originally designed, over 100 years ago, as in other countries for the growing of vegetables to supplement diets of the poor. Their use has changed over the years and they now have well laid out gardens with attractive cabins. They are extremely popular and their leases are handed down through families, due to their high demand. They are used as second homes and you see them equipped with satellite dishes and small above ground swimming pools.
It would seem that Berlin is still the Graffiti Capital of the world. I thought it might have improved after 4 years but it’s still as bad as ever. The main target being the public transport system and anywhere with a flat wall that can be viewed by the passing public. Though street art, when organised, can be attractive but this can only be described as wanton vandalism and mostly rubbish. Scratching initials into the glass of a train window can not be described as art. I understand that there are various programs to remove the graffiti as it appears, but it appears to be a losing battle and the cost of the clean up and replacement of damaged parts must run into 100’s of millions of euros that could have been better spent on something else.
Over the past years, I came across some friendly US Americans eager to leave that (stupid) caricature of the loud, obnoxious American behind. They asked if there was kind of a dress code for the entirety of Berlin.
Rest assured there is not. Personally, I never wear shorts outside my flat, but I have seen people wearing shorts in winter doing some Christmas shopping or whatever at Kurfürstendamm.
Some people dress very sloppy, others are very fashion-conscious, others try to reanimate the 20s, and then there are some who barely seem to wear anything.
And I would never have thought that some colours exist as hair dye.
Just like in London, NYC or S.F., there are so many crazy people, you'll have a hard time standing out in a crowd.
If somebody is gawking at you, he/she probably thinks you're cute.
There is very much the 'can do, will do' attitude in Berlin. After many years of cold war and a wall around the western part of the city, Berliners have an attitude that their is nothing they can't do. A good way to see this in action and representation is to vist the Checkpoint Charlie museum. The museum has an interesting collection of items and stories and is a must see if you visit Berlin.
Outside is the remains of the watch-tower where armed guards would watch you going from west to east & back again. At the old checkpoint you had to buy at least 50 East German Marks & you were not supposed to bring any out!! Sort of like a pay and display but with nothing to buy...... How times have changed!!
There's no doubt that Berliners have a sense of humour. They like giving funny names to different objects in the city.
Here are some examples:
-Gedachtniskirche is called "Hohler Zahn" (decayed tooth)
-Clock of the Passing Time is known as "Fruchtsaft Automat" ( fruit juice machine)
- Siegesaule ( Victory Column) - a.k.a "Golden Else"
- the House of the World Cultures is called "Pregnant Oyster".
Just like it so many big (and smaller) cities I have been in, increasingly so, everyone has to have a handy. Where public transport is so common and used by most, its a necessity when meeting friends or taking care of business because you could be one block away and walking exact same speed in opposite directions and never meet.
Also, many Berliners I know still carry city maps no matter how long they have been living here. It's great if you are lost to be able to call a friend or directory service to help you find your way. Or in the case with me, was visiting a small outer district once and didn't know when or if another bus would be stopping on that line. Called public services and they told me when the next was coming along, which fortunately was in 30 minutes.
A place you can buy one is at MakroMarkt, it's a discount electronics store. They are all over Berlin>>>Charlottenburg, Spandau, Pankow, Eiche, Potsdam.........
Warning for handy use however>>>>>in school or university handys must be turned off. Teachers get very irritated when they ring. Our Lehrer would have an a rabid fit if one went off when he was lecturing. Also in museums and historic memorials, be sure to turn the sound off or put it in vibrate.
There is a searching. There is a great need and desire for a thing. For spirituality, the meaning of life, the return to simplicity, to the earth, to natural ways which bring a greater sense of fulfillment, purpose and peace. A number of those who I have attended spiritual retreats and discussion groups with comment about the growing trend. Yoga, tantra, new age medicine, mediation, Buddhism, Hinduism, Native American shamanism, herbalism are all the rage among a certain age group. I'd say mid-20's up to the 40's and 50's, but there are exceptions of course. Living in such a high energy city where every type of pleasure, vice, and wickedness can be found, so many get burnt out and tired, and look for something or someone to give them new direction.
Schools of yoga are in almost every neighborhood now, shadowy rooms for trance dancing, sign-up sheets for spiritual discussions. The meaning of life can be found in the self, but first one has to really find out who they are I suppose. Such places help people discover.
If you bring up the topic of the Holocaust, of WWII, of Nazi Germany and the people involved and if it's Germans you are talking to, don't be offended or surprised if they "clam up" so to speak, or don't wish to discuss it. It's not from guilt, though I feel we can have a deep sense of uneasiness about it. Its mostly from exasperation. So many times that is the first thing people wish to talk about with you, or immediately become accusatory about it. It has been rehashed and rehashed so many times, some get tired of it and will tell you so.
In discussing German life and history, for myself, people wish to know how I came to be born in Germany, do I consider myself German, why would I wish to consider myself German when I could also claim American citizenship? There have been ones who, though having individual German friends, consider Germany to still be a Nazi country or all were sympathizers to the Nazi cause and do not like Germans on a whole. Every nation has their faults, their secret guilts, their histories of some type of prejudices and injustices. Don't be surprised if people do not wish to discuss such things. Personal feelings of politics and recent German history can be sensitive topics and usually are not discussed except with close friends.
I have yet to meet another German who does not openly look at something or someone they want to observe until they are content they have seen all they wished to. So don't be surprised if you get looked or stared at openly, its not aggression (in most cases), its just curiousity.
Especially if you are "unique" for the area, not visibly indigenous, meaning if you have darker skin than average. Again, this is not meant to be offensive to anyone but its the plain truth. Berlin is very multicultural and you see people from all over the world, yet still there is curiousity and frank appraisals. Don't let it bother you. I am quite used to it and do it myself I confess. People are so very interesting, aren't they?
I had to drive around Berlin on Sunday before leaving the city. The traffic was not heavy, rather medium on main city streets. I got to Neue Nationalgalierie first, then to Brandenburg Gate (Unter den Linden) and to Kreuzberg district at the end.
Local drivers were always very kind and gave me the way whenever I wanted to change my lane. They drive slowly, carefully, and quietly. They park their cars in single file fashion along the streets. This is nothing like the way drive in Paris. If only people in many other cities would drive this way! One more reason not to be afraid to get to Berlin by car.
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