Translation: I am a Berliner! (or not)
I am not quite sure if I am a Berliner yet or whether I will ever be able to become one. Despite my lack of confidence in this regard, I would shamelessly present my case in hope that you (the reader) might identify something that might not have come to my attention. If you were to describe my current situation to a random sample of Berliners, they would definitely, overwhelmingly and ruthlessly outcast me by labelling me an “Ausländer” (a word used by Germans to insult someone who is paying taxes to keep the German economy running, or in simpler terms a “foreigner“). After all, do I really need to be born a German in order to be a Berliner? Do I really need to pronounce my “ch“-s in that exquisite Franco-Deutsch Berliner accent? And do I really need to be fluent in at least Hochdeutsch and pass my B1 language exam?
Conciseness of the substandard rhetoric above would lead one to believe that it takes much more than what I can currently manage in order to earn the distinct privilege of calling oneself a Berliner. However, when my plane lands in serene outskirts of the city after my ludicrously brief sojourns, a single view of the magnificent Fernsehturm, proudly peeking above layers of unending greenery, makes me sigh with relief, and a sense of comfort calms my nerves to help me patiently wait until everyone else has alighted from the plane.
There is a unique sense of freedom associated with snaking through the suburbs in S-Bahn and reaching city centre only to be blinded with omnipresent and striking yellowness of the public transport (BVG, Berliner Verkehrsbetriebe). This flavour of exuberant liberty (quite different from its western counterpart) is hard to discover in any other city I have been to. It is not the timeliness of the public transport network that makes one appreciate it but rather its frequency and density. I have never found myself at a place within Bundesland of Berlin where I have been unable to find a connection to public transport within 10 minutes walking radius.
It must be criminal to mention public transport in the city without mentioning the Ring-Bahn. The Ring in pop Berliner lingo is a track of two intracity rail lines that circle the inner city. In more liberal circles, the word is “if you live outside the ring, better move to Potsdam“. Even though there might be popular places outside the Ring, this phrase righteously signifies that Berlin exists within it and rest is just suburbs. I would happily pay twice the rent for a similarly sized apartment inside the Ring, if I am new to the city and want to thoroughly explore it.
Another way to explore the Hauptstadt (capital city) is to hop onto a bicycle and use the bicycle lanes that run along almost all the roads in the city. They are not as wide as the bicycle highways in Amsterdam but they still make the city more explorable without a car. I don’t think there is any place in Berlin where one can’t reach on a bicycle. However, every rose has a thorn, which in this case affects the pedestrians. There hasn’t been a single immigrant who has not been yelled at for obliviously wandering into the bicycle lane on foot. One might hear “Es ist der Fahradweg!” or simply “Fahradweg!” in case one walks into precious territory of the notorious cyclists.
Exploring Berlin, whether on public transport or on bicycle, can make you feel hungry and before you can say “Ich habe Hunger” (literally: I have hunger) and you will be able to smell Döner before you can take that next turn around the Straße. I believe that if you have heard of Berlin, you have definitely heard of Döner kebap (or kebab). This colossal form of a meat sandwich does not only pack you up with sufficient calories to last the day but its taste can instantly make you get addicted to it if you are a meat lover (at least for a couple of months). Oftentimes I have heard from friends, of course, how they get tired of it only to get addicted to it again.
Talking of addiction, it comes in various forms and even though you can find all of them in Berlin, I am now going to write a few words for our shopaholic fellows. The city has a lot to offer to everyone. In case you are visiting Alexanderplatz, do check out Alexa Mall. If you want to see those tall buildings at Potsdamerplatz, you might not want to miss out Mall of Berlin and if you happen to find yourself near Zoologischer Garten, KaDeWe (or Kurfürstendamm in general) is the place to crash when you want to grab clothing or accessories from exclusive European brands. I wish I knew more on this front but given my limited resources, my ability to recommend appropriate places to drain your riches is also limited.
When it comes to spending money, I never shy away from spending it to explore touristy places. If I were to list down the number of tourist spots in Berlin, it would take an entire blogpost. Therefore, I would just briefly mention a few. Number one being Fernsehturm (Television Tower), followed by Brandenburg Gate on number two and on number three I would say East Side Gallery. Whenever I am near East Side Gallery, I always capture a picture of Oberbaumbrüke especially when a U-Bahn is passing over it. I am still a bit uneasy not mentioning Museumsinsel, Reichstag, Berliner Dom, Gendarmenmarkt, Checkpoint Charlie, Jewish Memorial, Tiergarten, Victory column, Friedrichstraße, Unter den Linten and Charlottenburg Palace among the top three.
Getting to know the city
I believe that the maximum time one can consider themselves a tourist in a city is six months. One of the first things that I noticed after doing my time as a tourist, is the difference in ambiance of Berlin’s administrative divisions. The most prominent of these differences (arguably) is the difference in the environment of Kreuzberg and Charlottenburg. It is hard to describe Kreuzberg while still being politically correct. Therefore, I would simply say that when you are headed towards Kreuzberg you probably want to put on a reasonable amount of deodorant to avoid smelling your surroundings. You also want to stay on the lookout so that you don’t step into something unpleasant on the pavement. Especially the Underground stations are the hallmarks of these unpleasantries. However, when you are in Charlottenburg (where reportedly only rich Russians live) it feels like you are in a different city altogether. I think this area is just an extension of the Charlottenburg Palace (it’s not but it definitely looks like a well-kept place). The area is dead silent at 22:00, the streets are clean and you are less likely to get mugged as compared to Kottbusser Tör in Kreuzberg.
Even though there are a few places in the city that might rock you in all senses of the word, most of Berlin is peaceful and if you are looking for serenity, you can simply walk into one of its many parks. As of 2022, about 44% of Berlin is covered with trees. This makes Berlin one of the top greenest capitals in the world. This is no surprise given just the size of Tiergarten. Another one of my favourite Berliner park is Treptower Park (probably because it’s quite close to where I live), it has a nice view of Spree (river) and numerous food stalls near its S-Bahn station. When talking about public places in Berlin one must also mention Tempelhofer Feld. It used to be an airport from 1920’s to 2008, when the airport closed, it was turned into a public park and opened to public in 2010. There are various other big public parks scared throughout the city, among which I have visited only a few, Volkspark Friedrichshain and Görlitzer Park.
There is much that this city has to offer which I have not experienced, what with all the variants of beer and night clubs. However, my experience of the city has made me drawn to it with a pacifying sense of comfort, peace and familiarity. The ethnically diverse population of Berlin makes me strongly feel that I am in the right place and among right people. I know skipped talking about the four different weathers in Berlin and did not even mention the awesome Christmas markets but this is where I will leave this blogpost for now and ask you the same question that I asked at the beginning of this post, do you think if I am a Berliner yet or not (or am I just trying too hard to become one)?