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August 5, 2010

I have been  in Berlin since  mid-July, and it has been the perfect cure for Another Picturesque European City Fatigue Syndrome. Berlin is not “beautiful.” It is covered in graffiti, and ugly post-war buildings abound,  and the U-bahn stations are sometimes dark and dirty, and the parks are un-manicured, shabby and overgrown, strewn with empty beer bottles and their caps. And this is why I love it. Well, not these reasons specifically, but they are outward manifestations of the sort of freewheeling  energy that I love. It’s like your first house in college: weird characters end up sleeping on your living room floor, furniture gets damaged, dishes stay piled in the sink, but no one is too concerned about it, even though you know your parents, if they saw the way you were living, would shake their fists and talk about how you were raised better and would it kill you to do some dishes.

There is a lot of open space and properties not yet snapped up by investors/developers (though I think that’s on the way, and young people from all over the world are drawn here, artists and students and eccentrics, and this city has an indomitable irreverence. It doesn’t seem to want to get cleaned up.

One of my first nights here, I found myself sharing drinks with some students in one of Berlin’s many parks–it was pitch black and laughter from other groups of friends came rolling through the darkness and I could see them only by the lighted ends of their cigarettes. It was close to three in the morning but the park was not closed.

Admiralbrucke by day. Wikipedia image because my camera broke.

Another night, a weeknight, Q and I went to share a drink and do some people watching on a bridge in Kreuzberg,  Admiral-Brücke. This is not a pedestrian bridge, but the people let their legs dangle in the road, sat in the road, parked their bikes in the road. When a car wanted to pass, it had to slow to a crawl, and wait for everyone to shift and make way.

Another of my favorite nights here, we cycled to Treptower park, which sits along the river Spree and contains a Soviet war memorial and cemetary for 5, 000 Soviet soldiers. We did not stop at the memorial, though. It was dark and windy and we were looking for an outdoor party. Some of these outdoor parties can be really top secret, and you are only given the location if you’re  on the right listserv (or whatever), but even the ones that aren’t super secret are deliberately ensconced deep in vast parks or out of the way vacant lots. So we tried to listen, over the roar of the wind, for the telltale pinging and thudding of electronic music. And we did find it, eventually, and it was tucked into a stand of trees ringing a long, narrow dead field and bordered by a busy street. There was a DJ, and there were some colored lights under which to dance; the party was in no danger of getting shut down because the wind and the traffic obscured the music enough that from even a short distance, it sounded like it could just be music from a passing car, or something odd the wind was doing.

Anyway, so all these things happen all the time, these things that most other municipalities have put the squash on, and this is just the way it is. People shrug and smile and say by way of explanation, “It’s Berlin.”

This hasn’t really done it any justice, and also, Berlin isn’t perfect, but I’ll get to that later.

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