Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Ich Bin Ein...

I have to admit, I had high expectations for Berlin. I thought it was going to be really cool. I thought it would become close to my heart, like London or Paris or Boston or Denver. I thought I would see some history, thought it would be interesting.

I had no idea.

Berlin is [insert hyperbolic adjective that I actually mean here].

Let’s break down my expectations:

1. I thought it would be cool – So my idea of cool is probably rather similar to most college aged students idea of cool. It’s definitely pretty typical of Westmont’s idea of cool. Here’s the thing with Berlin: It’s as old as I am. Or, at least the Berlin that I am experiencing is my age. The wall fell 10 months after I was born. This city has been aging at the same pace as me. It’s going through the same growing pains and trends as me. So, Berlin feels like a twenty year old in city form. It has a fantastic nightlife, but it’s a renaissance-city (a la a renaissance-man, not as in Florence). Here’s an illustration of what I mean. My weekend was made up of going to an elegant Hookah bar that’s literally a block from my apartment, and then taking over a Karaoke bar with our entire group and our tour guide (yes, that’s Gabriel Fawcett for those of you who know and love him. He really is fantastic. And he can rock out.). A live band played, and you could sing in front of them. Such a cool concept. I didn’t end up on stage, but the guitar player and I became buds and we were feeding off each other’s energy. I came home with my ears ringing and my voice lost. At 3 AM. Sunday, we went to a ballet. (I love that juxtaposition) It was my first ever. I can’t say that I loved it, but I can’t say that I dislike it either. Basically, those people are all super athletic, and I was entertained. I was also falling asleep. So, there’s that… Honestly, that’s an ideal weekend for me. It just screams culture. College culture anyway.

2. I thought it would become close to my heart – I actually dug Berlin the moment I got off the coach. It was cold. Like really cold. Like two pairs of pants, a longsleeve, a sweater, a jacket, two pairs of socks, a beanie, and a scarf cold. If you know me, you know me and the Cold. Basically, we hang out. Upon getting here, I learned that the apartment I was to be staying in (I know! An apartment! Living in it has been a nice little glimpse into the future. Guess I’m destined to be a yuppie soon) is placed in the heart of East Berlin. As in, twenty years ago, it would have been state-housing. As in, there would have been 0 business in this part of the city. As in, I’m living behind the Iron Curtain. How’s that for a paradigm-shifter? ‘Course, that just made me love it more. This neighborhood, which, I might add, is smack-dab in the middle of the city, has become a bustling, hip center for young designers and artists; giving it an indescribably chic feel. Especially when you visualize the concrete, open-air prison it was just two decades ago. The most beautiful part of the location is that its also extremely close to the historic district/arts square/museum island. I didn’t realize that literally all of this was in the Soviet sector of the city. I walked all around the area today. I took back Berlin for myself tonight. And I enjoyed every step of it. I went out on my own, which was exactly what I needed, and ended up getting asked 4 different times to take out my earphones because random people thought I was German. As I stated in an earlier post, that’s a huge compliment. The walkabout helped clear my head, and it brought some revelations: About three-quarters of the way through my walk, I realized two things. First, Berlin reminds me of Denver. The market square that’s a block from my apartment could be modeled after Larimer Square. It’s not; but it could be. Secondly, as I was walking on my own under a covered museum walkway that is still riddled with World War II bullet holes from the Red Army, this thought entered my head:

This is why I’m here

3. I thought I would see some interesting history – In every part of Europe we’ve been so far, history has been real. I’m seeing what I’ve read about in texts books. But here, in Berlin, this is something different. I’m living in history. I feel like I’m swimming in it. I only have to walk ten feet outside of the apartment complex, and see the little Communist on the street lights to live history (on the street lights, the “man-crossing-the-street” symbol is a caricature of a hard working proletariat member telling you to stop or go. He’s called the Amplemann.). Of course, the city itself is just pure history. Usually, we’ve had to go to a museum or a site to be within history’s grasp. I literally walk five minutes and see the national church that was bombed out during the war and completely rebuilt. I can walk two more and be on Babelplatz. Where over 20,000 books met Fahrenheit 451. The Berlin Wall (or what’s left) is only two S-Bahn stops away. Hitler’s bunker is one more down the line. This city actually emits history. It’s eeking out of every pore. The people here fully embrace it, too. After the Wall fell, the youth lost their main canvas. Now, the city has become one. There is gorgeous graffiti everywhere. I feel like I actually can’t help but soak it all in.

It might be hard to leave here.


  1. Kurt!!! I feel like I say this on every one of your posts, but I loved this!! Thank you for giving words to what I experienced in Berlin. I'm glad you seem to be loving it as much as I did. Keep living the dream, my friend! :)

  2. Ok so I am still a little bitter since blogspot deleted my comment last time (probably bc the internet stopped working), but I'll persist...

    First of all, you = yuppie--never.

    My favorites from this post:
    "I took back Berlin for myself tonight." I always appreciate a Snow Patrol reference. :-)

    "This is why I'm here." !!!!! Ah that is so wonderful to hear! As always I so enjoy hearing your thoughtful musings and descriptions. I can't wait til I can hear more in person!! :D