Berlin is one of Europe's most paradoxical cities: proud yet divided; modern yet scarred; and high-cultured yet cheap and friendly. For almost half a century, Berlin was split into capitalist East and communist West; and although the famous wall has been gone since 1989, the city still has much recovery and integration yet to complete. For backpackers, Berlin boasts a plethora of important sights, a raging big-city nightlife, and ridiculously cheap prices. No way I'd miss a place like this.
There's one little eccentricity that I've not been able to help but notice, everywhere I've been so far in Germany. In Berlin and elsewhere, German people seem to have a uniquely large amount of patience and respect when crossing the road. The pedestrian traffic lights here in Germany enjoy taking their time: after the vehicle lights have completed their (also-slow) transition from yellow to red, the pedestrian lights take a further 4 or 5 seconds to register green. What with all this traffic-light sluggishness, you'd think that the poor pedestrians would tire of waiting for — well, for nothing — and would simply walk. But no: not Germans. Every single time, without exception, they wait the several seconds for the vehicle lights to turn red; and then they keep waiting another several seconds for the pedestrian lights to turn green; and only then do they cross the road. In Deutschland, ve vait until it is time to cross — ve must not break ze rules, ja!
For some relaxation after our long walk around Berlin all day, this evening John and I popped in to a few of the local pubs in Berlin's Mitte district. Our mission was simple: to drink beer, and to drink good, tasty German beer. Fortunately, that proved to be quite an attainable endeavour — even by my generally beer-hating standards, Germany is one place where nobody can be disappointed by the quality of the brews.
For my first day here in Berlin, my mate John and I embarked upon an epic exploratory tour of the city. We began in the city's east, and gradually worked our way west, towards the old wall. Berlin is a fascinating city to walk around in — especially if you're aware of the troubled history behind its sparkling new façades.
John's a college student who grew up in the US state of Indiana, and who's just finished his undergraduate studies. He's a quiet bloke: but once you get to know him, he has plenty to chat about, especially when it comes to politics and ideology. He's staying with me at CityStay, here in Berlin. We did a bit of sightseeing around the town today, and in the evening we went and sampled more than a few of Berlin's local pubs and brews.
After having been here only one evening, it's already official: Berlin is the cheapest city I've visited in Europe. Food, in particular, is an absolute bargain: it's incredibly well-priced; the variety is mind-boggling (everything from currywurst to noodle stir-fry); and most of it is fresh and fast. And as for the price of Internet: nowhere else I've been in Europe comes close to the sensational €0.50/hr to be found around here! Accommodation, transport and sightseeing are pretty cheap here too. Drinking and partying are still reasonably expensive — but they, too, are good-value. I guess it's because Berlin is so close to eastern Europe, that it offers such good value. It ain't quite like being back in South America, but it's still a welcome drop.
CityStay's a very clean, very secure, very modern hostel, and it's in a great central location in Berlin. Unfortunately, it suffers from one big common European hostel problem: it's often full of school groups. Fortunately, however, it does have a great bar and common area, which makes it easy to meet the other (minority) real backpackers staying there. Excellent value, and especially recommended if you're not after a crazy party hostel.
Brian's an elderly English chap whom I met on the train from Amsterdam to Berlin today. He's a real character: for the few hours that we ended up sitting together, he started chatting away about all sorts of things, from international politics to the nature of women. He's a great-grandfather, who has family scattered all over Europe (and the world), and who's been a bachelor since his wife passed away several years ago. He's amazingly pro-active for his age, and is obviously "the rock" of his large family. He lives in a small suburban place near London called Hertford.