Hometown Debrief

Berlin Primer

by Tarek Ibrahim

Photo: Ralph Schulze

In the last 20 years since the fall of the Wall, Berlin has managed to transform itself like no other place on earth, throwing off the outdated, tired and clichéd images of the Third Reich and the Cold War to emerge as the most exciting, dynamic and culturally vibrant city in Europe: the undisputed capital of cool. As New York and London have become overpriced playgrounds for investment bankers, the creative avant-garde (or those who think they are) have migrated to Berlin — lured by its huge spaces, cheap rents, and legendary nightlife. The grit and edge of New York and the glittering lights of Paris are now to be found in the capital of Germany on the banks of the river Spree. It's time to party like it's 1929.

Germans have a strange relationship with Berlin. They view the city as the capital of slackers and hipsters, a gigantic money pit where billions have been invested to put the two halves of the city together (with relatively little to show for it — with the exception of a staggering and stubborn unemployment rate that still hovers around 13%). At the same time, the city is the face is of a new (and better) Germany. Who could imagine that less than 75 years since the end of the Second World War, you would have a gay mayor and the fastest growing Jewish population in the world in Berlin?  In the land of black socks and Birkenstocks, Berlin is now the location of one of the most important Fashion Weeks. The land of poets and thinkers, who lost so many of its golden citizens to the horrors of National Socialism and Soviet occupation now welcome them back with open arms-not merely her native sons and daughters, but artists, writers, musicians and designers from all over the world have come to live here.

An early 20th century German intellectual once said: "Berlin is damned to be a city that is always becoming and never being." That, I believe, is its greatest blessing. This is the city where it seems that the fountain of eternal youth is in ever faucet tap, forever new, forever in the process of reinventing itself. Unlike Paris or Prague, which stays pretty much the same way and looks exactly how it did when you visited it last, each visit to Berlin is like you're going somewhere where you've never been before.

Berlin's Best Old World Spaces With New World Purposes→
1. Chapel of Reconciliation (on the former death strip by the Berlin Wall by Bernauer Strasse)
2. Neues Museum (bombed and forgotten for 70 years, rises like a phoenix from the ashes)
3. Tempelhof Airport (former Nazi airport turned-park and home to Bread & Butter)
4. The Reichstag (house of the German Empire set on fire, revamped after reuinification)
5. Haus der Kulturen der Welt (the "pregnant oyster" which holds fantastic exhibits and concerts)

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