Monday, December 13, 2010


I didn't know what to expect from Berlin. I really like it. Because it is the capital of Berlin with over 4 million people, I expected highrises and a corporate look. That's not it at all. It is a low rise city due to a spongy soil, so 4 or 5 stories is tops. This makes the city quite pedestrian friendly.

Everything looks very clean and well maintained, but the best thing is the public transportation. There is little auto traffic here because of the excellent tram, huge and extensive metro system and buses, some double decker. Most of the time, however, I walk.

Berliners call themselves 'poor, but sexy'. Because most corporate work is in other German cities and expats apparently keep a low profile, Berlin is cheap, cheap, cheap to travel and live in. Music, art and tourism keep people busy. There are over 175 museums. It is full of young people who are artists, musicians, free spirits or just people who like a balanced life.

Consumerism is at a minimum, with luxury brands looked down on by many as mindless and conformist. One of the first things I noticed is that I have truly not seen an obese person in Berlin. I was surprised, because drinking is popular and on the 'obese country list', Germany is near the top. Maybe because of all the walking, but even middle aged and older Berlin women look like they can crack walnuts with their thighs.

Berliners seem proud of the fact that anything seems to go here, such as nude or alcohol free nights at clubs, dogs in shops and restaurants, and apparently universal acceptance of gays. People appear to be friendly. In Azerbaijan, every day I met people who thought I was Russian and spoke Russian to me. Here everyone thinks I am German and tries to start up conversations.

I started my trip with a walking tour of about 7 hours, which was free, tips accepted. It gave me a lot of ideas for what to do on subsequent days. The tour was totally in English and I was with a few Americans, but mostly Brits and Australians. We came across an anti American protest about the death penalty and in particular one American citizen on death row. The international community apparently thinks this guy's trial was unfair and biased. They also point out that countries that still have the death penalty have major human rights issues. Besides America, countries executing the most people are China, Saudia Arabia, Iran and Pakistan.

Since the walking tour, I have visited the German Democratic Republic (Communist) Museum, which was really interesting and hands on. It showed homes, cars, consumer goods, clothing and other everyday objects from East Berlin. I also visited the Sunday flea markets, the Christmas markets (basically a big carnival with food, hand made goods, alcohol, ice skating and rides), Hitler's former bunker (a paved over apartment parking lot) and a fabulous bookstore full of English books (haven't seen such a place in 28 months).

Before I go I want to see the Brandenburg Gate again, some of the art museums and the Reichstag, the Parliament building.

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