Wednesday, 29 August 2007


Tis certainly good to stay in a city for more than the obligatory couple of days that is normally reserved for them on my whistestop jetsetting journeys - one can't really say that they've lived in a city when they've only been there for a week but one can get an idea of what it might be like to live there when you try to occupy the lifestyle of a resident. Despite meeting people from all over - a lot of ex-pats and a lot of Germans from elsewhere in the country - I did manage to meet a few locals who were either East Berliners and even a West Berliner or two. Most seemed quite bemused by the fact that they were at the vanguard of one of the most significant political events of the late 20th century - one was 14 when he snuck across the border and got drunk for the first time in his life and another, a Westerner, was on a binge and woke up to find that he'd missed the entire thing. For a capital, I can't quite comprehend how relaxed it is. Almost too relaxed in fact - on several occasions i've found myself strumming the countertop in frustration whilst the store clerk takes each customer in time, blissfully aware of the fact that there are a dozen other customers waiting but knowing that they've got no choice but to keep on waiting. This relaxed attitude towards time seems to flow through to the entire citizenry and i've found myself worried about making a rendesvous while waiiting with friends for another friend to turn up, then having a coffee, perhaps a remedy, a little chat and then sitting around some more ... And so on. The trains might be on time but you'd better allow yourself twice the time to make it there because you won't be.
I can't talk about Berlin without also noting the brilliant conditions it has for getting around - it's a big city but it's flat, has pretty good public transport (not that I used it too much) and the enormously wide streets and footpaths mean there's ample room for cars, pedestrians and, of course, bicycles. The traffic is never that heavy and it's a dream to negotiate on a bike - obviously i'm slightly biased in looking for that in a city but no modern city that's looking to curb an excessive carbon footprint can do so without turning to the only carbon neutral mode of transport that can actually get you where you want to go in a reasonable time.
The personal freedoms that the city's denizens enjoy might be temporary but the fact that you can smoke in most establishments (and not just cigarettes in quite a few places) and bring a dog into a restaurant are just more examples of why the city is a great place to be - one day this will probably change (in fact, the smoking laws are already on their way) but a city that values personal freedom over public liability is a refreshing change from the nanny states that the West seems to be producing.

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