8 January 2012


After being here for just about a month, I feel like I've been able to get a decent sense of the pulse of Berlin.

Berlin is like that scruffy, dirty stray dog who follows you home and charms you so much that you can't get rid of him. 

While Berlin won't be mistaken for a "beautiful" city, it is definitely a unique place.  What makes it so special, both within Germany and Europe, is the energy and life in the city.

There are parts of the city that have been cleaned up for the benefit of tourists, Alexanderplatz, and the tourist sights (mostly in the Mitte region) for example, but most of the "lived in" Berlin is more than little grungy, and graffiti ridden.

Part of this is due to the overall, "anything-goes" attitude that pervades Berlin.  Marijuana is sold freely in the some of the parks (I was offered 3 times within about a minute in one), alcohol is sold and consumed literally anywhere (see the thousands of bottlecaps filling in the spaces between the cobblestone sidewalks), smoking is allowed in some bars, and clubbers party well into the following day's daylight (which comes late here).

Because of the high unemployment, the low cost of living, and the number of people who are just "hanging out" in Berlin, the city has a "laissez faire" attitude where, for the most part, people do what they want to do and are living for today rather than opting for a life in the suburbs, saving for their retirement.

Berlin is a really international city (for Europe), and doesn't really feel "German" like other places in Germany does.  There are many immigrants, and while German is the language, many people speak English and I know several expatriates who have been here for years without actually learning the local language.  You can get pretty much anything you want here (although the selection of soap in bar form is rather limited), and practically no one is actually from Berlin (even the Germans).

Things I like about Berlin:

U/S Bahns -- transit is really easy, and with the exception of a few areas that require multiple transfers, I can get to just about anywhere within about 30 minutes from where I live.

Super cheap! - Berlin has one of the lowest costs of living in Europe, and is by far the cheapest place to live in Germany.  At the grocery store (all prices are in Euros), a .5L bottle of beer will cost you around 1 Euro, and a bottle of soda will cost about the same.  100g of chocolate can cost as little as 0.35 (for the bad kind), and a particular kind you can get in Canada (Ritter Sport) will usually clock in at under 1.00 (usually $2.50-$3.00 in Canada).  Fresh fruits and vegetables are about comparable in price (although of lesser quality here), but milk, meats and cheeses can be very cheap relatively.  I also recently bought an umbrella for 2.75.

Cafes/Bars/Pubs -- they are all over the place, and usually busy at night.  Most offer cheap beer (usually .5L for around 3 euros) and coffee, and all of them are unique.  There probably are cookie cutter Irish or British style pubs, but even in Germany they're a little unsual, and something out of the ordinary. 

People -- The people who live here are generally very open to meeting people and are very friendly and will invite you out for drinks in a heart beat. 

Things I don't like:

Drunk Assholes on the weekends -- I live on a fairly busy street with the windows of my apartment facing the street.  This means that when drunk assholes are walking down the street, singing in the middle of the night, it pisses me off.

Dog poop all over the streets -- people don't really pick up after their dogs. 

Bad musicians on the subways -- I get it.  There's lots of unemployment in Berlin.  You came to Berlin because you think a) you have talent and something to say, or b) it's a cool city and you don't need much money to survive and party here (see the comment on Drunk Assholes).  Here's the thing.  I don't want to hear you on the subway strumming your crappy guitar and singing off key.  I also don't want to hear your accordion in my ear. 

Anyways, I probably have more to say about Berlin, but nothing is coming to mind.  However, I will leave you with the tantalizing information that this week, I actually begin to play music in contexts that could lead to potential public musical consumption.

I've been asked to join a little chamber group that plays music from the 1920s because their clarinetist is leaving the group, and we'll rehearse this week.  Also, the first rehearsal of what potentially could become Euro-KlezFactor takes place on Friday.  The future awaits.

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