Berlin, baby, I wasn’t ready.
I was told by one of the many expat Americans I met living in the German capital that “if New York were a mound of dough, Berlin would be that same dough, only rolled out over the pizza pan.” Translation: lots of shit going on spread out over a larger area. And believe me, you exit any U-Bahn station―Alexanderplatz, Möckernbrüke, Schloßstraße (don’t worry, I couldn’t pronounce ’em neither)―I guarantee you, something’s on and poppin’, from matchbox-sized art galleries to Vietnamese eateries to budget opera productions to soulful house and salsa spots, and all for bargain-basement prices. It’s cosmopolitanism on sale!
Not having met other than a few aquaintances who’d ever been to Berlin, I had zero expectations of the city other than the supposedly rockin’ night life (verified by yours truly as truly rockin’). I’d seen Cabaret ages ago, but that’s not exactly a Fodor’s Guide to the city (I also know they hated on Josephine Baker, but that was also pre-Allied spanking). But from the moment I hit the streets after arriving, I feltsawtasted the stew of combined creativity, history, youth, ambition, and verve and had snapped 150 photos during the course of three hours. Twenty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the East(side!) represents the rebirth and vitality of a city where anything goes and anyone’s welcome: outcasts, artists, anarchists, intellectuals, expats, omnisexuals, commies, trannies, all that crazy city shit mainstream moms warn you about. The West’s still got the grandeur of chic high-brow Berlin, made funky by the huge Turkish community in Kreutzburg. The two halves are joined not just by an efficient (and cheap) transit system, but by a civic laissez-faire that allows for myriad cultural permutations to spring up almost everywhere in town. Add artist-wage rents and five-Euro curry and samosa buffets to the mix, and you gotta city to go ga-ga for. And this sentiment was echoed wholeheartedly by the twenty-some-odd American expatriates, white and black, who now call themselves Berliners.
In fact, mein long-term Liebchen, São Paulo, may be in danger of being replaced. Stay tuned.