April in Berlin feels more like October in Atlanta than I would have expected. Despite the fact that new leaves were growing on the dead-looking trees and flowers were blooming, the wind was blowing tons of leaves through the air and across the sidewalks. The air was just cool enough that I really needed a jacket in the shade and but the sun was quite warm. The purpose of my trip was to visit a friend, but we saw a lot of the city given that I only had three days and we travelled at a leisurely pace.
I certainly expected the gritty, graffiti-ed, urban aesthetic, but I was really surprised at how varied Berlin is. Parts of it looked just like I anticipated, while others reminded me of almost every place I’ve ever seen. The city is divided by a river like Boston, but the river is narrow, so it looks more like the canals of Amsterdam or Venice. The shiny skyscrapers in Potsdamer Platz and business district in Mitte reminded me of downtown Manhattan (there is even a Wallstraße!) while relaxing in the messy Gartenkolonies, full of overgrown plants and discarded children’s toys, felt like my grandparents’ land in Alabama. The Brandenburger Tor and various ornate churches and government buildings evoke memories of L’Arc de Triomphe and Parisian églises.
My understanding of Berlin after my short trip is expressed pretty well in the photo below. The city is a lot of things: busy, colorful, exciting, futuristic, unfinished, worn-in, and cozy.
It’s a strange and seemingly contradictory mix. The tubes overhead and snaking around town are reminiscent of Futurama but are in no way technically impressive. This is the futurism of some past time. At first, I thought they were art, which says a lot about the city. It’s bright and fun, and pink tubes sticking up out of the ground aren’t bizarre in this context. In fact, they match the weird, graffiti-ed, trash-on-the-ground feel of the place. But at the same time, there is progress in the air and its difficult to find a place where one can’t see a construction site.
While I was fact-checking this post, I checked Google’s Street View of Potsdamer Platz and was really surprised at what I found. The image below is taken from almost the same perspective as the one above, which just demonstrates further how dynamic Berlin is.