Europe | ich bin nicht ein Berliner {not yet, anyways}

may 9-11//berlin, germany//canon 5d

I had been told two things by everyone, before Berlin-number one was that the city would "break" us {"you go up against Berlin and you lose," my friend remarked once}, but number two was that I was going to love it. Whenever people talked about Berlin, they seemed to struggle, trying to explain what exactly it was about the city that was so special-it just was something that no one seemed to know how to put into words. Needless to say, I was excited to visit {albeit a little nervous re; being "broken"}

I got my first taste of Berlin on the U-Bahn on a Friday morning, after arriving at the outskirts of the city with Kate. It was early-8, maybe-but the train car was full of all walks of life. In the corner sat a dark-haired boy with articulate fingers, bent intently over a drawing; next to him was a muslim woman with a baby in a stroller, a drag queen, and an older woman clutching a german workbook tightly. All were vastly different, lost in their own worlds, sitting side by side-no one else seemed terribly interested or taken back by the interesting mashup of people, however. It was normal here.

Kate and I spent our first day in Berlin cautiously checking out our territory, careful not to do anything too important, as our friends were due to arrive the next day and would want to see the sights. We did, however, check out the East Side Gallery, kiss the ground outside the Dunks, and got lost looking for a park that had previously been an airplane hangar. And we walked-Berlin is huge, guys. This isn't Prague or Luxembourg- you walk and you walk and you walk, and you've only made it to the next U-Bahn station.

We stayed in Kreuzberg, Berlin's own Williamsburg. That first night was dusky; restaurant facades were ablaze, lights strung up on colorful awnings. Hipsters of (literally) every shape, size and sub-genre rode by on bicycles and met with friends, and the yellow U-bahn rumbled and rattled on the tracks above. Kate and I's eyes were alight; we headed back to our hostel and made conversation with people from all over the world, all called to Berlin for different reasons, those same things my friends had tried to put into words.

Travel confusion and bad luck combined led to only Erin arriving early Saturday morning-we picked her up, filled her with coffee, and promptly whisked her away for the next two days. We tracked down markets all around the city; wandered through Friedrichshain, where some men offered to sell us weed, and…make us mac + cheese; and stopped for a cookie + reading in Shakespeare + Sons. We spent a while walking through the famed, the amazing, the coolest Mauerpark, a weekend market full of local artisans and antiques. After that, we made a pitstop at the Brandenburg gate//Holocaust Memorial, taking a breather at Tiergarten; we climbed rocks and erin stood on the top of one, arms outstretched in the rain. We also took a sobering free tour around the Mitte area of the city, which filled in some of the history, as well as visiting the holocaust memorial museum, where I read a poem written mere hours before the poet's death, and marveled at the artist's need to create, no matter the circumstances.

The concept of a city divided is fascinating, mind-boggling, mystifying. We would drift from one side to the other, vaguely aware thanks to differing architectural styles and the "Amplemann" crosswalk figures, but it was still incredible to think that a mere 25 years ago, that we wouldn't be walking down this street or that one. It's strange to think that some of the Berliners that we walked by had lived in those times, had seen the cultures clashing-strange to think, once again, that when my parents were my age, there was so much of Europe they were unable to see. And then there's the concept of the Wall itself-cutting a city in half, people living insanely different lives on each side, families separated by merely a concrete wall.

That night, we returned to Kreuzberg and ate burgers outside what had once been an elaborate public bathroom. It was warm, and we watched the people walk by, small and large groups speaking all sorts of languages. And I didn't just start dreaming-I started thinking, logistically-How could i come back? How could i make a life here, in Berlin? in Kreuzberg?

Did Berlin break us? Yeah, a little. One of our goals was to check out one of Berlin's cool themed clubs (specifically suicide circus, which is in an abandoned train station), and we were so exhausted at the end of all three nights that we collapsed into bed. We almost missed our bus home-we're talking a mad dash ala Home Alone through the bus station-we got lost several times and spent WAY too much money at dunkin donuts. But I don't think we broke completely.{maybe just a little cracked}  And while I tried several times to understand just exactly what it was about Berlin that everyone loved, I never quite put my finger on what exactly it was either. The closest I came to understanding it, the only way I could try to explain it, is that Berlin bleeds, screams art, vibrance, culture, youth. The city is truly alive; every inch of it is covered in graffiti, murals and tags, layers upon layers upon layers of art. Nothing is permanent here-everything is constantly being built upon, changed, approved. Blink, and you might miss something; but don't worry too much, because something new will come along in the next five seconds. It's big and it's loud and dirty and colorful and I am absolutely, completely, utterly in love with it.

I'm not a Berliner yet, but mark my words; i will be soon.

{travel guide coming soon!}

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