The Good and The Bad in Berlin

Everyone I’ve met who has been in Germany has been saying the same thing. There are lots of beautiful places in Germany. But if you only have time to visit one place, it has to be Berlin. I’m not really a fan of capital cities— I usually stay for only 2-3 days because after a few days I need to get away from the madness that cities bring. But since everyone has been recommending it, I figured the place must really be one of a kind.

In a way, those people are right. Looking back, i did like Berlin. But there are things about it that makes me hesitant to like it too much. It has all of the things that make me like a city. It has lots of historical structures and monuments. It has a rich and interesting history. Public transport is a breeze. It’s not too expensive as long as you know where to stay and where to buy food. And yeah it also has a kickass nightlife.

But like in most large cities, it’s hard to keep everything in order due to its sheer size. A lot of areas are dirty. A lot of areas seem shady, i was quite hesitant to walk back to the hostel alone one night. A number of metro stations smell like piss or sewage. And I’ve never been in a city where drug use is so blatant— I’ll elaborate on that in a bit. I know stuff like these are commonplace in most cities, but those things tarnish the reputation of an otherwise beautiful city.

So yeah, Berlin is indeed massive. In most cities i could see everything i wanted to see in one day. In Berlin I had to take two days— and i was already rushing through it. It’s because the attractions aren’t really close to one another. Good thing the public transport system is a breeze, and it’s not too expensive either. If you’re gonna be sightseeing, buying a day ticket for 7 euros is way cheaper than buying multiple single journey tickets since each ticket costs 3 euros. Here’s another tip: If you’re staying for more than a day, check the rates for a four day pass. it’s so much cheaper than buying 2 or 3 day tickets. I dunno if this is the rate they are charging all year, but I bought a 4 day pass for only 13.20 Euros.

Since the attractions i wanted to see were scattered in the city, I had to do some planning first before I headed out. Upon looking at the map of the city, I saw that if i started at the Memorial to the Murdered Jews, I would be able to pass through a number of other attractions if i just continued heading north. After seeing all those, i could just take the metro to get to the other ones. So that’s what I did. First off, i have to say that the weather in Berlin is really crappy in October. I spent five days in the city and it was raining most of the time. In a way though, considering the history of the places and monuments i visited, the gloomy weather did enhance the experience by putting me in a somber mood.

The Memorial to the Murdered Jews is simple yet beautiful. You might see it as just a bunch of nondescript concrete blocks, but if you look into the history, you’ll see profound beauty in its symmetry. There’s also an underground information center where you see details about the victims complete with biographies and old letters that they wrote. You’ll also see old photographs and film footage. This stuff is really depressing, but it’s something you must see if you want to know more about this dark period in history. Perhaps it’s something to be seen near the end of one’s trip if you want to maintain a jolly mood while you’re sightseeing. It’s gonna be hard to do though since a lot of the attractions in the city reminds its inhabitants of many depressing parts of the country’s history.

From the Jewish Memorial, it’s only about a few minutes walk to the Branderburg Gate, perhaps Berlin’s most famous monument. Inspired by the Propylaea, it is indeed a beauty. Many historical events occurred on this site. Napoleon used the gate for his triumphal procession. The Nazis also used the gate as a symbol during their regime. It also used to be a part of the Berlin Wall. Locals are extremely proud of this monument. Not only does it remind them of their history, it also symbolizes their unity as a people after the reunification. When I visited the gate there was an ongoing marathon. I didn’t realize that my visit coincided with the Berlin Marathon, and it started and ended on the gate. Thus the places was extremely crowded that morning, I had to make a return trip the day after. And yeah, it was still crowded lol.

I continued walking north and I saw a lot of old buildings with marvelous architecture. Soon I reached Museum island, where a lot of attractions are close to each other. The Altes Museum is hard to miss. I’m not into museums so I didn’t go inside. The Berlin Cathedral though, which was right next to it, looked amazing. I was in awe with the structure from the outside, I felt that i had to go inside. It costs 7 euros to get in, and it gives you access to the museum on the second floor and the crypt downstairs. It also gives you access to the viewing deck surrounding the dome, and the panoramic view from up there was totally worth those 7 euros. There are a few other museums in this area, but i didn’t check them out. I’m not really into museums 🙂

Continue heading north and you’ll end up at the Fernsehturm— it’s that tower you see from miles away. It’s actually a television tower, but it has a restaurant and viewing deck. I didn’t check it out, but if you’re on a place that high you’re bound to get amazing views. Before you head there you might as well check out St. Mary’s Church which is only a few meters away from it.

The other attractions i wanted to see were too far to walk from the Fernsehturm. These were the Berlin Wall East Side Gallery, Checkpoint Charlie, and the Berlin Wall Memorial. You’d think that since they are all related to the Berlin Wall they’d be close to each other. You couldn’t be more wrong. They are close to an hour away from each other by walking, so I had to take the Metro. I decided to check out the Berlin Wall Memorial first. I expected to see some remnants of the wall on this place, but there was none. Instead you see a number of murals depicting the wall through the years. The entire place was somber and melancholic. Out of those three places I mentioned, it’s here where I felt the significance of this period in Germany and how it greatly affected the lives of thousands of people.

I then took a train to the East Side Gallery. Here you’ll actually see parts of the old wall, but you wouldn’t be in a somber mood due to the sheer number of tourists taking selfies. You’re gonna see lots of different murals. Some may put you in a pensive mood, while you may find some of them funny. There’s also a museum nearby about the Berlin Wall. i did want to check it out (even though I’m not into museums hah!)  but i felt that i didn’t have much time.

The last place i checked out was Checkpoint Charlie. It was a small place— i didn’t know why I even bothered lol. You’ll see a replica of the checkpoint there where flocks of tourists take their turns taking selfies with this dude wearing a soldier’s uniform. There’s also a small museum nearby about Checkpoint Charlie. I think i knew enough about it though so i called it a day and just went back to the hostel.

And i still haven’t seen everything there is to see in Berlin. I wasn’t able to check out the Nikolai Quarter for instance, and I heard it’s amazing. i also wasn’t able to climb the Victory Column at Grosser Tiergarten. I spent 5 days in the city, but I only had 2 days for sightseeing. If you’ve been able to read a lot of my other blog entries, then I guess you know the reason why lol. So Berlin is also famous for its nightlife. It’s pretty intense— I usually went home at 7 in the morning and the clubs were still popping. Honestly, i can’t decide if I liked it or not. The clubbing culture is really different in this city. One of the things I hated was the amount of preparations you had to do to get into a club. And this isn’t just for the famous ones. You also have to take note of these things if you want to go to the less popular places. One of the general rules? Wear all black. Another one? Don’t talk while you’re in line. Look bored. Do not go in groups. Better to go alone or in pairs. You can get away by going as a group of three but that would be pushing it. Learn to speak a bit of German, better if you’re fluent so they would think you’re a local. Find out who’s playing that night and pretend you’re a fan. Oh and here’s the best one: act and look gay. lol. Some of these rules are downright ridiculous. And it’s annoying that there are so many damn rules! You have to wonder if these are really rules or if people just made them up. Why can’t they just charge a premium and let in all those people who can afford to pay? After all, these clubs aren’t charging much, they’d be able to earn more money if they charged a lot more (they charge 10-15 euros on the average). But one of guys I’ve met while traveling elsewhere explained it to me. He was born and raised in Berlin so he knows the ins and outs of the clubbing scene. The thing is, a lot of visitors may get shocked with some of the things that can happen inside those clubs. The most extreme ones? Some people have sex inside those clubs, right on the dance floor. And it’s not just tame vanilla sex. You may witness really weird fetish stuff. So basically those bouncers try to decide if whoever’s trying to go in would be ready for that sort of stuff if ever such things happen. They are looking for people who would understand the clubbing culture in Berlin. So this explains why so many visitors aren’t able to enter the top clubs. For instance, one afternoon we had fun just sitting outside Berghain, the most famous club in the city. Yeah, you read that right. Afternoon, because the place is open on all hours from Friday to Monday morning. People were lining up for  hours, some for more than 6 hours only to get denied entry. And these people had so much preparation, they were completely dressed up, only to be told NO the very second they are at the front of the line lol. It’s really all subjective. After all, how can those bouncers know if the person right in front of them can really understand the city’s clubbing culture? I do know 2 guys who got in. And they went with a local. And they know how to speak some German too. So I guess that’s the surefire way to get in. Of course dressing appropriately helps, but what really gets you in is this: They have to think you’re a local. Or at least someone who frequents the city. If you know someone from Berlin, let him or her do most of the talking. And when the bouncers talk to you, you should know enough German to be able to respond appropriately.

So i was able to get inside four clubs. One popular one, one that’s not popular but close to the hostel, and another two that are very popular with the locals. I liked the scene. Inside, the clubs were full of people. People didn’t care how everyone looked, and that’s a good thing. I hate how pretentious people can get at some clubs, wherein people judge others by the way they look or the way they dress up. People just wanted to drink and dance the night away. I did have some fun on those nights— in spite of the music. The thing is, I’m not into techno. And all the clubs in Berlin play the same type of music. Even Berghain. i wasn’t able to get in (I didn’t even bother), but i could hear the music from outside. When i go inside a club, I want to hear variety. In Berlin they kept playing the same music on loop for 30 minutes to 1 hour that it really gets monotonous. The atmosphere is also really trippy. They put the smoke machines into overdrive. you can barely see the person beside you. All the lights are also trippy, as if they’re trying to hypnotize everyone. It’s actually funny when I took note of how people danced, and most of them seemed like zombies in a trance heh. I was thinking, I would only be able to appreciate this sort of scene more if i were high. And that would probably explain why a lot of people were selling drugs outside the clubs, you’ll need em to appreciate this sort of music. And I’m willing to bet that a lot of the people inside the clubs were high on something. How could they not be, when it’s so easy to buy drugs outside. And you don’t even have to be near the clubs. Every time I was walking home, several people would approach me selling drugs like candies. In broad daylight. Showing me their goods in complete view of everyone around us. They sell basic stuff like weed, to harder ones like cocaine. And Ketamine of course, which seems to be the drug of choice. I’ve been to 46 countries so far and i always check out the night life. Maybe i haven’t traveled enough, but I have never been to a place where selling recreational drugs was so blatant and out in the open, despite the fact that those drugs are illegal.

I guess you just have to take the good with the bad. I still think Berlin is a great city. Berliners are mostly nice people, and i did gain a few friends so that’s one reason to go back. The city is rich in history and culture and that sets it apart from other capital cities. And although the night life is a mixed bag, I’m willing to experience it all again. I’ve only been to four clubs after all. Maybe I just haven’t been to the good ones. 😛

 

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