Berlin – hmmm – quite a different associative set for me than London. Of course. i didn’t grow up with a close familiarity with things German, since after all i was a post-war New Zealand child and England was the mother country. Nevertheless one came to understand that things German, Teutonic, embodied style – a smart style of precision and quality; good lines and solidity; serious. I loved in my adolescence a novel called The Wooden Shepherdess which, if i remember correctly, was set in Germany. Later there were Isherwood’s books and the seductive Cabaret which they spawned. My first car was a Volkswagen beetle: driving it at night i confess to running fantasies connected with Le Carre’s spy novels of coldwar Germany.
So i’d always paid some attention to Berlin. It possessed a certain enigmatic and intriguing cachet; that and its being a major world city of art and culture and national identity, it seems kind of surprising neither of us had visited it earlier. But now we have; and it didn’t disappoint in the least. We really enjoyed our scarce week there in Mitte which was the most brilliantly fortuitous base for our stay. Mitte was, pre-war, the cultural and energtic heart of Berlin, i understand. Under the grey succubus of the GDR the district fell into ennui and decay – you can see this still in many buildings and vacant lots. However reunification has breathed life back and Mitte today pulses.
Our hotel was in Oranienburgerstrasse – a short walk down Friedrichstrasse to the Reichstag or the Museum Insel; or towards Alexanderplatz and the Hackescher Markt. But the public transport system is excellent and we used that lots – the trams of the U-bahn and trains of the S-bahn: had we been intending to stay for a longer time we should have had to get bikes, the clearly favoured transport mode of so many Berliners. The atmosphere of the city, and of Mitte in particular, felt immediately pleasant. Everyone was welcoming; the place felt alive but not frenetic; after London it seemed somewhat empty yet there were a good many people about all the time; we enjoyed the ever apparent contrasts of old, tired, shabby and stylish, striking, contemporary; we ate some excellent food; saw numerous beautiful guys; and experienced many memorable sites/sights. For a first visit we had a most rewarding time, and there is doubtless a great deal more to Berlin that we might yet discover.
Amongst what we did encounter and fondly remember were the life of the streets of Mitte, the excellent Monsieur Vuong restaurant, tapas bars, breakfast at espresso Ambulanz, coffee and aprikosentarte at a Caras cafe, the walk along the Spree bank to the Reichstag, queueing there [alongside numerous stunningly good-looking young men] to go up to Foster’s Cuppola, the Pergamon on Museum Insel, the Jewish Museum, and the holocaust memorial, the restored Brandenburger Tor and rebuilt Potsdamer Platz, trams along Oranienburgerstrasse through Monbijouplatz to Hackescher Markt and its neighbouring Hof.