First off, it’s an incredibly green city. Trees everywhere! (This is courtesy of a centuries-old royal decree that insisted trees be kept or planted along major boulevards, rather than cut down, as was the case in most European cities.) Indeed, one of Berlin’s most famous avenues, Under dem Linden, literally means “under the linden trees”. Berlin is also a city of water: lakes and canals are scattered throughout the city centre and surrounding area, and are popular recreation spots on sunny days.
Second, it’s not a dense city, nor does it have any sort of singular city centre where most people congregate. Instead, Berlin has evolved into a series of neighbourhood boroughs in the city’s former east and west halves, each with their own “heart”.
Finally – and this was one thing I had anticipated heading into Berlin – this city has been so seriously impacted by the major historical events of the 20th century as to be unrecognizable to its earlier self. Decimated by the first and second world wars, then by the rise and fall of communism, this is, in the wise words of Pen, one of our local Berlin guides, “a city that is always becoming.” It is constantly evolving into what it wants to be, then changing again just before it gets there.
I was lucky to be able to join Pen for one of her tours of Berlin this week. Pen’s passion for her adopted city and its history shines through in her delivery: every word she speaks is imbued with energy and sincerity. You won’t need to be a history buff to enjoy Pen’s re-telling of the history of Berlin – I found myself hanging on to every word. (Of course it helps when the details themselves are so fascinating.) And a good historian is what you need if you’re exploring this city. While it has a scattering of attractive buildings, on the whole Berlin isn’t a city of beautiful heritage sights. It’s a modern city layered with history where it’s quite feasible that the spot you’re standing on was significant to the Prussians, Nazis and Communists for vastly different reasons – reasons you won’t know by simply wandering around on your own.
While Pen is originally from Australia, she has lived in Berlin for 8 years now and has strong roots in the city, with both a German husband and German-born son. Thanks for letting me join you on your city tour, Pen! Next time I’ll allot more time to spend exploring your fascinating city.