1. The nature
Although Berlin is a big city, it really doesn’t feel like it! During my stay, I didn’t once get that claustrophobic feeling that I often do in a highly populated central area. The city isn’t piled high with skyscrapers; instead, many of the beautiful, colourful buildings are covered in greenery, huge plants line the pavements and trees are even often the centrepieces throughout a main road. Granted, I did visit during spring: its prime, but my it was a beautiful sight indeed. In the south east of the city are the lakes. I took a bike all the way out to Krumme Lanke and my trip was made. It was absolutely stunning and so quiet! I felt like I had my very own private paradise and thoroughly enjoyed my time with the birds and fishies, even when I plunged into the freezing, pure water that revitalised every cell in my body!
2. The people
This was my first ever visit to Germany and I can honestly say that I found the German people to be some of the nicest I’ve come across; I didn’t have one single negative interaction. I always carry my water bottle with me and rely on people filling it up when I’m out all day. In some places around the world, they’re funny about it; in Germany, shop assistants, bar staff, and pretty much anyone near a tap did it without question.
3. The transport
Riding a bike across the city was one of my favourite things I did and I didn’t have to hire it for the day and take it back; instead I downloaded the ‘My Next Bike’ app and was able to pick up any ‘Deezer’ bike from around the city and lock it back up (finish paying) wherever and whenever. Although this isn’t strictly true, I rode it all the way out to the lake which was unknown to me, out of the ‘zone’ and so I had to pay a fine. This was my fault though and I would highly recommend using Deezer bikes to explore Berlin. They’re cruiser bikes which are so nice to ride and there are amazing bike networks throughout the city, keeping cyclists safe.
I even liked the trains/U-bahn. Here the underground doesn’t remind me of London at all. Instead of going further down underground than you could ever imagine, you usually go down just one or two sets of stairs then you’re on the platform. Also, there’s no equivalent of that crazy London rush hour that can happen at any time during a bank holiday, festival, etc. In Berlin, there’s a lot less people (partly to do with the fact that many are enjoying the fresh air on their bikes) and a hell of a lot more space! I found travelling a much more pleasant experience than I have in most other cities.
4. The commitment to reusing & recycling
The public bins throughout Berlin tend to have different sections allowing for the recycling of different materials. In homes, residents separate their paper, plastic, organic food waste and then the rest. There’s a system in the shops where you can return glass bottles to receive money. When you buy a bottle of beer, part of the cost is a deposit, when the bottle is returned you get the deposit back. I love this empowering yet simple system that encourages everyone to participate in local recycling schemes.
My friend who lives in the city was telling me that there are groups on Facebook where Berliners give away their unwanted furniture; this occurs a lot as it’s a city where many come and go.
I spent a whole day shopping in the city, something I had planned to do as I’d heard there are lots of second hand shops. I try to buy all my clothes (minus sports wear and undies) second hand so this was the perfect opportunity. I was not disappointed; I was in and out of so many shops from high-end designer vintage to up-cycling fashion to thrift stores where you buy per kilo. There was something for every desire and every budget.
5. The commitment to organic produce
This awareness and drive towards sustainability doesn’t end with advanced infrastructure for cyclists, appreciation of plants and trees and second hand treasures in the form of both home furnishings and personal clothing; in Berlin, organic is important. In many supermarkets only organically produced goods are sold. It seems that eating organic is fairly standard, it’s the expected way of sourcing food. The organic choice is still of course more expensive but it seems that people in this city are willing to pay more for quality food that nourishes the soil it’s grown in and the farmers who make a living from it. Berlin is an inspiring place to be – power to the people!