The Many Faces of Berlin

By Eleanor

When I took up residence in Berlin in April 2008, I didn’t really have a particular plan of how long I would stay, or really envisage what this action would bring. I only hoped that excitement and new opportunities might come my way. I had been living in Hamburg for about two years when I made the decision to move to the German capital.

As a native of Britain, a 24-year-old girl searching for change and adventure, and with a lust for cultural stimulation, I embarked upon this move with full determination and readiness for discovery. The factors that led to my decision were these: I loved Hamburg, but yearned for a different experience where my opportunities could also be broadened, and a valuable addition to my cultural and linguistic experience in Germany could be achieved. I had been impressed and touched by Berlin when I visited it earlier that summer, and found myself quite taken with the idea of moving to a developing city and finding a new life for myself there. I had no commitments, was starting a new career, and it seemed like no time would be better to make a major change in my life.

Things, of course, do not always go quite to plan. However, I made the move, and three years later I am still here; still discovering Berlin and its many faces; still impressed and touched by it. Berlin is one of those places that is not strikingly beautiful, nor easy for the visitor to navigate, especially given the continuous works being done on train and tram lines. It can easily be dubbed as ‘ugly’ by those passing through or seeing only one aspect of it but to me it seems entrancing. Visiting friends, and even my own sister, have not been particularly impressed by it, yet I refuse to be put off. I remain ever determined to continue to find the beauty in Berlin, which is so sneakily hidden beneath the surface.

I have always been one to consider beauty as something personal. What is beautiful to one person could be incredibly ugly to another. One simple example of this is graffiti: pure expressive art to one, yet disgusting and disrespectful to another. Berlin is plastered with graffiti, and in its artistic, urban trendy way, this is totally considered to be a part of Berlin’s appeal. The fact that Berlin is also dotted with derelict buildings, countless building sites, and harsh square apartment blocks does not help in its appeal to the mainstream. I have to admit that I was in fact not especially impressed on my very first visit to Berlin, and left it feeling that it could not even compare with my beloved home of Hamburg. It is amazing how things can change when a drop of sunshine is added and new corners of the city are turned.

And the colour grey. Yes, Berlin can indeed be seen as ‘grey’. That colour especially springs to mind when thinking of the cold dark months of a Berlin winter. Even April in Berlin can be grey. And cold. Despite such undesirable qualities, I have found that one simply has to look deeper and see beyond this perceived ‘greyness’. For myself in any case, searching below the surface, finding those little hidden ‘faces’ in Berlin’s every corner can certainly broaden your mind and remind you that there really is so much to this city. It may be a grey day, but take a walk down a street you haven’t seen before and you may discover an inspiring and interesting new shop, café, bar, or restaurant. Or perhaps you’ll see a class, group, project, or event advertised. Perhaps you’ll stumble across a new scene of beauty, where you are motivated to return to spend a lazy afternoon. When it comes to cultural possibilities, the opportunities are endless. I find that Berlin never ceases to offer me something, be it entertainment or art, friendships or culture, education or inspiration.

And back to the perceived ‘ugliness’ of Berlin. I would say that this, mixed with Berlin’s much more beautiful aspects, only adds to its character and integrity and makes it much more interesting as a whole. Berlin is an enticing contrast of old and new, historical and modern, rich and poor, and an interesting concoction of German culture and the many blends of nationalities and cultures that have been attracted to this city and settled here over the years. Whilst some clearly struggle by to make a living, others flourish, and alongside this contrast there is also that strong sense of artistic flare. Many come to Berlin to simply perform or display their art, and know that it can be done here while enjoying a relatively carefree and liberal life. A liberalness of some sort is, of course, another attribute that Berlin takes pride in, and yet again, adds to that beauty and character. The term ‘anything goes’ is something that I value in this city, and this can be felt when simply walking down a street on a Sunday afternoon, and seeing the diversity of clothing worn and style portrayed by its inhabitants.