Saturday, 5 June 2010

Ich bin eine Berliner!

As I type I am sat in Schonefeld Airport in Berlin. My flight is delayed and I’ve just eaten a lovely German spelt roll stuffed with veggies and ham, washed down with fresh lemon and limeade and rounded off with a rather lovely piece of rhubarb kuchen. Whoever said that Germany is a culinary wasteland has obviously not tried its superior airport food.
I have another two hours to wait until my flight is due to depart (although by the time you read this I will have been in my flat for at least 12 hours or so) and I am desperately trying to resist the urge to jump on the S Bahn back to Alexanderplatz. You see although in comparison to Paris and London Berlin is a poor capital with a decidedly troubled past, it has grown to be one of the most chilled out and accepting places I have ever been.
Let me elaborate. London and Paris are beautiful, lavish, majestic cities (if you go to the right parts anyway). But with its beauty and majesty comes an air of arrogance and superiority. And so do its inhabitants. Rather than taking a real interest in people they are more impressed with which area you live in, how much you earn, what car you drive. Okay, so I’m being a bit harsh and tarring all and sundry with the same capitalist brush, but I hope you understand what I am trying to say. Berlin also has its stunning architecture but its inhabitants seem less bothered by status. There is an air of calm, a laid back approach to city living. No one rushes. People don’t look you up and down if you walk into a trendy bar or restaurant, deciding whether your clothes fit the bill. People try to help you if you don’t quite understand the menu rather than tutting impatiently.
It’s not just their attitude to outsiders that makes Berlin so likeable. It’s the freedom of expression that Berliners seem to embrace. The rest of us western Europeans often take the piss out of the average German’s take on style. But Berliners wear what the hell they want to wear, and how they want to wear it. Why should they wear what everyone else is wearing anyway? And their approach to art? Never mind making some massive diamond encrusted skull and sticking it in some posh gallery. Instead why not move into a derelict building and make art for the hell of it, to express yourself, not to inflate your bank balance? In a city where money seems to be a bit of a sticking point, why not resist its magnetism and get by focusing on what life is really about?
When I arrived in Berlin I was struck by the amount of graffiti that seemed to cover every surface of every wall. But having spent a few days here, I have come to realise that it is just another example of their self expression and their tolerance to other people’s need to put themselves out there in such a publicly visible way. And I can safely say I have never felt safer in any other country than I have here. Yes I know crime is committed but it isn’t lurking on every street corner like it seems to be back home.
So why has Berlin turned out to be so chilled, so accepting, so free? The luxury of political stability is something Londoners takes for granted. Just look at the reaction in the UK to the result of the last general election. You would have thought that country was about to implode. In Berlin it is only twenty years since the wall was finally taken down. For only twenty years has it been able to lick its wounds and rebuild itself, physically and psychologically. And it has learnt a valuable lesson that London has missed out on. I just hope I can take a little bit of its spirit home with me.

No comments:

Post a Comment