I know, I know. Cue the gasps, the curse words, and the resolves to one day throw a pie in my face. I get it, people have strong feelings about Berlin. Personally, I don’t share those same feelings; not necessarily bad feelings, just ambivalent, don’t-need-to-go-back-there kind of feelings. So like, bite me.
*That escalated quickly*
Over the past year and a half, whenever I tell someone that I didn’t click with Berlin, they look at me as though I’ve grown two heads. In particular, when I was at a travel blogging conference in September, I was asked to name a place I didn’t love, and when I said Berlin, I’m surprised the guy asking the question didn’t come after me with a pitchfork.
“But Kreuzberg! The art! The parties!”
Yeah, I know, dude.
Berlin is a favorite city for many, for reasons usually circling around its super interesting history, it’s free-expression attitude, and a blossoming arts scene. Hell, it was even the city of Iggy, and Bowie, and Nick Cave for a while. Before I went, I was all excited to dive deep into both the city’s political and musical histories but I more-or-less went with no expectations, except for friends having told me how great it was. It was billed as the place where parties never end, the art is abundant, the grit is real, and the people are pretty groovy.
Because of low costs-of-living and a great reputation, Berlin is a mecca for creative types. This should have been my scene.
And I tried. I wandered around Kreuzberg, had drinks and listened to music with friends in a park, went to the Jewish Museum, went to the Checkpoint Charlie Museum, had eats in cute restaurants around town, and got myself into Hansa Studios.
So what was it about Berlin that turned me off? Well, honestly it was just the vibe; I was on a different frequency. I think it was part circumstantial, part my frame of mind. Before Berlin, I had come hot off the press from a couple amazing weeks in both Amsterdam and Hamburg, two cities which I absolutely loved. Two cities where the parties go all night, the art is abundant, the grit is real, and in which the people are pretty groovy. Both have incredible histories, and both have all the characteristics that should have made me love Berlin.
A while back, I wrote a post about another city I didn’t click with, Bordeaux. In that post, I mentioned a series of unfortunate events that mentally (and sometimes, physically) blocked me from really getting to know the city as I would have liked to. I kind of feel the same way about Berlin, with some small differences.
So why am I writing about a city I didn’t care for? Because most of this blog is head-over-heels swooning over places I fell in love with. But the reality of travel is that you don’t always vibe with where you go and, sometimes, you kind of feel like a rebel because of it.
So what EXACTLY didn’t I like about my time in Berlin? If you’re a Berlin-freak, hold your breath:
A Week of No Sleep
Okay, so a big reason that I didn’t love Berlin was that I nary slept a wink the entire week that I was there. I realize that this is obviously both a circumstantial and state-of-mind reason why I didn’t love the city, but it’s true nonetheless. I’ve been to cities where I’ve gotten little sleep and still had a great time, so take from what what you will.
The reason I didn’t get enough sleep was because although I booked myself into a highly rated hostel in the Friedrichshain district, the hostel turned out to be over-booked, under-staffed, pretty dirty, and super loud (I’ll gracefully keep the name of said hostel out of this post). I’m talking a grand piano right beside my bedroom-which-was-kind-of-in-the-kitchen kind of loud. I’m talking assholes waking up the entire hostel at 4 am by blasting Cher in their car kind of loud. And yes, I had earplugs.
I’m normally pretty easy going, and can handle a night of party-noise (sometimes I’m even a culprit), but this was a week straight. I was not into it. I may or may not have left a scathing review on Hostelworld. I mean, after a couple nights of no sleep, I just get grumpy.
Grey, Sprawling, Industrial
I know Berlin is a metropolis, but it seemed like everything I wanted to see was a million miles away from everything else. So much of the city is grey, a leftover from its oppressive past no doubt, and a lot of my time was spent trying to navigate the grey, industrial-style buildings while trying to get to a point of interest.
Even when I got my butt to Kreuzberg to see one of Berlin’s famed artsy districts, I struggled to find something to connect with. I desperately tried to find what everyone else was talking about when they went to Berlin; admittedly, maybe to the point of setting myself up for failure.
With that said, at one point – a high point – as I mentioned earlier I met up with a group of both ex-pat and local friends-of-friends and they showed me some cool parks and sites while we drank beer and talked life.
I mean, the people are cool.
Okay, so it feels like I’m just complaining at this point, which is totally not my usual vibe and is basically why I refrained from posting this for so long, but for the sake of honesty, I’m going to soldier on.
So yeah, cancelled tours. My first attempt at a tour was a Bowie tour with Berlin Music Tours, but because so little of us showed up, the price of the tour was going to be outrageous, or it wasn’t going to happen at all, depending on what me and the other couple that showed up decided. They decided against the top notch price, so my options were to either go alone at a +100 Euro fee, or not at all.
Turns out my sensible side prevailed and I chose the latter option.
Thankfully, the guide took pity on me and ended up showing me a couple sites on his own as he led me to Bowie and Iggy’s back-in-the-day recording studio. Finding a way to get into the studio was definitely an adventure, and one of my favorite moments of being in the city.
Now, usually a cancelled tour isn’t enough to put a bad taste in my mouth, but a huge reason I wanted to go to Berlin was to dive into its musical history, which I happen to find fascinating. Having this squelched was a bit of a bummer.
Kind of a side note here, and I’m completely open to anybody proving me wrong on this one, but I found the coffee in Berlin to be atrocious and, to be honest, it was that way in Hamburg too. When I travel, I purposefully search out cute coffee shops complete with a pastry selection, it’s kind of a mid-afternoon travel ritual of mine. So many places I’ve been to are blessed with great coffee, but Germany is just not one of them.
So tell me, was this just my experience or is this a Germany thing? Do German’s just do coffee a little wonky? WHERE’S THE JAVA?
Now, in all honesty, bad coffee, cancelled tours, and little sleep aren’t usually enough to make me dislike a city, but I couldn’t very well write an entire article about a ‘vibe’. Anyway, I’m definitely game to give Berlin another try someday, maybe under the supervision of a local who knows the good spots. After all, I definitely created a lot of my ill feelings towards the city in my own head, and there’s always a chance to come around.
Have you ever not loved an acclaimed city? What are your feelings towards Berlin? Spill!