During our time in Berlin we spotted similarities and some distinct differences with our hometown of London. Their connections are clear; both places like to have a good time. They share weather, language, cultures and in different ways look like progressive capitals. Both are steeped in a rich history; fables that have both connected and displaced, twins built again from rubble towards progress.
As much as Berliners love a sausage and curry sauce, we loved Berliners! The people make this city; they are passionate, loving and very friendly, not to say that Londoners aren't but bars, parks and most open spaces aren't treated the same way. Berliners go out expecting to meet new people. Clubs are melting pots for new friendships, an old crate becomes a plinth for debate, even an off license is a meeting place with benches and seating out front. The Berliners use their capital as their playground; bypassing fences and rules for a view, a chat or quite often a drink.
The space given to Berliners is what allows the egalitarian society to flourish. Every space is democratic. Take the Templehof park, previously a military airport, now a more social port, where the public decide its future. Space is provided for growing, for sport, for play, bbqs and the park welcomes proposals for new ideas. It's huge, it was an airport, who knows what it could become. This amount of space would undoubtedly be monetised in London where just a sliver of space, or building budget, would be given to a social project.
London and Berlin share a love for the outside. When the sun burns bright citizens of both cities can be found outside, but we feel that Berliners make better use of their outdoor environments. Given that Berlin is a newer city town planners have allowed much more space for pedestrians and cyclists leaving more outdoor places to enjoy. Whereas Londoners seem restricted to parks and pubs Berliners are free to roam where ever and this creates a buzz over larger parts of the city because everyone is free to grab a drink, soft or otherwise, and enjoy it with friends and family. A great example of this the Maurpark gatherings on Sundays; a hotbed of performances from professional bands through to X factor wannabes. We were blown away with the atmosphere, it truly felt like a festival but it was free and happens every week. We, and a 1000 others, watched on at the Bearpit Karoke where any soul could jump on the mike and belt out their favourite song, often joined by back up dancers from the crowd. We also stumbled onto a Chilean 8 piece band rocking away or just random people improvising together as witnessed from the drummers and a clarinet player jamming to the sunset. It was beautiful experience and made us truly jealous of these Berliners. Of course London has music, the best in the world, but never does it happen in such a unplanned way. Planning ahead is huge part of living in London.
This is idea of freedom can be extended to nightlife too. London has some of the strictest night time laws in the world, 400 clubs shut last year and every venue has to abide to strict volume levels, even when councils have given consent to build flats next to clubs and bars. This aspect of London is being cruely picked apart, replaced by dull culture-less spaces that create no stories and expand no horizons. In contrast, Berlin praises its nightlife and sees it as a high art like opera, dance or theatre. This is evident in the relaxed way locals attend events. Art spaces are widespread and progressive, clubs are filled with attendees of all ages and only start to get going around 4am, when London clubs normally shut! There is almost no difference between night and day time in Berlin and never did we see a local who was noticeably drunk.
Every person we met in Berlin had a side project that they came to Berlin to continue. We stayed with a musician who explored the music of his native country Georgia through electronica. His friends were DJs or musicians too. When they met up they would create fun activities like making a sculptures about how they felt, a simple creative task that allowed them all to express themselves to each other. This culture of creativity has led to a populace of individuals that are expressive and open, an attitude encouraged by the environment in which they live.
Berlin, now, felt like London 10 years ago, parts were a bit crap, not everything was so polished but an undercurrent of creativity could be felt on the streets. But sadly as the money came in the people that created that environment were pushed out. Will the same happen to Berlin? Perhaps it will over time but then again the creative people will always need somewhere to go and if you look at the history of the city it feels like the counter culture is engrained in society. Any place that has been divided like Berlin can only react in one way; a togetherness that was a product of its old divisions. Berlin is an environment for the people. London, we feel, is an environment ruled for the city.
(so you can find it again next time)