Tag Archives: Berlin

What Makes a City Liveable?

I have never been to Berlin before, although I have been to Germany several times, and if I thought about it at all, I suppose I expected a rather “monumental” and forbidding Germanic landscape.

I was wrong. This is first and foremost a livable city.

We spent time today doing the usual touristy things: the bus tour with running commentary in several languages, the obligatory looks at famous landmarks–I even bought a sweatshirt at Checkpoint Charlie (it was cold!) But the real highpoint of our too-short visit was the experience of walking around the neighborhood of our hotel.

We walked to a restaurant several blocks away that had been recommended by our son (aka the Tech God). He has been everywhere, and his restaurant recommendations are always flawless-he’s a real foodie. We strolled through streets lined with 4 and 5 story apartment buildings, a mix of restorations and new construction. There were pocket parks everywhere, with children on swings and slides, young people playing table tennis (and in one case, older men playing bocce ball). Bikes were everywhere–and Berlin has the same bike-share/rental that we’ve seen elsewhere. At street level, there was cafe after art gallery (dozens of them, as we are in the arts/gallery district) after retail shop after grocery market after “wein cafe”–all at small, human scale, and all very inviting.

Berlin has an enormous amount of green space–large urban parks and the ubiquitous small “pocket” parks. What it doesn’t have is the monotony of the US suburbs. There were no quarter-acre lots with grass; instead, there were flowerpots and small potted trees on balconies–and the density that makes all of the wonderful urban amenities sustainable.

Once again, mass transit was evident everywhere. The subway, we are told, runs on minute and a half headways. Buses are everywhere. There are plenty of cars and bicycles, of course, but you can get anywhere in short order on public transit.

What really impressed me was the general attention to quality–beautiful windows and doors, etc., rather than the large, poor quality construction that characterizes so many of America’s “McMansions.” (Contrary to what all those “make yours bigger” emails we all get, size ISN’T everything.)

Finally, we remarked upon the sophistication that comes with diversity; as our waiter tonight noted with pride, Berlin is a truly international city–home, he assured us, to over 250 nationalities.

There are remarkable museums and fantastic architecture here, but it is the scale and variety of the built environment, the prevalence of the art and music, and the investment in infrastructure that makes this so livable-and delightful.

If we Americans weren’t so smugly convinced that we know everything we need to know and that we are “exceptional” (in the good sense), we could learn a lot from cities like Berlin.

Fantastic Hotel in Berlin

When Bob was planning this trip, he depended a lot on Trip Advisor.com; since we were planning to visit places we hadn’t previously been, we depended upon internet photos and ratings from other travelers for our choices. And thus far, we’ve been pretty lucky. The Shakespeare Hotel in Vilnius was delightful; the Westbury in Dublin was what one would expect of a 4 or 5-Star hotel.

But I must say, the Circus Hotel in Berlin has been the high point of our trip so far.

It isn’t much from the street, but the interior is impeccably done, whimsical and modern. Not only is the hotel artfully done, with beautifully executed details (and very high-quality fixtures–architects and their spouses notice things like windows and bathroom accessories)–but the hotel has a very obvious personality. It is seriously green–with all manner of energy and environment-saving practices. The magazine in the room explains that the owners are committed to paying staff a living wage, and to other “ethical practices.”

Not only are the rooms (at least, ours) spacious, bright and well-appointed, the restaurant (organic, local foods) is excellent. And the prices for rooms and food can only be described as “great values.” To add to that value, it is located in the midst of art galleries, cafes and music venues–what is evidently the artsy section of the city. I really recommend this hotel!

The trip here was tiring; we got up at 3 am and took Ryan Air from Dublin, the train from Birmingham to London, the Eurostar to Paris, and–in our only stressful experience–a sleeper train from Paris Est (East) to Berlin. The stress was a result of the chaos that is Paris Est and the attitude of the French personnel in the misnamed “Information” booth. To suggest that their attitude was dismissive would be kind. Nevertheless, we made it to Berlin as scheduled, if exhausted.

We’re going to bed early, and we will cram as much sightseeing as possible into the day and a half we have before we leave for Florence.

Once I figure out how to include photos in these blogs, I’ll share some. We are meeting son Stephen (also known as The Tech God) in Tuscany, so I anticipate learning this arcane skill. We will also have daughter Kelly, son-in-law Robert, son David and daughter-in-law Jackie, and grandchildren Sarah and Bert all together for a week exploring small villages in Tuscany.

So far, a fabulous vacation. (What WOULD we do without MasterCard…)