Berlin has always been in my top three European cities to visit because it’s a dynamic place of change — a melting pot with plenty of history, and a leader in art and design. The whole world recognizes the fall of the Wall and unification of the German people as a great example of freedom. Berlin then, became a city of opportunity; and as the City’s economy tries to heal, the low cost of living has attracted many creatives to its center.
I took the recommendation to travel alone in order to be a sponge and completely immerse myself in German life. I rented an apartment in Neukölln, an up-and-coming creative borough away from the touristy Mitte, to hunt for inspiration and understand what a week in the life of a Berliner would be like.
As a military kid who’s lived in Japan, California and Texas, I learned that home was not a place, home was a matter of the people you love. So, I’ve grown a habit of people watching, and observing the social interactions and their influence to “make” a city. Berlin was filled with very nice people who were very easy to talk to and had a sense of happiness I could only relate to as contentment. When I realized that most Berliners speak English and most younger generation residents come from many places around the world, my anxiety about my linguistic inability dissipated. Yet, I still pronounced the long German street names with absolute fail.
The city has about 200 museums and galleries, and is undergoing constant construction to preserve and renew old buildings and erect modern ones. Here are some inspirations I found — that made me think differently:
- During the rebellion against the division between East and West Germany, Berlin’s people, especially creatives, spoke out with their art publicly. It was a powerful way to be heard — vocal energy became visual energy.
- Murals on the remaining part of the Berlin Wall represent freedom. For example, pop artist, Thierry Noir, was one of the first to illegally paint cartoon-like portraits on the wall — doing so offset the bleak conditions in Cold War Germany with color and humor.
- Public art in Berlin is very alive. Graffiti and street art is a living entity — it’s a sharing of artistic opinion that does not destroy neighborhoods, and instead gives an area more character, such as the Kreuzburg borough.
- The annual Berlin Art Week is a massive showcase of the best galleries and contemporary artists — and it’s just one example of the city’s support of the arts.
- The Pergamon Museum on Museum Island offers ancient facades rebuilt to show the power of architecture and its effect on visitors.
- Also on Museum Island, the Neues Museum’s modular display boxes were cleverly designed.
- The Reichstag, a historical parliament building, has a modern dome of glass to remind the government to be transparent.
- The Brandenburg Gate is a long-standing monument that’s witnessed many historical events and continues to represent unity.
- The Potsdamer Platz area, destroyed during WWII, now hosts the city’s most modern buildings — including the Sony Center’s futuristic glass dome that hovers, like an umbrella, over the city’s new work/life area.
- Berlin’s pedestrian yellow boxes are clever and useful: they chirp for the visually impaired, vibrate for the hearing impaired, and include a secret button underneath for a longer duration. The button itself has a raised icon that describes the type of crossing for the user.
- The reincarnation of the old Tempelhof airport into a community park, recreational area, and educational community garden keeps its historical foundation but opens the opportunity for a sustainable community. The BücherboXX is a community book-sharing booth that is brilliant.
I was so inspired by the art scene because it supports innovation, experimentation, and originality. Art and design play a deeper, more vital roll in the city’s existence because art reflects the voices of and response to a time and place. I realized that Berlin’s encouragement for innovation, and spirit of welcoming new residents became an open platform for creatives to find their own opportunities.
Have a look at my PARALLAXploration photo albums and explore Berlin with me.