Berlin, Berlin! *Part 1*

** This post, which was originally posted in another blog I previously had, is my take on Berlin during my first visit to the city back in 2013. Part 2 will be about my thoughts on Berlin upon revisiting the city three weeks ago. **

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I can’t remember when was the first time I heard about Berlin but I know exactly when I started to put it in my map. I was in my final year in university when I attended movie screenings as a part of the ‘German Week’ event called GerMANY FACES Malaysia in Universiti Sains Malaysia, Penang. It was an initiative from the German Embassy in KL to show what the country can offer to Malaysia’s ‘future leaders’. I have always been a movie buff and back then I’d never pass on a chance to watch any foreign movie for free. So when I heard that they were having some movie nights at the School of Arts, I knew that it was something for me. I went for the second night’s screening when they were showing ‘The Tunnel’ and shortly before that, we watched a documentary about how the Berlin Wall came to exist. I found myself deeply touched by the images and the stories behind it all and the rest is well, history.

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While it’s true that I was one of the many people who were drawn to Berlin by the ‘cool’ hype, which I must add the city lives up to, I realized that it’s her myriad of facets and unconventional ways that made me fall hard for her. Berlin is both old and new, posh and rugged, whimsical and edgy. One should never try to generalise and put Berliners in one, single category but in some areas in the city, it is obvious that a certain crowd dominates the hip and cool scene.

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At the moment, Berlin is perhaps the closest you can get to a hipster heaven. It is home to the artsy types from all over the world, over-run by people from all walks of life flocking the city in hope of finding their place in the creative industry that Berlin is so famed for. Hit the streets and look around, you’re bound to be seduced by the city’s cool, creative side. Most people walk around looking like they’ve just stepped out of an indie fashion magazine and while I was too poorly dressed and not quirky enough by Berlin’s standard, I didn’t feel pressured to fit in. People didn’t stare at me. People didn’t bother me. People didn’t tell me how to be myself. Berlin has grown to embrace individuality, those who seek to be their different selves, rebels and non-conformists thrive in this city. For a person who is forever in conflict with the society around her for her beliefs and way of life, being in Berlin is nothing short of liberating.

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If you want to play tourist, I can safely say that you can see all the main attractions in three days. But I have never been a fan of those quick or packaged sight-seeing ‘travels’. I simply don’t have the ability to get the satisfaction I need from the experience that way. I am a slow traveler, I’d like to take my time with a places and things. It’s a fact that is a blessing to my mental and emotional well-being but a curse to my bank account.

For the best insider’s guide to Berlin, check out Slow Travel Berlin.

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Since the very first day I stepped foot in the German capital, I had been trying to write down the reasons why I was and still am, intrigued with the city but it just never pan out. I didn’t quite get it myself why I find the city intriguing except for the very obvious reasons that Berlin is a world heavyweight when it comes to modern human history. I’ve never visited a city that have so many memorials for the dead like Berlin and yet so full of life. Bombed to rubble in the World War II, torn into two in the early 60s and became the center of the Cold War conflict before finally reunited again in the early 90s, it seems like Berlin has always hold the world’s attention for all the wrong reasons. Just like people, I guess the same goes with cities; what doesn’t kill you, only makes you stronger. In Berlin’s case, conflicts and confrontations built characters.

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Berliners create arts out of everything and on everything which makes the city a work of art that is constantly evolving. It’s a city with 3.3 million inhabitants and nine times bigger than Paris but doesn’t really feel like it is. Around one third of the city’s area is covered by parks, gardens, rivers and lakes.Unlike most metropolises all over the world, Berlin’s skyline is not graced by skyscrapers that are gloriously lit at night. The fact that skyscrapers are not the common sights in most major cities in Germany suits me well because honestly, I really don’t care for characterless, high-rise buildings. In Berlin, buildings are rarely just buildings. Most of them are now monuments or used to play parts in history of the city and the world in general.

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There’s a filmic quality to Berlin that I adore so much. Whatever that survived the Allied bombings in WWII and the division of the country to East and West Germany, add up to the characters that the city is already abundant of. I often found myself spending hours just walking around and gazed at some monuments and made up movies in my head about historical events that had taken place at those very spots.
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If Berlin is girl in a party attended by the likes of London, New York and Paris, she’ll be the one that you can spot right away because, at first glance, she doesn’t seem to fit in the picture. She’s not as hip as NY, not the It-girl like LA, doesn’t adorn herself with clothing and accessories that shout grandeur like London or romantic and elegant as Paris. She bears visible scars from her past which she doesn’t intent to conceal nor does she wants to wallow at the sight of them. Each of the scars made her who she is today. She is so effortlessly cool, she doesn’t need fame-tags. Instead of trying too hard to be the center of attention – I’m looking at you Ms. Dubai – she’ll draw your attention with her unconventional, ‘poor but sexy’ ways. Don’t let Berlin catches you staring adoringly at her though, she has ways to wear you down without you even noticing it. While she is not the most beautiful girl in the room – she may even look like a monster under wrong lightings – she’s the girl that’ll amaze you with stories of her life and the one you’ll want to stay up all night talking to.

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Berlin was not a love at first sight, it was rather an affair that developed slowly over the years.  I came to a realization that this city has indeed captured my heart when I spent my first quiet afternoon lying on the grass in front of the historic Reichstag.

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Lying there alone in a country that I’ve only managed to visit for the first time by chance, continents away from everything and everyone I know and staring at the clear, blue sky, I felt something that I haven’t felt for a very long time. It was a feeling that I can only describe as something that exists in a tiny space between pure joy and a bit of sadness. It was as if all my troubles, cares and doubts over whether or not I was where I need to be were pushed away to a part in my head that says ‘It’s okay’.

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Late summer in Berlin, 2013.

My life lacks grandeur that I’ve always fantasized about but that’s okay because it’s full of little things that make me feel truly blessed. I don’t know what’s going to happen when I leave the city but that’s okay, somehow I’ll be fine. I don’t know what to do with all the clutter and the mess that came with years of denying reality but that’s okay, time will help me decide what to throw away and what to keep. I still have so many questions but that’s okay, I don’t need to have all the answers now. There are so many things to do and I’m already late in my twenties but that’s okay, life doesn’t end with the big three-o.

It’s okay, really.

** This song always reminds me of Berlin because it was one of the hits frequently played in the German radios when I was in there in 2013.

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