Christmas decorations in the Sony Center on Potsdamer Platz in Berlin
Overview and History Okay, where did it all start? Berlin is the capital city of Germany, with a population of around 3.5 million people.Since the thirteenth century Berlin has served as the capital of the Kingdom of Prussia, the German Empire, the Weimar Republic and the Third Reich. (Thank you wikipedia)During World War Two Berlin was heavily bombed, and at the end of the war the city was divided into East Berlin, controlled by Russia, and West Berlin which was controlled by the Allied forces (U.S., France, Britain).Cold War tensions led to the construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961, and its symbolic destruction in 1989 heralded the reunification of Germany and the opening to a new renaissance in the city.Getting ThereWell I'm glad you asked. Here's some info on the three available airports servicing Berlin.The airport is connected with busses to get to the metro system .Being that Berlin sports the largest train station in Europe, let's have a look! Here's the main station Hauptbahnhof for lunch, buying new sneakers or international rail service!TransportationThe metro in Berlin is like when Homer Simpson wakes up in the middle of the night and says,"Yes honey I'd love some pork chops right now." Except you actually get the pork chops.There's basically a ring of metro lines making a loop around the city, with spokes going into and out of the center from the perimeter. It is fast, easy to understand on your first visit, clean and cheap.A story here will illustrate nicely. Erin lost her passport. Nevermind who Erin is. As we were on our way to the airport, with the clock ticking down from forty-five minutes until departure, I casually asked,"Hey, you have your passport right?" I don't know, it just popped into my head to say that.Two seconds later we were on a metro platform tearing open both of our luggage bags cursing, and not finding any passport. And she still had that whole box of plates for her cousin's wedding present to pick up from a locker in the train station, lord help us all! Pass the ammunition. I recoiled from visions of deadly disaster.We came up with a plan where she'd keep going to the airport and searching her purse again on the way, and I'd take a train back the opposite direction and look for the passport in the flat where we'd couchsurfed.So we both rode around on trains for an hour, sweating and texting like mad fiends, and in the end I found it on the floor of our friend's flat. It was stashed for some ungodly reason inside an empty cardboard contact lens box all by itself in the stark middle of the floor. I made it back to the airport in time to hand it to her in line at the customs counter.Miraculous! We jumped for joy and cried hot and salty tears of thanks to the Berlin Metro. What's it called again? U-bahn. So nice. If I was a baby train I would want to be born in Berlin.Click here if you just need somewhere to click for fulfillment, or if you want to print out the Berlin metro map for your bathroom wall, home altar to the gods, target practice etc.People and CultureBerlin! Berlin! Berlin! Go there right now, and if you're under forty you will consider not leaving. There are all kinds of people here and great late night food options.Outside the train stations there are bike racks filled up with dozens of bikes, a thicket of bikes, like a breeding ground of bikes waiting to be plucked ripe and ridden on Berlin's flat smooth paths. I mean they are serious about biking here, you will be fined 100 EUR for riding at night without lights, there's even a white stripe down the no-pedestrians bike lane.. it's no joke! Here's more on Berlin biking.I wasn't there for very long but it did seem that a lot of people were speaking German... okay seriously Berlin is a tech-ish city with a weird economy right now. It's cheap to live there but hard to find a job, especially for non-EU people.These are the rumors: Everybody's an artist, the techno will mash your head into pixels seven nights a week, moving to Berlin is the 1920's Paris of the new millenium, etc. I don't know. Go see for yourself and let me know what happened later.For local info on events and "stuff that doesn't suck", grab an issue of Provokator, a Berlin-Prague magazine on venues and all things of interest which occur in them.Things to do & RecommendationsFirst of all, run and don't walk to Tresor for hard techno inside a hard building with bass cabinets that will punch your friggin' chest cavity out. Tresor is a legendary record label now with a re-opened club to represent their artists and sound. bla bla bla just go there and put up the pics on facebook.Tacheles is recommendation #2 for you. Overtake an abandoned shopping mall building in a previous war zone, renovate it into artists' studios and fill up the courtyard with junk sculpture and you can have your very own Tachales. Please forgive this micro-condensed bat-brained attempt at describing something so loving, cool, open, amazing, awesome and resurrecting of the spirit of Art. Not Art. Art that explodes "Art". ok?Number Three, take a bike tour with Fat Tire Bikes. It's worth it for the history alone, and the route and views add grit to the gravy. What does that mean? It means Berlin has a dark vibe overall, it's a very heavy place for anyone with psychic sensitivity and when you visit you will see for yourself. A lot of people died here during World War Two and the repercussions linger.That is not a negative review, by the way. Berlin is bursting with life and art, music food people and everything cool. The setting on which it is built seems like motivation for these to expand more fully, not any sort of detractor from them. Just so that's said. Take a walk around Kreuzberg to see what's happening in the scene.Text by Steve Smith.