Berlin – the city they forgot to finish  

Most big cities have a trendy quarter, or more accurately a place where privileged arty types can take over and price the locals out. In Paris it’s Belleville, in London, Hoxton’s been a magnet for posers since the early 1990s and even Palma, Mallorca, has (the admittedly fantastic) Santa Catalina and its collection of arty cafes (ie ones with blackboards on the wall). But after visiting Berlin last week I can categorically say that the German capital knocks all pretenders to the cool throne into a cocked hat. Simply put, every part of Berlin is trendy – even Wedding, which looks like the Shankill Road’s rougher cousin.

It takes a while to work out the city out, but it basically follows the pattern of London: Prenzlauer Berg in the north/north east is Hoxton/Islington; Mitte is the West End/City; Unter Den Linden might as well be Piccadilly, while Kurfestendamm feels likes a scruffier version of Knightsbridge, largely thanks to the magnificent KaDeWe department store and its sumptuous food department on the sixth floor. 

As you might imagine, they’re big on the Wall in Berlin. In fact, the further in time we get away from the DDR, so the more the city celebrates the fact there was a big wall dividing the Coca Cola-drinking, Levi’s-wearing cool cats in the West, and the turnip-eaters in the East. Within five years there’ll be a musical about the Stasi or a pantomime based on Erich Honicker’s favourite interrogation methods. 

The city is, understandably, more reticent on those troublesome Nazi years, and has still failed to address what happened here up to 1945. There is no faff-about museum for the Third Reich like there is for East Germany, and the terror that was both inflicted on – and by – the people of this town 70 years ago has largely been put in a locked cupboard somewhere in the hope that no-one will ever find it. Even the slightly bewildering Holocaust Memorial is used by insensitive imbeciles as a place to run about with their kids in. 

Despite this gripe, Berlin is a brilliant city – a proper, enormous metropolis with miles and miles of suburbs and a mighty centre. It’s not pretty, doesn’t really fit together and, like Barcelona, is in danger of becoming a bit too pleased with itself. But with a huge amount of eating places, smoke-filled boozers and an iconic transport system, it has everything I like about urban living. Imagine how good it’ll be when it’s finished.

Berlin – the city they forgot to finish   Comments

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