Boppin’ Around Berlin

Berlin is cool. Really cool. Melbourne-class cool. It’s a unique place, where the legacy of the divided city still informs the way things look and feel today. In recent years its coolness-to-price ratio has drawn young people from all over the world, resulting in perhaps the most culturally diverse city we’d been to on this trip. It’s all here – food fusing three continents together in one bite, all-night techno clubs housed in former factories, dozens of spoken languages… if you’re in your twenties and want to be where it’s happening, some version of that it is probably happening in Berlin.

But cool isn’t just cool for the young and up-all-night. Berlin an extraordinarily family-friendly city as well. Children are an intrinsic part of life here, not something to be walled off and put in league-sports bubbles until they reach age 18. Berlin felt like a celebration of what city life for a family could be, if only we cared enough to try. In all of our explorations through this fascinating place, we were guided by our dear friend Cate, who is perhaps the best expat tour guide around.

A canal selfie with our tour guide extraordinaire

On our first day it was stunningly hot – nearly one hundred degrees with the kind of heavy air that makes you think things might eventually cool down by Christmas. Fiona was still running a low fever, and we were coming off a heavy travel day. We wanted to just hang out outside and give Fiona something to do if she wanted to. The Berlin solution – a shaded beer garden. With a playground. I cannot express how wonderful the juxtaposition of these two things is.

Berlin being Berlin, the temperature dropped to a dreary, drizzly 60s the next morning, so we had an absolutely killer Australian-style brunch. If you want amazing breakfast, find a place that advertises Australian-style brekkie. Or just go to Australia.

What to do on a dreary day? Go to the Museum of Illusions, which was ridiculous fun. Afterwards we did our first foray on the Berlin subway system, which is manageable, logical, fast, cheap, and has an awesome mascot.

On our last day Berlin really brought out its best for us. The sun shone, the air was dry, the temperature right between Bowels of Hell and Frozen Tundra. Fiona’s fever was finally, finally gone. It was time to get on a bike. The cycling infrastructure in Berlin is leagues ahead of anywhere in the States (yes, Portland, even you). Lanes are cut into the sidewalks to separate bikes from cars, and bollards and green paint are everywhere.

But more than that, cyclists are expected to be there. And drivers aren’t angry about it. It’s like the whole society treats bicycling as an acceptable way to get around, rather than as an after-market add-on to huge roads designed to allow climate-killing tanks to move through livable spaces as fast as possible (rendering them, of course, less livable). Parents bike their kids to school. Businessmen bike to work wearing suits. Old folks bike to the bakery and take stuff home in baskets. Bikes are locked everywhere, on anything that works. It’s a combination of official infrastructure and culture. We have a long way to go.

Fiona was fever-free but we were still worried about burning her out, so we rented a bike/trailer setup and got on our way, happily riding to lunch and then to the wonder that is Templehof, the old Berlin airport that has been turned into a huge park. You can ride on the runway, along with other cyclists, unicyclers, roller bladers, and some guy on what looked like a surfboard on wheels with a sail.

We left Berlin better than we entered. Fiona was very close to her real self by our last day. My mental state had calmed down – bikes and tacos put me in a very good mood. Getting to spend such wonderful time with a great friend is priceless.

And Berlin? Berlin is just so cool.

Berlin, we love you right back

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