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Sunday marked the end of my first month in Berlin. Whenever anyone from England asks how long I’ve been in the city and I reply ‘Oh, a month or so’ they seem amazed- the response is always the same. ‘You must know the city really well by now!’ Of course by British standards, four weeks is long enough to get to know a city. Long enough to scope out the clubs and bars, find decent restaurants, replenish your wardrobe. But Berlin? A month doesn’t even come close. Increasingly I get the feeling this achingly cool metropolis is somewhere you could live your whole life and never quite figure out, but that doesn’t seem to matter. You don’t have to know Berlin like the back of your hand to live there. There’s a lot I’m yet to learn about Berlin, but from where I’m standing, it’s easy to see why misfit pilgrims have flocked here in droves for decades, from Isherwood and Auden to Bowie and the Ramones.
Dive bars based around group games of ping pong, open air swimming pools on converted barges, karaoke in front of crowds of hundreds in a park. No one bats an eyelid in Berlin. Whoever said the Germans don’t have a sense of humour? There’s something new opening up every week; galleries in squats, theme restaurants. Back to basics, good beer and good food are not only readily available but cheap, and whilst the only Topshop in the city is overpriced and tiny, it’s hard to miss the British high street when you’re surrounded by so many affordable independent designers in one of the world’s fashion capitals.
On to the legendary night life, based in disused factories and smoky basements covered top to bottom in graffiti. The clubs are shrouded in secrecy, with towering Eastern European bouncers who take one look and you and give you a nod or a shake of their head, sealing your fate without so much as a second glance. Come in a group of more than three and there’s little chance you’ll make it as far as bag check. Yet despite the rigmarole of actually getting into a club, the environment inside seems so different from the sweaty sardine cans I’m familiar with. Less people means more room to dance away to the pounding house and techno Berlin favours. Alcohol etiquette is very different; particularly to say drinking on the streets is an acceptable social pastime. You don’t see droves of people staggering out of clubs drunk, men picking fights in the streets and girls walking barefoot cradling their heels in their arms (heels in clubs altogether seems to be a very rare sight). When Berliners party, they party hard, but they do it with a certain effortlessness that shows just how much we still have to learn.
Do I miss Leeds? I miss my friends, all currently lamenting dissertation deadlines whilst I sip weissbier and try to not look smug over Skype. I miss the Hyde Park Picture House and I miss M&S; buying tights in a foreign country is an ordeal I was never prepared for by my ‘Get Ready to Go’ guide. But I wouldn’t trade Berlin for the world. I’ve met fantastic people from all over the world, bonded over kebab shops and photo booths, and done more in four weeks than I did all of second year. University doesn’t even begin for another month, though my intensive language course has taught me many things, perhaps the most useful being ‘Ich verstehe das nicht. Kannst du wiederholen?’ (I do not understand. Can you repeat?)
Berlin is surreal, slightly unhinged, and certainly not for the faint of heart, but I’m here, and I’m happy to say I’m loving every bloody minute of it.