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It is truly easier on the streets of Berlin to buy a bottle of beer than one of water. And no matter what time of day it is, you'll observe someone sipping a cold one, not a care in the world.

I've heard Berlin described as New York City circa 1985. But I could hardly believe New York ever being so safe from its intoxicated citizens — with beer everywhere, cheaper than soda, no way! There is a calm to Berlin very foreign to me, and to most Americans, I'd say.

The sidewalks reveal cracks in my own culture as I inspect the cleanliness of Berlin's biker-friendly pathways. Glass bottles collect neatly in their proper recycling bins: dark, green, clear. Under its cultural influence, I learn to recycle every few blocks, every day, all day, as I explore this city and all the booming evidence of its rebirth.

It was heavily bombed and left for dead in 1943, but today the Kaiser Wilhelm Church lives on as a memorial, and reminder, for all to see. The damaged spire of the old church serves as a beacon. Patrons walking in and out of shops and restaurants look up, only to be caught in a time warp. Turn the corner and it’s there. Walk out of the KaDeWe, an eight-story luxury mall, and it's there. Signaling. Testifying.

Under a forgiving morning sky, I stumble out onto the street to hunt my first cup of Starbucks. It's 8 a.m. and the first shop I come across is still not open for business. Not perturbed in the least. Granted, it's a Monday morning, but maybe this Starbucks is new and understaffed. I trek down a few more blocks to another. Again, closed. Nothing is open.

Mornings before 9 a.m., Berlin is a ghost town. This culture: so weird.

Walking back, I see the latest “BERKELEY” print Superman-ed across a young girl's sweater. It’s her turn. I never did the backpacking thing when I was in college, but I've heard the stories and so I wanted to see them made in real time.

My buddy and I stay at the Circus Hostel. Bunk beds, sometimes five sets to a room, are shared with complete strangers visiting from different parts of the globe. We drink wine with a couple from Bolivia, speak of hot spots with a dude from London, and tiptoe around our flip-flopped sleeping schedules with a family from Spain.

Maybe because Canada is our genial neighbor to the north, our friendliest encounter is with two students from the land of the loonie (that's what they call their currency, really). We hit the Circus Bar, where, every night at 8, they roll out a keg of beer free for all until it's gone. We drink, them telling us where they've been and where they will go. We drink some more. Loose enough now to toss out our points of view in a friendly little joust, we go back and forth defending and criticizing each other's position.

Berlin is a hub of ideas. So many extremes played out in such a small space of time. We continue to drink and drink until we are all gone.

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bearcat April 7, 2011 @ 9:29 a.m.

Great article! This makes me wish I had made time for a stop in Berlin during my own eurotrip.


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