Berlin beginnings [Emma Kennedy, Freie Universität Berlin]

Picture the scene: it’s Sunday and the streets are empty, the shops deserted and the atmosphere is calm and sleepy because everything in Germany is closed on a Sunday, right? Well, not in Berlin.

Though I have been reassured that the city is definitely quieter on a Sunday, there was an unmistakeable buzz on the day I arrived. I felt it as soon as the seamless public transport delivered my sister and I into Friedrichshain (the district I’ll be living in) with ease. Every street seemed alive with all kinds of different people and a hotchpotch of different buildings. It has a large, open feel to it, very different from the clipped and uniform streets of Edinburgh. Friedrichshain, certainly lived up to its reputation of being diverse and arty.

On that note, one of the first things that struck me about Berlin was the abundance of graffiti. It’s everywhere but it’s not the ‘Dazzo wiz ere’ variety that stains the buildings in Britain; some the graffiti here is worthy of an art gallery, lovingly inked onto the walls in a way which enhances many of the buildings and definitely doesn’t make me want to reach for a bottle of paint stripper.

I’m also seriously impressed by the beautiful warm weather here. I got off the plane wearing a jumper, a large winter coat and a thick scarf (wearing half of my clothes = two fingers up to Ryanair’s pitiful 15kg luggage limit) – I’d been warned about the bitterly cold winters in Berlin. But yesterday was mild and sunny, which made doing boring things like unpacking more bareable.

Shortly after my sister and I arrived at my new flat (4 floors up and my room has a balcony, which I was very pleased about), my flatmate took us to Flohmarkt am Mauerpark, a fleamarket around 30 mins away on the S-Bahn. It was certainly different to anything I’d ever been to before – hundreds and hundreds of stalls with people selling anything from handmade jewellery to used underwear(!). I left with a mirror, feeling very smug that I’d managed, in a mixture of German and English, to haggle the price down from 8€ to 6€, until my flatmate informed me that most things can actually be haggled down to half price or less, and I’d get the hang of this eventually. Oh well, you can’t win ’em all.

Another (somewhat obvious) observation: bikes are everywhere. People of all ages ride around the city, with bikes being given the same importance as cars on the road. It’s very different to the UK. Seeing so many bikes around the place has made me desperate to get my own, which I will hopefully be able to do once I get my bearings. I have also seen a man riding a unicycle as if it’s the most normal thing in the world, and two people who ran onto the road as the pedestrian crossing turned green and gave a mini juggling show for the waiting traffic (maybe it was circus day and nobody told me?). I got my first taste of flirting, German-style, too, as a man walked past my sister and described her to his friend as his “future wife”. Quite an original effort, I thought. No lederhosen sightings yet though, but I’ll keep my eyes peeled.

In summary, Berlin seems to be fabulous so far. The only downside: I spent my first night in the city sleeping in a sort-of bed, consisting of two camping mattresses, a coverless duvet and no pillow. I’ve now purchased a pillow, although the issue of the non-existant bed is still to be addressed. Hopefully this can be sorted out in a few days, though. Once my sister leaves, my plan is to explore, sort things out and just spend a few more days getting used to the excitement and strangeness of Berlin before classes begin on October 12th.

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