I had a feeling before I got there that I wouldn't want to leave Berlin, and my intuition was right. As a part of the exchange program, we ventured to Germany's capital for five days and explored the city with wide-open eyes. Boarding the plane to return to Utrecht was the worst part, but let's talk about how I fell in love with a city.
Since it was an academic adventure, we were tasked with two assignments: an art exhibition review and a report about some facet of the creative industry. Thursday was spent focusing on the latter, while Friday was all about art. Berlin's abundance of all things creative meant there wasn't enough time to experience all of it. Two weeks wouldn't have been enough time, even if I spent all day hopping between creative venues. While that sounds a bit overwhelming, I found comfort in the fact that the city's scene is bigger than two streets and three galleries.
Two women sit in front of recently designed political commentary posters.
The variance in magnitude of the exhibitions added another level of interest to the scene. Berlin's ability to support an independent, puppet-exclusive theater that presents unorthodox shows while also exhibiting the politically powerful work of Ai Weiwei, the internationally famous Chinese artist, is impressive. The puppet show I saw was a wordless piece in which a female mannequin, donning antlers, attempts to understand the dark world around her. I will never see another show as powerful or as unusual as that one. I think I'll add "exhibit photographs in a Berlin gallery" to the list of highly-improbable goals I'm making.
"We're poor but sexy"
Berlin's mayor, Klaus Wowereit, coined that perfectly applicable phrase for a city that knows how to be attractively frugal. I'm sure you could find a way to spend a lot of money in Berlin, but it's absolutely unnecessary. Food is cheap, clothes are cheap and public transportation is cheap. As a flexi-tarian (my vegetarian diet isn't the strictest) and an avid thrifter, I felt at home shopping in secondhand stores and eating six-euro vegan meals. Even the museums were moderately priced, and the student discounts cut the price in half.
A stretch of the Pergamon Altar at the Pergamon Museum.
I'm not sure what the real estate market looks like because Berlin is booming. According to my professors, our hostel was located in an area that used to be home to young, poor students and artists, but through gentrification, it's become "yuppie-central." Prenzlauerberg was full of boutiques, international restaurants and parks/playgrounds. Foreign children are the funniest; you can't understand any of their manic shouts, and they all seem to own bicycles.
A bakery in the Prenzlauerberg neighborhood with cheap and delicious baked goods.
In a dream the night before I left, Berliners told me to leave their city because I wasn't cool enough. There were no explanations, just repeated rejection. I didn't go about asking locals if they would accept me, but most of the people seemed loads cooler than I've ever felt. Maybe I'm projecting my assumptions, but when hundreds of people opt to spend their Sunday visiting a flea market and then sitting in the park, I'd say they're pretty cool. My classmates and I joked that we needed to acquire new clothes because we felt inadequately dressed.
One of the jewelry booths at the Mauer Market.
There's also this strong sense of acceptance throughout the city. Perhaps it's the influence of history keeping prejudice at bay. All sorts of "outsiders" find their place in Berlin because the city defies the idea of outcasts.
A sign in front of a makeshift camp sign reads "No one is illegal."
I fell in love with Berlin because the community was encouraging and the people were inspiring. When you travel to a place and feel at home after five days, you never want to leave. And if you're lucky enough to experience this sensation with 14 other people, add Berlin to travel plans.
Hannah Cather is a senior in journalism and electronic media. She is spending the semester in Utrecht, Netherlands studying European culture and journalism at Hogeschool University. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.