After living here for two months, I’m happy to say that Berlin is the most amazing city I’ve ever been to. Here’s why.
Beyond a certain population, it doesn’t matter how big a city is because you can find anything or anybody that you want if you look hard enough, and Berlin is well beyond that population threshold. Berlin is simultaneously massive, yet inexpensive; spread out, yet walkable; and historic, yet modern.
For just €360 ($486) a month I am able to rent a bedroom in the southern part of Kreuzburg - the neighborhood most notorious for outgoing people, lively 20-something’s, nightclubs, and spontaneous events. I am a short 20 minute walk to Mitte - the central district with a lot touristic sites, shopping, and offices, a 20 minute walk to Tempelhof - an airport that was closed down and converted into a park where people can bike, skate, and kiteboard down the runway or stop and listen to live music and drink beer while enjoying some of the most beautiful urban sunsets I’ve ever seen, or two stops on the U-Bahn (the subway system) to Neukölln - an vibrant and inexpensive Turkish neighborhood full of thrift shops and flea markets.
Berlin truly feels livable, balanced, and practical in every sense of the word. It offers:
- Air. Some of the cleanest air in Europe.
- Transit. The U-Bahn (underground train), S-Bahn (above-ground train), and bus system make getting around extremely efficient. With the exception of Tokyo, I’ve never seen a rapid transit system that is as reliable or easy to navigate.
- Balance. A great culture that embraces a healthy balance between work and life.
- Bikes. Extensive network of wide, dedicated bike paths. Almost every road has one.
- Public Spaces. Parks, playgrounds, football (soccer) fields, plazas, fleamarkets, live outdoor music, outdoor seating at most restaurants.
- Families. Everywhere you look, there are a lot of parents with strollers and kids.
- Dogs. Every day I see dozens of people walking their perfectly trained dogs without leashes - even on the U-Bahn. In fact, a lot of companies even allow them in the office.
- Safety. There is generally no need to worry about walking around alone at night.
- Centrality. You can get to almost anywhere else in Europe via plane, bus, or train within just a few hours.
Although the economy here is not especially strong and unemployment is high, people seem to be generally happy, healthy, and well educated, and the infrastructure and topology feels powerful enough to handle a growing economy. After spending eight weeks here, I feel that Berlin has an overwhelming amount of potential to be one of the top cities in the world for quality of life and livability. Settling down here seems wise regardless of whether you are a student, just-graduated 20-something, parent, or retiree. It feels appropriate for every age group.
And all while being such a livable place, it still maintains a feeling of youth, grunginess, and grassrootsism. Graffiti and artwork fill nearly every blank public surface you could imagine. Picture beaurocratic soviet-era apartment buildings covered with blossoming flowers and make-believe animals. It’s a constant reminder of the city’s past; a reminder that this is a city of people who have persisted and endured through difficult and changing times and never stopped believing in their city. It feels very much like a city that belongs to the people, and perhaps this is why it feels so special.