Apart from bitching about the weather, been to Berlin with on a company-sponsored trip and a mini-vacation.
This was my first time in Berlin, and I must say it was livelier and more enjoyable than any other German city I'd seen. (My experience so far had been limited to Munich, Frankfurt, Regensburg, Saarbrücken and Karlsruhe.)
A picture (or 147 of them) is worth a thousand words.
The place is a mix of rather pleasant parts of both neoclassical and post-war Vienna, the rather ugly parts (ok, they were all ugly) of Brezhnev-era St. Petersburg, Belle Époque Paris and bits and pieces of Amsterdam. It also looks like it has really nice little parks in summer.
- I don't like neoclassicism in general, and Berlin doesn't have the best examples of it.
- Kurfürstendamm is lovely. I heard it called the Champs-Élysées of Berlin, but it's closer to Saint-Germain in the 6th, or rue de Rivoli somewhere in Marais.
- Reichstag is huge. The museums are also so huge that you are afraid to go in, knowing that you'll die from exhaustion before even getting to impressionists, expressionists and whatever other sionists they have had in relatively recent times.
- In spite of that we went to the historical museum and had a good time,
- Food is better than elsewhere in Germany, and cheaper, too. They also have woodruff beer called Berliner Weisse.
- The hotels are weird. They think that twin beds need to be put together, don't have locks on toilet doors, and charge ridiculous sums for the internet. Park Inn had a delicious breakfast, and a shower with glass walls. Go figure.
- More people speak English in Berlin than elsewhere in Germany.
- The difference between the east and the west is still quite obvious for the most part.
- Neue Synagogue is much better from the outside than from the inside.
- Berlin has good pastries and really good hot chocolate. Vienna should drop on its collective knees and scream "we are not worthy"!
- The shadow of the wall is still impressive, where it was allowed to remain.
- The history seems to be a heavier burden there than in the rest of Germany.
- Pfannkuchen doesn't mean pancakes, as my father has always said, but donuts.
Woodruff beer was pretty good (if any Russians are reading this, think тархун: a different plant but a similar flavor), even if I was the only one who liked it.
Their handling of the history is a bit heavy on the Nazis, which is understandable but still, they did have other history too. The history museum is not so Nazi-flavored. I also liked it that they speak about the Jews in a sensible way, as "people who lived here and did this-and-that", not primarily as "people whom we killed, bad, bad us!"
Some coworkers asked me whether being in Berlin is emotional for me. At first I assumed they meant the wall, but they turned out to mean the Holocaust. I was sort of surprised - the Holocaust is an emotional topic for me but I'd never thought of it as a Berlin-specific thing.
The wall, on the other hand, is Berlin-specific (in the rest of East Germany they had even higher walls, that's why people preferred the one in Berlin). It was an emotional thing too, and I noticed that the question of what happened to the people who shot the fleeing easterners, and those who ordered to shoot, is rarely raised.
Interesting place. I guess I gotta come back in summer, for a longer time than now. I'd say "Ich komme", but I'd probably be misunderstood.