Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Things I found surprising about Berlin

From reading Tyler Cowen's posts on Berlin:

1. Vegetables are superb. Sometimes you can't tell which national cuisine the Asian restaurants are serving and I don't mean that as a compliment. Sri Lankan food is one of the best respites from the oppression of food preparation in Deutschland. If there is one overriding principle of German food, it is to avoid anything in a sauce.

... in Germany privacy norms and laws are quite strong and virtually everyone will grant you the right to assert privacy. If you are waiting at an ATM, you had better stand very far back, behind the person at the machine, otherwise you will hear about it. Everyone at the university keeps their office doors closed, although not for the American reason of avoiding students. The goal is to have a closed door and a private space between you and the rest of the world. German blog readers who see you in public will talk less to you than would American blog readers. "Direct mail" is considered not only a nuisance, but also a privacy violation. People work next to each other for twenty years, and it's still just "Frau Mueller," etc.

... there are many outrageous bargains in Berlin, not just my apartment? For five or six euros, you can buy an excellent spaghetti bolognese, better than almost anything in WDC or Virginia. Apartments are cheaper, you don't need a car, mineral water and good bread is cheaper, gelato is cheaper, and in most social circles you're not expected to dress extraordinarily well. I'm not sure books are cheaper but they're not outrageously priced either, even many English-language editions. It's a strange feeling to come to Europe and have most things be cheaper, which still is not the case in Paris.

The buildings don't have nearly the charm of what you would find in Paris, Rome, or much of London. There are some nice residential areas, some pretty tree-lined boulevards, some occasional 19th century (or earlier) masterworks, and scattered sleek contemporary successes, such as by Potsdamer Platz. There is lots of 1950s through 1980s mediocrity. There are nice river settings, but for the most part the city doesn't use its waterfront especially well. It's nice enough that you can tell yourself it's not ugly, which perhaps is a sign of its ugliness.
I like that it's ugly, because it keeps the city empty and cheap and it keeps away the non-serious.

Do these observations apply to Munich or Hamburg?

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