On Berlin (and Prague in Retrospect)

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Cities each have their own unique feel. An energy pulses through the streets that you get a sense of, whether or not you’re actually paying attention. Maybe I didn’t get far enough away from the touristy parts of Prague, or maybe I was so focused on adjusting to jetlag and culture shock and my looming race that I wasn’t really paying enough attention. But now that I’m leaving Berlin behind, I realize how cold Prague was by comparison.

I don’t mean temperature. Berlin has mostly been cold and rainy, and I had a hard time staying warm enough as I traipsed all over the city. But I love Berlin. I love the people, the greenery (there are parks everywhere), the easy-to-use public transportation, and the easy-going, positive energy of the place. And it’s sort of strange that’s the vibe I get from it, given the city’s heavy history.

In terms of tourism, most of the stuff we saw in Berlin was heavy: the concentration camp outside the city, the various Wall memorials, the World War II historic sites, the amazing Holocaust memorial (which is actually called the “Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe”). By yesterday, all of that History (with the capital ‘H’) was weighing on me so much that I opted to skip all the touristy stuff and just wander around. But even from my first day in Berlin, I got the feeling that it’s my kind of city. 

I can smile at people, and they smile back. There are dogs everywhere. There’s a lot of graffiti, but much of it is artistic and playful in a way that makes me happy. Prague was plagued with graffiti, but very little was fun or pretty, so it just felt angry. In Berlin, there aren’t a lot of tall buildings and even when there are, the streets are wide, so it never feels particularly claustrophobic. Although not built on a grid, Berlin’s not difficult to navigate – (I really never got lost or felt particularly turned around). This may be because the maps are actually to scale, whereas in Prague that was decidedly not the case.

Prague is beautiful and elegant and cold. I’m glad I ran my first marathon in Prague (especially because the route is pretty flat). But I don’t know that I’ll ever go back. I’ve checked it off the list and have seen much if what there is to see. The city doesn’t call to me anymore.

Berlin, on the other hand, is a place I could live. It welcomed me and struck a chord. I’ll most definitely be back someday. Maybe to run the marathon in 2015? Who knows! Will have to accrue more airline miles or get myself a real job before another trip to Europe will fit in the budget.

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