It’s hard to imagine Berlin — West Berlin — as an island hemmed in by the Wall until 1989. Walls are futile and this one ridiculous, keeping Westerners in, and, if anything, inspiring an even more “debauched”, creative society than the one that Soviet propaganda purported it to be. Perhaps it’s because of this history, the characters past and present who inhabit the space, and the clever city planners who masterminded the unified Berlin that it is one of the most exciting and functional cosmopolitain metropolises I’ve visited, besides Tokyo.
There is good reason for Tokyo’s continued rating as the world’s most livable city (based on Monocle’s quality of life survey). Berlin tied with Munich in third place last year, which is proof that the German authorities are doing something right. Berlin is not a conversationally beautiful city, but as one of the most multi-cultural in Europe — more than half of its residents aren’t native Berliners — it is Berlin’s engaged citizens who add character to its neighborhoods and abundant public spaces. The city is flat and the distances between central neighbourhoods are quite manageable. On my recent visit, under the guidance of Berlin-based artist Olaf Hajek, I happily explored on foot.
Many of the main attractions were a few steps or comfortable walk away from my accommodation at the luxurious Hotel Adlon Kempinski overlooking the Brandenburg Gates. On the doorstep is the forested Tiergarten — one of the biggest city parks in the world — and the contemplative sculptural maze of the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe.