An Outsider's View on Berlin

With their cutthroat nature and many parallel lives, cities tend to take on an inaccessible, larger-the-life persona: New York is "the city that never sleeps" or Paris "the city of love." But, in the middle of all those puffed-up places, Berlin sets itself apart. With its tree-lined canals and distinct "I don't care what you think" vibe, Berlin allows you to be who you really are. Around every corner are expressions of an open lifestyle and a new type of freedom: minimalist fashion, unstigmatized tattoos and even open container day-drinking on the subway. Simply put, just down-to-earth, real.

At times, it can feel a bit bipolar when going from area-to-area. There are distinct districts, or "bezirks," with each bezirk carrying its own reputation, it's own personality. Neukoln is the place to go out, Mitte is the touristy hot-spot. Somehow despite the contrast, these clashing neighborhoods reconcile and work all together.

After a week renting a musician's fourth floor walk-up sequestered deep in Berlin's Kreuzberg-Friederichstain area, I could not help wondering how such a big city could feel so livable. Compared to the small city of Trier, Berlin was an eclectic, alive place.

On any given weekday you can find people enjoying a glass of wine or dinner outside at alfresco restaurants. Kids tottled their tricycles over cobblestones and deep green ivy over grew the local parks. Families weren't shipped out to the security of suburbia and parents seemed to still have a cool edge to them. And yet for all of this, the cost of living was remarkably low.Like most cities, Berlin is going through an uptick in pricing and a general shift towards gentrification. Apartments are becoming more expensive and harder to find, but despite this,  the costs of everyday living make Washington seem like a racket. With a bit of savvy, any expat or tourist could make their way on an easy dime.

On Saturdays and Sundays, just walking around aimlessly would mean running into one of the city's diverse "flohmarkten." These outdoor markets are farmers’ markets meet thrift shops meets garage sale. They are cheap but packed with delicious street food and bargain pricing on vintage clothes and records.

Ultimately, the key to Berlin is knowing what you want out of your experience, even if it is just exploration. Once you know that, it becomes easy to strategically explore its multiple areas and get a taste for what it really means to be a member of Berlin.