Berlin -- It is such a pleasure to be in Berlin in mid-summer, when the evening light lasts until nearly 11 p.m., the flowering lindens drench the streets with their aroma, and people dine and relax outside the cafes on about every street corner.
In my neighborhood, one can walk for blocks without encountering a chain-type establishment; the cafes and restaurants are local Berliner Kneipen or Turkish, Italian, French, Persian, Mediterranean, German, or a unique combination. Favorites in my immediate Kiez are Markthalle, Toscana Fraktion, Un ou Deux Chose, Cafe V; over in Kreuzkoelln (where my daughter lives), Silberloeffel; in the Graefekiez, Weinblatt.
All of these are an easy walk. No need for a car in Berlin. Anything beyond the neighborhood is quickly accessible by public transportation. From my door, the Kottbusser Tor U-Bahn is ten minutes away to the south, as is the S-Bahn to the north at Ostbahnhof. Even closer are buses M29, 140, 147, and 265. A 7-day pass for all public transportation is only 28 Euros.
Walking either direction is both a delight and a history lesson. Going toward Ostbahnhof takes one past the monumental St. Thomas church, over the site of the old Berlin Wall, across the Spree River, with its barges and tourist boats, and into the borough of Frederichshain, distinctively still East Berlin, where some of the old wall still exists.
Walking towards Kottbusser Tor, past the double spires of the nineteenth century Bethanien hospital (now an arts center), one is quickly immersed into all things Turkish -- dress, language, newspapers, groceries, cafes, sundry shops, travel agencies, a mosque, and on Tuesdays on the banks of the Landwehr Canal, the huge Turkish market. There is a sense of unease between the German and Turkish cultures, because German immigration policy has treated the Turks as guestworkers who will eventually go home to Turkey. The Turks -- about 200,000 strong -- are now in their fourth generation in the boroughs of Kreuzberg and Neukoelln. Clearly there is great resentment, and it did not help matters for Germany to have opposed entry of Turkey into the European Union. German immigration policy is not one for America to emulate.
If I could change anything, I'd prefer less Hundekot on the sidewalks (Berlin has literally tons of it -- so many dogs!) and less graffiti (some works are murals, senselessly tagged over); but given their history, these neighborhoods have always been a gritty part of Berlin and that is part of their charm. The diverse, free-growing greenery alone is a welcome respite from the unhealthy, sterile, manicured monocultures that are a noise and pesticide plague around my Maryland home. I can easily make the trade-off.
Just staying home in my Berlin neighborhood is no small delight to the senses. The church bells of St. Thomas ring across the street; in my courtyard, magpies, hooded crows, swifts, and songful blackbirds constantly entertain. I grow herbs in my garden. My neighbors are international, young, ambitious, and friendly. We love the neighborhood.