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Leaving Berlin…

Astricon Europe has left Berlin and is now heading to Paris. This was my first trip to Berlin, and I managed to squeeze in a little time for sight seeing, between business meetings. Berlin is a fascinating place – a city of many contrasts.

There’s the east and the west. Even though the wall came down 20 years ago, evidence of the communist GDR still exists. There are lines of brick in the road to show where it was. There are carefully preserved pieces of the wall in different places as well. More subtley, there is a booming construction business in the former no-mans land. Massive, and beautiful, examples of modern architecture are everywhere. Expensive high end shops line the streets. Where once there was a poor oppressed people laboring under a communist regime, capitalism has taken hold with a vengeance. Perhaps the ultimate rejection of their communist past is that GDR President Erich Honecker’s former offices are now a privately owned business college, churning out MBAs, teaching capitalism to Germany’s most ambitious young people.

There are cultural contrasts. Everywhere you look there are young muslim women, laughing and joking with each other on the train, or pushing a pram in the park. These young women wear brightly colored hijab or chador’s, some adorned with sequence, and fashionable jeans, shoes and other garments. They seem to have both retained their cultural identities and joined German society. This isn’t a story that’s told in North American papers. All we hear of is the conflict. Sometimes the cultural juxtapositions don’t work. For instance, if you travel to Berlin avoid the latest rage – currywurst. It’s a wiener served with regrettably poor “curry” sauce. Mine tasted more like ketchup than curry.

There are the very conservative and the very unconventional. For instance, Berlin has over 400 museums, many of which house fabulous treasures – antiquities, priceless examples of turn of the century technology and so on. There’s also the Beata Uhse Museum of Erotica. There are conservative german businessmen wearing suits. And, at one hacker bar we went to one night, C-Base, there were a number of young german men wearing skirts.

The city itself is leafy and green, with wide boulevards, street cafes, and bike lanes everywhere. Berliners use these facilities! They use public transit to get everywhere. They have a fabulous network of trains, subways and buses, many of which run 24 hours a day. They walk, or bicycle to places that the public transit doesn’t go. And speaking of bicycles, it’s quite alright to bring your bike onto the train, so you have it when you get to your final destination. In fact, it’s quite alright to bring your dog on the train too!

I loved it, and I’d go again.

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