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Berlin vs large cities in the US

I've never really put Berlin on my must see list but I see for some on the forum it is a must, so my question is... What makes Berlin different that a large city here in the US? What makes it feel like Germany? Is it the museums or do you find other sites that only Germany can offer. For me, to be included on my itinerary it needs to say, I'm not in the US anymore. Would I get that in Berlin or not?

Posted by
4535 posts

I've been to Berlin twice now, once recently and once just after the wall came down. I didn't like it the first time but was very impressed recently. At times it feels like a generic western city and I'd say it mostly lacks the charm of cities like Paris, Rome and London. But it has immense history. And the museums are top notch for art and archaeology. If you are looking for charming cities to stroll and hang out in cafes, then maybe Berlin is not for you. If you love art and history, for sure keep it on the list.

Posted by
150 posts

"What makes Berlin different that a large city here in the US?" I would say that Berlin's momentous impact on 20th century history makes it different from ANY city in the world!

Posted by
2193 posts

I've been to Germany several times but have not yet visited Berlin. It's on the list, however, and here's my answer to your question: I've spent lots of time in big North American cities that would make anyone's world-class list – Toronto, NY, Chicago, LA, SF, whatever. While very different in many ways, all of these share a certain culture that is uniquely identifiable to any American. Even if you've never been to Toronto before, it feels very familiar and comfortable, not "foreign" in any way. While there's certainly not going to be any far-flung feeling when in Berlin, it will definitely feel more foreign than familiar. The culture is German...German is spoken. Like Toronto, it is tops for culture – music, nightlife/clubs, restaurant scene, fashion, modern architecture, etc. Add to that all of the history – the wall, the Reichstag, Checkpoint Charlie, the museums, Brandenburg Gate, Potsdam, and much more. If you like big cities and you like Europe, it's one of the best. Others living in Germany now have been there and can validate my answer. I'll be there soon, and it's not going to feel like NY. Every place is different, but it's not going to feel all cozy and gemütlich like Munich or anywhere else in Bavaria for that matter. Happy travels.

Posted by
1976 posts

What got me as a visitor to Berlin were all the visible layers of 20th-century history. The Parliament building with the new dome, the section of Wall left standing, the cobblestones in the street that outline where the Wall used to run, the Nazi-era buildings, the replica of Checkpoint Charlie, the Soviet-era World Clock and TV tower, the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedaechtnis-Kirche and its damage from World War II that was left as a memorial.

Posted by
2 posts

Berlin is one of the greatest cities on the globe. It breathes world history that can only be experienced in Berlin. The city is unique throughout. It is the Rome of the 20th century. Imperial Germany, Liberal Weimar, Third Reich, Cold War/Berlin wall and now the new promising capital of modern Germany, maybe even the secret capital of the EU. Actually I´m a bit shocked reading questions like: "What makes Berlin different that a large city here in the US?" There is no city on the globe that fascinates the young generation as much as Berlin. Its hip, its artsy and has got everthing a city traveller could ask for. Berlin is not only a "must see" city its a "must experience" world city !

Posted by
8997 posts

"...Actually I´m a bit shocked reading questions like: "What makes Berlin different that a large city here in the US?" From a well known travel writer..." And who is this "well known" travel writer your are referring to?

Posted by
2996 posts

actually as someone from san francisco i would say that berlin does not feel uniquely german at all - aside from the history - in terms of its' modern culture. it feels very international, very hip - actually it reminds me a lot of san francisco and other U.S. cities like new york and that's why i like it so much! but it IS unique. it has this juxtaposition of this amazing 19th-20th century history with this very hip, young, trend-setting culture. it's unlike any place in germany and anyplace in the world. i love berlin. i didn't think of it as that exciting before i visited, but i think it's telling that once i did, i've returned 3 times in the same year. but no, it doesn't feel "german" in the way, say munich feels "german." it feels like berlin. it's unique within germany.

Posted by
13023 posts

Hi, Berlin is the singularly awesome city in Germany. It's cultural, historical, pulsating, exciting, diverse, vibrant in what you get to see there and what it has to offer. It has its own dialect. Just walking in the districts, Mitte, Charlottenburg, Köpenick, Zehlendorf, Karlshorst, etc. gives you the feeling of its aura. I agree with the international flavour of the cuisine one finds in Berlin, be it French, American, Turkish, Mexican, Italian, Austrian, Greek, Thai, German, Chinese, etc. Everytime I'm in Europe, I go back to Berlin, save one time. It's like a pilgrimage to my favourite city in Germany. To get that feeling that one isn't in the US anymore, don't just visit the sights in Mitte and Prenzlauer Berg. Visit the other districts, especially those which don't get the tourist numbers.

Posted by
2193 posts

Great comments. I can't wait to visit Berlin...lots of publications rank it right up there among the best in the world alongside Sydney, Cape Town, Seoul, etc. I hope Jackie decides to go.

Posted by
96 posts

This has been GREAT information! Just what I was wanting to know. Thanks to everyone!

Posted by
2779 posts

So, to summarize all of the comments above: Berlin is like a good piece of art: It polarizes, some love it, some dislike it, some might not even care about it - and a lot are crazy about it. That alone makes it a must-see because only then you will know if you like it or not. Berlin has got 3.8 million people but is twice the areal size of Paris. It's got quarters where you feel like being in a German small-town (e.g. the wine quarter SW of Bundesplatz), in other areas it still looks like Hitler's Berlin. Then there is Stalin's Berlin (Karl-Marx-Allee) and - even worse - the East German Communist Party's Berlin (Marzahn). There is 21st century European architecture (Potsdamer Platz) and there is Oranienburger Straße or Schlesisches Tor area where the youth of the world is streaming to today just like the youth of the 1960s did in London. And Berlin is one of the most affordable big cities in the Western world.

Posted by
11978 posts

I'm not really into 20th century history as much as pre-1700 but Berlin is still a must for me. Berlin has great museums, as do many US cities (few on the same level though). No US city has the history of Berlin - that goes back centuries before the rise and fall of the Third Reich.

Posted by
2 posts

Just found this piece in WSJ which sums up the current atmosphere .... http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970203471004577141353667947254.html?mod=googlenews_wsj Quote: Today, with the city's post-Berlin Wall reconstruction nearly complete in physical and emotional terms, there are signs that the wild, wicked Berlin of the 1920s has returned. The city's avant-garde art scene is flourishing; stars like Olafur Eliasson and Daniel Richter now call Berlin home. (Chinese artist Ai Weiwei accepted a post at the Berlin University of the Arts after his imprisonment last year.) World-class filmmaking has returned to the famed Studio Babelsberg; soundstages where Fritz Lang and Josef von Sternberg worked are now being used by notable subversives like the Wachowskis and Quentin Tarantino. The contemporary nightlife scene is unmatched in its enthusiasm for all-hours partying and sheer volume of venues and events--many inspired by a past golden age.

Posted by
344 posts

Hey Jackie, Very interesting question. I traveled to Berlin in the summer of 2010 and it definitely does NOT feel like an American city. Yes, many many Germans know English - but Berlin is definitely a German city. It doesn't feel like story-book Germany (aka Bavaria) but you have no problem knowing you are in Germany when you are in Berlin. It was a very valuable few days that I spent there and I walked away with more questions than answers. Here is a link to a blog post I wrote about it during my Germany/Austria trip that summer with my wife: http://caryandemily.wordpress.com/2010/07/18/the-psyche-of-a-berliner-backlogged-post/ If you do decide to go, I suggest a walking tour. The one I took was an all day affair - but it helped me see the city SO much better. Tschüss

Posted by
2829 posts

Well, any major European city is significantly different than a major US city. There is no doubt about that. If only by language, architecture and the awesome set of museums and historical monuments, it certainly is a very different place that will strike out as "this is not US anymore". Moreover, one big advantage of Berlin, IMO, is that it is probalby the only major European capital that is seeing massive undertakings in architecture and districts gaining, losing and reinventing new identities every couple years.

Posted by
5669 posts

I love Berlin. I first visited as a student when the wall was still there. It's fascinating to see the changes that have happened since 1989. The West was soooooo different from the East back then. And the changes in both parts is very intriguing. It does seem like the good part of the 20's are emerging again. I would love to go back. Pam

Posted by
565 posts

Great seeing so many positive replies! Berlin is my favorite city. Maybe because I'm a 20th century history geek. Maybe because I'm a modern architechture nut. Maybe because I'm a Progressive who likes European social programs. Maybe a mixture of all three.
Berlin just exudes coolness. It got a second chance, and just ran with it. I went for 6 days last year. I decided that wasn't enough time and I am going for 4 or 5 more this spring. I have a feeling I still won't get to do all that I want. Good thing Berlin is much less expensive than other large European cities and I can afford to do all on my list!

Posted by
31524 posts

Jackie, "What makes Berlin different that a large city here in the US?" One thing that stood out for me was the "pock marks" on the walls of some buildings from machine gun fire during the war. I just returned from the U.S. and didn't see anything like that! On a more serious note, I was in Berlin in September and to me it didn't seem at all like cities in this part of the world. I felt not only a sense of the incredible history (both prior to and including both World Wars as well as the "Soviet" era), but also the amazing modernization that seems to be ongoing at a rapid pace. The relatively new HBf (train station) is superb, an engineering marvel considering it's partially built on a "bog". I was there for almost a week, and barely had time to "scratch the surface". There seems to be lots of interesting restaurants and Bars throughout the city, good Museums, and also some "unusual attractions". Unfortunately, I didn't have a lot of time to explore the former eastern sector, which seems to be one of the most vibrant at the present time. I was staying in the area near BHf Zoo (which used to be one of the main rail stations in the city). I haven't finished "number crunching" all the details of my trip yet, but I felt that prices were quite reasonable in Berlin, somewhat cheaper than other locations in Europe. I have so much more to see, and I'm looking forward to returning in the near future. Happy travels!