I had been to Berlin once before on a connection home from Stockholm. I had 14 hours to see and do as much as I could, so after immediately checking into the Waldorf Astoria, which I had just booked the night before after canceling my hostel reservation (it had been a long trip and I wanted to end it comfortably), I mapped out the nearest H&M, because my retail therapy needs were kicking in, and I grabbed my first beer. I met up with a local friend after trying on all my new clothes and after drinking all the mini scotch bottles I brought with me. I often travel with mini bottles as they can pass through security and you just never know when you may need a drink. My friend took me to the train and after what seemed to be several transfers and connections, we walked and walked and ended up spending the evening watching a recorded episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race in a dark room filled with chairs, smoke, and alcohol. Yes, that’s how I first saw Berlin. I somehow managed to get home that night, shelling out for a taxi, and slept about two hours in the hotel, before dropping more cash on another taxi to the airport to catch a flight at an ungodly hour. My 14 hours was most definitely not a proper trip, and it left me wanting more. In the short time I was there, I saw graffiti, lots of beer everywhere, and felt a sense of familiarity.
Having lived in San Francisco and now currently residing in Brooklyn, it was easy to understand why I felt such a draw to Berlin. Beyond all the history the city has encountered over the past century, Berlin is now a city that doesn’t hide its past, but has now transformed into a city that incorporates the best artistic qualities of cities like San Francisco, New York, and even Melbourne. It encompasses the young spirits of the free-minded and although it’s most likely doomed to a looming gentrification, the same downfall of the cities I compare it to, for now, it’s disgustingly cheap if you do it right. Don’t get me wrong, there are expensive shops, fascinating culinary experiences, and lots of ways to spend money, but for me, grabbing a beer for a buck and walking around the different neighborhoods is more of a way to really explore Berlin.
So the three B’s: Beer, Bikes, and Black. Those three B’s are the easiest way for me to describe how to understand what the city is all about. I came back for a long weekend, just about two weeks short of their Folsom Festival and exactly during their biggest consumer electronics convention — obvious bad planning on my part. To do my best to fit in, the first step was to always have a beer in hand. I’m not quite sure of the liquor laws in Berlin, but from the looks of it, carrying an open beer around is not frowned upon; in fact, it’s kind of the norm. Beer is about a buck and some change when purchased outside of a bar, and drinking with friends in parks or just on the street, before hitting the bars, is a favorite pastime, one that I quickly adapted to. Liquor in bars can be a bit more pricey, so sticking to beers can take some adjustment, but I figured that by walking and drinking at all times, I was burning those beer calories.
As for the next B; bikes. Bicyclists are everywhere, and they rule the road. They even have their own special lane on most sidewalks. If at anytime you are confused as to which side to walk on, you will quickly find out when someone runs you down. Bikes are locked up on every fence, pole and bench throughout the city. It’s a wonder to me how people remember which bike is theirs when they are parked within a sea of cycles, but the important note to take from this is that bikes take priority on the street over anyone and everything — even baby strollers, unless said stroller is attached to a bike.
And as for the last B; black. Berlin has always been known for its edgy street style, which is reflected in the dress of almost everyone who lives there. When in doubt as in what to wear in Berlin, turn to black. Black will always be your best option for blending in. The more your overthink your outfit, the less likely you are to be welcomed in to the cool kids table. The “I just grabbed whatever I could find and don’t care” look is definitely more of the way to go.
With my suitcase full of black and my belly full of beer, it was time to depart once again. I felt I had conquered the city, at least in my head. I went to government building tours, history and art museums, some gay bars, some really good gay bars (you know, the ones with the dark rooms), leather shops, bakeries, and even managed to use public transit 75 percent of the time. Oh, I also took part in adding a little of my own art to a piece of a wall, you know, that wall.
How To Get There:
AirBerlin. There are flights from Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, Miami and Fort Meyers (which I don’t really understand, but whatever, there’s an extra option for Floridians). The airline is newer, less formal than it’s major competitor, affordable, but best of all, they give you these really yummy chocolate hearts as you are exiting the airplane, and as silly that may sound, it’s a nice touch I always look forward to when I fly them. The economy class serves good food, when compared to economy class meals. When flying home to the U.S., they offer “A Taste of the USA” menu. On my most recent flight home, the chicken was accented with a jalapeño marinade (because Latin spice is very American), and of course, a brownie. At least it wasn’t a McDonald’s hamburger with fries. The one time I was somehow accidentally upgraded (it wasn’t really an accident), I experienced the new lay-flat business class, which is just like any other lay-flat business class…perfect. Those spoils aren’t for everyone, but for those who can, being able to comfortably sleep on a transcontinental flight is the closest possible experience to heaven, while on an airplane.
Where To Stay:
The new 25 Hours Hotel Bikini in Berlin is a perfect example of creative design meeting hospitality. The casual lobby with an array of hammocks gives a sense of an extreme chill attitude. Located in the City West, next to the Berlin Zoo, it’s centrally located to all forms of public transit. The top floor, with a 360° view from the rooftop terrace of the city and a zoo, is one of many reasons guests who stay here. But for an even more unique experience that takes one completely out of the normal hotel realm, the cities newest fad is quickly providing what private home rentals just can't, hotel service in a home environment. Located in the trendy Mitte district, a brand-new apartment rental concept, Gorki Apartments, offers 34 individually designed apartments as well as two luxury penthouses. Or, for the most budget friendly option, and to be right in the heart of the fetish neighborhood, the Mercur Hotel Berlin Zentrum is a three-star corner hotel that has everything you would need for a cost-saving stay, including at least eight gay bars within blocks.