An Expat in Berlin for 36 Hours

While I was backpacking alone through Europe in 2006, people kept telling me to check out Berlin. Though I originally had no intention of moving here, I was immediately enamored of the city: its energy; its fascinating, devastating history; the freedom it seemed to offer.

More to the point, unlike New York, where I had been living, Berlin seemed like a place a young aspiring writer could make a go of it. And, as a then-24-year-old, it didn’t hurt that you could drink alcohol on the streets, smoke in bars and go dancing at any time of any day.

And so I became one of the many people from the United States and elsewhere who found a home in Berlin.

I think the huge (and increasing) presence of expatriates in the city can actually be traced back to the fall of the Wall and reunification, when Berlin was completely broke, underpopulated and, for a year or so at least, virtually lawless. Housing was cheap, and it was very easy to set up, say, a techno club or a gallery or a bar in one of the many abandoned buildings in the former East. Art, music and night life flourished, and this legacy endured into the 2000s.

Other than the rising rental prices and expat surge, one of the main things that’s changed in the nine years since I moved here is that the restaurant landscape has improved immensely. Mexican food used to mean a weird meat-filled tortilla covered in hard cheese and marinara sauce. Now there are plenty of good options.

The supper club phenomenon has also really taken off. Low overhead and minimal regulation make it easy for people to start something up from home, and at places like Ernst, where we ate while filming the Travel Channel episode, you can have a truly creative, fantastic 20-course meal for less than you might pay at a mediocre midscale restaurant in another major city.

One particularly memorable dish from that meal at Ernst is a strip of speck (basically German bacon) sandwiched between two crispy, wafer-thin slices of rhubarb. It’s a dish you would be hard pressed to find anywhere else.

But beyond the food scene, today it’s a foregone conclusion that the city is a major cultural capital. It is still a relatively cheap place to live, certainly compared with cities that have comparably prolific arts scenes.

It’s a very green, bikeable city (with more bridges than Venice). And because it’s part of Germany, the wealthy powerhouse of Europe, things like social welfare and federally subsidized infrastructure spending have kept the city livable.

Add to that the global financial crisis, particularly skyrocketing youth unemployment in much of southern Europe, and it’s no surprise that people are arriving by the EasyJet-load.

Published: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/17/travel/berlin-36-hours-travel-channel.html

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