This train is going 251 km/hr. That's faster than I've ever gone on land, including the Top Thrill Dragster at Cedar Point.

If we’re comparing European cities that I’ve seen to American cities I may or may not have seen, and I’m not saying we are, but if we were, and if we said maybe Paris is San Francisco, Amsterdam is Vegas (which is unfair to Amsterdam, but remember, we’re not comparing these cities anyway), Rotterdam is Pittsburgh (in 20 years…), and Brussels is DC, Berlin is definitely New York. Besides Paris (which I saw under crummier circumstances), it’s the only city that, to use a trite iceberg metaphor and an awkward sentence structure, I didn’t see beyond the tip of. I didn’t even see the whole tip. If Berlin is a dartboard, I only saw the 50-point bullseye, the 9, and maybe the double-17. If Berlin is one of those donuts from Dunkin' Donuts (which abounded here, by the way…) with a little extra nub so you can hold it while you dunk it in your coffee, I just ate the nub and called it a day. If Berlin is creme brulee, I ate the crispy top.

That said, it was a tasty crispy top (“mmm… lekker!” as the Dutch would say. or “heerlijk!"). I’m not going to say Berlin exceeded all my expectations, but it exceeded the meager expectations I had before I read about how great it was. It wasn’t all communist grit (although it had some of that), Holocaust apologialia (although it had plenty of that too), and wursts with sauerkraut (surprisingly little of that).

First, I had a great time there culinarily. I had a nice lunch today of artichokes and feta fried with mushroom sauce, with noodles and awesome bread-with-tomatoes at a vegetarian cafe called “Cafe V”. (you know, like that movie, V for Vegetariendetta.) Yesterday, I awkwardly sat at the tables that I think are meant for people waiting for take-out, while everyone else ate in the nice restaurant upstairs, and ate some nice Indian food (“rogan josh”- now I know what that is) for dinner. (oh well, at least they didn’t turn me away like the first place I tried to go to. Come on, restaurant, you clearly weren’t full, and I clearly could have eaten at the bar. Plus, it’s not like you were trendy and exclusive. If you don’t like my tourist jacket, haircut that might have been rebellious in the 60’s, or, well, lack of dining companions, say so!) I had some yummy yummy spaetzle Friday night for dinner, in a quiet but German cafe whose name I don’t remember. But the best was yesterday for lunch: a hip medium-sized vietnamese place called Monsieur Vuong. It was packed at 2:30pm. But I found a seat, chose from their something-like-4 choices of food, and received a curry dish that rocked my tastebuds. You know how they say Southeast Asian food is about balancing sweet, sour, salty, and spicy? Yeah, this did. I can’t even explain the flavor, except to say it sure did have coconut milk, lemongrass, and (I think) lime leaves (among other things).

None of my awesome meals cost above EU$10, including a drink. Plus, my hostel cost EU$20 for two nights! Berlin sure is affordable. Hey, also, thanks for letting me slip the word “apologialia” past you two paragraphs go.

Second, they have neighborhoods, and that’s a thing about cool cities: neighborhoods. I’m not sure if distinct neighborhoods cause a city to be cool, or coolness causes neighborhoods, but cool cities tend to have them. I got to see about three of the neighborhoods, but I can tell you this: West and East are glitzy and gritty respectively. But not overly so! West Berlin (Charlottenburg, for example), is like New York’s Midtown. Not quite so upscale, but equally commercial. They have all the big names, from H&M to Gucci, and so I mostly stayed out of this area.

Meanwhile, Kreuzberg (in the East*) is like New York’s Lower East Side. It’s the kind of place that actually appreciates a super-cloudy day or a sunset, because the low light airbrushes over the graffiti and bits of trash in the street. It doesn’t do so well in the harsh light. Like the Lower East Side, though, it seems like you’ll find the best record shops and cheap food options there. It’s got a “counter-cultural” reputation. That’s where the Cafe V was, and also the Jewish museum. (which was cool! see photos)

Prenzlauerberg, in the northeast, would have to be Greenwich Village then, but it’s not quite as cool. Okay, I’ll confess, I went there because there’s a Beirut song named after it. (well, that’s as good a reason as any; if it’s that memorable, there must be something good about it) It was nice- it had its fair share of cool restaurants. Also, there were a lot of police cars relaxing after (apparently) a day of arresting protesters, and a spontaneous art installation (but more about that in the photos).

*okay, it was in West Berlin. But it’s geographically in the East, and it feels sort of Eastern.

Third, it have good public transportation. Now there’s a cause of coolness. It’s not The Best: a couple stations had work being done, and it’s not like Paris, where you see a metro everywhere you look. Also, some of the trains are called S-bahns and they go above ground, as opposed to U-bahns, which go underground. Sometimes U-bahns go above ground too, particularly in the East, and an above-ground U-bahn is ugly and badly-named. Minor gripes aside, it’s great public transport, and a day pass costs EU$6, which is not bad.

For the record, I forgot to mention, but Rotterdam also has great public transportation, including a two-line subway and lots of trams. Good for them! Pittsburgh, Cleveland, every city who wants to be something, are you listening?

Finally, it had street performers (a few) AND markets, two more defining characteristics of cool cities. 4 for 4, Berlin.

In the end, Berlin hits #2 on the “cities I didn’t see and I want to see again” list (after Paris), although time will tell if I actually am going to see either of those cities again. I mean, I can get to Morocco for EU$100, and my railpass has only one more trip on it… (after somewhere-in-France and the Black Forest)

On another note, if you’ve ever talked to me for any length of time, when I’m in a great mood, I’m sure I’ve gotten all starry-eyed and told you about how my life is like a movie. I used to be pretty sure it was the Truman Show. Now, I think it’s an episode of Mr. Bean. I mean, on Saturday I found myself wearing shoes that hurt my big toes because I hadn’t broken them in yet and my toenails were too long. (meanwhile, I left my nail clipper at home, despite repeatedly reminding myself to bring it, just in case) So I search all over, passing apothecaries and restaurants, but finding nowhere that would have a nail clipper. Then I found one, but I had to search for a restroom where I could clip my nails. I didn’t find one until the Pergamon Museum. So here I am, in a museum bathroom stall, clipping my toenails.

The good thing is, Mr. Bean’s life is pretty awkward, but it’s also eventful, and I’ve always idolized That Guy (or girl, to be fair) who manages to have amazing things happen to him, wherever he is. You know, like he’ll be in a restaurant on the way to a concert, strike up a conversation with some guy who happens to be the webmaster for the band, and he’ll hang out with the band afterwards. Or he’ll be hiking in the woods and wander over a ridge and just happen to see a caber tossing competition. Or whatever. And the more I do, the more I realize that that kind of stuff just happens, and all you have to do is be there, and be ready for it. The more outgoing you are, and the more languages you know, the more this will happen, and I’m pretty poor in both those categories, but that can only improve with time, eh?

Just a thought.

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