Berlin is a city which covers far too large an area for its population. It is nested in forest and surrounded by irregularly shaped lakes in unusually boring and desolate surroundings. There is nothing of note for hundreds of kilometres in every direction.
Berlin follows a roughly concentric pattern cut by huge, tree-lined boulevards. Its side streets form small, grid-based sectors of a mostly residential nature. Since the city was indiscriminately obliterated, there is a random mix of old, Soviet and modern architecture.
The television tower in the centre of the city is its blinking heart and soul. It is a concrete spire crowned by a sphere of glass which looks down on the city like an omnipotent eye. It can be used as an aid to estimate distance from the central district, but not orientation, as it appears the same from every direction. It is visible from millions of places in the city. From rooms, streets, parks and trains. It characterises every view and reminds the viewer where he is. Berlin would be incomplete without it.
Almost every apartment window in the city is the same size and shape. Each one is divided into four parts, with the bottom two sections making up two thirds of the window’s total area. One almost gets the impression it was an intentional ode to the Christian cross. In Berlin, the buildings look dilapidated and are often covered in graffiti. You might be mistaken and think certain areas are dangerous, but they are not. In Berlin there is no correlation of any statistical significance between graffiti density and safety. The insides of the buildings are renovated and everything works properly. The ceilings are high and the rooms airy. In fact, the whole city runs smoothly despite being dirty. In Berlin the streets are dirty in a clean way. Controlled chaos, is the overall impression.
The sidewalks are much wider than necessary and most of them have trees. They are paved with large concrete slabs, except for at the base of buildings, where they are paved with small cuboid stones, called setts, and at the entranceway to internal courtyards (which every building has), where they are paved with normal-sized cobblestones. This is significant, for this pattern repeats across almost the entire city, especially in the Eastern districts.
Journeys by foot are usually languid. Rushing would be futile, since the distances covered are vast. This is compounded by the buildings and sidewalks being slightly larger than usual, giving the impression of very slow urban movement, even when travelling by bike. This effect is most noticeable in Soviet-influenced areas. Public transport serves longer journeys, and consists of various modes of transport depending on the transit distance required – bus, tram, underground trains, overground trains and regional trains. Each is balanced in terms of distance and speed in such a way that almost every door-to-door journey seems to take the same amount of time – around 30 minutes.
In summer, people sit with their friends and drink in parks on patchy grass under sun that’s unusually blaring for a city so far north. People frequent openair techno parties and gaze across the Spree until the light returns after its brief nocturnal absence. Summer is short and sweet and therefore lends itself to outdoor hedonism. Once the last person has begun to take the hot days for granted, they come to an end, and winter draws in. In winter, the city’s inhabitants hide indoors, occasionally venturing outside if there is a pressing need to do so. Thick coats barely hold back the frost which seems to originate from the icy concrete itself. In spring, just as they are forgetting why they live there, the warmth returns, the trees shoot their first buds, and the city awakens from its arctic slumber. Colour returns, facial expressions relax, and people voluntarily while away their time outside once more.