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Why Putting Off a Visit to Berlin is a Huge Mistake

Where: Berlin, Germany
May 14, 2014 at 11:14 AM | by | ()

When one of our contributors visited Berlin for the first time a few years ago, he made a comment about the large number of construction sites he saw throughout the city. On my visit this past weekend, I witnessed a similar scene, cranes towering high above the buildings in almost every direction. A casual observation on the surface, for sure, yet it provides deep insight into the state of the city when investigated further.

After the fall of the Wall in November of 1989, visitors to the former East Berlin would experience what I like to refer to as nothing short of a beautiful disaster. Communism was over, and no one was really sure what that meant in terms of property ownership, government jurisdiction, and social outlook. What transpired was a heavy counter-cultural scene, one filled with squatters, street art, and modern-day speakeasies. It became known as the party capital of Europe, where everyone would go to let their hair down. You can see glimpses of the scene in the photos that follow.

Slowly, as property ownership was sorted out and the East rose from the ashes, things began to change. The millennium was approaching, and suddenly, neighborhoods began to clean themselves up. Houses received renovations, rent prices increased, and gentrification ensued. The "seedy" scene once present in all of East Berlin was pushed into select pockets outside the city center.

And the redevelopment has yet to stop, hence, the current conglomeration of cranes. Little by little, proper paint jobs, fresh siding, and tourism initiatives have covered up the signs of a once bustling underground and artistic society, separating them into the different subcultures found in Berlin today.

For some, the change is welcome and a good thing, allowing neighborhoods to become more family friendly and to provide a higher standard of living. For others, Berlin is losing everything it once stood for, everything that once made it great. Whether it's a good thing or not is up to personal preference, but there's no arguing the fact that it's changing rapidly. Compared to the 90s, it's a completely different city.

When I asked people what they loved about Berlin today, one of the most common answers was that it was always changing, that by this time next year, an area of the city could look totally different than it does today. When I asked people what concerned them about Berlin's development, the answer was the exact same: That everything's changing.

I don't think Berlin's edge will ever completely disappear, but it is getting harder to find, slowly shrinking and retreating from plain sight. This is exactly why I think it's important not to put off a trip any longer. Soon, we'll show you where you can still find the old 90s culture in the city, and in the meantime, we suggest you slide Berlin to the top of your list. The colorful alleyway you see in the above photos is no longer the norm for most of the city, and there are no guarantees about the future as the heavy redevelopment continues.

[Photos: World Pittsburgh/Will McGough]

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