Travelling Slow in Berlin
A local's eye view from Berlin resident Paul Sullivan, who tells us: "Just slow down"Featured June 12 Words by Paul Sullivan
WHILE OUT WANDERING the streets of my city, I see hundreds of tourists. Camera in one hand, guidebook in the other, they pose in front of monuments, ticking off the must- sees - the Brandenburg Gate, the Holocaust Memorial, the Wall - not stopping to look around in the rush to get through the list before their 48 or 72 hours are up.
Returning home, they must be knackered. I imagine them flicking through their photos - happy to have been there, done that, got the T-shirt - when, in fact, they haven't actually scraped below the surface.
Places are like people. They have characters that expand in unexpected ways, challenging our preconceptions as we interact with them. And Slow Travel - taking time over travel to enrich the experience - means looking around and embracing the real life of a place rather than accepting the offerings of modern tourism. By meandering and lingering, one can enjoy the details, instead of blurring right past them.
How does that concept apply to Berlin? Well, although it has a reputation as a buzzy, creative, party destination, much of the city's intense, multi-layered history is hidden. Sure, you can see the East Side Gallery and the Reichstag on a whistle-stop tour, but it will reveal itself better when taken slow.
Public transport makes it easy to get to the urban fringes and their fascinating sights, like the Hohenschönhausen Stasi prison, which was hidden from the public during the GDR era, or Sachsenhausen, one of the prototypes for the Nazi concentration camps.
Take advantage of the flat terrain and rent a bicycle or just walk. This way you get to pop your head into unrefurbished courtyards still riddled with bullet holes, or discover one of the small art galleries and independent cafés.
Slow is synonymous with local, and supporting neighbourhood businesses is an authentic way to interact with the city.
Projects such as opendoorsberlin.de and plusoneberlin.com can help you bunk down for the night at the houses of real Berliners, or why not try Dinner Exchange Berlin (dinnerexchangeberlin.wordpress.com), a supper club that works as a meeting point for visitors and locals alike? Then there are websites like spottedbylocals.com that provide real insights into everything from great parks and nightlife, to cafes and shopping.
So, the next time you're in a new place, instead of a guidebook, ask a local where you should go. Walk away from the beaten track. You might not know where you're going, but you will be rewarded.
Paul Sullivan is a Berlin-based author, journalist and photographer and the founder of slowtravelberlin.com