Alice-Azania Jarvis: Berlin is the best and it's cheaper than you think
In The Red
Alice Jolly is an author, playwrite and teaches creative writing at Oxford University. She is crowd-funding her own memoir of infertility and surrogacy with the publisher Unbound. 50 per cent of the proceeds of the book will be donated to SANDS (The Stillbirth and Neonatal Death Foundation).
Saturday 19 November 2011
Ah Berlin. It was fabulous, as expected. And affordable, as expected. Perhaps not quite as affordable as I might have hoped – but still, for my first ever mini-break, it wasn't bad at all. There are all sorts of reasons why Berlin is my favourite city in the world (well, favourite bar New York, where I worked for five months once, and which I fell utterly in love with). It isn't crowded in the way that London is. There's not the mad rush on the underground or the hustle for space on the pavement. In this respect – and in others – it is a uniquely civilised place. Calm, picturesque, abidingly liveable.
The old cliché of things working, trains running on time, streets being clean, still rings true – though whether that's down to some innate Bavarian impulse or, more likely, the combination of space and good governance, isn't clear. Whatever, the outcome is a pleasant one. Come nightfall, there's not the feeling of squalor that takes over London's streets. It's also bohemian in a way that such efficiency can sometimes preclude. The fashion capital of Germany may be Düsseldorf, but Berlin is not short of the avant-garde. In clothes, in art, in architecture, in its café culture and excellent restaurants, Berlin demonstrates the kind of casual good taste more often associated with Paris or Rome.
It's also green. The greenest city in Europe, apparently. Maybe that's why I didn't spot a single teenager loitering on the street corner. There's no shortage of parks and playgrounds. Everyone cycles everywhere. And they don't risk life or limb for it, since there are cycle lanes on virtually every pavement.
But most importantly, it is affordable. Not just because of the exchange rate – because life in Berlin, no matter what currency you're using, is affordable. As an underpopulated city, there are plenty of flats lying empty. Of course, that can only mean one thing: property is cheap. Or, if not quite cheap, then at least much more manageable than over here. Rent costs a fraction of what it would in the UK. It's not the only thing. Like so many European countries, wine is cheap too. As is coffee and good food. And, given that everyone cycles everywhere, there's little need for transport – but when there is that's cheap and efficient too.
Back in London, my wallet feels suddenly tight. But for four days of living, Berlin-style, it's worth it.
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