Dylan Jones: If you ask me

Click to follow
The Independent Online

If you ask me Berlin is very much a work in progress. The pace of transition since reunification has been slower than you think, and there are so many building sites here the city still feels on the cusp of radical change, like Shanghai, or Dubai.

But here the past surrounds you like a shroud, and while no trip would be complete without a visit to the Holocaust memorial – a deliberately disorienting maze of 2,700 undulating concrete tombs – nor should you miss the Reichstag, rebuilt almost in its entirety by Norman Foster, and possibly the most impressive modern building in Germany (tip: because parliament sits here in full view of the electorate, security means the queues are ridiculously long, so book a table at the roof garden restaurant and walk down afterwards).

In Berlin, the broken, deserted Trabants are long gone, but the sense of romantic desolation remains. So strong is the sense of nostalgia, so powerful the feeling that Berlin is still removed from the outside world, that it's possible to remove yourself completely – my own private pop promo was inspired by the records that Bowie and Iggy made here over 30 years ago.

The air of decadence is stronger here than anywhere in Europe. Berlin is a 24-hour party, and you can turn up any time you like. There are no licensing laws here, none at all – which is just as well, because when you're a website designer, working practices are meaningless. People meet (and drink, and smoke, a lot) in banks now, and in particular the Hotel de Rome, a vast late-19th-century bank in East Berlin. It's in Mitte ("Middle"), the city's re-emerging financial district, which was marginalised by the Wall until its fall in 1989, where at night you can hang out with the aspirational haircuts and nu-wave clubbers stepping out in their Hugo peacoats among the grand buildings and retail spaces that don't seem to know if they're cafés, art galleries or shops.

The bohemia is still authentic, too, and when the multinationals decided to move their manufacturing abroad, where it's cheaper, residential property fell through its own floor. Where it remains. Klaus Wowereit, Berlin's party-loving Social Democrat mayor, says his city is "poor ... but the place to be".

Life is not cheap here, but living is.

Dylan Jones is the editor of 'GQ'

Comments