Ask any Aussie 20-something who’s ‘done Europe’ where they’d return to and I guarantee they’ll say Berlin. I mean, they might say Prague or Paris or something (I’m not a mind reader) but definitely if pressed for a top 5, Berlin’ll be up there.
Berlin ticks all the boxes: more exotic than London but not so culturally different as to be alienating; as hip as the Scandi cities but not so prohibitively expensive; history and museum rich but not so overwhelming as the lasagne-jumble that is Rome; as architecturally beautiful and imposing as Paris and Vienna but not quite so strait-laced. It is both exciting and accessible; we want to race around Berlin as tourists, but we can also see ourselves setting up shop there for a moderate-to-long stint (cruising around on a 3-speed, attending cool gallery openings, experimenting with winged eyeliner…)
There was a storybook quality to the next leg of our journey. From Cologne we nipped in to Frankfurt, then travelled down to Bavaria which was charming and adorably picturesque.
Frankfurt’s Römerberg (old town square) is typically cute; edged with half-timbered houses, the three-peaked medieval Römer (which has served as the Rathaus for over 600 years) and traditional restaurants offering up Seussian lunches of 4 cold boiled egg halves in green sauce (appaz Goethe’s fave) and pancake soup (which I was sad to learn is not chunks of pancake in a bowl of maple syrup).
Beyond this nugget of old-timey goodness, however, Frankfurt seemed much like any other reasonably large city. The word “liveable” springs to mind; great for residents, not exactly a glowing endorsement for the adventure-seeking traveller. The fifth largest city in Germany and a commercial hub, Frankfurt plays host to something like 60 000 conventions each year (a figure which sounds kind of unreasonable but is too boring to warrant verifying) so is full of staid hotels and business centres. There must have been some kind of Comic Con on while we there because there were a lot of warlocks and unicorns about the traps, and I’m assuming (praying) that Bronies et al remain a contained subculture.
Arriving in Germany after almost 3 weeks in Spain was like entering a different world. Spain was so hot, so colourful and so busy (basically a kaleidoscopic incubator); Germany by contrast was so temperate and sedate. From towering over the petite sparrow-boned Spaniards, I suddenly found myself dwarfed by German giants. I felt like Alice in Wonderland; shrinking down to miniature with my first bite of apfel streusel cake.
Seriously, the change was notable. I don’t want to draw gross stereotypes, but every. single. person. we met in Cologne was tall, blonde and jolly. Where the Spanish zapaterias were crammed with spindly stilettos capable only of supporting 5 ft nothing minikins, the German schuhgeschäfte were lined with sturdy boots and oxfords. No need for extra height; these were all about the orthopaedic support, baby (in other words, my wheelhouse). The clothing was also super practical; where the crowds in Spain were decked out in lace crop tops, the German sheep were in Jack Wolfskin.