Berlin — Surprises, challenges, and pleasant encounters
Did you have to move/relocate during the current pandemic? If yes, I hope your experience was as colorful as mine.
It’s funny now that I look back at the past year or so. It’s not been that bad. Yes, it’s been frustrating staying cooped up indoors, limiting human contact, and being germophobes. However, I feel that I’ve had it a lot better than most of the world. My lockdown period was minuscule, social interactions largely intact, sports and activities still continued after minor speedbumps. I visited four countries and relocated once.
It was all largely thanks to the small population of the Baltic states and the huge disbelief around COVID in these regions. I wouldn’t be surprised if most of the conspiracy theories surrounding the COVID pandemic originated in and around this part of the world I called home until recently. But then I had to pick up my things and move to Berlin. I’m still a bit undecided about this city and country, but here are of some of the things that caught my attention.
Same old same (c)old
I had this ver sunny vision of Berlin in my head and I was genuinely looking forward to it, after a 7 month long freezing winter in Estonia. But it surprised me how cold Berlin was. Maybe a few degrees warmer than Tallinn, but still quite nippy. Somehow I envisioned green trees, spring aromas in the air and bright sunshine all day long. Perhaps I was mistaken, or my geography just plain sucks. But I’m not losing hope. Spring is definitely in the air. After the little taste of warmth and sunshine that I got earlier this week, I’m certainly looking forward to more of those in the coming weeks and months.
I also imagined a lot more daylight. That’s again something I’ve fooled myself into believing, I guess. Berlin is only a few degrees in latitude lower than Tallinn, not far enough to show any major difference in daylight hours. But it sure is that little bit brighter and I can live with that.
Back to the big city
Tallinn is a national capital with about half a million people. It’s a very small city and yet, it had everything, and in good proximity. No place in the city was too far away. You can cover the medieval old town, the Pirita promenade, the bustling city center, most of the landmarks on foot. Traffic jams were short and rare. Cab rides to any place would cost you not more than a few Euros.
Berlin is quite the opposite. A large metropolis, with a population many times more than that of tiny Tallinn. A city steeped in history, with many landmarks that have interesting stories to tell, a multicultural cauldron with almost every race and ethnicity represented. Traffic jams could be a real thing (although they’re nonexistent in these pandemic times), there’s trash on the streets and sidewalks, and it takes some time to get from point A to point B.
However, the public transport network in Berlin is one of the best I’ve seen anywhere in the world. There’s connectivity to almost every corner of the city and it’s suburbs through an intrinsic web of subway, train, tram, and bus routes. While Tallinn offers free public transport for residents, it will cost you about 65 EUR a month to get your local commute pass in Berlin. Worth the money though.
Many a grassy knoll
It is very easy to lose yourself in nature in Estonia. A 15 min drive in any direction from Tallinn (except North, of course) will take you into wilderness. Plenty of forested land, lakes and hiking trails to explore. I did not expect Berlin to be this way obviously, being a bigger city and all.
But it came as a pleasant surprise how many parks this city has and how close it is to forest and lakes and just nature. This is something that the two cities definitely have in common. It’s one thing about the West that’s always impressed me. Despite their growth, modernization and industrialization, they’ve somehow managed to keep their green canopy more or less intact.
All the paper in the world
Living in a small, digitally advanced country definitely had me spoilt. The drastic change of how things are done here in Berlin and the pace, was a shocker. I mean, I did my taxes last year in Estonia in under a minute. Here, it took me two weeks to get my address registered. I signed all contracts and government documents digitally, using my residency card in Estonia. My German employer mailed me hard copies of my employment contract, to be manually signed and mailed back.
My bank mailed me FOUR letters (!!) within the first week of opening my account to get everything set up. I actually think that things are far more digitized even back home in India. Either digitized, or handled in person. None of this back and forth over post nonsense. Deutche Post must be really profitable, just saying. The magnitude of how paper-based this country is, hit me like a sledge hammer to my temple. Something I hope to get used to soon.
Overall it’s been a good ride. Both cities have their merits. While I can’t declate my undying love for Berlin yes, I have a feeling that we are going to have a long, fruitful relationship. The differences and challenges have added color to my life, taught me things, given me new perspectives and kept life interesting.
Note: All pictures used in this post are my own and you may not reuse them elsewhere without my permission. I’m a decent guy, just ask!