I find the city of Berlin to be a fascinating study in contrast.
On every block you see historic buildings, some dating back as far as the 13th century. Many have been repaired or rebuilt due to damage from World War II bombings, but in resurrection have regained their historic architecture. Among these sprout modern marvels of granite, glass, and steel. The Reichstag is particularly fascinating with its preserved remains on the interior, Roman-style facade, and the stunning modern dome at the top. While the city embraces the future, great pains have obviously been taken to preserve the cultural past.
The people present another contrast. In interacting with citizens on the street, I found most to be open, friendly, and accommodating, a stark contrast to preconceived notions of German attitudes towards outsiders. I have been well-received in attempts to speak the language with shopkeepers, waiters, and people on the street.
An interesting conversation with a rickshaw driver revealed that although he is native to Germany, he feels like more of a “European” than a German per se. He commented that he enjoys spending time in France and Italy, and now sees Germany as part of a larger world community. I was somewhat intrigued to hear this more regional or global, rather than nationalistic, view. Although the man had traveled to New York City, he politely evaded comment on his thoughts about the USA, citing only his taste for American literature and foregoing any social commentary.
By contrast, when speaking with our bus driver, Fatih, he boasted a strong sense of national pride in his Turkish roots. Although a Berlin native, Fatih was adamant that he was NOT German, but Turkish, as are his parents.
I was surprised to see so much evidence of Western culture on the streets of Berlin: shops and restaurants with English names, American pop music playing in restaurants, and even a display of American classic cars and Harley Davidson motorcycles at the city center.
Overall, Berlin has been a very pleasant surprise. It is a multinational and multicultural city with strong roots in the past and a clear vision of the future.