Everything You Never Knew You Wanted to Know About Berlin


Hans Baluschek "Großstadtbahnhof"

Hans Baluschek “Großstadtbahnhof”

Last weekend I had to go to Poland again. In Szczecin (former Stettin) my parents were waiting to see me and to pick up a parcel I brought them. The journey made me happy on two accounts: first, once you have children, you rarely see your parents on your own. And it is a good thing to do so now and then – if only to remind yourself that although mildly disappointed with life, slightly stiffer of joint and perhaps even middle-aged, for someone in this world you are still wearing pig-tails and are trying to watch the forbidden TV crime theatre from your hide-out under the table past 8 PM.

The second reason why the trip to Szczecin was such a joy was the return. Few things in life are better than the feeling you get when after being away, you are finally coming home again. And if you live in a place like Berlin, that feeling might overcome you after just one day of absence. It´s true.

So I was sitting on the train to Berlin Hauptbahnhof and as the world outside was getting more and more blurred behind the curtain of cold drizzle, I was reading a tiny book I´d just bought and had delivered the day before: written in 1921 by Adolf Heilborn Die Reise Nach Berlin.

When I looked up and saw the gray Mietskasernen (large, multi-courtyard tenement houses typical of the 19th century Berlin) of Wedding and East Berlin, I couldn´t help it but smile. For here´s what I had just read:

And I think about how my heart would still beat faster every time I return to Berlin. How blessed I felt as a child when after four weeks of holidays I finally saw the tall houses of East Berlin from the train, the Mietskasernen, yes, the gray Mietskasernen of my home town, Berlin. How I had to clench my teeth when already as a man I returned after the long months abroad.

How tears rolled down my face when in December ´18, back from France, the bloody murder, the whole hardship and restlessness, dethroned, I saw the first houses of Berlin, at night, in the moonlight.

And suddenly I understood what a philosopher my old friend Schellenbogen was when every summer he packed his bags and travelled from Berlin… to Berlin.

It was at Potsdamer Platz – which brings us back to the start again – that he leaned out of his horse-pulled cab and called to the coachman: “I have changed my mind, take me to Hohen Steinweg, please!” And it was at the old, cosy hotel there that Schellenbogen spent his summer holidays each year and it was from here that he set off on his Berlin journeys of discovery.

92 years later and many Berliners – whether born and bred or enchanted upon arrival – still feel the same way.


  1. Berlioz
    Dec 3, 2013

    I agree with your story and the extract from the book. I feel like that when I travel to Berlin. I actually prefer arriving by train. The arrival is slowed down to a human scale. First one sees the outlying suburbs and slowly the buildings becoming taller. One recognises certain buildings or vistas. The Funkturm greets and one can look into the windows close to the Stadtbahn. When I see the first S-Bahn my hearts jumps with joy. Coming by plane is only have the fun. There is not enough time to recognise anything or savour the view. Here and there a few lakes and river and then suddenly Tegel. It used to be different with Tempelhof. The DC 3 swooped slowly over Friedenau or on the otherside, Neuköln. And then when you come out of the station or airport and see the first big, yellow double decker bus, you know you are in Berlin. The city swallows you up again, whole heartedly. 🙂

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