If you recall from earlier in the month, PT contributor James Bligh and wife Errin were on a glorious tour of Europe. We pick up with them again, this time in Germany, where they found themselves asking, “Is Berlin the Toronto of Germany?”

Speaking with Germans and Austrians prior to landing, they heard some familiar refrains: “Berliners are smug”, “It’s dirty there”, and, “Why visit Berlin when you could go somewhere more picturesque and relaxed, like Munich?” As the days progressed, James and Errin heard more parallels between Berlin and Toronto:

  • Berlin has “hard” drinking water. Some Vancouverites would find Berlin’s repugnant-yet-potable water a reminder of Ontario, though James admits to having been spoiled by Vancouver tap water, arguably one of the region’s greatest assets.
  • Berlin has cold winters and hot muggy summers, which seem to map cleanly over Toronto’s two seasons, winter and construction. In fact, James and Errin missed a lot of Berlin due to summer construction: the Neue Nationalgalerie, the Pergamon, the Berlin Palace, the AEG Turbine Factory, and an otherwise conveniently-located rapid transit station.
  • It’s hard to meet a “true” Berliner, born and raised in the city; only 1 in 4 Berliners were born in the city, and about half of Toronto’s population was born outside of the country. Homegrown Berliners are known as “unicorns”.

With that in mind, we move to the photo tour of Berlin, and more of these “centre of the universe” -style parallels.

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Urbanist Abroad @j.bligh's Backpacking – Berlin: "The limited bicycle lane separation felt frighteningly dangerous. As someone with several near-death experiences from cycling on Toronto's College and Bloor streets, the Berlin bikeways made me very anxious. Pictured: a bike lane with no separation to the pedestrian sidewalk. Unlike College and Bloor, which do not physically separate cyclists from cars, the lane in this image does not physically separate cyclists from pedestrians. While I applaud protecting this bike lane from cars, Errin and I (being the bumbling tourists we are) were nearly scraped by speeding bikes over half a dozen times as we continued to forget that the different paving patterns on the ground are intended to delineate where we should be walking. We began to remind ourselves that sidewalk areas with red brick pavers were for cyclists by repeating the moniker: red equals dead."

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Urbanist Abroad @j.bligh's Backpacking – Berlin: "Tempelhof Park has quickly escalated to one of my all-time favourite public spaces. What was once a monstrous Nazi airfield and then a Cold War delivery pad for the USAF, it is now the ultimate in flexible park land: An open plan at over 300 hectares in size. Since 2010, the once-airfield has hosted any (reasonable) activity the citizens can dream up. Featured above is a short video of activities we discovered just before twilight: cycling, strolling, flying a kite, soccer, cricket, picnic, barbecue, dance practice, drinking, and skateboard lessons. The horizon within the park was so incredibly vast that people had more than enough space to command as their own regardless of the activity they chose. For a field so disproportionate to the human body it felt remarkably welcoming to inhabt and share."

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Urbanist Abroad @j.bligh's Backpacking – Berlin: "Another favourite space, the East Side Gallery: a 1.3km stretch of the wall that once separated East and West Berlin, since 1990 its East façade has been painted with 105 murals in response to the unification. The West façade (and to a lesser extent also the East façade) is slathered in a veritable cornicopia of highly enthusiastic graffiti. The double-sided gallery runs between two transit hubs, parallel to a riverfront park, and has plenty of food options at multiple price points. We found live music and many people parked with beverages along the water's edge. It's a great park for a looping stroll or chilled hangout, especially in the presence of a "monument to the fall of the Berlin Wall and the peaceful negotiation of borders and conventions between societies and people.""

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