If you have followed this blog a little bit you may be wondering why I ended up living in Berlin again. You may also wonder why I came to leave it in the first place. And lastly, maybe you are also a little bit curious about how life is like in Berlin and where we eventually did find a new home.
Let me take you around my neighbourhood Prenzlauer Berg and show you its beautiful and sometimes quirky sites. Maybe after reading this article and seeing the 20+ photos you will understand why I couldn’t help but fall in love with Berlin again and why I though that moving the family here would be a good idea.
Prologue: This is why we left Berlin in the First Place
14 years ago my husband and I were newly married and we lived in Berlin. I studied at uni and was about to graduate, and he was working at a big international firm. When the opportunity came up to move to Sydney, Australia for two years it was mostly a winter decision which made us apply for the role on the other side of the world. A no commitment opportunity for a new adventure, a chance to chase the sun and to live life on a beach. Little did we know that we would fall in love with the Sydney lifestyle and that we would get stuck there (read: we fell in love with that place).
After 13 years, however, I felt that something was missing from our life. Sydney was nice but all too familiar. We needed another sea-change. And so we moved to Spain, for no other reason than that I loved Spain as a child and had fond holiday memories from there. We moved to the very south, to Andalusia, and had an exciting time there. Lots of sunshine, wonderful culture, great food, amazing landscapes. But I couldn’t settle in. My Spanish was not good enough, and we were surrounded by lots of retirees from Northern Europe and Spanish families who led an offline life.
So when we went to Berlin for a Christmas holiday last year I couldn’t help but feel extreme homesickness kicking in. The broad avenues with the century-old houses, the street art, the little shops, the sound of the underground… It felt like coming home and I didn’t want to leave again.
In the end, we decided to return to Berlin. It makes me feel better to know that we live close to our families, and that the children learn a little bit about the German culture. I trust the German school system and I want the kids to have a good start in life. Speaking German and meeting lots of people from all over the world took me out of my bitter isolation that I experienced in Spain, and mentally I feel much better know.
The Honeymoon Phase of Being Back in Berlin
When I was younger I would listen to a band from London called Suede. Their music was a lot about living in London, that big city full of contrast and opportunity and drama. The singer and songwriter captured beautifully the romance of living in this big anonymous place, walking the busy streets and imagining the lives of the people around him. This is how I experience Berlin as well.
Only yesterday, a sunny and warm afternoon, I walked the busy streets of my neighbourhood Prenzlauer Berg, where people would sit in the sidewalk cafes and children would play in the parks. I got a kick out of looking at the belle-epoque houses, some of them with original stucco and the faded paint of a business sign on the walls. I listened to the street musicians, looked at the artwork on the houses, read the random notes on signposts, listen to the many languages spoken around me. I walked and walked for two hours and it just felt good.
We were lucky in finding a good place to live in Berlin. We are located in Prenzlauer Berg, a beautiful inner city suburb with lots of old houses that have been restored to their former glory. The streets are leafy and have cobblestones, and there are many families with young children who care about their neighbourhood. Only this weekend, I spent all day with a group of volunteers cleaning up the square in our neighbourhood, Arnswalder Platz, just so that the community can enjoy this great space.
The Story of Prenzlauer Berg
To understand the appeal of Prenzlauer Berg, my suburb in Berlin, you have to go back to its beginnings. The quarter was a planned part of the city that came into being at the turn of the 19th century. Just like in many other parts of Berlin, whole blocks of houses sprung up with a mix of different standards of living that attracted a very mixed population.
Depending on what you could afford you would live in the same house but on a different level – the belle-etage (ground floor) being the priciest option, the apartment under the roof the cheapest. You could also differentiate between the house facing the street and the house in the backyard or the houses in the wings – they all shared the same address but they paid a different rent.
Today, times have changed. After years of neglect these buildings have undergone a renaissance, and many young families moved in to give new life to the beautiful apartments. Just like in the old days, they value the large windows, the high ceilings (some of them up to 4.5 metres high!), the stucco, the elaborately carved door frames. Now that the houses are restored, living in them has become costly, gentrification has kicked in. When you walk around Prenzlauer Berg these days you will see mostly people that are well off. Young couples and families that frequent the many cafes and restaurants, have picnics in the parks, eat ice-cream on the benches. It’s a peaceful and relaxed setting, a bit like a fairytale.
We do not live in an old house though, but we were lucky to move into a brand-new apartment in a house that was added to a courtyard of an existing house. The apartment has a modern floorpan, underfloor heating, a balcony overlooking a schoolyard. It is comfortable and quiet, and we love every bit of it.
A Walk Around Prenzlauer Berg
Even though Berlin is a big city, you cannot help but feel that it is divided up into smaller parts. These neighbourhoods are called “Kiez” and they roughly centre around a bigger street with shops and restaurants or around a central square or park. Prenzlauer Berg, even though sort of them same vibe and the same crowd, is made up of a number of these kiezes, and some people hardly ever leave theirs.
Prenzlauer Berg is widely known as the area of Berlin with the most families. Its epicentre can be found around Kollwitzplatz, hence the name Kollwitzkiez. It is probably by far the most charming part of Prenzlauer Berg, the one with the most relaxed vibe and the most expensive housing. The other areas are called, for example, Winsviertel (with some good restaurants), and the area where I live which is around Arnswalder Platz (Bötzowkiez).
My photo walk will explain some of the particular features of this area and will hopefully illustrate what I think is the most beautiful thing about Berlin: the exciting mix of culture, history, innovation, interpretation, and creativity. Enjoy!