I had never been to Berlin, or Germany for that matter, prior to covering the 68th Berlin International Film Festival (better known as the Berlinale; my reviews can be found on the writing page). But I had a strong impression of it thanks to last year's Charlize Theron action vehicle Atomic Blonde. Set in the German capital during the Cold War, the film presents a gritty, industrial city full of graffiti and a sort of rugged, crumbling beauty. Despite being a period piece, the depiction is not far removed from reality.
An acquaintance who lives there now remarked that she liked the sense of freedom one has to pursue whatever one desires; unlike the more rigid career path aspirations that tend to dominate young people in other major cities. I suppose this is a euphemistic echo of what another friend said about the time she lived in Berlin for an internship - that it always felt like many of her peers simply didn't work or have meaningful jobs. There's a much more relaxed vibe than other European capitals, like London and Paris, perhaps fueled by the relatively lower cost of living. Rent is more affordable, and good, cheap eats abound. It's a seductive lifestyle for the aimless and the nomadic, particularly when you factor in the notorious party scene.
A college friend who works in the city's burgeoning tech scene commented that Berlin makes it easy to fall down a rabbit hole. People show up without a plan, only to get sucked in and wake up years later without having accomplished anything, except maybe to develop a drug and alcohol addiction. It's simultaneously hedonistic and bohemian. People drink openly on pubic transit (which I think is technically not allowed?), behavior that is at odds with a society that in other regards is very much about following rules. Another friend likened the Germans to the Japanese due to their propensity for waiting in lines, even outside of clubs that - at the most extreme - play host to drug-fueled orgies. (I opted not to go clubbing so this information is purely second-hand and anecdotal).
See more photos here.