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Living in Berlin

Berlin is not huge.  It's smaller in population than Sydney.  But then that always depends on where you draw the boundary.  Berlin has large stretches of green space and achieves its urban density through a predominance of multistorey apartment living.  As a result the urban population density of Berlin is over ten times greater than Sydney (Sydney: 372 persons per square kilometre; Berlin: 3,944).  But this is not particularly dense.  Paris, that is officially half the size of Berlin or Sydney is over five times denser than Berlin. 

Thus Berlin is somewhere in the middle contributed to by Germany having one of the largest dwelling areas per person in Europe (reference).  For example the average Berlin apartment is substantially more commodious than an average London home.  Nevertheless, this density is sufficiently high to support excellent and inexpensive urban transport so that in general people prefer it or cycling to driving and leave their cars at home.  So road traffic flows relatively well compared to many cities. Bikes are popular because Berlin is quite flat.  There are extensive bike lanes often sharing the pavements with pedestrians. This can be a walking hazard but as almost everyone has a bike it's a communally accepted risk.  Helmets are not de jure and are seldom worn by adults, solving the Australian problem of what to do with them when you leave your bike and don't want the inconvenience of carrying a bike helmet (or want to appear to be a bike-nerd / health-freak) and  'Cycling Lycra' is certainly not the de jour clothing choice of the average Berlin cyclist.

A great deal of older Berlin housing consists of five storey apartment blocks, sometimes with an attic level above. These are built up to a rectangular street alignment leaving a large rectangular green space inside the square at the rear.  At intervals there are carriage entrances to this rear area which presumably once provided stabling for horses and carriages.   Sometimes cars or bike sheds have made their way into this common space but mostly it is green and in some places playgrounds or café facilities use it, as in the block across from where Emily lives.

 

Berlin apartments:  Street side; rear window; Google Earth view of city blocks;
Restaurant in adjacent block - once DDR communal dining room - meals 5 euro (main plus drink)

 

These older blocks were largely in working class areas but are undergoing a process of gentrification.  The apartments are solidly built typically with at least two large rooms and a kitchen/scullery that has usually been converted to include a bathroom. Upgrading usually involves modernising the kitchen and bathroom and perhaps, as in Emily and Guido's case, combining two smaller apartments into one.  As far as I can see all Berlin apartments are centrally heated and have modern double glazing.  Emily tells me that the law compels landlords to renovate and put in double glazing and heating, as this saves energy and reduces air pollution. Apparently before the old coal ovens were taken out Berlin had a very 'mysterious' atmosphere, clouded in haze during winter.

But there are no lifts and they have very high ceilings that make walking up several stories with groceries or carrying a child or luggage better than a trip to a gym.

 

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