I'm a bit daunted writing about Berlin.
Somehow I'm happy to put down a couple of paragraphs about many other cities and towns I've visited but there are some that seem too complicated for a quick 'off the cuff' summary. Sydney of course, my present home town, and past home towns like New York and London. I know just too much about them for a glib first impression.
Although I've never lived there I've visited Berlin on several occasions for periods of up to a couple of weeks. I also have family there and have been introduced to their circle of friends.
So I decided that I can't really sum Berlin up, any more that I can sum up London or New York, so instead I should pick some aspects of uniqueness to highlight.
The most obvious difference when one gets off the plane is that people in Berlin speak, read and write in German.
Despite being told that tourists can easily make themselves understood in Germany because almost everyone speaks some English, the reverse is not true.
Try sitting in a café over brunch with a group of German friends who are not about to attempt to communicate amongst themselves in poor English just so you can follow. You will find yourself sitting there smiling like an idiot as they laugh and chatter, until you know enough German to catch the drift of the conversation or someone takes pity and fills you in.
For English speakers, normal domestic life, like shopping in the supermarket, can also be tricky. Some groceries are obvious, like different varieties of cheese, but can you distinguish full cream, light or skim milk from sour milk or yoghurt; or hair conditioner from shampoo? Even using the S-Bahn or U-Bahn can be tricky. It's simple until a train is cancelled or a line closed and there are alternate route instructions in German only.
Catching an alternative train - I've decided that these are properly named: Ironic Columns
It's the same pun in German so I'm not at all sure the ionic caps aren't a deliberate joke
What would you expect? Of course you need to learn some German it you want to go there for any length of time and would like to move outside the standardised tourist bubble. I've talked about organised package tours elsewhere. They're appropriately named as each tourist becomes a package to be labelled and dispatched here and there; contained by bus and hotel or moving as a self-protective organic group.
Then there are 'The Things to See'. Every city in the world has a unique list of places and things to see that the tour companies have identified, prioritised and put on their itineraries: "You went to Sydney and didn't climb the Bridge? Oh, you missed the best bit!"
In Berlin it's the Brandenburg Gate; Checkpoint Charlie; remnants of The Wall; the memorial to murdered Jews; the Fernsehturm (television tower); the Reichstag (parliament building) Dome; the Berliner Dom (the cathedral); and the nearby museums.
Brandenburg Gate; Checkpoint Charlie; Reichstag and its dome; Berliner Dom; Fernsehturm
But like the iconic places in other cities, Berliners go about their business hardly giving these tourist 'must sees' a second look, disturbed only by annoying tour groups blocking pedestrian traffic.