Whenever I travel, I like to do a full economic assessment of the locale, a post-trip post-mortem. Oftentimes, it is not worth writing up, but Berlin was fascinating enough to jot some thoughts down.

Quite a few things were memorable from this trip. (I’ll post some photos later below)

Berlin is a world class city, comparable in most respects to London, Paris or Rome. It is now the 3rd most popular destination in Europe, a marked change from a few decades a ago.

Flying in, you see lots of mixed use — plenty of farms, green fields, small housing and industrial centers. Plenty of wind farms too. I am struck by how green and open the area immediately around Berlin is.

The city is low and wide, minimal towers, lots of open spaces and green areas. A 18th century law requires all streets be tree lined (something that other cities should consider). A combination of new and old, history and modernity stand shoulder to shoulder.

The architecture is delightful – the pre-war buildings that made it through the war were quite impressive; the modern architecture ranges from cliched to Bauhaus to dazzling (photos here).

And, as a City, it is quite affordable -– a 2 bedroom apartment in the (Mitel ?) section just outside Berlin proper runs € 450-500 Euros. ($1.59 buys you a Euro today). In NY, that same apartment would run $2,200-3,300 and up; London is even pricier.

The economy has not been too badly hit by the economic downturn – the financial sector is much smaller here than London or New York. Hey, chase all of my people out of the country 70 years ago, and what you are left with is a nation with a smallish banking sector and not many great delicatessens.

I kept seeing T-shirts for sale that said Berliners – Poor but Happy. I asked several people about it – my Ghanese taxi driver, a staff member at the hotel, a waiter. They said that while there is plenty of economic activity, most people have jobs, but they pay poorly. The living standard of East Berlin is rising post-communism, but the West Berliners are paying the price for this as cheaper labor moves in.

I was staying at the Hotel Adlon, a few steps from the US Embassy and the Brandenburg Gates (photos here)

On a short trip, I tried to avoid the Holocaust museums, as they are a bit emotionally exhausting and require a day to recover from. On my next trip, its a must do. (Perhaps the Holocaust deniers out there can explain how the entire German nation has been fooled into believing the Nazi regime committed unimaginable atrocities).

Instead, I visited the spectacular Pergamon Museum (photos here) and Checkpoint Charlie, with lots of pictures of both. (photos here) The Checkpoint Charlie Museum was poignant and heart rending (photos here) – the many ingenius attempts to escape the Totalitarianism of East Germany were astonishing. The artwork was also inspiring; There is no doubt in my mind that the condition of mankind under the boot of communism is a crime against humanity. Humans were born to be free. Any totalitarian system is unnatural and cruel and crushing to the spirit.

One of the things I noticed were the cars – an intriguing mix of European and Japanese vehicles. I saw a few of the infamous Trabants – they make the mini cooper look spacious. Lots of small Japanese models – Nissan Micra, Toyota Yaris, plus Citroens, Peuegots, Alfas, plus a 4 door Smart car that makes more sense than the little version. There are BWMs and Mercedes that will never make it to our shores – BMW 320i Diesels, micro MBs, other variants. In terms of US made cars, they were very few — I saw a Jeep Grand Cherokee, a few PT Cruisers, lots of Opels, and a ’37 Ford. Speaking of Ford’s – there were plenty of Focus, Fiesta, Kas, Escorts – they seem to be the right size for Europe.

Two last items that were noteworthy: My last name (which is German) was frequently commented on by various people — Customs, Hotel Check In, Restaurants. “Ritholtz – dieses ist ein deutscher name?   “Ja, ist es” I would reply in weak German, which provoked a torrent of language I could not follow. I would meekly reply Mein Deutsch ist nicht guter der (my German is not that good). People seemed to appreciate the effort, regardless of how pathetic it was.

Second, I had a funny experience with the vaunted Teutonic efficiency. Check in at the airport was slow, as their system server was crashing — it took way too long to get a boarding pass. I was pondering this as I went through security, when my check on luggage got flagged for a knife. I have a mini screwdriver in the laptop bag, but it was my roller carry-on that was flagged. They show me the x-ray, and I cannot find anything — until I reach under the corner edge of the bag, and I find an old, rusty (literally) cigar cutter. The blade is in between two pieces of plastic). Must have been in there for 2 years, and no one else ever caught it.  That’s efficient!

Ich bein ein Berliner” is the famous quotation from the June 26, 1963 speech by U.S. President John F. Kennedy. As I sat waiting to fly home, I thought of that speech, of the history of central Europe, of all I saw over the past few days as I made my way around Berlin.

I would love to come back – make a longer weekend of it – you need at least 3 or 5 days to really see and do everything.

I very much look forward to my next visit to Berlin . . .

Category: Economy, Travel

Please use the comments to demonstrate your own ignorance, unfamiliarity with empirical data and lack of respect for scientific knowledge. Be sure to create straw men and argue against things I have neither said nor implied. If you could repeat previously discredited memes or steer the conversation into irrelevant, off topic discussions, it would be appreciated. Lastly, kindly forgo all civility in your discourse . . . you are, after all, anonymous.

46 Responses to “Ich bein ein Berliner

  1. RW says:

    Berlin is indeed a great city and fully worth the cost to make whole (along with the rest of the country) IMHO.

    PS: Just in case someone recalls the old canard that “Ich bein ein Berliner” says something silly in German: It doesn’t; in the vernacular of Berlin it is correct and immediately understood as referring to a citizen of the city (JFK’s advance team was among the best).

  2. martin66 says:

    “Berlin is a world class city, comparable in most respects to London, Paris or Rome. ” My surprised sentiments exactly after my recent first time visit.

  3. call me ahab says:

    “chase all of my people out of the country 70 years ago, and what you are left with is a nation with a small banking sector and not great delicatessens.”

    you are a funny dude Barry- obviously much truth to that-

    as i opined on your post asking what to do in Berlin- i suggested the walking tour- that i love Berlin- remember i said it was a very large and sprawling city- which you experienced first hand-

    by the way my last name is Bohemian- and when i was in Prague everyone kept saying “ah- you’re Czech” so i know the feeling- unfortunately, i was unable to lay even a minimal amount of Czech words in their direction-

    that you were able to speak even minimal German i am sure was greatly appreciated by the Berliners you came in contact with-

    need to make my way back there before long

  4. ropeladder says:

    While committing genocide is probably a factor, I believe most of the banking in Germany is actually centered in Frankfurt. (a relic of the cold war)

    The holocaust museum there is not actually a holocaust museum in the same vein as the one in DC. It’s actually a general museum about Jews in Germany. Obviously there’s a lot about the holocaust too but as a whole I think it’s a bit less of a downer. The architecture there is fantastic –after they completed the building, but before the exhibits were finished, they opened it to the public and lots of people thought they should just leave out the exhibits.

    I studied abroad in Berlin and loved the city. For modern history it is unbeatable, it’s cheap, and it’s fun.

  5. dbowe says:

    Very nice account Barry.

    As you were in Europe, and only a hop, skip & a jump from Paris, can I get your take on FIFA, and the Ireland v France cheating contraversy?

  6. johnborchers says:

    Good reading. Some of your best writing. Found it interesting the amount of imported cars in Berlin. On the Autobahn on the old west side you don’t see quite that many at all as the Germans heavily tax imports. The only place I have really found so many there is near the US military bases.

  7. jeffshattuck says:

    “low and wide”… what a great description of the place.

    Next time you go, if you can stomach it, go see the Topography of Terror, just be ready to go sit down somewhere for a long, long time afterward. You will be that shaken, especially if you can translate the letters between oven suppliers and the camps, as the oven makers describe new innovations to solve “problems”. Truly, the most powerful statement against the Nazis I have ever seen.

    ~~~

    BR: I heard its well worth it. I just ran out of time.

  8. kmckellop says:

    “Ich bin ein Berliner” (“I am a Berliner”) i.e. I am a jelly doughnut (Berlin cuisine).
    The correct form is ” Ich bin Berliner”….however the city’s coat of arms is a rampant bear…very appropriate.. No wonder Barry likes it so much. Oh, and Bears also like jelly doughnuts of course.

    Also check out Mish’s blog on how Global Warming may be….A Convenient Hoax.

    http://www.globaleconomicanalysis.blogspot.com/

  9. hue says:

    perpetuate the jelly doughnut myth http://bit.ly/YABLj

  10. Dennis says:

    I was just there!

    Fantastic city — you really need a week (like London or Paris) to appreciate everything.

  11. Next time, I will make sure I get to Nuerburgring and spend some quality time on the autobahn

  12. hue says:

    i was in the Army between colleges back in the Ronnie Rage 80s, guarding the border. they will pass you while you do 90 (mph) on the autobahn. you have to get monastery beer too, the best beer ever. all German beers are locally brewed, but the monastery beers are the best. not thing to do but pray and drink.

  13. YouthInAsia says:

    I don’t see how rent can be that cheap there. For 6 months in 2004 I lived in a 2 bedroom flat 35 minutes from Munich central and my rent was 1400 euros.

  14. hue says:

    i meant they will pass you while you are doing 90 (mph) as though you were standing still.

    cheap rent, deflation? currency swings can be swift. the year before i was there the dollar was 3 something marks, and Americans were living off base like kings. i show up and a dollar was 1.87 marks forcing everyone back on base.

  15. @kmckellop

    Re:that hoax link

    They finally found something outrageous enough to get GS off people’s minds :)

    Maybe that was the plan and why they did it. You never know these days

  16. John says:

    Barry,

    Thanks for a great report.

    “There is no doubt in my mind that the condition of mankind under the boot of communism is a crime against humanity. Humans were born to be free. Any totalitarian system is unnatural and cruel and crushing to the spirit.”

    Quite true. Americans, especially those who have never exerienced totalitarianism, need to realize it’s a slippery slope between the government providing for more and more residents’ “needs” (health care, education, retirement, etc.) and socialism and communism. We seem to have forgotten that the promise the United States is freedom for all human beings, and the histories of Berlin and too many other places around the world should be reminders that freedom is extremely difficult and very costly to regain when lost.

  17. WhipTail says:

    I have been to a number of Holocaust museums and sites, including Auschwitz. The one in Berlin is underground at the Holocaust memorial and, meter for meter, it is my favorite. It hits all the right notes for the casual tourist visitor who might not go to a camp or museum. Its few rooms have themes which center on the most important elements of the Holocaust. The room with the quotes of victims on their way to their deaths is most affecting and “pin a lie to the lips” of those who say that people (Germans) didn’t really know what was going on at the time. The memorial above ground is also a peculiar experience, with kids running among the blocks, or jumping from stone to stone, as if at a playground, unlike the funereal atmosphere at other sites. This uncomfortable feeling is apparently what the designer sought to create. Overall, I find the memorial brilliant in it’s simplicity.

  18. AS says:

    Barry, in case you are not familiar with “The Berlin Stories” by Christopher Isherwood, do put the book on your reading list. Isherwood lived in Berlin from 1929 to 1933 and wrote an insightful account of life in the city. It is really worth reading.

  19. investorinpa says:

    Excellent pics and great retelling of your tales there, BR. As a single guy, what was the quantity of the ladies…u know, were there So viele netten Mädchen (so many cute girls) or not?

    ~~~

    BR: Lots of cuties . . .

  20. investorinpa says:

    And I don’t mean to disparage all the wonderful history and sights you mentioned….but as I am planning a trip to Europe soon, I’d like to know if I should keep some of the historical stuff limited to say, the History Channel.

  21. zell says:

    I went through Checkpoint Charlie in 1966. West Berlin was a party every night town, party like there was no tomorrow. Crossing into the East was stepping back in time. Bombed out buildings were left in piles of rubble, untouched since WW2. Food was still limited. Few people were on the streets. It was a place of fear and depression- a perfect testament to the communist repression. The East was a sickening police state.

  22. Robespierre says:

    Very nice report. I agree completely I liked the city very much myself when I visited.

  23. hcg says:

    I admire your site and read it each day. But Barry, as you know our people weren’t chased out of Germany. They were exterminated. A very small minority left. I think I the point of your comment, but…….I guess I am particularly aware of this because a friend of mine, Bill Basch, passed away two weeks ago. You can read his obituary in the LA Times…….Again, my regards and respect for your work and efforts to educate and inform all of us about finance and music both.

    ~~~

    BR: I am well aware of that — but that was not the direction I wanted to go wih this . . .

  24. hcg says:

    These prior comments are another reason why I posted the previous comment. I inadvertently deleted it. Sorry

    “…a general museum about Jews in Germany…..the architecture there is fantastic –after they completed the building, but before the exhibits were finished, they opened it to the public and lots of people thought they should just leave out the exhibits.”

    “chase all of my people out of the country 70 years ago, and what you are left with is a nation with a small banking sector and not great delicatessens.”

    you are a funny dude Barry- obviously much truth to that”

  25. kaleberg says:

    Have you caught Good Bye Lenin? It’s a hilarious flick set at the time of the wall’s collapse.

  26. super_trooper says:

    “,,,,,, the financial sector is much smaller here than London or New York. Hey, chase all of my people out of the country 70 years ago, and what you are left with is a nation with a smallish banking sector and not many great delicatessens.”

    You’re not quite comprehending the decentralization of Germany. The financial center is in….. Frankfurt. The journalistic center is in……… Hamburg….. the political center used to be in Bonn, now moved to Berlin. It’s a product of the federal system and how Germany was formed. West Berlin was just an island. Now, it’s still an island. Using German measures, it’s distant from any other city, somewhat isolated.

    “nation with a smallish banking sector and not many great delicatessens.”
    Now you’re just being ignorant. Frankfurt am Main (aka, Mainhattan a city of 670000 people) is the financial center of Europe. The headquarter of Commerz bank, Deutsche bank, Landesbank Hessen-Thüringen, DekaBank, Dresdner Bank, Bundes bank and the European central bank. Not to mention one of the largest stock exchanges in Europe, German Stock Exchange. Open your eyes, when will Americans realize that the UK isn’t the center of Europe. It’s an island, mentally much closer to the US than Europe.

    ~~~

    BR: This was a short trip — On my next visit, I want to spend more time in the rest of the country.

  27. flipspiceland says:

    Yeah, all well and good, but really, what were the women like? Like those in the cities and countryside of Scandinavia? Prague? Bangkok?

    Shirley, there’s more toa country than delis, banks, and commerce that make it a worthwhile trip.

  28. aomijolina says:

    Hi Barry,glad you liked it,since I am a Berliner in the third generation.
    But you stayed in one of the best hotels in town,where Queen Elzabeth stayed and many famous politicians.Next time you could try one not that poshy but nice and modern like the Bleibtreu http://www.bleibtreu.com/default.aspx?lang=en ,they even have a restaurant with american specialities and good wine .And if you want to eat delikatessen, Berlin is a city with 12 restaurants that got a star
    http://www.haiku-liste.de/die_besten_restaurants_aus/berlin.html
    and there are lots of things you can do apart from visiting museums , just see what she found out about Berlin http://www.berlinreified.com/
    hope you will really come back again greez aomijolina

  29. snoader says:

    Barry, the area you are probably refering to as mitel is actually called “Mitte” and is pretty much the center of the city not “just outside Berlin proper” (actually, it’s terribly hard to define what that is considering that Berlin has Western and Eastern poles and basically each district is pretty much its own entity). Mitte is considered relatively expensive for the hipper parts of the town (other parts in West Berlin are more expensive but deliberately uncool).

    @YouthinAsia: Munich is expensive, Berlin is dirt cheap.

  30. Das ist richtig says:

    The prior week’s Economist discussed Berlin and how it has failed to really grow in population and how the Eastern sectors of Germany are a ‘drag’ to their economy. Germans workers are efficient when the program fits their plan, but as in WW II, Americans still are flexible enough to move with the situation and ‘improvise’. I’m not sure if there’s a word for improvise in German ? They are good people and industrious. I wish we had their export capabilities. RoyS

  31. Frank12 says:

    RoyS: On a sidenote: the german word for improvise is just ‘improvisieren’.

  32. Greg0658 says:

    John .. I hear ya but .. heres a twist of your words and why I need to read up on Germany’s politics and changes in the 20′s and 30′s “need to realize it’s a slippery slope between the government” and super corps “providing for more and more” .. I mean have you noticed how the super corps have more power on this earth than our governments

    all – please try very hard to see thru the mist at the ‘ism we are heading into
    I fear of another herd thinning …. is that what you all need?

  33. dniederman says:

    You can get a Diesel 3 – series in the U.S. – the 335d – also an X5, fyi. Great post Barry.

    -David

    http://www.roadandtrack.com/article.asp?section_id=10&article_id=7974

  34. fosback says:

    BR – i visited the holocaust memorial in Berlin and cried.

    - John Fosback.

  35. jessica says:

    I would also recommend “Defying Hitler” by Sebastian Haffner.
    Despite the title, it is a memoir by a (then) young German man who lived through the post-WW1 disasters and the rise of Hitler.
    I listened to the audible.com version and found it fascinating.
    All that history is much more interesting if you can remember that people in say 1933 did not know about the Holocaust or most of Stalinism.

  36. vonjd says:

    Barry: Glad you enjoyed your trip to Berlin. Just a few comments:

    “smallish banking sector”: Just two examples for the opposite:
    - Eurex in Frankfurt am Main is the world’s largest derivatives (futures and options) exchange,
    - the European Central Bank (ECB), which is responsible for the monetary policy of 325 million people in the Eurozone (population of the US about 308 million) is also located in Frankfurt.

    “Ich bin ein Berliner” is correct (yes, also the “ein” is correct – believe me, I am German)

    “my German is not that good”: Mein Deutsch ist nicht so gut.

    But believe it or not – German is the closest language to English in linguistic terms. There are thousands of words that are the same (cognates) and many more with German origin. Even your Dollar is a German word (coming from Taler which pronounced in an English way just sounds like Dollar).

  37. vonjd says:

    ..meant “pronounced in a German way”

  38. aomijolina says:

    I was 8 years old when the war finally finished and I remeber vividly the alarm sirens and the bombattacks and the nights in the cellar with all the people sitting there ,who lived in the four- story- house in the center of Berlin.In 1942 my mother was transferred as a teacher to a village in what now is Poland and we became refugees fleeing from the russians.Wherever we passed larger cities they were burning and bombed to pieces and I had nightmares for many years.But I really liked the americans from the very first day they came to the village and a big Afroamerican gave us kiddies some chocolate and later when they helped the people in Berlin and I came to know some of them personally.
    I feel somewhat disturbed that after such a long time americans ,when they think of Germany only think of the holocaust and want to visit these places.Just like american movies quite often show germans as brutal.It is absolutely impossible,that anything like the holocaust is ever going to happen again.This is a completely different generation and faschism has no chance in Germany.Even though we have more than 20% unemployment in many parts of the city and more than 30% of foreigners in Kreuzberg, Wedding and Tiergarten.

  39. [...] I am settling back into my routine, but a few final thoughts from Berlin (my overview from the trip is here). [...]

  40. tfneuhaus says:

    Eddie Izzard on “Ich Bin Ein Berliner”…hilarious…

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5mu02xUgE4k&feature=related

  41. Arthur says:

    Last time I was in (East) Berlin in Nov 1988 the excellent Pergamon Museum stank of cooked cabbage and the museum “guards” sat around in the same lousy polyester street clothes everyone else wore. At the border crossing visiting school children headed home to the west laughed as they threw away the East German money they’d been obliged to exchanged. Before heading back west myself I spent most of the money I had exchanged on expensive scotch at a Mexican-themed hotel bar and felt lousy for it.
    I’m also looking forward to my next visit.

  42. Rog says:

    BR – you have a growing german fan community although your knowledge about se Germanns is poor.

    Your blog is a must read for many of us Frankfurt folks. So if you ever fly in to Frankfurt we’ll buy you a dinner, you’ll get the best steak in Europe.

    Rock on (we are glad that your economic views are not as pathetic as your play lists).

    Rog

  43. isolde100 says:

    The area you are referring to is Berlin Mitte, which is, in my opinion, the best place to live. The rents are as you said 450-500 EUR for 2 bedroom apartment. That’s why a lot of artists who used to live in NYC have moved to Berlin, to areas that are even less expensive where the rent for a large atelier + loft living space is around 400 EUR. If you want to buy a 100 sq meter apartment, you can get a decent one for 300,000 EUR.

    You really should visit the Holocaust Museum in Berlin. It is designed by Daniel Libeskind and it is in a way both depressing but also fascinating. For example, instead of displaying endless dioramas about the horrible camps, they have rooms devoted to different countries and they show pictures, diaries, personal effects of Jewish families from those countries before they were sent off to the camps. These were once real people like us with families, traditions, fiestas, jobs, art, entertainment and more. It’s not just about their suffering and their death, but also about their lives! And you get to see how different – and yet similar – the Jewish communities of Europe once were. How the traditions of Jews in Greece were so different from those in Germany — their rituals, the clothes they wore during the holidays, etc.

  44. isolde100 says:

    Correction to my previous post: The museum I referred to above is the Jewish Museum on Lindenstrasse in the Kreuzberg district.