Walking out of the train into Berlin Hauptbahnhof (haupt=main, bahn=train, hof=courtyard, hauptbahnhof=main train station), my first thought was, “this is a very large train station.” Walking out of the train station, my first thought was, “this is a very large city.” Multiple times a day, since my arrival, I have thought, “this is a very big city.” I knew Berlin was a fairly big city before coming to Europe, and a few days before arriving in Berlin, someone told me it was huge. It was when I actually got here that I realized how vast everything is…and my excitement started to build.

I like being in big cities. Riding the public transportation around and figuring it out is a really key part to enjoying a city and getting a feel for its scale, in my opinion. I explored Berlin more extensively on the trains on my second day here. It’s interesting, I can’t remember more than one or two European or American cities I’ve been to, besides New York, where the trains and buses all require you to swipe a “metro card” of sorts in order to ride. What I’ve seen mostly is the honor system combined with random ticket checks. What causes a city to pick one method over another? Maybe what the city has done historically has the biggest influence on what they do currently. For example, in 1994 New York City’s subway system increased its ridership when the method of payment transitioned from tokens to swipe cards. Now the reader equipment is becoming obsolete and more expensive to maintain compared to tappable card technology. NYC’s transit authority will be making a payment method change by 2019. Different cities have different incentives to upgrade their systems.

Geographic layout and urban density can also influence infrastructure and how neighborhoods look. Berlin is a spread out city, which is opposite to New York City. The buildings in Manhattan are taller, skinnier, and closer together. The buildings in Berlin are lower, wider, and more spread out. Here are matching population statistics:

1) Berlin =
a. Pop: 4 million
b. Pop density: 10,000/mi2
c. Area: 345 sq mi
d. (comparisons are with respect to Berlin)
2) New York City
a. Pop: 8 million
b. Pop density: 27,000/mi2
c. Area: 300 sq mi
d. Twice as many people, three times as dense as Berlin, 20% less area
3) Seattle, Washington
a. Pop: 0.7 million
b. Pop density: 7,300/mi2
c. Area: 96 sq mi
d. 25% less dense than Berlin
4) Portland, Oregon
a. Pop: 0.6 million
b. Pop density: 4,380/mi2
c. Area: 137 sq mi
d. 50% less dense than Berlin

With that in mind, how do the neighborhoods and urban landscape appear to you now?

I had heard and read a lot about Berlin before coming here, mostly that it is filled with ‘alternative’ lifestyles, like many different types of hipsters. I’ve definitely noticed it as well over the course of the first few days here. For example, the second night I walked to a hostel to meet other travelers, we ended up going to a “bar” that appeared from the outside like it was made from scrap plywood and corrugated tin roofs, plopped down in a dirt plot next to a small canal and a string of several other popular bars. It was all very strange yet felt so authentically “Berlin” at the same time – vast human-scale appeal. The people at this local spot wore all types of attire and accessories to express the present moment.

Kyle’s Travel Tip: Commit to using and learning the public transportation system in the city you visit. It will make you much more confident in moving around and you’ll feel a deeper connection with the city.

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