The Silly and the Serious Sides of Berlin

And no, I’m not referring to the East and West sides of the wall.

Victims of War Memorial, Kathe Kollwitz

I had expected Berlin to be a dreadfully serious place. I was ready to take in many days of austere historical landmarks and grim war monuments. And there certainly was plenty of somber sightseeing to be had, from the Holocaust Tower and Garden of Exile at the Jewish Museum to the Bebelplatz book burning plaque to the razed site of Hitler’s suicide to Checkpoint Charlie and the remnants of the Berlin Wall.

Brandenburg Gate, Berlin

Memorial for the murdered Jews of Europe

Berlin also boasts plenty of heavy-weight museum paraphernalia, like the Nefertiti Bust in the Neues Museum or Babylon’s Ishtar Gate or Mshatta towers at the Pergamon Museum. Which are serious both in historical significance and awesomeness for an ancient civilizations nerd like myself.

So I was taken completely by surprise by how much silliness I experienced in Berlin.

My accommodation arrangements should have tipped me off about the silliness to come. A friend of a friend had offered me the use of his apartment in the trendy neighbourhood of Kreuzberg. He and his roommates were totally cool with me staying there, despite the fact that none of them had ever met me and none of them would be in town for the duration of my stay. My instructions were to pick up the key from the corner store near the apartment building from the lady at the counter. I did not know the name of this woman. I do not speak German. It turns out that she does not speak English either and I had to draw a key while repeating my name over and over for some time. I also was not told the apartment number within the building and had to try the key in every door until successfully unlocking a door on the sixth floor.

Off to a very silly start indeed.

I then learned about Berlin’s beloved mascot, Ampelmann.


Ampelmann is the little traffic light man, a distinct crosswalk signal chap who graced the traffic intersection lights in Eastern Germany in the days of the Berlin Wall. And Berlin loves itself some Ampelmann. He was so popular that they kept him after the Wall came down. There are whole shops of Ampelmann fan gear, from bumper stickers to lamps to just about anything else.

From that point on, a flood of not-so-serious moments surrounded me in public spaces:

Comparing throwing out your trash with hurdle jumping is a bit silly, no?


Poopsy? Berlin must just be messing with me now, right?

I witnessed Germans pranking each other in Tiergarten, went to a downtown nightclub with a sand floor and leather couches, and spotted a caricaturist doing a portrait of a man tap dancing at Museum Island.

For all its serious history, Berlin embraced the fun of being silly in equal measure. It was both absurd and delightful.


P.S. did you know the German word for airport is “flughafen”? How am I supposed to say that with a serious face?








One thought on “The Silly and the Serious Sides of Berlin

  1. Pingback: Oktoberfest: a Beer Theme Park for Grown Ups | Same Skies Above


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