It’s not obvious. You cast a cold eye over the multitude of bars and cheap booze joints, then you throw a quick glance at the club listings that read like the red eye timetable in an airport, and you think to yourself, this town could never be good for my health. It’s like Pinocchio in the Land of Play and any day soon the donkey ears and tail will start sprouting from beneath my skin.
Everybody in here can tell you some tale about a 52-hour session that nearly stole their life. Or a drunk bicycle crash that almost robbed them of walking. And even a dodgy kebab that might have given them advanced Botulism. But in spite of the legends and the close calls, we’re all still breathing, cycling and eating Turkish. That’s because, contrary to how it seems, Berlin is actually good for you.
Lets start off with time. Berlin gives you another ten years just like that. In the bag. You never even asked for it, but you got it. In all other cities across the world people are buying homes, growing bellies and settling into a rhythm that begins with an alarm clock and closes with a bad reality TV show. But not in Berlin. The thirtysomethings act lie twentysomethings, and the fortysomethings act like thirtysomethings. My dad visited here a year ago. He described it as a town full of kids with a few token grown-ups to drive the trains. Dad, you were almost right. This place is full of grown-ups, they’re just another ten years off acting that way yet.
In Berlin you can eat really well. That’s not saying everyone does – these people invented cream quark after all. But you can eat really well here. And not only is the food good for you, it’s fashionable too. The Berlin food markets are clubbing for people who go to bed at a reasonable time. You find your bohemians haggling over a quarter kilo of bruised tomatoes and your arthouse yuppies quizzing the farmer over the size of his free range eggs, but they’ve all got one eye on the dancefloor. In another place it’s the watch on your arm or the car in your drive, in Berlin it’s the size of your beets and the length of their food miles that determine whether you’re going home alone tonight.
But more than this, the main reason Berlin is good for you, is because of something that’s been around longer than you and I put together: the trees. In New York you’re never more than five foot from a rat. In London, you can switch rat for free newspaper, and in Berlin you can substitute the word tree. They’re everywhere. I’m writing this surrounded by them. Big wooden bodyguards watching over us all, filtering our air and protecting us from UV rays and heavy downfalls. Next time, you’re strolling through Berlin and feeling younger, healthier and more energised than you’ve ever done before, you should pick out a trunk and give it a hug. Plant a kiss too and say thanks, for being a tree, for being there and for being good to you.