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2023's City (that I visited) of the Year

Apologies to all the cities I didn't visit
2023's City (that I visited) of the Year
A table in a bohemian cafe decorated with plants and a brown lattice pattern on the wall bathed in sunlight from a window to the left, SDXL Turbo

Just a reminder: this is another short post in my end-of-year-rundown. Previously:

One evening in late June, I boarded an overnight train and woke up to find that at 6am the sun was already high in the sky in Berlin. I was carrying only a backpack full of clothes to get me through the next couple days, and I couldn’t check in to my AirBnB for 8 hours, so I started walking and witnessing the city waking up & coming to life: kids heading to school on bikes & scooters, cafes setting up their outdoor tables & chairs, service vehicles collecting garbage and making deliveries. All of that happens in almost every major city every morning (maybe not the kids getting themselves to school on bikes & scooters), so why did I find it particularly charming in Berlin? The simplest answer is because Berlin is a beautiful city with small parks, statues, and works of public art dotted throughout the landscape so that you’re running into something aesthetically compelling every few hundred meters or so.

The 5am sky on Sunday morning after a night spent celebrating a dear friend. I live in the Netherlands, so I know you pay the price for this during the winter months.

I had no concept a year ago of just how much I’d travel in 2023. In the last 12 months, I spent time in Paris, Geneva, London, New York, Los Angeles, Monaco, Nairobi, and Washington DC. Most of those were first time visits since COVID, and it was fascinating to see how they’ve evolved - Paris is a revelation for all of the ways it is becoming more human-centric, while DC’s lack of mixed use areas translate into some serious dead zones. I say all of this mostly just because it’s noteworthy that while I love so many of those cities, Berlin will be the one that stands out in my memory of this year.

When the city was awake & humming, I found my way to the first cafe of many that I would visit over 3 days and found that Berlin has a distinct cafe vibe: so many large, spacious interiors decorated with natural warmth and excellent coffee. A friend who lives in Berlin explained to me that the system of rent control combined with the slower repopulation of the city post-unification has allowed small and niche businesses to stay alive, and while that phenomenon has probably slowed down as Berlin has re-established itself as a kind of crown jewel global city (just don’t talk about the airport or the football team), the evidence of it is still on full display. Berlin has a vibe all its own. My friends who live there have been telling me for years that I need to visit and singing its praises as a singular place unlike anywhere else, and I’m delighted that I finally got to experience. I’m now actively scheming for more reasons to visit Berlin.