I just returned from Berlin after a week-long Fulbright conference (the program that’s allowing me to be in Sweden). It was fabulous and it felt like being in another world away even though the flight is only one hour, which is one-fifth the time it took to get from San Francisco to New York where I went to college. One thing that it takes getting used to when you travel is that there are really large cultural differences within relatively small distances.
This was the case when I studied abroad in Vietnam- my class took a two-week excursion to Cambodia, and honestly I wasn’t expecting it to be that different but I was so wrong. I went from Vietnam, where the women covered every patch of skin when outside despite the 100% humidity and 40C heat to Cambodia where people were a lot more happy, or maybe I thought this because you could actually see their face! On a recent TedTalk (a great site for improving your common knowledge in ten to fifteen minute segments- http://www.ted.com/) a plastic surgeon working with injured victims mentioned the point that people are a lot less comfortable when we can’t see others’ faces (eg. remember wild wild West cowboys or movie burglars with bandannas across their faces).
I also felt the change in Berlin even though I had been there two times before. One thing that I hadn’t realized before is that Swedish people don’t often dye their hair strange colors- and being in Berlin brought back memories of the days when I had a popular punk hairstyle where random spots were bleached white. It is unfair to compare Berlin to Lund but even comparing Berlin to Stockholm still reveals differences- music in the streets (not only from beggars!), graffiti everywhere, the smell of urine occasionally, clubs in burned out old buildings, uglier people, more hippies, people drinking alcohol unabashed in public, etc. Berlin does a very good job at creating a very cool gritty and alternative atmosphere, so you will also find lots of hipsters there. Berlin is also a special city perhaps not totally representative of the average German city, so remember this if you’re going there for the first time.