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Big city blues

Mark Mardell | 09:30 UK time, Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Berlin city centre at night"Not Berlin! I want to avoid Berlin!" I hissed at my producer, who was on the phone to a colleague in the German capital, arranging a piece for later this week on the Greens' impact or otherwise on national and European politics.

This was not out of personal aversion towards Berlin: indeed it is probably my favourite European capital, at least of those unblessed by sunshine and the spirit of the South. It is stimulating, moving and lively. It is just that as a reporter I like to get outside the capital cities whenever possible.

There are many reasons why it is not always possible. They are where you find the main politicians, academics and think-tanks clustered together. It costs more and takes more time to get out of the big city.

But capitals don't reflect the whole country. Perhaps nowhere does, but you can get a seriously distorted view by sticking to a capital. Paris, London and Berlin are, for different reasons, nothing like their nations. Madrid and Rome have a slightly better claim to reflect their countries, but not much.

Perhaps smaller countries' capitals are closer to the national sense of place. I realise none of these reflections are particularly profound, but the reason I am writing about it at all is that I want to hear your opinion. I was musing on which capitals are least and most like their nations, and whether the differences are good, bad, or just inevitable, and realised I needed your input. So what do you think?

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