I’m pinching myself right now.
I never, in a million years, thought I would go to Berlin. I never thought that I’d stand in front of the Berlin wall, see the holocaust memorial or drink beer and like it. There are a million reasons for this. Berlin — and Germany in general to be honest — wasn’t on my radar. I didn’t think about the country outside of history class in which it was treated like a second class citizen. Now, I can say, not only have I been, but I feel like a new country has been opened up for me.
In the beginning of January, I began to discuss taking a weekend trip somewhere with a good friend of mine from high school who is studying in Ireland. After throwing around a handful of places that would be easy for both of us to get to, we decided on Berlin. And why not? Berlin is the Williamsburg of cities, the cool new kid on the block. I didn’t really know what was there, but was eager to figure it out.
Turns out, there’s a lot of really awesome stuff in Berlin. The city is bursting with big name museums and small, independent galleries. There’s history and monuments around every corner, yet there’s also an undeniable sense of something new happening. It’s big, but not overwhelming and sprawling. There’s a bit of urban grit, but not enough to make you feel unsafe. Berlin is like a composite of every other city you’ve ever been to, but manages to feel completely unique.
My friend and I arrived on Saturday morning and parted ways on Monday. During that short period of time we managed to do quite a lot and ticked off all the major check points on our must-see list. Luckily, the city isn’t so huge that you can’t walk everywhere, but not so small that you even fool yourself into thinking you could see more than a small slice of what’s being offered.
After landing in Berlin’s Tegel airport, I made my way to the hostel to meet up with my friend. We stayed at Wombats and had a more or less pleasant experience. There’s free wifi in the lobby and you get a free drink upon arrival, not too bad. Our first day we set out to see the nearby sights. We went to the Berliner Dom (gorgeous!), the DDR museum (I was skeptical, but loved it) and a grocery store. We discovered pizza cheese, aka gouda with sundried tomatoes. We had dinner at a place called Spätzle and Knödel and fell in love with German food. We followed it up with one of the best beers of my life at a microbrewery next door (Hops and Barley). Despite falling asleep on top of ourselves on the U-Bahn back, we were energized with the life of Berlin.
The next day it snowed. I wanted to cry, but thankfully my friend was in good enough spirits to help power me as we walked along the Berlin wall memorial. Our toes were freezing and we could barely see, but being in the presence of such history was humbling. You don’t realize how many preconceptions you have about the Berlin wall until you’re faced with it. It was not what I anticipated, but I’m not even sure what I anticipated.
Although we had to stop in a souvenier store to warm up and buy replacement gloves, my friend and I were strangely happy we got to see the Berlin wall in such austere circumstances. We wouldn’t realize how lucky we were, however, until we stumbled upon the holocaust memorial later that day and saw people climbing on top of the blocks to take photos. It still irks me.
But first we had to stop for coffee, get lunch at a mall, get yelled at for not having money for the toilet and pop into the Gemäldegalerie.
My dad told me I needed to go and I may have pounded it into my friend’s head that we simply had to stop by. Luckily, we were both glad we did. On Sunday afternoon, when we couldn’t take the cold wind anymore, we sought refuge in the clean, warm galleries. The Gemäldegalerie is a brilliant size. It’s not huge and overwhelming, like the MET or National Gallery in London, but big enough to get lost for a couple hours. Big enough that you’ll wonder if you’ve seen it all. Big enough to have paintings that you didn’t know were there. We walked through the rooms saying things like ‘Hey, that’s Rembrandt!’ ‘This look familiar…that would be because it’s a Reubeun.’ ‘That looks like Girl With a Pearl Earring,’ ‘Chelsea, this is a Vermeer as well.’ It was fun and there were more than a couple times when we stopped in our tracks.
Sunday evening was chilly, but not chilly enough to stop us from seeing Bradenburg Gate, the Reichstag and walking a bit too far to get fancy chocolates. Marzipan is, and will always be, my love.
That evening we went out for Vietnamese food by our hostel and went to the coolest bar ever. If you are in Berlin, go to Mein Haus am See. I recommend the light beer. You’ll never want to leave. We certainly didn’t peel ourselves off of our hard-won couch for at least a couple of hours.
Our final morning began vying for the bathroom with our roommates, bircher museli at the bakery next door (I was obsessed) and getting confused at
Chatlet Alexanderplatz. After scratching our brows, we made our way to the East Side Gallery. I was glad I had my friend there, because it was the kind of place I wouldn’t seek out on my own, but I’m glad to have seen.
The East Side Gallery is a collection of paintings on the East side of the Berlin wall that commemorate the trials and tribulations of the people who lived under the DDR. It was fascinating to see, haunting and horrifying — especially when you saw the grafitti that people wrote over all of the paintings. We didn’t intend to, but we walked the entire length. Our minds may have been happy, but our feet weren’t.
When we finally had to part ways, it was over confusion and tears at Alexanderplatz. My friend had an afternoon flight out of Schoenfeld and I an evening flight from Tegel. I wished her luck on her year abroad and walked into Berlin on my own. With no one to scream ‘U, U, U!’ to as I went in the subway.
I had a perfectly relaxing couple of hours choosing Mozart marzipan for myself, buying magazines, socks and eating lunch. I walked around a bit and bought some labello. I had one last good coffee before returning to the land of the tiny espresso cup.
By the time I was in seat 5c I wasn’t ready to say I would move to Berlin, but I was eager to head back. Berlin is definitely a trendy city, but it felt like home in a way that no other European city has ever felt to me. I can’t believe that I was actually there. I recommend you experience it for yourself.
Have you ever been to Berlin? What’s the most surprising historical monument you’ve ever seen?