Berlin was the first stop on a three week trip to Europe in May 2015 and it was an absolute dream. But not “a dream” in the way you would think. It wasn’t the typical cobblestone streets, castle on a hill, beautifully arquitectured city of European travel fairytales. It was so much more than that and way more than I could have asked for from my first European city. From beer to bicycles, and bagels to the Berlin Wall, Berlin had character and life and I loved it! There are definitely no fairytales in Berlin, but you can easily see the gritty and cool the city has to offer.
Our two days in our first European city were insane for my two friends and me. Seriously, all of the walks that Sydney, Kyla, and I went on throughout various parts of the city were just simply incredible in every sense of the word — I literally found it difficult to believe that I was walking around a European city, reading words in German every single place I looked. It was a completely surreal experience. I loved it; the entire aurora of Berlin was just so foreign and so European to me. As a travel novice and someone who had never traveled outside of North America, I had never been to a place like this. Not only was that the most bikes I had ever seen in a city, but I had never experienced people carrying around bottles and cases of beer so casually. In the United States that just doesn’t happen. So Berlin provided us with quite the culture shock.
After getting off the plane in the Schönefeld Airport, getting my passport stamped, and taking that first step out of the airport, as a novice traveler, I felt overwhelmed. In the best way. The three of us had no idea where the train station was, but after twenty or thirty minutes of asking around, we finally figured it out. We bought the tickets with some trouble and were finally headed toward Berlin. After an anxious train ride, we arrived in Alexanderplatz and I probably felt the most lost I had ever felt in my entire life. But looking up at that communist TV Tower and listening to the people around me speaking a foreign language, I realized that this was also some of the most excitement and greatest feeling of adventure I had ever felt. I thought that I had planned the trip well enough to know where we should go as I had checked Google Maps to know the general direction of the hostel from the train station, but obviously I had failed so, after examining some maps for a bit, I ended up pointing us in a direction and we started wandering.
It turned out we were too far east of where we were staying at Meininger Hotel Alexanderplatz in the Mitte and we asked some twelve-year-old boys (Kyla wondered why they were not at school that morning) for directions and assistance (which gave them a chance to practice their English but unfortunately did not give me the chance to practice my German). They didn’t really help us, but at least they tried. Moral of the story is: we found the hostel eventually. And it was really nice and we had a great time there.
That afternoon, after we got settled in (as settled in as you can get when you know you’re leaving in like a day), we just walked around toward Museum Island without visiting any museums, did some shopping at some stalls nearby, and then turned around to head back. We had a lovely time looking like crazed tourists, staring at everything around us. Finally, we got dinner and went to sleep early after a long day of travel.
The next day we took the S-Bahn as well as walked around various parts of the city, taking everything in and loving it. In the morning, after getting delicious bagels at the cafe across the street from our hostel, we went north to the Mauer Park (which was sooo dirty with trash everywhere!) and saw various parts of where the wall used to be in that area:
Then we walked along the Berlin Wall East Side Gallery which all three of us agreed was incredibly cool:
The Holocaust Memorial truly did move me. What I really appreciated about it was the fact that each and every person, while walking through the gray blocks of concrete, can feel different emotions and think different thoughts and therefore interpret the memorial in such different ways. The way I interpreted it was more of a feeling than something I can offer you with a clear explanation. It’s a must-do if you ever visit Berlin:
We finished the day by seeing the Brandenburg Gate and visiting the Reichstag Building, both nearby to the Holocaust Memorial, and one of the things I was most excited to see in Berlin. I had reserved tickets online in advance, so after going through security and Sydney getting his butterknife confiscated, we took the audio tour of the glass dome and got beautiful views of the city in the process. The Reichstag Building is home to Germany’s parliament, the Bundestag. As I learned in German 2, the newly constructed dome is a symbol of how the German government has learned its lesson and now strongly strives for openness in politics, as the German public can see their parliament through the glass below. From the top of the the dome and on the roof of the building, we saw sweeping views of the city around us:
I forgot to mention that, while we were strolling around the city, we happened upon the Berlin Mall where I stressfully lost and found my sunglasses as well as got my second holes pierced in my ears in Claire’s on a complete whim. The most bad ass thing I did while in Europe. Plus I had to speak German because the Claire’s employees did not speak English which finally forced me to practice my German. Good thing I remembered learning “das Ohr” as a vocab word…
For lunch, we tried currywurst (mit pommes) — a must if you’re visiting Berlin:
Also, here is a very lovely picture of Kyla and I after using a German public restroom (that we had to pay for) together (to save money) for the first time EVER (they were out of paper towels):
To sum it all up, Berlin is most definitely 100% the coolest city I have ever been to. Regardless of the fact that it is also one of my favorites, I cannot possibly be the only one that sees it as downright cool; the mix between old and new, communist and free, the west and the east makes it so unique and difficult to understand completely. Berlin will always hold a special place in my heart as my first European city — even if I was only there for a couple of days.
The next morning, we left from the Hauptbahnhof and were off to Quedlinburg, Germany…