After we said our goodbyes to Scandinavia, we boarded an overnight train headed for Berlin, Germany. I had zero expectations for Berlin. I hadn't heard much about it and I had never had much interest in visiting before this trip. Because we arrived in Berlin so early, we were able to get a great head start on the day. We began our adventure in Berlin's main train station, Berlin Hauptbahnhof, not far from the heart of the city. We decided to check our luggage at the train station so that we could explore the city without the weight of our belongings. At 5 euro for the whole day, it was well worth it!
|I look like this because I slept on a train the night before.|
The agenda for the day: explore! We knew we wanted to take the 9am NewBerlin Walking Tour and all agreed that breakfast was necessary to sustain ourselves throughout the day. On our search for breakfast, we stumbled upon the Reichstag (Berlin's capital building). It is absolutely enormous. What we didn't realize at the time was that its incredible size would set the tone for the rest of Berlin. We were all struck by it's power and my excitement for this city began to grow.
For breakfast, we found a cute little street side cafe, not far from the tour's meeting place (pictured above). Everyone ordered something different and we all shared with each other. The hot chocolate was one of the best hot chocolates I've ever had; it was a perfect mixture of creamy chocolate. We cut it a bit close with breakfast and had to rush over to the tour, but were able to make it in time. As usual, the tour did not disappoint. Our guide led us to so many places and provided amazing historical insight into each stop. It was one of the best tours I've ever been on.
After providing a 10 minute history lesson, our guide took us to Berlin's Monument to the Murdered Jews of Europe and had us walk through individually. I appreciate that she asked us to separate from our friends, family, and fellow tour members, because almost instantly we were lost from one another, losing friends in a single turn. As you walk into the center, the concrete pillars begin getting taller and you begin to lose site and sound of the city around you. Many criticize the monument for being ugly, but I think the experience is so powerful. The artist wanted people to have a glimpse into what it was like for Jews during the Holocaust to be lost and separated from all that was familiar and safe, and I think the monument captures a fraction of that feeling.
After a stop above Hitler's "final stand" bunker, we made our way through several Nazi built buildings that have been repurposed and continue to be used today (i.e. the German IRS building). We made a stop at a still-standing portion of the Berlin Wall and learned of all the methods authorities used to keep people from crossing (snipers, attack dogs, spikes hidden under sand, etc.)
Next up: Checkpoint Charlie! This was so fun to see in person. It was crazy touristy, but worth being able to say that I've been there. There was even a vendor that was offering to stamp passports with East/West Berlin stamps, but I didn't want to have to pay for a stamp. When I told my friend Julie about it, she said, "I didn't think I should have an unofficial marker in a government document". I didn't even think of that, ha!
After Checkpoint Charlie, we hit some major sites including, The Opera House, the Royal Court, the Memorial of the Unmarked Jew and Unmarked Nazi Solider, and Museum Island. The buildings continued to be huge and the history rich. Before we left, we made sure to ask our guide about recommendations on where to eat, neighborhoods to see, and places to skip. It's so great to get a local opinion so you can know what the true highlights are. I mean, as Rick Steves says, "Traveling is becoming a temporary local".
We gathered our things, some lunch, and then hung out at our apartment until Sarah joined us later that night. A sweet thunderstorm rolled in and we were able to rest up for an (unknowingly) long evening. After Sarah arrived, and we were able to share our stories with her, we headed to dinner. Based on our guide's recommendation, we ate in Berlin's Mediterranean neighborhood. The food wasn't great, but I really enjoyed sitting along the sidewalk, watching the city go by, and having conversation with my friends.
|A band playing in a train station. Time: 3:00am!|
|See the sunrise coming in the distance?|
Berlin is known for its House music and has a crazy nightclub scene that Ian wanted to check it out. Robbie did some nightclub research before we left for dinner and found a place called "Watergate" right along the river. As we made our way over, we could here House music pouring out of each bar and club. We were fortunate that our dinner ran late because most of the clubs didn't even open until midnight, with the last DJ scheduled to start spinning at 8am! Robbie and I left around 3am (yikes!), while Ian and Sarah stayed out until sunrise! I was a bit hesitate at the thought of going to a club so late, but I am SO glad we did. It was so fun to dance with our friends and be part of Berlin's culture, even if it was only for a couple of hours.
We took the second day in Berlin at a much slower pace. We slept in a bit (or napped for Ian and Sarah :) and then headed out for an authentic German breakfast. Ian found an amazing place online called, Anna Blume. It had great reviews, is favored by locals, and is located in the super cute Prenzlauer Berg neighborhood. We all loved the big trees and Ali thought it reminded her of Willow Glen (a cute neighborhood in San Jose). Breakfast was delicious. We shared their special, had more food than our table could hold, ordered sweet juices, and couldn't even finish everything! It was probably one of my favorite meals of the whole trip.
After breakfast we went to a local flea market (another recommendation from our guide) held on Sundays. It was huge, full of people, with a ton of variety to browse through. It was crazy crowded, but full of locals. The whole morning felt how a lazy Sunday afternoon that would be spent if we actually lived there.
At this point, we decided to split with Ali and Elijah. The four of us decided to take a second walking tour and they wanted to hang at the flea market a bit longer. Things got a little crazy from here. We were a little pinched for time and could have made it no problem, but Robbie jinxed us by saying, "We'll definitely make it unless we have crazy bad luck". We barely missed our first tram from the flea market, which then lead us to miss the train. In a rush of trying to get on the right train, we went in the wrong direction completely! We found ourselves totally lost in an unfamiliar train station, with Robbie frustrated at himself, and Ian, Sarah, and I running around like crazy people wherever we thought we should go. Since we missed our tour I suggested that we take the West Berlin Walking Tour, and everyone jumped at the idea. Once we arrived at the meeting place, we realized that there isn't actually a West Berlin tour, it's just a separate meeting place for the East Berlin tour we took yesterday! Tours were not in our cards that day, but we were able to make light of the whole situation. I mean, what's a trip if you're not getting a little lost?!
For dinner that night we decided to go to the oldest Beer Garden in Berlin, Pratergarten. It is located in in Prenzlauer Berg and a quick tram ride from our apartment. I really, really liked spending time here. The food was actually really delicious and the atmosphere was surprisingly family friendly. Kidlets were running around while their parents enjoyed conversation; I loved how they continued to include their children in their lives and didn't just suspend their lifestyle completely.
The next morning we made sure to see the last of what we wanted before we left for Prague. Robbie, Sarah, Ian, and I decided to explore Berlin's huge park, the Tiergarten. Two main things to know about the park: it is HUGE and it is beautiful. It used to be the hunting grounds for the Royal Family, so it was created to have loads of space for animals to roam and men to shoot. As you go deeper into the park, it feels more and more like a forest; tall trees, green meadows, and serene lakes. You can very easily forget that you are in such a massive city. Leave yourself plenty of time to explore; it took us over an hour to get from one end to another, at a pretty quick pace.
Overall, I think that Berlin was one of my favorite stops on the whole trip. I was so surprised by how large the whole city was, but not intimidating. Robbie and I have already agreed that the next time we visit, we want to be here for at least a week.
Have you been to Berlin? What was most surprising for you?
(More photos after the jump)