I had heard some mixed things about Berlin before our visit earlier this month. Some of my friends loved it, some said they ran out of stuff to do, and some said it was fascinating. I ended up agreeing with the latter, it is a fascinating city, though maybe not one I would want to live in (I´m probably not artsy/cool enough).
Our first day started at around 4:30 in the morning in order to catch our 7am flight. That put us in the city around 9, and amazingly enough our hotel let us check in hours earlier, leaving us luggage free to explore the city. We made it into the city center in time to catch one of the free tours of the city. First I made a quick pit stop at Dunkin Donuts- so nice to have a decent sized cup of coffee (a “large” coffee in Germany is smaller than an American small). The tour was great, we got a good overview of how the Nazi party came to power, saw a very expensive and interesting Holocaust memorial, the area where Hitler committed suicide (now a parking lot), and Checkpoint Charlie (overrated) just to name some.
After the tour ended we made a quick trip through a cool Turkish street market (I love markets) and found a small sushi place I had read about. This place was tiny, but man was the sushi good, and SO CHEAP. Munich is said to be the most expensive city in Germany, and Berlin is probably the cheapest. Toby and I each got 2 rolls and a soup for 15 Euros.
Later that night we made reservations at this small Israeli place which turned out to be delicious, I´d never had Israeli food, but I would love to have it again! I´m not quite sure what I got, some chicken/hummus/soy/honey combination with endless fresh pita bread. Our meal, with wine, was only 20 Euros- why can´t the rest of western Europe be this cheap? Then we met up with a friend for drinks next door, and of course the drinks were about half the price as those in Munich, a very nice change.
On Saturday we started the day with a very expansive hotel breakfast, which was great. Then we headed to the government area, where the Bundestag (parliament) is located. After walking around a bit we headed to the warmth of a huge department store called KaDeWe, which is similar to Harrods, though not quite as grand.
The store has the most amazing floor that is chock full of fabulous foods, wine, spices and more. There are food counters galore where you can buy almost any food item you an imagine, and long counters where they whip up fresh regional cuisine right in front of you, though we couldn´t afford these expensive delicacies. The top floor, which is made up of a “food court” was more in our price range. I use the term food court lightly though, because it is very different than an American food court. They sell gourmet gelato, fresh cooked fish, crepes to order, mini bottles of champagne and other tempting treats. They also have a bar for people to grab an afternoon drink. I selected a slice of cheesecake which was perfectly creamy to have as pre-lunch snack. Then we met up with 2 of Toby´s friends to have a good luck glass of Hugo before heading out to the old Olympic Stadium (built by Hitler) to see my first Fußball game!
When we got to the stadium there were massive crowds milling around, it was pretty tame though, considering how crazy fußball fans can get. Apparently in some countries you are advised to not bring yours kids in case things get out of hand. We got a bratwurst and found our seats, which were pretty good. I´m not a big sports fan, but watching a game live at such a huge stadium was pretty cool. There was huge section for all the Berlin fan club members, and they were constantly jumping up and down, waving their arms and shouting. It looked kind of exhausting, but was certainly entertaining to watch. Even the visiting team had a substantial fan section, and they also were very energetic.
Sadly Berlin lost, but that didn´t matter that much to us. One of the most interesting aspects of the experience came after the game when the fans from the opposing team were escorted out of the arena by a massive line of police, so that the fans from the two teams wouldn´t clash. It was somewhat intimidating watching literally hundreds of police, some dressed in SWAT-like garb and some on huge horses standing guard, all just so that grown men didn´t fight over a game. I obviously don´t get why anyone would fight over a sport, but it happens fairly often. Anyways…
We finished off the night with by grabbing locally brewed beer nearby with some fans and then a quick bite to eat at a Thai place.
On our last day in Berlin we visited the Berlin Jewish Museum
which I would highly suggest. I know a fair amount about World War II and the Holocaust, but I learned a lot about the treatment of Jews before and after the Shoah. The architecture of the museum is very interesting as well, and compliments the exhibits nicely. We only had about 2 hours to wander around, but you could easily spend a whole afternoon taking it all in.
Once we left the museum we met up with another tour, this time it was of “Alternative Berlin”, our guide from the last tour had suggested it and he turned out to be the one leading this one. The tour was awesome, it focused a lot on street art and the gentrification of many parts of the city. I only knew a little bit about street art before the tour, mostly thanks to my Intro to Art class that taught me about Banksy, but he was a fantastic guide and gave a really good overview of the evolution of tagging and street art. This tour also allowed us to see some really neat parts of the city we probably wouldn´t have found on our own. We ended the tour at the East Side Gallery, which is thought to be the largest and longest-standing outdoor art gallery in the world. It is a 1.3 km long section of the Berlin Wall that has been painted by over a 100 different artists, creating an impressive variety of murals and paintings.
After the tour finished, we made our way over to a street full of restaurants where we enjoyed some good Mexican food. The free basket of chips wasn´t quite as fresh or large as in America, but the rest of the food made up for it! Then it was off to the Berlin Airport (which really needs some updating) and back to Munich!
I really enjoyed our time in Berlin, it is a city with a fascinating past and a bright future, plus the food we ate was fantastic. However, I was happy to head back home to Munich, which I find to be a safer, cleaner and prettier city.