Backpacking Europe: Berlin

I arrived in Berlin in the evening, similar to my arrival in Amsterdam. In high spirits with the day quickly coming to a close, I slowly became aware of something that I’m going to have to observe as a travel commandment in the future: arrive in the morning. Just do it.

It turns out, when I arrive some place when it’s already getting dark it’s much more terrifying being in a new place. Imagine that. I end up feeling pretty out of sorts until I’m able to demystify the new location by finding grocery stores and restaurants. It’s always possible to correct it the next day, but if you’re like me and like to get the lay of the land when you arrive somewhere then why prolong the discomfort if you don’t have to?

I was in Berlin for three nights and four days, and the goal was to spend €168 or less in that time on food and activities for me and my husband. Did we do it? Yes!!! That is in large part thanks to not visiting any museums at all. We were a bit museumed out after visiting so many in Amsterdam.

Berlin was actually full of small bits of good luck for us. It started when we made it to the guest house twenty minutes after the front desk was supposed to close (something I failed to notice in the booking) and the receptionist just happened to still be there! Next she needed a key deposit and I had exactly the cash she needed. There were a series of small but significant other bits of good luck that had me feeling a little like everything was gonna be just fine, and it hasn’t really stopped since then.

It has me thinking about whether it’s good luck or perhaps I’m more cynical than I realized, because I suppose I am a believer in Murphy’s law (the old adage, “whatever can go wrong will”). Maybe it’s just an incomplete saying. People sometimes say “whatever can go right will” as a retort, but I don’t think either stand alone. I think they’re siblings and whatever can go wrong will, just like anything that can go right will.

Anyhow, we checked into our guest house and we’re immediately struck by the unshakeable sensation that we had just checked into a deserted building. There were no sounds of life anywhere other than the slightly irate woman who checked us in, and it was getting increasingly creepy as we climbed each flight of stairs to get to our forth floor room at the end of the hall. The room itself had crooked walls that got narrower towards the head of the beds, and the bathroom by the staircase was for men with a second bathroom for women around the corner and down the hall.

We walked down the halls to figure out where everything is and ended up in the hallway with the trippy floor lights as the only form of light. Turns out that’s where the women’s bathroom is. No thanks, That “men’s” bathroom is now unisex. I’m easily spooked and I will not be walking down that creepy ass hallway by myself even once. We went to sleep that evening wondering if we had made a mistake by choosing this guest house in this part of town.

When we woke up the next morning the place was somehow a lot less unnerving. There was cheerful light coming through our window, the stairwells were suddenly charming, and we could see and hear other inhabitants finally! We felt much better in the soft sunlight through the window and a full night of undisturbed sleep.

We snagged some bread at a convenience store and had been snagging extra Nutella packs from the breakfast buffet at our last hostel, so our Berlin breakfast for the mornings we stayed there was bread and Nutella. Not bad for a budget friendly meal! We switched to peanut butter halfway through because it turns out protein is pretty important for staying full.

You know that foldable water bottle I showed in my packing list entry? Well it was terrible and leaked everywhere, so good riddance to that! I wish I had just brought my Nalgene water bottle, it would have been bulky but I could have easily clipped it to my travel pack.

First order of Business in Berlin was to check out Alexanderplatz and check out Hackescher Market. I found both sort of underwhelming. Very commercial, very busy, and very expensive. Good for shopping, so if you want to stop in the multistory Primark or Topman that’s a good place to do it. It was the closest walkable hub to our guesthouse though so that’s where we figured out the public transit situation and got our bearings.

From Alexanderplatz we snagged a curry wurst at an outdoor food vendor and we were not disappointed, it’s very satisfying junk food. Definitely worth a try if you’re interested in street food! It’s a sausage served with a BBQ-like sauce and curry powder on top. Every time I wished for more curry powder! There are stands selling curry wurst by a lot of the train stations around the city so they’re easy to find.

A lot of time was spent in second hand/vintage shops in Berlin. There are some really great pick and weigh stores in the area and of course the second we set foot in another country Erik’s jacket started falling apart, so he decided a leather jacket from Berlin would be a pretty sicknasty souvenir.

A lot of the pieces available in these stores are from the 80’s and 90’s so it ended up being pretty difficult to find a modern jacket without massive sleeves and too many zippers! I had a pretty hard time not buying a ton of awesome stuff I found but the prospect of having to carry it with me was definitely a detractor. The Jacket search goes on…

This first place we checked out was in Kreuzberg, which also happens to be where a lot of the punk scene and clubs are so we wandered around the area into the evening, finding a great sunset over the river and a punk bar called Trinkteufel. We tried to check out a show at SO36, a club that David Bowie and Iggy Pop used to party at but the performance was some reading in German. We resolved to comeback the next night, had a drink at Trinkteufel, and called it a night.

There’s a lot of incredible graffiti hiding everywhere in Berlin. I thought this astronaut dude was pretty sweet, how lucky he is to have his path forever illuminated by the street lamp across the street.

On one of the full days we had in Berlin we got unlimited public transit passes so we could jet around the city, and it was really accessible! I usually hate getting to know new public transit systems, but getting around in Berlin was really easy to figure out. An unlimited pass that lasts until 3am the following day is only €7, which is worth it if you plan on taking more than two trips in a day. All of the stations are very clearly marked, which makes navigating pretty intuitive.

We had to check out the Berlin Wall Memorial while we were visiting and after taking in some of the informational displays we made it down to portions of the actual wall in place. Pieces of it are still standing and covered in graffiti.

Also a must see in Berlin is The Memorial To The Murdered Jews of Europe. It is by far the most touching and breathtaking holocaust memorial I have ever been to. I think in the current political climate of growing bigotry and fear of the unfamiliar it is more important than ever to remember the victims of the holocaust, to say “never again”, and recommit to the fight for every human on this earth to feel safe.

Every time I get to a new place all I can think is that I’m still on the same earth. I may have traveled to be here by plane or train or car but I’m still on the same planet with people who are just like me in so many ways. And if they aren’t? If there’s a language barrier, or customs I’m not familiar with? Then it’s time I learn something new instead of being afraid simply because I’m out of my element.

On a recommendation from one of the million articles I read on what to do in Berlin, Erik and I gave a Club Mate a try. It’s a super caffeinated soda that tastes sort of like a citrusy cream soda? Maybe you’ll taste it and think I’m nuts, but don’t judge me too harshly, it’s a difficult flavor to describe!

Our last evening in Berlin we checked out a really cool talk being hosted at SO36 about the alt right culture war online and how it effects things IRL. A lot of really interesting comments on intention vs action and real world ramifications of online troll behavior. I definitely appreciated the headset provided for audience members that needed English translations of some of the speakers! Afterwards we hung around outside and had some fun conversations with some locals that had attended and then had one more drink at Trinkteufel.

Clubbing is something we really wanted to do while in Berlin but we had the poor planing of only being in Berlin Sunday night through Wednesday morning which meant we were missing out on the best of it.

All in all, wandering around Berlin was a blast, and I loved getting to know a new place. The city is more sprawling than I was prepared for, and the part of the city we stayed in was between walkable areas which meant we had to take public transit to get to most places. The next time we come I’ll make a special effort to choose a more interesting part of town to stay in (probably Kreuzberg), get the unlimited public transit pass for all the days I’m visiting, and to be there over a weekend. I’m looking forward to it!

This isn’t goodbye, it’s see you later,

Michelle

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