Berlin is not a city to be described with just a few words.
It may be young for a European capital but there’s no shortage of history here nor does it feel stuck in the past. Berlin is vibrant and youthful, modern and edgy. A place where ambitious businessmen in suits pass free spirited artists on the streets without a second glance. Contradictions are allowed to thrive in this enigmatic city.
If its not already obvious, I love Berlin like I love all things that defy categorization. There was something beautiful hiding around every corner and something unique in every Berliner I met. I don’t think it was more than an hour after breakfast on my first day before I abandoned all pretense (and my map) and just stated walking around the city, letting it lead me to my next destination. Whatever caught my eye off in the distance was where I went next and I was never disappointed.
Cafe culture is pretty strong in Berlin and so I started my day with breakfast at Pure Origins which is tucked quite neatly under a S-bahn overpass. Naturally that included one of those fancifully designed hot chocolates but I, of course, decided to spill mine and ruin the foamy design before I could take a proper picture. It was however, delicious and I loved my vegan berry pastry.
After a serious of self-induced detours I found my way to the Berliner Dom which quickly became my favorite cathedral (and after 3 months in Europe, I’ve seen quite a few). With it’s Neo-Baroque style and dark exterior, its meant to impress. I also wandered into a few smaller churches (with no entrance fees) including a Catholic Cathedral and a Lutheran Church. While I’m not particularly religious myself I enjoy visiting a church or two where ever I go because they attest to the religious atmosphere of the city or country. Berlin expresses a certain pluralism with clear roots in the Protestant Reformation.
Berlin takes street art to a whole different level. Where other cities have graffiti, Berlin has art. Some of the best that I found were around Hackescher Market (which as a side note is a great place to head if you’re in need of some fresh produce or handmade crafts). But its everywhere and its really beautiful. I snapped this for one of my friend (you know who you are) but it doesn’t even begin to capture the range of art featured on walls and bridges, in tunnels and alleyways. Some even venture as far as to become multimedia projects with 3D installations and glitter abound.
I could probably write an entire blog post on my visit to the Berlin Wall Memorial. I’ve never had such an emotionally moving experience in my life. The Memorial preserves not only pieces of the Wall but the stories of those impacted by it. Those who lived with the Wall and those who gave their lives to it as well as those who worked to build it and those who sought to destroy it. Their stories were at once heartbreaking and inspiring. The Berlin Wall fell in 1989, but when I stood next to it I could still feel its power. It is a mark of oppression and separation but I think it is important that a part of it stands to this day. Its a reminder not to forget the past and not to make such a mistake again. I could say so much more but at the end of it I think the Berlin Wall is something a person just has to see for themselves.
In an attempt to find Bebelplatz, the square where the Nazis held their infamous book burnings, I took a wrong turn and instead ended up spending two hours at the German History Museum. This museum is a must, must visit whether you’re an expert on Germany or know nothing at all. From Charlemagne’s coronation in 800 AD to Reunification in 1990, this museum covers everything and does so without hiding the darker parts of Germany’s past. In other words, I spent two hours letting my inner history nerd run wild. One lesson I’ve learned time and time again in my travels is that sometimes a wrong turn can be oh-so right.
Berlin is a truly multicultural city that caters to just about any foodie craving but being that it was my first time in Germany I wanted real German food. Surprisingly, easier said than done in Berlin. With some luck I found Stadtklause which serves up traditional German meals, including locally brewed beer. This was real German homestyle dining where everyone shares their table with strangers and if you’re the lone non-German speaking American stuck with non-English speaking Germans then the dinner conversation is not going to go much further than hallo. Either way everyone was nice and I had the first meal I could describe as “hearty” since leaving California. Rissoles topped with potatoes topped with fried eggs and a side of sauerkraut washed down with a beer. Naturally, a food coma followed.
Originally this was supposed to be about my entire trip to Berlin but I think I underestimated all I had to say. Plus, I am no passive traveler and these are just the highlights of my day. Given that the study part of study abroad has severally limited my travel days, I tend to make the most of the little time I have. Therefore, Berlin: Part II will be coming at you real soon