October 25, 2018 – October 28, 2018
Not going to lie, Berlin was never really high on my list of places to visit, for no reason in particular. It was, however, one of my husband’s top priority cities when we moved to Europe 2 years ago, and if I would have known how much I would enjoy this incredible city I would have moved it up the priority list too.
Berlin is easy (in theory) to get to from Amsterdam. You have a couple options – you take a 1 hour flight, you take a 6 hour train, you drive yourself 7 hours. To mix things up a bit, we took the train after work on Thursday with some friends. The good thing about taking the train is that you can bring you own snacks and drinks and have a little picnic party in the cabin. The bad thing about taking the train is if there’s a delay and you only have a 15 minute layover in Hanover, you might be screwed.
We enjoyed our wine and train snacks and weren’t going to let the possibility of missing our connection get us down. Because our train didn’t have a bar cart, we had to stop in one of the stations for 20 minutes so people could get snacks. This cut into our 15 minute layover and of course, we missed our connecting train. The next train didn’t leave Hanover for an hour and a half, so we got a good tour of the train station.
We arrived at the posh MOXY hotel in Berlin a little tipsy and tired at about 1am. Needless to say, we pretty much just checked in and went to bed.
The next morning we woke up prepared to be ultimate Berlin tourists, but were still a little groggy from all the train wine. As we were staying right beside the East Side Gallery, this was our first stop of the day. What is the East Side Gallery you ask? It is the largest remaining stretch of the Berlin Wall (1300m) that is decorated with beautiful murals from 150 artists. The dates of most of the paintings said 1990, so I think that is when most of them were completed, very soon after most of the wall came down. We’ll get to the history lesson shortly.
Although I was fascinated by all of the different artists’ depictions, I also took a few moments to reflect about the purpose of the wall.
Lunch was the next stop of the day, and the first of many amazing meals in Berlin. We visited a foodhall type of marketplace where you could pick several different stalls of food. We went with some BBQ meats, a Mexican burrito bowl, pizza and some beers.
Most of the top recommendations for things to do in Berlin include museums, so that’s where we headed to next. The Topography of Terror might sound like a theme park ride, but it’s actually an indoor/outdoor museum focusing on the Nazi Party’s rise to infamy, Hitler, and the innocent people who were murdered. It is somber museum with huge white tapestries hanging from the ceiling with stories and pictures on them. You kind of walk around in a maze in chronological order to read the stories.
One story in particular that really stood out with me was the Nazi’s use of euthanasia on mentally handicapped people because the Nazis thought they were just another mouth to feed that didn’t contribute to society. It’s important that we remember the horrible things that were done in the past so we don’t continue to make the same mistakes in the future.
I would definitely recommend this museum. Although it is a lot to read and was a bit crowded, the stories and pictures gave an accurate, although troubling, depiction of life in Europe in the 1930-1940s.
In search of happier times, our next stop was for coffee and cake at the top of the parliament building, the Reichstag. In order to get into the parliament building, you have to make reservations in advance and even give details such as your birthday for the booking. We were hustling from the museum to make it to our reservations in time and didn’t realize that we would have to go through a long line of security and then through various other lines for elevators and also for seemingly no reason in particular. We ended up making it about 15 minutes late for our reservation, but that’s life.
The view from the restaurant would have been better if we were near the window, but the cake itself (complete with a whole bowl of whipped cream) and coffee were pleasant. We topped it all off with a bottle of rose champagne. The restaurant was closing for a private event for the evening, so we kind of got kicked out after we were done eating, and we went to check out the dome at the top of the building.
There’s a spiral staircase along the outer edge of the glass that takes you up and loops back down within the dome. The engineering is pretty neat because it directs the flow of traffic nicely. Although it was really cold up on top of the building, I really enjoyed the views. You could even see the EY building!
Not too far from the parliament building was the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. It consists of 2,711 concrete slabs of varying heights arranged in a big kind of parking lot area with a sloping ground. Built in 2005, no one knows why the architect used 2,711 slabs or used varying heights, but I think it’s kind of perfect. You can get lost within the sloping ground and the high slabs and feel secluded. A perfect time to reflect on the many Jews who lost their lives.
After having spent some time outdoors, the next stop we made was at the Ritz Carlton hotel bar, the Fragrance Bar. The hotel itself was super extravagant with huge marble staircases and dazzling diamond chandeliers, but the Fragrance Bar was a little more low key and had a chill vibe. Their shtick is that they have crafted cocktails with inspiration from different perfumes and colognes. You go and smell the different scents and then order your cocktail based on your preference.
The cocktail I ordered did smell similar to the perfume I picked, and the presentation of each of the drinks ordered was creative, but the taste left something to be desired. We enjoyed the cocktails and some snacks while chatting about our favorite parts of the day. For my second cocktail, I decided to not go with a fragrance and got a very delightful gin and mint drink served in a scary blue person mug. It was much better than the perfume drink.
After heading back to the hotel to change, our last event of the day was dinner at Cookies Cream, an upscale vegetarian restaurant that Tyler chose. Now when Tyler wants to go to a vegetarian restaurant, you expect it to be good because the boy loves his meat. The restaurant is situated in a back alleyway between two hotel buildings and if we hadn’t stopped for directions, we would have never found it. It looks like an abandoned warehouse on the side, and when you walk in it’s just a dingy bar. You have to go up the secret staircase to the restaurant that also looks a bit like a warehouse with exposed brick and ceilings and is super cute and trendy.
The food we had was incredible, from the avocado and seaweed caviar, to the Parmesan dumplings, to the quail egg in brioche and finally the fennel sorbet, I was in heaven.
I think it’s safe to say, after this meal, Tyler agrees that vegetarian can be delicious too.
On Saturday we took a bike tour of Berlin. Because Berlin is such a big city, I really think this was the best way to see the main sites without having to walk 1000 miles. The Fat Tire Tours was a great tour company and let you pick out your own bike. I went with Space Cowboy and Tyler got Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle. The only downside of the bike tour was that it was really.freaking.cold. Towards the end of the tour I wasn’t even enjoying it anymore because I couldn’t feel my toes. Nevertheless, here are the highlights.
Berlin was founded by Albert the bear in 1237 which is why there are bears on the Berlin flag (and all over the city).
As with many German cities, Berlin was heavily bombed throughout WWII, 363 times in fact, and was mostly rebuilt after 1945. Although some buildings were rebuilt with original materials, you can tell that many of the buildings look newer.
Bebelplatz has a Catholic Church modeled after the Pantheon and is home to Humboldt University which boasts 30 Nobel prize winners in its alumni association. During WWII, the platz was the scene of a huge book burning. Any authors the Nazis deemed unworthy were included, such as Jewish authors, Communist authors, even Helen Keller. All in all, 20,000 books were burned. There’s a quote from Henrich Heimer in 1820 inscribed in the square “Those who first burn books will burn people”, in reference to the Spanish Inquisition, but also proved to be true in Germany in the 1940s.
Another exciting thing that happened in the Bebelplatz was that we saw an arrest. A young man was running through the square with a police officer chasing him on foot. Out of nowhere a police car zoomed through the square and cornered the man. The officers got out and caught the dude and pushed him to the ground and started hitting him. They handcuffed him and led him out of the square. It was quite exciting.
The next stop on the tour was the Gendarmenmarkt which has a French Cathedral and German Cathedral facing each other. The buildings were said to have been built to be exact replicas of each other so that the countries would be seen as equals. In fact, the Germans built their church one meter higher so that they could say they were actually the more superior ones. During the war, the statues at the top of the buildings were taken down and hidden in caves, rivers, lakes, various places to protect them from the bombing. After the war, the churches were built to be exactly the same height, and some of the original statues are still in tact because they were hidden.
The tour focused a lot on WWII, but also on what happened after the war: the Berlin Wall. Essentially, the wall, built by Communist East Berlin went up overnight in 1961. It started out as a barbed wire fence, but was quickly turned into a 3 meter high cement wall which was heavily patrolled. The wall circled around the free West Berlin, but intended to keep the East Berlin people who were under Soviet rule out. Before the wall was built, about 2.6 million people left East Berlin for safety in West Berlin. Once the wall was built from 1961 to 1989 only 5000 people escaped to West Berlin and 139 people died trying.
One family escaped by zipline from the top of a building in East Berlin to the ground in West Berlin across the No Mans Land. It is thought that the soldiers saw the family go across, but did not shoot because they thought they must be East German spies since no normal people would be able to do something so crazy.
We visited Checkpoint Charlie which was the third checkpoint you would come to when driving from West Germany into East Germany. From Checkpoint Alpha to Checkpoint Bravo, you only had a certain amount time to get there. If you were too quick, you would get a speeding ticket, if you were too slow you would be questioned about whether you made any unauthorized stops. Nowadays, there is a big picture of a US solider who is standing guard and watching over the Russians. On the opposite side there is a Russian soldier who is standing guard and watching over the US.
The bike tour stopped at a few other places that we had already seen the day before, the Brandenburg Gate, the Reichstag, Museum Island, and the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. One new thing we saw was the site of Hitler’s bunker. You would never know it was there if the tour didn’t stop there. There’s barely even a sign marking it and the site is now a parking lot. I like this idea of not giving him any glory or a place for his followers to convene.
The bike tour was very informative and covered a lot of ground, but it was COLD. I was an icicle by the time Space Cowboy and I got back to the home base. To warm up, we went to a nearby brewery & pub that had delicious, authentic German grub. I went with the spaetzel because cheesy goodness is my favorite and of course a flight of beer. We stayed and enjoyed some wurst and beer while warming our bones.
At the recommendation of a few different people, we checked out the DDR museum. This interactive museum shows what life was like in communist East Germany. Although it was a lot of reading and not as interactive as I expected, I enjoyed the museum. There was a replica of the standard house that everyone lived in with the standard good you could buy. Basically everyone had the same of everything, even cars. The only car you could have was called a Trabi and they only came in like 3 colors (see above). You had to be on a waiting list for sometimes 7 years for the car and can you imagine trying to find yours in a parking lot?
Pretty much the rest of the trip was spent eating and drinking. First up was a cocktail bar called the Monkey Bar. At the recommendation of a friend who had just visited Berlin, we headed across town to this swanky place. We had to wait in line for like 30 minutes to get to the bar, but once we got there it was like a fantasy jungle. Dark and with trees everywhere, you could see for miles across Berlin. The bar overlooks the zoo and we could hear animals when we went outside. The bar was super crowded, and it took us probably another 30 minutes to get our first round of drinks. However, the drinks were delicious so I didn’t care much. While we took in the ambiance, we tried to find somewhere to feast.
The winner was a Vietnamese place called Umami where once again we had to wait in a really long line to get in. But here, the wait was certainly worth it. We just ordered a bunch of food and shared everything including, coconut curry with crispy duck, shrimp spring rolls, fish soup, and so many other delicious things. I also had a coconut, mint tea that was really refreshing. A top notch meal once again in Berlin.
To top off our dinner, we headed to another cocktail bar, Limonadier which had a cozy atmosphere and delicious cocktails.
After all of our cocktails, it seemed like a good idea to go to the infamous Berlin clubs. Luckily there was one right by our hotel called the Kater Blau. We freshened up at the hotel (aka put on our best night club attire) and set out. When we arrived, we saw a line of about 300 people, but that didn’t deter us. I waited in the line for about 30 minutes and when we hadn’t moved yet and it was already 2:30am, I made Tyler walk me home. He went back to get in line and waited for another hour before the crew made it to the front. Unfortunately, the club wasn’t letting any more people in by the time they got to the front and the group was waved on by. I don’t think anyone was particularly happy about waiting 1.5 hours in line to get denied, but I was happy to get some sleep!
On Sunday, I awoke pretty early and knowing that Tyler would sleep in, went exploring on my own. I headed back to the East Side Gallery to once again check out the wall. I really had time to explore and saw a few new things that I didn’t notice the day before. It was also more impactful to reflect on the wall while wandering solo.
I also walked back by the club and saw that there was STILL a line. At 9:30 in the morning! I thought it would be funny to try to get in then, but after glancing at some of the people in line, I didn’t think I would want to be in their company.
Once I heard rumblings of the group awakening, I went back to the hotel because I was starving. We decided to walk to the best doner place in town for lunch. About a 20 minute walk from our hotel, the route to Mustafas Gemuse Doner took us past areas that we hadn’t seen before. It was more of the run down part of Berlin, but there was so much street art to admire. We reached the doner shop, which is definitely more of a late night place because in fact it’s really just a storefront and you can’t even go inside. We got the most delicious sandwiches and found a bench to enjoy them on. I mean this was literally the best doner I have ever had. All of the ingredients tasted so fresh and the garlic and spicy sauce were delectable. We stuffed our faces on the enormous sandwiches and when we were done, Tyler pointed out a baklava shop across the street.
How could I say no to that? I don’t know how, but I stuffed a whole piece of baklava into my already overflowing belly and I don’t regret it one bit. Seriously, the food might have been my favorite part of Berlin.
Sadly, after lunch it was time to head to the train station and back to Amsterdam. We got to the station early so we could load up on snacks and drinks and hopefully get a seat in the bar cart. Our regular seats for the ride back were not at a table, and we wanted to play cards. We lucked out and got a seat and taught our friends a new game. We were having a merry time, eating and drinking and playing cards, until we almost got thrown off the train. Apparently, you aren’t supposed to drink your own alcohol in the bar cart, and even though we were ordering food and beer from him, the cook got pissed. He yelled at us in German and told us what we think was to go see the conductor. We did not go see the conductor and luckily were able to get off the train in Amsterdam about 30 minutes later. I’m usually one to stay out of trouble and I was so scared that we were going to get thrown off. I guess I have learned my lesson that if I want to drink my own wine on the train, I better go find my own seat.
Berlin was such an amazing city to experience. From the culture and history, to the gourmet restaurants, everything was perfect. Another must see city to include in your travel plans.