The Berlin Experience

I’m back in Bath after a whirlwind 2.333 days spent in Berlin. It was my first visit to the city, a place that’s been eagerly waiting to be checked off my to-do list. Unfortunately, 2.333 days is nowhere near enough time to visit this city of controversy so alas, my checkbox can only be 1/3 marked off. I don’t know when I’m going back, but I assure you it will happen.

My first experiences of the city weren’t the greatest, as M and I ran into a little hiccup trying to get into the city centre. Here’s something strange about me: as much of a spontaneous person as I am, I’m totally a nutty planner if need be (organization, organization, organization!!!) and if things don’t go as planned, BEWARE! In this instance, I tried to plan my evening out to the exact degree. Arriving at Schonefeld at 5pm, I wanted to make sure that not a minute was spared during our short trip. Having researched the various transportation options to get into the city I knew it would take approx 45 minutes from getting on the train to arriving at our Airbnb.  I booked dinner reservations at a restaurant that’s gotten rave reviews via trip Advisor for 7pm. One may ask why I didn’t make later reservations. And it is here where I can gloat my willingness to compromise.

You see, I’d originally reserved a table for 8:30pm, which would have given us plenty of time to get to the restaurant. However, when I told M about my plans he immediate got huffy saying, “I had one request. To watch England vs. Uruguay. That’s the ONE thing I wanted to do, you knew that!” The game was due to start at 9pm. Ok, how is it possible that the FIRST time you go to Berlin your ONE must-do item is to see a &*^%$ World Cup match!?!

But as it is my lifelong duty to make M as happy as possible I requested an earlier reservation, thus leaving us 2 hrs to get from the airport to our accommodations to drop off our bags, and to the restaurant. Because the plane landed on time, the initial part of my plan went off without a hitch. It was after we stepped off the plane that things started to go awry:

– I always try to make a mad dash to the passport control counter because it takes me 20x longer to pass through passport check than it does for European citizens. I’m not even joking. Twenty EU citizens get through in the amount of time it takes for one non-EU citizen to get checked. So, imagine my dissatisfaction when someone who shall remain anonymous decided to go for a washroom break right after getting off the plane, BEFORE passport check. Let’s be clear here, I am a perfectly reasonable person and obviously if someone needs to go, they need to go. The thing that was irksome was that this anonymous person actually stated he needed to go before we actually took off…and for some reason he chose not to use the toilet during our 1.5 hour flight. We were row 7A and 7B, which means we were one of the first ones to get off the plane. Picture how gutted I looked/felt as I just watched streams and streams of people walk by me as I waited not-so-patiently for said-anonymous person to finish up in the washroom.

I felt like I was in some Hunger Games test and I just had 15 minutes of my two-hour life stripped away from me.

– When we got to the train station I was absolutely shocked at the number of people waiting to line up for train tickets. 6 ticket machines, all of them with minimum 30 minute wait times. I wish I had taken a picture of this ridiculous looking scene, but instead, I huffed my way to the back of the line and had M stand in a different line to see which one would be faster. I was a little concerned because the instructions given on the travel websites stated to take the ‘RB14’ into the city centre and there was no ‘RB14’ in sight. There was every other letter and number combination available but no RB14. After 10 min of waiting told M to save my spot (my line was shorter) while I went to investigate. One can only imagine my SHOCK as I turned around after looking up train information to see M STANDING RIGHT BESIDE ME! Somehow, he interpreted my ‘come over here and stand in line’ as ‘let’s give up our spot in line so I can keep you company while you look up train information’.

Back to the end of the line we went. Another 15 minutes of my life taken away. The kicker, and aspect that makes this scenario ever so drole, is the fact that as you go upstairs onto the platform, there are more ticket machines waiting for you. Empty, of course, or only occupied by people who know what they’re doing, as all the confused tourists are downstairs, waiting at what is reasonably expected to be the only machines available. Oh, another kicker – you don’t even need a ticket to get onto the train :/ Whomp whomp whomp…

I’m fairly certain I received pretty serious eye strain from my eyeballs going back and forth from my watch to the train map. I knew there was no way we’d make our reservations if I didn’t alter the plans a little bit, so once we reached Alexanderplatz at 6:35pm I made a decision that will stick with me for the rest of my life.

I suggested we take a taxi.

Another strange fact about me. I hate taking taxis. I don’t know where this hatred comes from and I do realize that it’s a tad bit strange. But I just really, really don’t like taxis and try to avoid them at all costs. Ah, cost. That’s probably the main perpetrator. I just find it absolutely bonkers to pay someone such an exorbitant amount for such a short distance. I’d rather take public transportation, walk, wait until the next public transportation is available if everything is shut for the night, than to take a taxi. It used to be a cause of stress between my friends and I because I was so stubborn back in the days I used to go out until the wee hours of the morning. “Please, Hazel, just take a cab home! I’ll pay for it!!!” “No!! That’s not the point!! It’s the PRINCIPAL!!!”

Anyway, knowing that it would normally take 10 minutes to get to our place from Alexanderplatz and another 20 minutes to get to the restaurant, I knew we were deadly pressed for time (*ahem* perhaps we wouldn’t have been if 25 min of ‘life’ hadn’t been stripped from me…)  so I decided to bite the bullet and hail a taxi. In the end we made it to the restaurant only 2 minutes late, at a cost of 15 euros, which may not seem like much but after ALL the trouble of purchasing a train ticket getting to the restaurant shouldn’t have cost anything extra!

Zur Letzten Instanz

This restaurant is reported to be the oldest restaurant in Berlin and has fed the likes of Napolean, Beethovan, and Angela Merkel. Ever since I was introduced to white sausages and mustard by my old German housemate in France I was drawn to homecooked, authentic German grub. The meatballs I ordered here were superb and the Berliner Pilsener I washed it all down with was top-notch! I’m still not sure what ‘typical’ German service is like but the service at this restaurant was sloooowwwww! I can understand why they couldn’t take reservations beyond 7pm. Because once you came in you were locked in for the night. We didn’t order until about 7:45 and our food arrived at 8:30pm. Maybe their way of trying to get us to buy more drinks?

The oldest restaurant in Germany
German meatballs, washed down by a cool pint of Berliner Pilsener!

After a long day of travelling it was nice to get back to our accommodations and pass out. Most people are fully aware that I’m a huge advocate of Airbnb…such a huge advocate that, in fact, I’ve written a whole blog post dedicated to my love for Airbnb. The first time I used it was back in 2010 and since then I’ve stopped looking into hostels and hotels. To me, Airbnb is just a perfect solution to all my travelling woes:

-Cheaper than a hotel

-Get a local experience

-Meet interesting people

-Get rewarded for referring people to it (I’d do it regardless but it’s nice to feel appreciated for your efforts!)

The room I booked (£23 for three nights, thanks to the credit I built up from all my referrals!) was beauutiifful! It was exactly as it was shown in the picture, extremely clean and guide books were provided. Down side was we had to share the washroom with 3 other rooms so there was a wait every morning to use the shower.


Beautiful Airbnb room

Interesting rules...that kept our washroom clean!

Friday June 20, 2014

We started off the day bright and early (ie. we left the flat at 10am) to make it to the 11am free tour. The free tour concept is one I’m familiar with and one I believe works. Instead of paying a set price for a tour you get a guide and tip him at the end what you think the tour is worth (I use the term ‘worth’ loosely because a lot of people end up underpaying). These guides are generally younger, full of enthusiasm, have lived in the city for a few years and know the ins and outs of the city. The downside is that you’re herded along like a group of sheep and you can expect to be in a group of 50+ people. I love soaking in information during these tours so I became anti-social among the group of friends I was with and opted to be the Hermione browner and made sure I stayed near the front so I wouldn’t miss a thing.

We started off at Brandenburg Gate. I’ll be honest here, I really didn’t know much about Berlin’s history until I did massive research prior to the trip. While Canadian history does explore WWI and WWII it doesn’t go into it into great depth and our curriculum only covers the parts that Canada was directly involved in. While the Berlin Wall was always something I’d known about, I didn’t actually know anything about it. Well, that’s all changed now! With the combination of my research and the fascinating shotgun tour (a lot of history and information packed into 2.5 hrs) I am happy to say I feel a little less ignorant than one week ago.

Brandenburg Gate
Hotel Adlon - made famous when MJ dangled his baby from the balcony

Without going into too much detail, I discovered and learned about the rise and fall of the Berlin Wall, the Holocaust, stood on the grounds of where Hitler’s bunker is still currently buried, visited the Memorial for Murdered Jews, saw the headquarters of the GDR, found out what made Checkpoint Charlie so famous and visited sites that have made historical history, such as Bebelplatz, where the initial Nazi-party bookburnings took place. Little interesting facts that I took away from the tour were things such as:

The Memorial for Murdered Jews, located in the former Death Strip that’s right around the corner from Brandenburg Gate, is a memorial for those who perished in the Holocaust. According to my guide it’s also a memorial to commemorate the Jews who have been persecuted even outside of the Holocaust but I haven’t found anything online to support that piece of info. The memorial was designed by Peter Eisenman and consists of concrete blocks in varying height that makes it feel like you’re walking through a graveyard. One thing people noticed was that not a single piece of slab was marked with graffiti, which is strange since the rest of the city is! It turns out that the concrete is covered in a chemical that prevents the graffiti spray from sticking, provided by a company called Degussa. It was discovered that Degesch, a subsidiary of Degussa, had prouced the Zyklon B gas used in the Holocaust’s gas chambers. What are your thoughts on that?

Memorial for Murdered Jews

-Other Nazi-supported companies included Hugo Boss, who supplied the uniforms for the Nazi party. Hugo Boss employed forced workers from occupied countries, usually prisoners of war. The working conditions he put his employees through were so horrendous that in 1999 the company agreed to contriubte to a fund that would compensate its former forced labourers.

-Before Hitler committed suicide he knew that his military party was soon going to collapse. One day before his suicide he married his long-term girlfriend, Eva Braun (such a romantic…), and together they plotted their suicide – to ingest cyanide capsules. Hitler believed his body was so powerful that taking the cyanide capsule on its own wouldn’t be sufficient. So he shot himself in the temple as well.

-There’s a plaque located in Bebelplatz, the square that is well-known for the Nazi Book Burning ceremony that took place on May 10, 1933. The book burnings were initiated by the nationalist German Student Association and 20 000 books that were seen to undermine the National Socialist administration were burned. The plaque states:

“Das war ein Vorspiel nur, dort wo man Bücher verbrennt, verbrennt man am Ende auch Menschen.” -Heinrich Heine (in English: “That was only a prelude; where they burn books, they will in the end also burn people”)

The book burning that took place was not the first time something of this nature happened. Although Heine’s work is displayed at the square his writings were originally in reference to the Qur’an being burned during the Spanish Inquisition. Point of the story: People didn’t think these demonstrations would lead to anything big. Look what happened. History repeats itself…not only is it important to learn history, but we also need to learn FROM history.

Heinrich Heine at Bebelplatz

After the tour ended we rested our sore feet (actually, mine were fine, thanks to my amazing TOM’S…I could walk around in those heavenly shoes all day. And I did.) and grabbed a bite to eat before heading over to the Jüdisches Museum. Entry is €8 for adults and an extra €3 for audioguides. I used to be too cheap/scratch frugal/scratch poor to afford audioguides but once you go guide, you can’t go back! The amount of extra information you can get from the guides is definitely worth the extra few euros and makes museums so much more interesting than just reading descriptions. You learn about more than just the Holocaust and get to learn about Judaism’s past, present, its foundation and what they have been through. I spent about 2 hrs in the museum but I could have easily spent more time in there. Unfortunately, there was an Italy vs. Costa Rica AND France vs. Switzerland match to catch so that’s where my night basically ended.

"Shalekhet" (Fallen leaves)

Sat June 21, 2014

We had another early morning start and started the day off with a quick breakfast pickup from Cafe Hilde, where I experienced one of the BEST coffees I’ve ever had in my life. The kind of coffee that transforms your life. I understand now why people develop an addiction to coffee, if that’s how the feel after every single hit.

We made our way over to the Berlin Wall, an obvious must-do for all those who visit the city. The Berlin Wall Memorial located at Bernauer Straße was hands-down one of my favourite parts of the trip. This section of the wall contains the last piece of the wall that’s still in its preserved state. What makes this particular street especially fascinating is that many people used this street to attempt an escape. Because the Wall ran along this street people tried to jump out of their apartment buildings, located on the East side of the Wall, onto the street, which was on the West (free) side of the Wall. You get a true sense of the border ramifications and the memorial is dotted with info towers where you can learn more about its history. I learned about how the Wall came to be, read about people’s escape stories, and got the chance to touch and feel a part of history that shaped the way Germany is today.

Bernauer Straße


Berlin Wall

We made our way over to the East Side Gallery, which is 1.3 km of the Wall that is an international memorial for freedom. It is an AMAZING open air gallery that consists of 105 paintings by artists from all over the world. You can see from the photos below how the artists tried to convey their hopes for a better, equal, and more free future for all.





The city has done a spectacular job in ensuring residents and tourists alike remember their history, but the next time I go back I’d want to get out of the city centre and discover what else Berlin has to offer.