We had been talking about making the trip to Berlin for a long time. It would be our first trip to Germany together, and we were looking forward to tackling a new country.
Unfortunately it started off rather disappointingly with a delayed flight. This was one of the first times we took a slightly earlier flight in hopes we could catch a late diner in a new city. Not so much. We were actually late for our flight ourselves, so we ran from security to the gate. Now that our flight wasn’t leaving for another hour, we figured we would grab an airport dinner. Think again. Being one of these tiny terminals with low cost airlines, there was no food available except some vending machines. You can imagine by the time we got off the plane we were starving. We literally dropped our things off and ran out the door to try and get a bite to eat before everything closed. And then there it was… just around the corner. The sign glowing like it came from heaven to save us! Or maybe just save Joe…. DONER KEBAB. The Germans certainly know how to do it right.
The next morning we woke up to ultra gloomy weather. It was pretty dark out, but luckily not raining. Our Airbnb for this trip was awesome, really clean, warm & big – in order of importance. There was also the bonus of a balcony overlooking Invalidenstraße, literally right across from their Museum of Natural History. We were also super centrally located in Mitte, the most popular of the Berlin neighborhoods. We really could not have asked for better.
We began our walking adventure by heading over to Distrikt Coffee, a hip cafe pretty close by. We weren’t very hungry after our late-night doner feast, so instead of sitting for breakfast, we cozied up on their big leather couch with our cups of coffee. We really didn’t want to leave, but had to get on with our tour-de-Berlin. Next stop: The Berlin Wall.
As we were cruising along our route, I noticed that CityMapper was about to take us through a big green area, was this an unexpected park along the way? COOL! But when we arrived, it was actually a cemetery. Friedhof Sophien II to be exact. What I thought would be a quick drive by, turned into 30 minutes of us exploring gravestones. We noticed instantly that many of the graves were ornately decorated with statues, lanterns, dolls, figurines, fake flowers, candles, picture frames, you name it…. I’ve never seen anything like it. I’ve tried endlessly Googling what the significance is, but have not had any luck. Does any one have any idea why people do this? Once Joe could finally pull me away from inspecting every grave, we were right at the Wall.
I have to say I was let down when we arrived. Although I should have given myself a reality check since I was expecting a crumbling wall covered in graffiti as all the pictures in my high school textbooks depicted. The Berlin Wall is currently more of small exhibition, with only pieces of the concrete wall in tact, alternating with iron poles so visitors can easily walk from the outside to the inside of the memorial. I think the story behind the Wall is much more interesting then the sight itself. This wall separated East & West Berlin for 28 years. Post WWII, Germany was divided into four zones, governed by 1) The US 2) The UK 3) France and 4) The Soviet Union. Berlin as the capital, was also divided the same way. Eventually the 3 countries joined together to form West Germany. East Berlin & East Germany were now solely under Communist rule. As I’m sure all of you know, many of the East German citizens fled to West Germany and in order to stop that, the Soviets built this “iron curtain”. With an unstable economy and continual protesting, East Berlin could no longer sustain itself, and so began the demolition of the Wall in 1989. It’s crazy to think I was actually alive when such an important world event took place. It really brought me back to my Junior year history class. Pretty cool. We walked through the memorial reading each description of what each carefully placed stone or monument represented.
We jumped on the S-Bahn, Berlin’s street level tram, and headed over to Alexanderplatz. (We learned that alternatively, Berlin also has the U-Bahn, an underground rail sysetm.) Again, I was a little underwhelmed. This is basically just a large public square, highlighted by the TV tower, a stand-out Berlin landmark due to it’s extremely modern architecture. It’s super busy in this area as it seems to be a central transportation hub, with trains, trams, buses, and taxis constantly coming & going. There are also lots of your typical touristy restaurants & plenty of stores. Joe and I got out of there pretty quickly.
Luckily we were very close to “Museum Island” which was another place we were hoping to see. This is a small island dominated by five major museums, right in the middle of the River Spree. The most famous building being Berliner Dom aka The Berlin Cathedral. It was magnificently massive & very Baroque in design. I read that it was built to off-set the important of St.Peter’s Basilica for the Catholics, and was extremely ornate compared to traditional Protestant churches. We also learned that the Berliner Dom does not actually count as one of the five museums (jokes on us) on Museum Island… who knew?! I have to admit I was pretty bored at this point and Joe was freezing & hungry so we called an Uber and headed to Mittagessen. I noticed on the ride over we were passing an endless wall of colour on our right side. There was painting after painting and lots of people stopping along the way. I later learned that this was the East Side Gallery, which is a section of the Berlin Wall that has been transformed into a large open air gallery by artists from all over the world. I really am bummed to have missed such a noteworthy & expressive sight in Berlin… can I get a re-do?
When I said Mittagessen, did you think we went to a fancy restaurant or new neighborhood? Nope! Just means lunch. And for the first time on any of our trips, we were headed to TripAdvisor’s number one restaurant as suggested for the city we were visiting. Enter: Patta Finest Baked Potatoes. [Update: it has since moved to number 8 since we were there! Ugh.] This was literally baked potato bar aka my heaven. They basically just give you a huge potato and you can add all of the toppings you want. The worker’s first question was, “Can I smash it with butter and cheese?” UM, YES PLEASE. I told you this was heaven. I went with a mix of arugula, corn, olives, sour cream, carrots, sesame seed and who knows what else. Joe went all out and added chicken, pesto, feta, and harissa to his. It was a giant salad of random toppings loaded onto a buttery, hot potato. The mix of different flavours surprisingly worked really well and to no surprise we finished every last drop.
We walked around this area of the city, Friedrichshain, which felt a lot cleaner and quieter then where we had spent most of the day. There were restaurant lined streets, dotted with unique shops and a few parks we walked past as well. I definitely preferred this area to Mitte. We walked all the way back towards where we came from to catch the S-Bahn. Although it was very cold and borderline raining, I really wanted to see Tiergarten…
I had read all sorts of blogs that said Tiergarten is a “must visit”, a forest in the middle of the city, a place where wild boars roam free! I had to see these boars for myself. Joe wanted to kill me for how many times I said “wild boar”. Fast forward a 40 minute ride across the city later and I’m practically running towards this park. Except somehow it seemed 10 degrees colder & the mist turned to full on rain. And the only animals I saw were dogs. Between the plummeting temperature and my high expectations, I lost patience as I was yet again let down by Berlin. I can’t honestly say I gave it much time, but I quickly gave up hope in seeing my very own Pumba and we got back on that tram, right back to Mitte.
Our next stop was the Reichstag Building. This is a governmental building that was actually set on fire and eventually fell into disuse after WWII. It was partially refurbished in the 60’s and later reconstructed completely. It’s now home to the German Parliament. After that, we took a short stroll over to Brandenburg Gate. This is always what I pictured when I thought of Berlin. It is the most significant and long-standing symbol of German unity. It was overwhelming to see in person. Again, it was so amazing to see the only intact gate that remains that once separated East & West Berlin.
We then made quick visits to The Holocaust Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe and Checkpoint Charlie. Joe ate up every photo opportunity at CC to take pictures with the “gaurds”…. naturally I was mortified. This was the most well-known crossing point of the Berlin Wall. There were lots of tourists over here, so we snapped our picture and headed out of there. The whole trip we had been on the hunt for the best pretzels in Berlin, but unfortunately when we made it to Bekarei, they were all out. At this point I had lost count of our Berlin let downs!
The good news is, things turned around for dinner. We ate at the restaurant, das Lokal, which was nestled on the corner of a street in a very residential neighborhood. It’s one of those places that you could mistake for a flat, with no signage on the outside. When we walked in, the place was packed and we were nervous since we couldn’t secure a reservation. Luckily the hostess was able to sneak us to two random stools, where we would dine on the freshest bread & butter alongside huge glasses of red wine before our table for dinner was ready. The meal was out of this world. They use all seasonal & locally sourced ingredients, which you can really tell from the outstanding taste their food has. Seriously so yummy. We both agreed that the wait was worth every bite.
Apparently the nightlife in Berlin is something special, so we knew we wanted to make the most of our one big night out. As the party planner of the two of us, Joe did his job researching all our options and decided Watergate would be the easiest for us to get in to. And yes, I said easiest. With some of the best clubs in the world, comes the most cut-throat entrance policies. We read that there were many clubs that will not let you in if you’re not dressed properly, can’t speak German, or don’t know how to pronounce the name of the headlining DJ. Therefore Joe picked our place based on reviews that said they were slightly less strict about who they let in, but couples seemed to never have a problem. Bingo! We anxiously waited in the long line, and continuously saw people being turned away – mostly groups of guys. When it was our turn, the female bouncer did a quick once over and opened her hand to let us in. Not going to lie, it was a proud moment for both of us 🙂 The club was awesome, right on the water with amazing views of the Spree. There were floor to ceiling windows which made the coolest backdrop for the DJ. We sipped on vodka-mate drinks and danced until wee hours of the morning.
The next day we didn’t have much time except to grab breakfast. As usual, my social media perusing paid off and we had an incredible meal at Roamers. Seriously the cutest, Californian style cafe, full of tons of plants, cactus & succulents. They were playing American country & rock music – it was one of the coolest places we’ve eaten. We went all out and shared 3 meals – a superfood kale salad, huevos rancheros, and an egg sandy. The added bonus was the drinks – I got a spiked hot chocolate and Joe got a Bloody Mary – complete with all the herbs you could imagine and a crispy slice of bacon. It was hard to pull ourselves away from this place, but it was time to leave Berlin and head back home.