I only have a short amount of time left in Copenhagen, but there was one city left on my list that I wanted to visit before I left: Berlin, Germany. I hadn’t put much thought into visiting Berlin when I first arrived in Copenhagen, but after discussing Germany and its relations with Denmark and the Czech Republic in my European Memory and Identity class and hearing stories from my friends that had visited, I was intrigued. Conveniently, my friend Gilad from Israel was going to be in Berlin the first weekend of December. After a few weeks of trying to figure out if I could carve out time from my busy schedule of schoolwork and soaking up Copenhagen, my friend Emily and I decided that Berlin would definitely be worth it.
I wanted to see the beautiful Berlin Cathedral in person!
The flight from Copenhagen to Berlin is only an hour, but the earliest flight we could find was at 9pm on Friday. We had our first introduction to the extensive S-Bahn/U-Bahn system by figuring out which trains to take to get from the airport to our hostel. As we were poring over the complicated metro map, we ran into another friend of mine named Emily that studies at DIS and was also staying at our hostel! The three of us pooled our logistical knowledge and made it to the hostel. We stayed in the Friedrichshain neighborhood of Berlin on the former East Side. It’s an up-and-coming neighborhood and had some really cool musicians performing under bridges in the area. Gilad and his friend Dor met us at our hostel around midnight and we went out to explore the neighborhood. We were turned away from one club because Emily and I are under 21- it is SO frustrating that this still happens in Europe. We found a cozy bar to have a drink and warm up in for an hour, then Gilad, Dor and I went to a hipster-y techo club a few streets away from my hostel. It was a pretty good introduction to Berlin nightlife!
Some musicians performing under the bridge across from our hostel.
It might have been a little too good of an introduction since I went to bed at 5 and had to get up at 10 to start our day of sightseeing. There was no way I was willing to waste a day by sleeping in for a few more hours though. Emily and I walked over to the East Side Gallery, a remaining section of the Berlin Wall that’s been painted by artists from all over the world. Each mural was completely different from the one next to it, but all dealt with the Wall and the political separations between East and West.
Emily in front of one of the paintings on the Wall.
After we walked along the Wall, we took a train into the city and headed to the Pergamon Museum that houses ancient antiquities and Middle Eastern art. My friend Maggie went to Berlin in October and raved about all of the cool artifacts, so it was one of the top places I wanted to visit. We walked through a giant temple for Athena that was found in the ancient city of Pergamon in Turkey and reconstructed at the museum. We also got to see one of the seven wonders of the ancient world- the Ishtar Gate from the ancient city of Babylon (in what is now Iraq) from 575 B.C. It was absolutely stunning.
The Ishtar Gate at the Pergamon- it was so beautiful and vibrant.
Even though it was pouring rain, we wandered through two Christmas markets we stumbled upon near Alexanderplatz. Denmark has Christmas markets too, but those don’t even compare to the German ones! These markets were sprawling and had all different types of delicious looking food and snacks- all I really care about. I had to restrain myself and only bought a giant soft pretzel and a chocolate covered banana. That wound up being my lunch because when we tried to go to the revolving restaurant at the top of the TV Tower with Gilad and Dor, we found out there would be a wait of over an hour. That didn’t seem worth it, so we took the train to Potsdamer Platz to look for somewhere else to eat food. When we got out of the station, we found a giant snow slide that had been set up in the middle of the square! For 1.50 euro you could go down the slide in an inner tube, so of course I had to do that. We spent some time looking for a reasonably priced restaurant in the area (of course we were in the one expensive section of an overall cheap city) and finally found a restaurant in a random courtyard with a giant Christmas tree made of lights in the middle. It looked like Rockefeller Center.
Gilad and I going down the snow slide!
After our late lunch/early dinner, Emily and I went back to our hostel to change. We met the boys at their hotel in the center of the city (where I ran into a friend of a friend that I had met last spring!) and went to get drinks at a place called Weinerei. Wine is pretty much the only type of alcohol I drink, so when I heard about this place, I knew we HAD to go. We walked into a really cozy bar with a few different rooms and paid 2 euro each for a glass. Then we got to drink unlimited wine! They had lots of different bottles on the counter and you could just go up and pour yourself a glass of whatever you wanted, whenever you wanted. We sat there and chatted for most of the night. Before you leave, they ask you to pay whatever you think you should, so we all gave between 5 and 10 euro. I need to find Weinereis in other cities!!
Gilad’s friend Dor and I at Weinerei.
On Sunday, Emily and I woke up early(ish) again to check out of the hostel. We wanted to go to a market for breakfast, and luckily we had heard about a Sunday market in an area a little north of the center city that was supposed to be cool. It had a bunch of food stalls with strudel, bratwurst, coffee, pastries, sandwiches and even corn on the cob! I had some apple strudel and corn (separately) as we walked through the rows. We both bought funky clock necklaces, but I think I was most excited about the corn.
Necklaces at the Sunday market.
After we were fed, we hit the three big sites that are all in a row: the Reichstag (parliament), the Brandenburg Gate (smaller than we thought) and the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. The Holocaust Memorial looks like a miniature Communist housing block—it’s just rows upon rows of gray concrete blocks of different heights. We wandered through the blocks and got swallowed up in the maze. It was one of the most unique memorials I’ve seen.
Me in front of the Reichstag.
The Brandenburg Gate.
Under the memorial square is an information center about the rise of Nazism in Germany and the extermination procedures that were inflicted upon the Jews of Europe. I’ve visited Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, the most prominent and thorough Holocaust Museum, but I learned a lot from the Berlin museum. They presented the information really concisely and had the right balance of text, photographs and negative space.
Part of the Holocaust Memorial- it was definitely easy to get lost.
It didn’t take us too long to see those three sites, and we were able to travel up to the boys’ hotel to say goodbye to them before they left to go see the Red Hot Chili Peppers concert. I was so glad I got to spend some time with Gilad and Dor, and maybe we’ll have another reunion somewhere in the world in the next few months!
Gilad, my chooclate covered banana and I on the train.
When they left for the train station, Emily and I went to an art exhibition space right near their hotel called Tacheles. Tacheles is filled with awesome grafitti and rooms for the artists, some of whom illegally live there, to exhibit their work. We walked through the different floors, admiring some pieces and quickly running away from others. Berlin is known for its street art so it was cool to see work by people who have dedicated their lives to it.
One of the artists’ exhibitions at Tacheles.
Our final stop of the afternoon was the Checkpoint Charlie Museum. Checkpoint Charlie was one of the main checkpoints between the Democratic and Communist sides of Berlin, and Emily and I were interested to learn more about the history of the Wall and the reactions to it. My friends that had already gone to Berlin had cryptically told me that I would “need more time than I thought” at the museum, but I didn’t understand what they meant until I walked in. All of the walls were completely covered with exhibition text, photographs, newspaper clippings, uniforms, getaway cars, old signs and more- it was a complete information overload. There was also no organization whatsoever- I expected the exhibit to start with an explanation about the formation of the wall, but after quickly summarizing the end of World War II, it jumped to describing every successful and failed escape attempt that people made from the East, Communist side to the West side! One part of the museum had exhibits on world religions, Martin Luther King Jr., Ronald Reagan, and Guernica—things vaguely related to the Wall but not people or concepts that told me more about the history of Berlin!
The old Checkpoint Charlie station in Berlin.
Emily and I were on the same page, and after about an hour we were done trying to make sense of the museum. We went back to our hostel to pick up our luggage and went to do what we had been most excited about doing in Berlin- BLIND DINING! We had heard about a restaurant where you eat in COMPLETE darkness and thought it sounded awesome. All of the waiters are blind or visually handicapped and lead you to your table by snapping their fingers and listening for echoes. We picked a four course menu before we got into the dark- all we knew was that I would be eating some sort of poultry and Emily would be eating the vegetarian option. We spent the entire meal trying to figure out what we were putting into our mouths using our taste buds and, in my case, fingers. Luckily, everything was delicious!
The restaurant we ate in- such a fun experience!
I had wondered if it would be difficult to have conversations with your dinner date without being able to use visual cues, but Emily and I didn’t stop talking the entire time! Both of us admitted that part of the time we had our eyes closed or were taking little naps on our own shoulders. I pretty much shoveled food into my mouth and didn’t care because no one could see me! I wish I could eat in the dark all the time.
The only problem with blind dining was that we couldn’t see our watches. Our plan for getting home was to take a night bus that would leave Berlin at 11 p.m. and arrive in Copenhagen at 6:30 a.m. The restaurant said the meal would be at least 2 hours and the bus station was half an hour away, so I assumed we’d have plenty of time with a 7:30 p.m. reservation. When we finally decided it was time to go and were leisurely led back into the light, we checked our watches and realized it was 10:30 p.m.! We had exactly half an hour to get to the bus station. Did I mention we hadn’t bought our tickets in advance?
We had been too busy enjoying Berlin (and delicious soft pretzels at Christmas markets) to worry about getting bus tickets.
We managed to pay, get a taxi, and politely ask the driver to speed to the terminal. We got to the bus station at exactly 11 p.m. and ran to the platform the bus was leaving from. The door was still open, but it was just as I feared- the bus was full. We watched it pull away from the station with every seat full. So, two lessons learned: leave more than three and a half hours for a blind dining experience, and always buy your bus ticket in advance!
So now we were stranded in Berlin with no way of getting home that night. Our cheapest option was to take a 7:30 a.m. bus the next day that would arrive back in Copenhagen at 3 p.m., but I had classes before then that I wanted to go to. We decided on a 7:30 a.m. flight that would land at 8:40. The flight was with easyJet, the discount airline we try to use as much as possible, so a last minute ticket wasn’t as expensive as it could have been, but we still spent over $100 more than we would have if we had taken a bus. It was 11:30p.m. by the time we booked tickets using a computer at the sketchy bus terminal, so we decided just to journey to the airport and sleep there for a few hours before our flight. We had to change trains about four times (some of those were by accident), but we eventually made it to the airport at 1 a.m. It was my first time spending the night in an airport! We found sections of chairs that other people were sleeping in and each had three chairs to ourselves to lie down on top of. Even though the lights were on and announcements were going off, I managed to sleep for a few hours at least before waking up at 6 to catch our plane. We didn’t run into any other travel difficulties, and I made it back to Copenhagen in time to drop my bag off in my dorm room and make it to my 10:05 a.m. class!
Authentic Euro-traveler experience- me sleeping in the airport.
57 hours in Berlin were not enough! There were still museums and buildings I wanted to see, and I do wish I had time to spare so I could have experienced a legendary clubbing-until-8 a.m. night. I had a great time with Emily, Gilad and Dor, and even missing our bus didn’t turn out to be so bad. After that experience though, I’m a little relieved my Euro-traveling days are over for the semester. I’ll be in Copenhagen for the next two weeks until I leave on Sunday the 18th. I’ve been so busy with schoolwork for the past month that I’m looking forward to having some downtime to do some final exploring around the city!