We arrived in Berlin after a tremendously long bus ride from Copenhagen on Thursday. Copenhagen will always hold a dear place in my heart & Caleb shares my love for the Danish city– but this blog post isn’t about Copenhagen! I have never been to Germany before this trip and, quite frankly, I didn’t know what to expect. As soon as we left the bus, I was immediately reminded of how confusing and testing travel can sometimes be. I didn’t think it would be necessarily easy to get to our hostel from the bus stop, but I also didn’t expect it to be as complex. However, after 2 trains, staring blankly at German words and walking in (what seemed to be) circles, we found our hostel.
I am really thankful to have Caleb here with me. It makes getting lost a little less stressful, when there are four eyes looking out rather than just my own two. He has proven himself a valuable travel buddy and suggests getting ice cream at all the best times. He also has insightful comments on most things and brings an entirely new perspective to my experience. I have gotten too used to solo-traveling and it has been refreshing to have some company.
Unfortunately, our home for the next four nights was about a 30minute subway ride from the city center. Berlin is huge. Maybe it’s because I have been rather limited to small to medium sized cities (Copenhagen and Oslo really aren’t that big, even as the capitals), but I’ve somewhat forgotten of what it was like to be in a truly large city. At first, the size was daunting; I felt much more comfortable within the confines of a museum, rather than on the city streets with thousands of people and cars and selfie-sticks. Oh, and hoards of soccer fans chanting and screaming.
Our first day in the city was jam-packed with tourist-ing. First, the Pergamon, the most visited museum in Berlin (and for good reason.) This museum costs 3 euros with a student discount and is worth every cent. The first thing you see walking into the museum is the impressive Ishtar Gate, constructed in the 575 BC in ancient Babylon; walk through the room and you’re immediately presented with the equally incredible Miletus Market Gate. Of course, those two exhibitions stand out the most, but the rest of the museum is humbling and a valuable source of history from the Middle East. The ancient cultures of Syria, Turkey, Iraq, Iran, etc. are preserved and exhibited beautifully. I was reminded of how important this area was for the development of modern civilization and saddened by the thought of priceless artifacts being ignorantly destroyed by reckless extremism and warfare, as much of it is today.
Caleb and I also made sure to visit the Holocaust Memorial, along with memorials dedicated to the Sinti, Roma and homosexuals who lost their lives during the genocide alongside the Jewish people. They were moving and stark reminders of how awful humans can be to each other. On that note, we witnessed a LGBT+ Pride gathering while meandering down a city sidewalk. I can only hope that gatherings like that are a sign of a more accepting and loving present and future.
Beyond that, the sites are innumerable. We saw the Brandenburg Gate, the Berlin Wall (which has an amazing accompanying exhibition), the Reichstag Building, and so, so much more. We nearly walked everywhere and, as I write, my poor feet are propped up.
Reflecting on my time in Berlin elicits mixed emotions. On one hand, it’s almost melancholy. A lot of history happened in this city and the remnants are not completely erased — the impacts of fascism still have some presence. We saw the train station where elderly Jewish people were deported; where Hitler gave his speeches above adoring crowds. On the other hand, the city has moved far beyond its rough history. It doesn’t forget what has happened, but has developed into a welcoming, artistic, exciting place to be. As we stayed longer in Berlin, the more I grew to enjoy it. I honestly believe that a trip gets better with time: as you explore a city and grow more comfortable, the more it reveals. The city begins to become more dimensional — not just the postcard views and “Top-ten must see spots,” but a place where people have lived, loved, and sat in the same parks for years. And, honestly, that’s what I want to see. I’m always so curious as to how people exist in their day-to-day lives.
I think I really began to experience a more personable side to Berlin as we walked through the Mitte district, just north of the Museum Island. It was lightly raining, but it didn’t stop anyone from enjoying the numerous bars, cafés and shops that line the streets. I stopped in a couple boutiques that I could probably spend the equivalent of my plane ticket home in (yikes), as well as a book shop called Do You Read Me? that had the best collection of magazines/zines I have ever seen. We also indulged at Cous-cous cafe, where I had a pita sandwich the size of my face.
Berlin, thank for a nice, albeit short time. Thank you for showing me your dark history, but also your younger, charming, and a little eccentric side. I will be back one day.