Arriving in Deutschland
Berlin, one of the most historic capital cities in the entire world, home to tremendous fame and infamy juxtaposed perfectly inside a place rich with thriving culture and beauty.
When we arrived in Europe, this was our first destination. I entered knowing only basic high school war statistics and word of mouth recommendations – in other words my mind was a relatively blank canvas ready to be filled with fascination and knowledge. We stepped off the plane into 32 degree heat, the air was thick and dry thanks to the hustle and bustle of the thousands of other tourists and businessmen that flooded Berlin Airport. After sweating our way through the arrival gates and out to the taxi terminal, we managed to score an Uber which took us to a lovely 4 star hotel, right in the heart of the city.
We unpacked whatever belongings we would need for our four night stay, then hit the town with empty stomachs and open minds. It was almost 9pm at this point, although the sun seemed to be completely oblivious to that. We wandered without direction, picking and choosing our lefts and rights at random. It wasn’t long before we noticed how impressively how clean it was. There wasn’t a single piece of litter in sight and the locals moved about with a sort of kind caution in their stride. We made our way to a local pizzeria for dinner and managed to source a couple of pizzas and beers for a very reasonable (as we soon discovered was typical of Berlin) price.
The food was good. The beer was good. The service was great. We were grinning.
While we sat there, still buzzing about finally making it to the starting line of a trip we had been planning for months, we couldn’t help but be blown away by the atmosphere. The people excitedly chattered away in their seats, at the tables that lined either side of the main road, all with matching red and white octagonal umbrellas for a bit of night time shade. An aerial view would give you the impression that you were in a candy cane coloured beehive. A few children, who had manged to score a past-the-bedtime last minute of play, rushed up and down the walkway on foot, scooter and bike, giggling and yelling with one another. There was no bickering or anger, just smiles and manners served to you in the most genuine fashion.
At one point a man from the street approached us with his latest mix-tape in a very unique way.
Blurted the 45 year old Hispanic as he launched a CD at our table, like he had just won a rap battle and this was his mic drop moment.
“BLAP! BLAP! BLAP! BADOOM!”
He yelled again, while flashing a small metal torch in strobe light fashion directly onto the CD. I’m convinced that he had pulled the torch out from what was almost certainly a holster for a toy gun. After his performance was finished, he told us his name was Slue. Slue then informed us of his underground rap/reggae project that he had started in Barcelona, and invited us to choose between:
Purchase one CD for €10
Purchase both ‘Super Duper Sick Boombostic Basstastic Brrrraaap Track’ CDS for €12
Obviously we chose option B and ended up taking home two of Slue’s ‘booming’ albums, titled ‘Null Auf Hundert’ (Zero to One Hundred) and Geurilla Marketing (spelled just like that, unsure if he did it intentionally as Geurilla isn’t a word in any language).
We spent the next day living straight out of the cliche-tourist handbook, visiting all the must-sees from Checkpoint Charlie (in my opinion a quintessential piece of history, obliterated by the exploitation and greed of tourism companies), to the holocaust memorial and of course, the Berlin wall. We were lucky enough to come across an amazing young tour guide named Pip, she gave us an in-depth and enthusiastic walking tour of the city for a very decent price. I learnt more about Germany in the two hours we spent with Pip than all of my time doing social studies at school, and her passionate wisdom made for a less statistical and more emotional retention of Berlin’s unparalleled background. We stood directly above the bombproof bunker that Adolf Hitler had killed himself in, saw the wall and heard the heartbreaking tales of the people who had attempted to cross it. She knew it off by heart and yet it felt like she was saying it all for the first time, almost jumping with excitement when she got to the bits she really liked.
We parted ways, eventually giving her a 5 star rating on her TripAdvisor profile, before grabbing dinner and a beer at yet another affordable and delicious restaurant. This time around it was a much more German experience, as our beer was served by waitresses dressed in the full lederhosen get-up. They spoke only German, challenging us to rack our brains for the few generic phrases we had memorized on the way to the airport. Exhausted from a long day of walking around, with backpacks made slightly heavier by the leftover jet lag from the flight, we decided to retreat to the hotel after dinner and give the night life a rain check for now.
Bratwurst at Brandenburg
The morning came abruptly as the June sun seemed to bounce back up from the horizon in a matter of hours, rather than bother to travel the full journey around the planet. At breakfast we made a plan to start our day at Brandenburg Gate; a spot that we had all taken a particular affection to during the tour. Although we had intended to use it as a starting point, we ended up spending the entire day there because, thanks to some combination of fate and luck, it just so happened that there was a huge German bratwurst festival on right behind the gate itself. The festival was set up with rows of stalls, sampling various types of sausages and other authentic German dishes, that all ended at a giant stage hosting a few multicultural bands and dancers. After eating three times more than we should have we headed back to the hotel and had a quick search online for local pub crawls. We managed to find one that intertwined the party scene with a bit of an informative tourist freebie.
The crawl started with a 30 minute tour of some of the town’s most famous street art, including Banksy and other well known alternative artists, then lead us to trial a few of the most revered clubs in the city. The bars were vibrant and artsy, with good prices and good music to really solidify our rapidly growing affection toward this place.
We spent the majority of the next day in bed, our hangovers softened only by the unalloyed charm that Berlin had drowned us in. Despite our somewhat paralytic states, we couldn’t stop talking about how impressed we were with this place. All of our expectations had been blown out of the water at a tremendous velocity. While we argued often over which buildings and landmarks we liked the most, and which smiling local was the friendliest, one thing we did agree on was the livability. We all genuinely felt like this was a place you could stay in forever. It had all the key points that entice someone to want to study, work, raise a family and build a life there.
We left the next day on what was to be an 8 hour bus ride to Copenhagen, with a huge appreciation for not just Berlin, but for the entire German country and culture. Both my companions Shane and Alex, as well as myself, mutually decided during on that bus ride that we would all live there at some point in our lives. 15 countries and about 45 cities later and we still intend on following through with that decision, and rate Berlin as one of the best places to visit in the world .