I may love Madrid, but Berlin … man, it comes in a close second.
It may have been really cold … and windy … and rainy in Berlin, but after escaping Borris‘, I was hit smack in the face with all of its awesomeness.
First, it was Hostel Aloha. It didn’t even bother me I had to climb countless flights of stairs each time (it’s all about building endurance, right?). The hostel was awesome. The people there were awesome. The breakfast was … you guessed it … awesome. (I’m talking fresh bread, Nutella, bananas, PEANUT BUTTER!!!!)
Then, it was the New Europe free tours. I took the East Berlin tour with Paul (an Israeli I had met in Prague) my first day in the city and it was fascinating. I am not one for countless churches or museums, but the minute you start talking about World War II and Hitler, I get really into it. At one point, we stood where Hitler’s bunker was, the place where he killed himself. Now, it is a parking lot surrounded by some nicer Communist apartment buildings. (Quite fitting cars now park where Hitler took his last breath, if you ask me.)
Later on the tour, we stood where a vicious gun battle had broken out once Communism had taken hold. I looked from a mural depicting everyone smiling because of living a Communist lifestyle to the reality — columns and walls riddled with bullet holes only recently covered up. And then, the Wall. Well, the remnants. And then … Checkpoint Charlie. Reconstructed, but still Checkpoint Charlie.
The next day, I fell deeper in love with the city. Armed with my 48-hour train pass and my iPod, I took the Sbahn to the Zoo (home of Knut, the once adorable baby polar bear who morphed into a moody grownup) and walked back to Alexanderplaz. A hefty walk. But, beautiful. The sun had come out for the day (!!!) and the weather was mild, so walking through Tiergarten was perfect.
That evening, Berlin got even better with Chris (@TheAussieNomad) arriving from Amsterdam and joining me for a pub crawl. The pub crawl, not so great, but Chris’ company was.
The next morning, he checked into Aloha and we headed to another walking tour — this time of the colorful graffiti and squatter haunts of Berlin. Even in the pouring rain and cold, it was fascinating. We walked around “beach” bars, went to a warehouse riddled with colorful graffiti and artists’ studios, and learned about the sub-culture that makes Berlin really interesting and different from … oh, most places.
We even went to an indoor skate park near an old train depot that was bombed during the war.
And then, there was Chris’ and my search for the perfect kebab. We found it at Mustafa’s. A delicious combo of chicken, fried veggies and potatoes topped with spicy goodness. Loved it.
Even that night, just making pasta and hanging out with everyone in the hostel was a good time.
Sadly, the only day with sun was my first real day in the city. It was hard for me to leave — I wanted to experience more of the sub-culture of Berlin — the graffiti laden beach bars, the markets — but the sun never came out enough to make it possible.
My first day in the city, I had met two Aussies who were planning to be there for a week.
“That’s a long time,” I had said.
“This city is absolutely amazing,” they replied.
At the time, I hadn’t felt it. But, by the time my train to Amsterdam was pulling up at the station, I knew precisely what they meant.
Berlin, I will be back. Promise.