Friday, October 4, 2013

Eurotrip, chapter 2: Berlin, Germany

..Continued from Eurotrip, chapter 1: Venice

After 4 days in Venice, Jason and I were itching to see a big city again. We had seen everything we had planned to and even discovered a few new places we would now recommend to others.
Left: Bifi Roll and Contessa Lebkuchen (Gingerbread)
Right: Rausch Christmas Chocolate
Our first German experience actually came in the form of airplane snacks courtesy of Air Berlin. We took 2 flights (with a stopover in Stuttgart) of about 2 hours each and were treated to the best airplane snacks I've ever had. The Bifi Roll, a thin salami wrapped in a wheat roll, was our favourite and we were quite disappointed that we didn't get any on our connecting flight.

Our tiny room at easyHotel
It was dark when we arrived in Berlin but we were far from tired. My need to be super prepared, paired with the city's super efficient public transport system meant that we arrived in Hackescher Markt in short time (we caught the TXL to Berlin Hauptbahnhof and then the S7 if anyone is interested..). However, I got a little lost once we got to our station and luckily Jason's inherent sense of direction got us to our hotel.

When planning our trip, Jason and I tried to be as thrifty as possible, while staying away from backpackers and hostels as we don't really like to share rooms with strangers. This made easyHotel a very easy choice for us -although we didn't anticipate just how small it was! There is just enough room for a double bed and a bathroom -which is separated by partially frosted glass. We're lucky we know each other well, or else it would have been awkward.

Clockwise from top left: Chestnut ravioli, Celery baked
in nori crumb, menu, Pumpkin risotto
After getting settled down, we met our friend Sian who was in town for a few days to see the famous Christmas Markets. We consulted her Lonely Planet guidebook and found a neat vegan restaurant near our place called Kopps. The restaurant had been booked out but we were able to dine in the lounge area near the bar. We admired the modern and trendy interior while I slowly felt more and more out of place in my puffy Kathmandu jacket..

Luckily, the wait staff were super welcoming and did not even take a second look at my tourist attire and showed us the menu. Our dishes were immaculately presented and were full of flavour -which, I'm ashamed to say, is not something I usually associate with vegan dishes. Our highlight was the baked celery which was very tender and the nori crumb gave it a fishy flavour. After only eating pasta and bread for half a week in Venice, we were very glad to eat some vegetables again!

Snapshot of our travel diary that day and a Lucy original illustration
The next morning, we were up early to catch a train to Hauptbahnhof (the main train station) where we met Miguel, our walking tour guide. We were joined by two Australians, Bonnie and Ian, as well as a Brazilian couple who's names we never learned. I think you'll understand, from the above illustration, why that was.

We found the walking tour advertised in a pamphlet we found at the airport and only cost us 12€ to join.

Snapshot of walking tour clockwise from top left: Sinti and Roma Memorial, Reichstag, Holocaust memorial, Brandenbury Gate
Our tour started in west Berlin and made our way across the Berlin wall to the east. Along the way, Miguel told us all he knew about German history. As neither of us had taken history at high school, Jason and I were fascinated at how much history was packed into this city and very impressed that so much of it had been preserved. Miguel pointed out a brick trail along the ground which marked where the wall had once separated east and west Berlin (pictured further down) and we were surprised to find out that Hitler's bunker has now been turned into a car park!

We got a great tour of the city and managed to visit 20 or so sites within the 4 hours we had! The only downside was that we were not able to spend much time at each point of interest.
Snapshots from the Christmas market at Alexanderplatz
By the end of our tour, we were starting to get hungry so we made our way to the Christmas market at Alexander Platz for lunch. This was the first time in my life that I had felt like it was Christmas. Each stall looked like a little lodge in Santa's village -decorated with fairy lights, tinsel and Christmas music playing in the background. The smell of Glühwein (mulled wine), roasted nuts and Bratwurst permeated the air and I knew that this was where I wanted to be.

Thüringer Rostbratwurst, Currywurst, beer and glühwein
We were very thankful to get our hands on some warm food after walking around in the winter cold. The spicy, melt in the mouth bratwurst was my favourite and went perfectly with the hot wine. The currywurst was a little strange to us as we had expected a smooth curry sauce. Instead, what we got was some fried pork sausage, cut into slices with tomato sauce and curry powder sprinkled on top. After trying currywurst at another food shack, we realised that this is just what the dish is and that it wasn't for us. I still don't see what the fuss is about!
Top: Gendarmenmarkt Christmas Market
Bottom left to right: Berlin Wall trail, Stolpersteine 
After lunch, we headed back to a few places that peaked our interest during the tour such as Checkpoint Charlie and the museum underneath the Holocaust Memorial. The museum follows the stories of many holocaust victims and each exhibit did well to explain how their everyday lives were destroyed in a single day. I could have spent ages there reading letters and listening to stories but, alas, we had to leave at closing time.

Another highlight for me was spotting "Stolpersteine" or stumbling blocks.These were placed by artist Gunter Demnig and are commemorative monuments for victims of the Holocaust. Each Stolperstein remembers each individual and is placed outside where they lived, worked or studied. They also contain information on when they were born, where/when/how they died and, if they were deported, the name of the concentration camp they were sent.
As we wandered around the city, we noticed the cutest looking pedestrian crossing lights wearing hats -but only in certain areas. It was later explained to us that these were the Ampelmännchen ("little traffic light man") that was adopted in East Berlin when traffic lights were introduced and were never changed. The way history has been integrated into the modern times instead of being relegated into a museum was one of the things I appreciated most about Berlin. We sure had a lot of fun spotting these from afar!

Obligatory beer and soft pretzel at the airport
I was very sad when we had to leave. One and a half days in Berlin was definitely not enough. Even though we managed to cram a lot in the little time we had in Berlin, we didn't allow ourselves enough time to take it all in. A city so full of history and culture deserves so much more and we have decided that we will definitely come back in the future. 

Next stop: Osnabrück, Germany


  1. I've heard that Berlin is amazing and you definitely sound like you had a wonderful time there! :D

  2. What good fortune to have an awesome opportunity like this

  3. I love those traffic lights, and the Xmas markets :-). Fun reportage, thank you!


  4. Biggest pretzel ever!
    Looks like you had an amazing time :)
    Have you tried staying in double private rooms in backpackers? You don't have to share with others and you have the added bonus of having the communal kitchen (most of the time) so you can make your own food occasionally which really helps save $ so you can travel for longer :)

    1. That wasn't something we had considered actually.. my only experience of backpackers is going on band camp or school trips so I didn't have the fondest memories! I'll be sure to look into that when we next go on a big trip.

  5. It must be a small world, I was in Berlin last Christmas too. Lol, I wasn't keen on the currywurst either. I definitely missed Germany this Christmas.

    1. We were actually expecting some sort of mild curry sauce!

      I missed the markets muchly - Berlin is definitely somewhere we want to revisit!