October 21st-29th I went to Berlin, Germany to see a bunch of friends, a few of whom I had not seen for several years. It was a last minute decision to go - I had just decided on a date to start a new job in Peru, and I had been planning on going to Europe since my friend Nelson is there for two years. I decided that if I am going to go, now is the time while I'm in Washington DC and the plane tickets are relatively cheap (plus the flight is a little shorter from DC :/), so I went ahead and purchased the tickets.
It was hard to swallow at first that I could only be in Germany for about a week, since usually if I'm going to deal with that much jet lag and travel time I like to be at a place for closer to three weeks. But I'm so happy I did go for that time, as Berlin is a laid back city and we were able to just take it in without rushing. Plus the jet lag was okay, because most people my age there stay up pretty late anyways, especially on the weekends, which was a little closer to DC time. Plus the purpose of the trip - to see friends - allowed me to fulfill my expectations of what I would and could do in Germany relatively easily.
I was not in Berlin the entire time, but I'll start with my Berlin highlights and write later posts about the other cities I visited.
The first day there, Maria - my friend who resides there - met me at the airport, and we went to her flat and met my friend Nelson. I got in pretty late, so we didn't do anything that night. The next day we went to a grocery store to stock up for the week. We bought a chocolate-covered baum cake (a cake baked in thin layers) and cream pastry as a morning snack :) I was feeling the German pastries, definitely a good start to my day.
There are no pictures of this first day, sorry :/ I decided not to take my camera that day because I thought we wouldn't do a lot of sightseeing.
Then we did 3D, blacklight mini golf at Görlitzer Park. Those people took their minigolf seriously, there were a lot of courses that I could just not get the ball in! The walls were covered with crazy glow-in-the-dark 3D art. It was a good introduction to Berlin style - the city is brimming with art upon art upon art all over its walls, doors, stations, everything.
We then got Döner kebap at Mustafa's Gemüsekebap - basically a Turkish gyro with different sauces like chili and hummus. A very typical Berlin food. Actually, a lot of Turkish food is very typical Berlin food. Afterwards, we wandered the artsy district at Friedrichshain and saw the Berlin Wall.
The next day, I have a lot more photos (yay!)
We started our morning with good German bread and spreads. Probably my favorite thing about Germany is the bread, it's these great rye and spelt breads that are dense and moist. We didn't get started till much later that day since we were so tired, but after staying at the apartment and having lunch, Nelson and I went to the downtown area where we saw the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. This was a series of stelae covering a city block. The stelae were short on the outside of the square, but grew taller towards the middle. Conversely, the ground started at ground level, but sloped down as you went towards the middle of the memorial. There was a museum under the memorial which was quite well done - it explained many of the first hand accounts that provided the basis for our knowledge of the timeline and extent of the Holocaust.
Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe
Nelson walking through the memorial. See how the size of the stelae and the depth of the ground changes?
We then moseyed over to the Brandenburger Tor, which was built in the 1700s by King Fredrick William II, partially destroyed in WWII, and rebuilt again. It is a famous symbol of Berlin, and we saw renditions of it in many places, including on metro windows and made of chocolate in Fassbender & Rausch chocolatiers.
Part of the Brandenburger Tor - I don't know why, but I didn't take a picture of the whole thing
Decals of the Brandenburger Tor on the metro window
Around the Tor was a group of people in traditional German dress, one of whom was playing an old instrument. It was really interesting to see all of their varieties of hats and suits.
We then walked to the Reichstag building, where the German Parliament is located. We didn't go inside though, because it was quite the process to set the tour up and we had limited time to see everything anyway.
The Reichstag Building
The Reichstag Building
The Reichstag Building
We then went to a different part of the midtown area, where we saw the Dome church, the river Spree, and a few other older buildings such as the concert hall.
One of the buildings downtown
There, we found a huge chocolate shop with traditional German chocolates called Fassbender & Rausch Chocolatiers. It was chocolate heaven, filled with every German sweet imaginable and chocolate replicas of various things from famous Berlin sights to a chocolate volcano dripping molten chocolate. As you may imagine, we spent quite a bit of time and money here.
I think this is the three kings?
Chocolate replica of the famous Berlin TV Tower
Afterwards, we had a cup of Glüwein (mulled wine) at the plaza downtown, and then left to get dinner at a popular Currywurst stand, Curry 36. Currywurst is a grilled bratwurst dusted in curry powder, usually served with french fries and a homemade ketchup and mayo. It was actually way better than I expected, as the ketchup was not sweet and had really great flavor. I actually remember the ketchup better than any other part of the plate, haha
Currywurst at Curry 36
Next, we went to Markthalle Neun (Market Hall 9), a market near Görlitzer Park. It's an indoor market meant to replicate the traditional German market where people can buy groceries and ready-made food. We went to get micro-brew beer from the brewery there, but the brewery was sold out by the time we got there. Still, we really enjoyed walking around the market and left with a delicious apple crumble.
Apple Crumble Stand
Yummy Apple Crumble
The next day, Nelson and I went to the Turkish Market, since it was Friday and the market only runs Tuesdays and Fridays. Can you tell how much I love seeing markets when I travel?
The Turkish market was also full of textiles, clothing, spices, groceries, pre-made snacks, meals, and confections. It was a beautiful, somewhat chilly day, so I bought hot coffee and tea to hold while walking. The following are all various pictures from the market.
I bought Turkish cookies, cherry & rhubarb quark (a less-sour yogurt), and coffee
For lunch, we met Maria and got Kumpir, Turkish baked potatoes with various mediterranean-style toppings. Also on the list of my top favorite Berlin foods.
Making the Kumpir
Photo of Kumpir (from another day - I had it twice - but hey, just so you see what it looks like)
After lunch we went to Mitte, the mid-town area of Berlin. There were many nice shops and historic areas there, as well as a lot of street art, which I was finding to be very typical of Berlin.
Metro with the TV Tower behind it
Statue of the "Ampelmann", the German walk signal
Highly-guarded synagogue and a witch walking the street
Plaque commemorating a house where Kathe Simonsohn, a Jewish woman who died in Auschwitz, lived. There are many plaques throughout the city like this showing where Jewish houses were.
Clärchens ballhaus - a 100 year old dance hall
Shops on the street
Here's Ampelmann again
Inside one of the train stations
Inside a traditional German handmade Christmas item store
Wooden Christmas trees
Here, we went to a gallery called "Monsterkabinett". An art collective named the Dead Pigeon Collective created and maintains this project. It is a basement filled with person-sized animatronic creatures. A guide, who interacts with the creatures like they are real, brings you to the darkened basement and prompts the creatures to move. The beginning was terrifying, as a metal spider the size of a dining room table that was unanchored to anything starts to move towards you as as you walk into the basement! The other creatures were anchored to the floor though, and many of them danced to metal or club music. The creatures themselves are very noisy as they move using what sounded like various pistons and they are made of metal. It was really fascinating, I definitely recommend it.
This one is Hitler...as an alien?
That evening, we met up with Maria's boyfriend Felix and my friend Thomas, and we went to a bar downtown and I got to try a few German drinks. All in all a great day.
The next day, since it was Saturday, we went back to Markthalle Neun. Surprise! I really loved it there, it would be dangerous if I lived near there.
We had brunch at the market - I got traditional German food of a spinach-cheese dumpling, potato salad, beets, dilled sauerkraut, and carrot salad which I washed down with coffee. We then got waffles with homemade chocolate sauce and apple streusel ice cream, which was the best thing I ate in Germany next to the bread. Seriously, it was perfect. Hence, I took lots of photos of it, of course.
Yummy, yummy German food
We left to go to Friedrichshain afterward, where we looked at street art, wandered around an outdoor market for a while and then got coffee & hot chocolates. We then took a double-decker bus home that allowed us to see a lot of the older and government buildings in Mitte from up high. At home, we relaxed and played board games the rest of the night. Nelson then left to go back to Paris.
Church and metro at Görlizer park
Streuselschnecke - Pastry with streusel and cream
Nelson bought this card for his brother at the coffee shop
Street Performer at Alexanderplatz
Sunday we had more tasty German bread for breakfast with goat cheese from Markthalle Neun, did a little yoga, then went to Mauerpark market. Mauerpark market is a flea market with new and old goods, antiques, and various food stands. It's really large, and surrounding it are a lot of street musicians and artists. There is also a karaoke event there, where any person can get up in front of a huge crowd and sing karaoke. We ate, shopped, listened to karaoke, and drank hot glüwein. It was the perfect place to spend a Sunday.
Turkish flatbread with spinach and cheese
Scarves for sale
Sports stadium nearby
Karaoke at the park
Bratwurst for dinner
We accompanied Thomas to the train station, as he needed to go back home that evening, and then went back to Maria's place. The next days we went to Potsdam, Wittenberg, and Oranienbaum, which I'll write about in my next blog :)