We interrupt this chain of posts on Thailand to squeeze in one last post on Europe. I’m only posting this over 4 months late…oops. Berlin was the last place Bryan and I visited before moving east to the warmer weather and change in culture of Southeast Asia. We spent about 5 balmy (I wish!) days exploring Berlin in the depths of winter. Brr., nothing like a good chill to get you ready for some tropical heat! The streets were lined with dead Christmas trees and holidays lights had been taken down, and Berlin was dealing with holiday hangover as businesses were reopening after their holiday breaks. The people of Berlin may not have been excited to get back into the swing of things, but Bryan and I were especially excited to explore Berlin because of 2 very different things. 1. Berlin is known for being one of the most vegan friendly cities in the world. 2. Its fascinating history not only during WWII, but the aftermath and splitting of Germany and Berlin during the Cold War.
We rode a train from Interlaken, Switzerland to Berlin, Germany. A 9.5 hour journey. I took the opportunity to finish up my continuing education hours for my Professional Engineer’s License renewal and then binge watched a few episodes of Full House on Netflix. Side note/rant: Full House is available on basically every country’s Netflix EXCEPT the US. Why are we deprived of Olsen twin footage from when they were actually adorable?? And a very hunky John Stamos from the early ‘90s? Not cool, US Netflix. Not cool.
Anyways, after making it into Berlin and checking into our cozy hostel, Bryan and I walked around the neighborhood of Berlin we would be staying in for the next few nights. We were located in Prenzlauer Berg, which according to our hostel’s website is the “hippest” part of Berlin. It certainly looked more like a ritzy residential area to me. We walked by tons of perfectly maintained townhouses and apartments on beautiful tree lined streets and wide sidewalks with plenty of parks with playground equipment. It was quiet and quaint. Our first meal was at Anh Dao (previously named Huong Sen), a vegan Vietnamese restaurant. Right before we received our food, I received a call from Aless and Daniel (you may remember they were our first stop in Europe and generous hosts in the Netherlands). Thinking they just wanted to catch up, I asked to call them after eating. Naturally, I became anxious to call them back so I scarfed down my food and pressured Bryan to do the same (hubby has impeccable table manners and is incapable of inhaling food, so I probably looked like a cave woman eating with him). The food by the way was delicious and authentic. If you’re craving Vietnamese, you won’t be disappointed! We walked outside and video chatted Aless and Daniel, who were in Ecuador at the time. Bryan and I were immediately surprised by Aless and Daniel’s engagement announcement! We talked with them and wished our wholehearted congratulations before being rudely cut off by my phone, which decided it was too cold to continue and shut off. This ended up being the theme of my phone during the entire winter. 5 minutes in the cold it shuts itself off. Like my mom, my phone is truly a beach bum.
The next day, we had some sightseeing on the agenda. First things first, we ventured out to the infamous Brammibal’s Donuts, a vegan donut shop. We ordered 4 delicious donuts and a bagel sandwich and 2 coffees. We ate every last bit. From interesting flavors (passionfruit or creme brulee anyone?) to classic Boston Cream, we were not disappointed in the least. With our tummies full, we then set about our next task—mailing home some of the winter gear we had bought for Zermatt. Unfortunately this task ended up taking us 3 hours as we went from store to store with DHL signs asking if they could mail packages internationally. Each time we were turned away. FINALLY, we found one convenience store that would not only ship our stuff internationally, but also had boxes for us to package up our stuff in! After walking back and freshening back up it was time for dinner, so we headed out to Lia’s Kitchen for a quick dinner. Our hostel offered a 10% discount if we showed our room key, but of course I forgot. Their menu is simple—burgers and fries on one side a big salads on the other. Bryan got himself a burger and I got a big salad. And we both had a beer—because Germany! The meal was filling and was exactly what we were both craving.
That night we met up with my friend Selma and her boyfriend, Steffen, at his apartment. I have to mention it had been over 2 years since we had seen each other (at our friend Katie’s wedding where we danced the night away), so suffice to say we had a bunch to catch up on. Steffen’s apartment was a music lover’s dream with some cool memorabilia and even a table made out of an amp. They were perfect hosts that kept the drinks flowing as we talked into the night. As the night wound down, we made plans for the following day. As Bryan and I made our way home we ran into a stumbling couple looking for a, well, I couldn’t understand them at first because they kept asking us in German. But eventually, they asked in English for what I thought was a convenience store that sold beer. We told them we didn’t know the area, and they stumbled off. At that very moment I realized I was getting old because I couldn’t help but think how cold that girl must have been wearing an off the shoulder short sleeve shirt and no jacket. Brr…I snuggled even deeper into my own coat as we made our way to the train station.
The next day we got a late start. Bryan and I grabbed some breakfast to-go, including some smoothies, at Jivamukti Canteen. This place was okay…we probably wouldn’t go again. One thing I liked though was instead of plastic to-go cups, they put their smoothies in the jars and you had to put down a deposit for the jar, which you would receive back upon returning the jar. Pretty cool system for a more eco-friendly to-go cup option. Anyways, Bryan and I met up with Selma and Steffan for what was my favorite thing we did in Berlin—the Underground Tour. We arrived a little early, so we got some coffee at the place next door in the meantime. No pictures are allowed, so I don’t have anything to show you. The tour itself basically takes you underneath the subway station and explores one of the large underground bunkers used to protect civilians during WWII bombings. The coolest part was the original glow-in-the-dark paint used to light up the underground bunker areas if the power were to shut off. There were various exhibits demonstrating life for civilians during WWII and during the aftermath. It was eye-opening and offered a new perspective from the eyes of Berlin’s civilians. Being down there it’s eerie to imagine being crammed into one of those shelters during a bomb raid, and for hours at a time. After our tour, we made our way to the park next door to the tour, Volkspark Humboldthain. It’s easily reconizable due to the large hill, which we learned during our tour was built after WWII from the rubble left by the bombings in Berlin. We climbed to the top and were rewarded with a gorgeous view of the city, but it was humbling to think we were climbing atop people’s homes and businesses that were destroyed during WWII. We then made our way to the Berlin Wall, or what’s left of it at least. Walking along the wall we saw a series of panels with political art pieces painted upon them. We warmed ourselves up with some gluhwein and then headed to a cool area of Berlin that has a bunch of different restaurants and bars. We ate at an asian fusion place that had some really yummy food! What can I say, we were excited for Asian cuisine apparently! We also hit up a bar, I believe called Kaschk, that had craft beers (apparently an up and coming thing in Berlin!), shuffleboard, and board games. We got a few brews and played a few rounds of Dixit, a card game involving describing illustrations on cards. I was not very good at this game, but Bryan was! We then went to a more swanky place and tried some really good apple cider! After talking well into the night, we all made plans to meet up a bit later the next day.
We met up with Selma and Steffen the following day as well (we basically took over their weekend). Beforehand, Bryan and I ate breakfast at Cafe Neue Liebe, a vegetarian cafe. I had the vegan breakfast, which was an assortment of spreads with veggies and breads to go with them, along with some fruit and vegan croissants, which was what I was really there for. Bryan had some delicious looking pancakes.
We then found Selma and Steffen at a coffee shop for our morning caffeine fixes. With coffee flowing through our veins we were ready to take on the crazy Mauerpark Flea Market. The flea market itself was giant. I think we were there for over 2 hours exploring each and every stall. They had stalls selling vintage stuff to new innovative products (wine jam anyone? It was actually really delicious) to high quality crafts (I was tempted by some beautiful pottery), to what looked like someones poorly organized yard sale. Around the 1/5 hour mark my tummy was a-rumblin’. Luckily, they also had some food stalls set up. Steffen, Bryan, and I went for some sausages and fries (Bryan and I went for the vegan currywurst option), while Selma was determined to get something from the famous arepas truck (Venezuelan or Colombian food, I believe?). She had been here several times before but had never braved the long lines of this truck. As she waited, we got our food, ate our food, and then waited with her for her food. Finally, she got her tasty arepa! I asked if it was worth the wait. It was. Can you not tell by the sheer joy in the picture below??
Fueled again, we took a few trams and buses to the center of Berlin and walked by osme of the more well-known buildings. We then found ourselves at the Holocaust memorial around sunset, officially named the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. An area of 4.7 acres is a series of 2711 concrete slabs of varying heights. The ones on the outside are short and as you walk towards the center the slabs grow into towering columns. There are no plaques of information explaining the memorial or its meaning, so I believe it is up to the individual’s interpretation. The sheer size of the memorial conjures an ominous feeling, especially in the middle where you can easily feel isolated and lost. At one side there is an entrance to the information center which names the approximately 3 million Jewish victims of the Holocaust.
After sundown we toured the DDR Museum, an interactive museum about life in socialist East Germany after WWII. It reminded us at first of the Communism Museum in Prague, but way more of an immersive experience rather than tons of reading. I think the most fascinating thing that had never occurred to me was that Berlin itself was in East Germany. Let me back up and give a brief history lesson here. After World War II, in 1949, Germany was split into 2 separate countries, the Federal Republic of Germany to the west and the Soviet run Deutsche Demokratische Republik (hence, DDR) or German Democratic Republic in the east. Berlin was also split in half, the western side run by the Federal Republic of Germany and the eastern side a part of the DDR. Because Berlin was in the middle of the eastern socialist side of Germany, a wall was built in 1961 around the western side to keep those living in the DDR from defecting to the west. The DDR museum shows how difficult life was for those living in the eastern side of Germany through various interactive exhibits and artifacts from that era. Going through the museum you see how deprived these people were of basic freedoms and access to new technology and even food at times. The western side of Berlin was like a doorway to freedom in the middle of the DDR. Between 1949 and 1961, the time period before the Berlin wall was constructed, it’s easy to see why 3.5 million people defected to western Germany. The most interesting part to me was the apartment set up. You could go through each room in the apartment and learn about various aspects of typical life in socialist DDR.
Afterwards, we all wound down the weekend with some beer from The Pub. This bar has self service beer taps at each table. We had an interesting time trying to pour our own beers—maybe that was just me that got almost a full glass of foam? Selma also got us to try Bananenweizen, a mix of Hefeweizen and banana juice that results in a fizzy concoction that tastes like a banana milkshake to me. We were both pleasantly surprised that we liked it! Anyways, we had the absolute best tour guides in Berlin, and I still cannot believe they gave up their whole weekend to entertain us. We had a blast, and I couldn’t be more grateful to know we’ll always have some friends in Germany. Prost!