My first full on Europe trip was earlier this year!
While I have been to most of the continents and several “exotic” countries throughout the last few years of my travels, out of Europe I have only been to Italy. If you let me count layover trips, then I can add London and Dublin to the list too. (Read about my Italy travels in Venice, Cinque Terre and Rome – Cinque Terre is love).
The route for this trip was travelling through Berlin, Krakow, Prague, Vienna, and Budapest by train. This was to save on costs and time through the use of overnight sleeper trains. We had about 2 to 3 days per city which we found was enough for an initial visit. On the way back to Toronto, we also got to stop in Lisbon for layover.
The main highlight of Berlin for me was learning about the Berlin Wall.
I’ll have to admit that I am quite unknowledgeable with worldly events, both past and current – definitely something to work on. So while I knew of the Berlin Wall and of course Germany’s involvement in the World Wars, I did not know that the Berlin Wall was still standing in my lifetime. (Constructed 1961, Fell in 1989, Deconstructed 1991. Whitney born 1990.) I was shocked to learn that the wall was such recent history, and how it had divided the city and its people for nearly 30 years. A big thank you to Kevin’s amassed knowledge on war related history, and his patience to teach me as we visited museums and monuments.
If you’re also interested in learning about Berlin Wall, these are some great options.
Berlin Wall Memorial (Free): This memorial is situated where the former border strip once was – a section of the wall is preserved in the grounds too. The memorial is designed to walk you through the history of the wall over time, highlighting specific events of importance and also sharing accounts from locals interviewed during the time.
DDR Museum (5-10 EUR): Not to be confused with Dance Dance Revolution, it actually stands for Deutsche Demokratische Republik. This museum gives an unique immersive experience of the everyday life in former East Germany. It covers all topics from work, to play, to home in an interactive manner.
Many of the sights to see in Berlin also happen to be free and open for all hours of the day. That flexibility makes it easy to slot into your itinerary.
The Reichstag Dome (Free): Glass dome and rooftop terrace above Berlin’s parliament building offers a great view of the city. Sign up well in advance online and be sure to check your confirmation e-mails…ours got suddenly cancelled and we did not notice to re-book. They also take bookings in person but it would usually be for the next day or so.
Brandenburg Gate (Free): An 18th century neoclassical monument that was often a site for major historical events and thus is one of the best known landmarks in Germany. Today it is also a symbol of European unity and peace. Beautiful when lit up at night.
Memorial to the Murdered Jews (Free): Designed by Eisenman and Happold; meant to produce an uneasy and confusing atmosphere with its uneven columns and ground, and lack of any text or descriptions. It also hauntingly resembles a cemetery. Couldn’t bring myself to take pictures even for the ‘gram.
East Side Gallery (Free): An open-air gallery consisting of 105 murals painted by artists all over the world on the east side of the Berlin Wall remnant (1,316m long). There are many more pieces than what is usually shared in media, find your favourite mural!
Checkpoint Charlie (Free other than museum): The most famous crossing point between West and East Germany. If you like collecting stamps in your passport, it is available here for a price. Be wary of con artists in this area however. We saw 2 street game/gambling vendors (literally just sitting on the ground) enticing people to play. We also saw the 4-5 participants playing very poorly. The con however is that they are ALL in on it. If you watch the scene as a whole they all look like they are separate tourists or locals due to their varying demographic and attire. But when you watch them individually, you will notice they are never really that upset when they lose, and they just pretend to get more money from their purses/wallets to play more. Don’t get roped in to play, you will lose your money. Within 10 minutes we watched, we saw them trick 2 separate tourists.
Berlin is quite multicultural and it shows in their food. Currywurst and donair which may not have German roots, are famously known and part of the local Berlin cuisine. Unfortunately I did not have much time to go to many sit down restaurants. Here’s what I did try though.
Currywurst at Curry36 (right picture below): It’s curry, but it is also German. Enjoyed the sausage but expected and wanted more curry taste. Was a bit of a miss for us.
Donair at Mustafa’s (left picture below): May not look like much but was definitely a hit! Worth the line up for their flavorful and cheap donairs. Tried Halifax Original Donair in Mississsauga and it was nothing in comparison to Mustafa’s.
Korean Fried Chicken at Angry Chicken: Not bad especially if you are craving Asian fusion cuisine, or just fried chicken, but Toronto’s is better.
Eggs Benedict at Benedict: Found this place as it is connected to our trendy hotel Max Brown – famous for their namesake eggs benedicts, and boasts serving brunch 24-hours a day.
Lastly some unique places to check out while in Berlin.
Hackescher Markt: Full of local brand shops – ranging from clothing, jewelry, art, beauty and food. It is a labyrinth of several picturesque courtyards. But not to worry there are also various restaurants, cafes and bars available for a relaxing break from shopping.
Cafe am Neuen See: Quintessentially German, a literal biergarten. You can buy drinks and small snacks to enjoy on their large communal patio by the lake, or inside their cozy cabin styled restaurant. A peaceful afternoon activity.
Ampelmann Stores: Too touristy for me to ever purchase from, but interesting to check out. Ampelmann is the symbol on pedestrian signals which differed between East and West Germany. The symbol from the East depicts a man wearing a hat and is one of the few features from Communist East Germany that survives today due to its popularity. Berlin being once divided, you can still see both versions intact and used throughout the city.
I had a great time in Berlin, and to my own surprise specifically in learning about its history and how it impacted their modern day culture. I always thought German people would be more stoic based on media interpretation and that is a real misconception. From our short visit we found them to be open, friendly and kind. Berlin was the most multicultural city that we visited during the trip and the city that made us as Asian tourists, feel most welcome.