Five Days in Berlin

Thursday, February 28, 2019

There are few pleasures in my life that I treasure more than the opportunity to travel. I love exploring new places and learning about different cultures. Travel teaches us so much and my latest voyage abroad was no different.

I was recently in Berlin for five days with friends. One of my best friends moved there with her family and two of my other best friends were in Europe for work. So clearly, the only logical thing for me to do was to travel to Germany and join them. I will always say yes to travel adventures.

I have only been to Germany once before and that was Munich in Bavaria. Berlin was a very different experience from the beer garden bike tour of my previous voyage. Berlin is a living and breathing history book. Everywhere you step and glance, you're transported to some of history's most defining moments.

In case you should find yourself traveling to Berlin, or in case you're interested in learning more about this historic city, here are a few notes from my brief but brilliant visit to Berlin:

Where We Stayed:

Prenzlauer Berg 

With less wartime damage than other areas of Berlin, this neighborhood is bursting with character as many of its buildings were constructed before 1948 (over 80% if you believe Wikipedia). The sidewalks are twice as large as the streets, clearly marking the preference for foot and pedal over motor vehicle traffic. We lucked out with the fates of weather on this trip and so were granted a glimpse into the joviality that must certainly overtake these streets in the summer months. People were sitting outside of cafes with blankets on their laps and warm lattes in their hands, anxiously anticipating the warmer weather that is hopefully just around the corner.

I loved the colored facades of the buildings; they reminded me of Notting Hill!

This is the district where we stayed, at a charming studio apartment AirBnB, and I loved walking its streets. It was also very easy to hop on the BVG (Berliner Verkehrsbetriebe - Berlin's mass transit) tram at the S Prenzlauer Allee stop and get to all of the things we wanted to see and do while in Berlin. We also enjoyed a delicious Vietnamese dinner from Anjoy and delightful breakfasts at Anna Blume and KAFFE.BAR.

Some of My Favorite Spots in Berlin:

Berlin Wall Memorial, or the Gedenkstätte Berliner Mauer

Marking not just the physical wall, but the division of community, cultures and hope, the Memorial is a poignant testament to the lives forever changed, and lost, by this barrier.

The Window of Remembrance above stands in memorial to the victims of the Berlin Wall.

As we walked the almost one mile path of the border strip that makes up the Memorial, I was struck by its openness. The Memorial encompasses everything around you, from the ground below to the buildings above. You step along the path that once divided lives and cannot help but be moved into gratitude for the fortunes we now enjoy, walking in the open air. And how important it is to remember the value of unity and the perils of division.


I highly recommend starting at the Visitor Center where you can watch an introductory film that documents the history of the Wall before walking the rest of the Memorial.

Iron rods mark where the wall once stood.

Fun Find! As I've said before in my travels, some of the best places and experiences often happen haphazardly while wandering. This was true for us on our walk along the Wall Memorial path. We stumbled upon the sweetest spot for a quick coffee and treat - Cookies and Cream. The cookies were scrumptious and fun fact, the shop owner is originally from Wisconsin - so you know the ice cream was even better! It really is a small world.

East Side Gallery 

If the Berlin Wall Memorial felt like a warning to the dangers of division, the East Side Gallery felt like a celebration to the reunification of cultures and people. Memorializing the fall of the Wall, the gallery celebrates peace, love and overcoming obstacles. I loved walking past the individual expressions of hope that seem to laugh in the face of hate and fear. I think I could have taken pictures of all 101 murals, but this blog post only has so much space, so I'll share a few of my favorites here and let the paintings speak for themselves.

The Berlin Art Market on Museum Island

There is nothing I love quite as much as a local art market and we were lucky enough to find one while walking the city. We started our journey at the architecturally gorgeous Berlin Cathedral, or Berlin Dom, which is Berlin's largest church. We then wandered across Museum Island on our way to Brandenburg Gate.

The Berlin Cathedral on Museum Island was completed in 1905 and is Berlin's largest church.

On our way, we stumbled upon the art market and were drawn in by its bright and festive tents and the mouth-watering aromas of the street brat :) It was a fortuitous find and a few trinkets may have made their way into our bags. The Market runs every Saturday and Sunday from 11:00 am to 5:00 pm.

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe is unspeakably moving and a must stop visit if you're in Berlin. We walked through the Memorial's 2,711 imposing concrete slabs. Both their size, as they grew to block out the sun, and their number as they stretched unceasingly across the Memorial, felt like a warning not to be ignored. We also visited the underground information center, which is free to enter and was worth the short wait.

"It happened, therefore it can happen again: this is the core of what we have to say." 

This quote by Primo Levi is one of the first things you encounter at the information center. The words and stories shared throughout the rest of the center are personal and painful, imploring us not to forget the horror of the Holocaust and the millions of lives lost.

Other Helpful Info:

  • The public transit in Berlin is fantastic and easy to use. You can download the BVG app and purchase tickets prior to riding. Or you can just buy a ticket once you are on board as well. There is also an app called My Taxi that is easy to use to book taxis. I will note though that I did not have a problem finding taxis without the app. There were definitely less of them around early in the morning - Berliners are not early risers - but even in the morning, I was still able to find one.

A construction sign on a BVG Tram line.

  • Watch out for bikers! They are everywhere, which is fantastic, but just be sure to keep out of their way. There is a designated lane on the sidewalks for bikers, so just make sure you're not walking in it, otherwise you might get run over, or at the very least called something nasty in German!
  • The Ampelmann. You'll notice that the "walk" and "don't walk" symbols on pedestrian traffic signals look a little different in Berlin. He is called the Ampelmann and was originally on traffic signals in East Berlin. During reunification, the Ampelmann was replaced, but after a large public outcry he was brought back and you can now find him happily guiding pedestrians across traffic all over Berlin.

The Ampelmann in action.

  • You don't have to tip a lot or at all. I had heard this before when traveling in Europe in general and it still remains true. Since servers are provided with benefits, it is not required to tip the extra 15 - 20% we are used to in the US. Also, per my experience dining in Berlin, the service is neither that fast nor that friendly, so the urge to tip well was not often present anyway. 

Words & Phrases to Know:

"Hallo" = Hello
"Ya" = Yes
"Nein" = No
"Bitte" = Please
"Danke" = Thank you
and of course, the most important phrase in any language:
"Ich liebe dich" = I love you

A Final Note:

I can't help but feel that my visit to this city at this particular time was significant due to the current events in our own country. Berlin has seen so much division and experienced so much pain. Its history serves as a warning that if unchecked, hate will divide us. Building walls will not bring peace or make our lives better. Discriminating against others because of their culture, religion, beliefs, gender or sexual orientation is simply wrong.

For those of us who continue to dream and see the beauty in the differences between us, I pray we never stop trying to break through walls of hate and discrimination - be they figurative or literal. Keep traveling, keep dreaming and keep breaking down barriers!

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