*This blog post is part of my solo backpacking trek through Europe in 2015.
As President John F. Kennedy once said in his 1963 speech in West Berlin, “Ich bin ein Berliner” or “I am a Berliner.”
For three days, I felt like I was, indeed, a true Berliner. From eating at local markets, sitting on yellow beach chairs with the locals who lived there, to exploring the city using the metro, I felt like I belonged in Berlin. I arrived in Berlin after a short 2 hour train ride from Hamburg and took the metro to my hostel – Smart Stay Hostel Berlin. After wandering and getting lost for an hour, I walked down the endless and conJested, marketplace, Wilmersdorfer Street, and finally stumbled upon Smart Stay Hostel.
Smart Stay Hostel felt more like a hotel than it did a hostel. Meandering into the fancy lobby, I noticed computer desks, plush couches, a check-in desk with fancy receptionists wearing suits and passing out hotel-like room keys, and plenty of families and vacationers checking in, along with the occasional backpacker. And yet, it was all still so cheap! I got my room key, opened the door to my hostel room and found 6 dark wooden bunk beds and a young man around my age meditating on the hard floor.He perked up, smiling and greeted me, telling me that he was biking across Europe and found that lying down with his back on the hard floor helped his muscles relax.We chatted and introduced ourselves, him telling me that his recent break-up with his longtime girlfriend left him devastated, so he decided to bike and camp his way across Europe to Edinburgh, where he would contemplate and get to know himself again. SO DEEP. He headed out, telling me we should go see the Berlin Wall tomorrow, and then left with a chipper “See you soon, raccoon.” I shook my head, laughing and got to unpacking my backpack into the drawer underneath my top middle bunk.
Berlin Must Do’s
Over the next three days, I did a mix of touristy and local things. I wandered for miles by myself, discovering a church called Protestant St. Marienkirche (in what was then East Berlin) where Martin Luther King Jr. gave a historical sermon in September 1964! I came across the Anne Frank Zentrum tucked away in a tight, colorful alleyway along with a local farmer’s market where I ate delicious fruits and radishes and treated myself to a very authentic burrito (and I know authentic. Born and raised in San Diego: home to the most authentic latin food in the U.S.).That burrito cured my feelings of homesickness right away. I spent a lot of time in Copenhagen and Berlin by myself, quietly thinking and wandering and journaling when I found time, but something I was really missing when I arrived in Berlin were my friends back home in New York. I was missing familiarity. The silences and the quiet observations of the world around me were getting to be too much.
One thing I noticed while I was wandering around Berlin was how the old city felt like an art piece. Everywhere you looked was some sort of work of art. Whether it was a beautiful bridge, exquisite architecture like the German Historical Museum, the Alte Nationalgalerie (Old National Gallery), and the stone pillars at the altes Museum (Old Museum), or simply a fountain in the middle of a square, there was beauty everywhere. Everything looks and feels ancient in Berlin, besides the modern television tower in Central Berlin, the Fernsehturm de Berlin. I would just wander and marvel at all the incredibly detailed works of art, as I ate my delicious burrito and studied my map. Something I was very curious to see but what was somewhat disappointed (and yet intrigued!) by was the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. It took forever for me to find this memorial, but as I finally came across it, I suddenly realized it probably wasn’t that special of a place to go out and search for.
That was until I started walking around the giant concrete rectangles on the ground. As I passed by hundreds of crypt-like stones, I realized I was going deeper and deeper below ground! The memorial was arranged in a grid pattern on a slopping field! The concrete slabs seemed to get taller the farther out I went, until suddenly I was surrounded by tall building-like statues all around me. Maze-like, It’s very easy to get lost in the Memorial, so be sure to stay around the edges if you don’t want to get lost in the middle of the concrete. Luckily, plenty of tourists come out to see the memorial and get lost among the stelae, so you’ll be sure to spot a bopping head peeking out from behind every so often.
As I trekked north towards the Berlin Wall and Documentation Site, I discovered plenty of cute coffee shops, alleyways, chic apartments and small playgrounds. I loved wandering these areas. It all was very quiet and home-like in feeling, as opposed to the busy and tourist-friendly areas in Central Berlin.
When I finally came across the Berlin Wall, I was beginning to feel very cranky from the exhaustion of walking all that way without water or a rest. (TIP: Everything is spread out and pretty far away from each other, even though it may look closer on a map. If you’re visiting Berlin, make sure to purchase a metro pass for the days that you are there. I didn’t buy a pass and wish I had instead of forcing myself to walk all those miles.)
Luckily, my bunk buddy whom I met in my hostel dorm found me at the Berlin Wall that late afternoon! What a coincidence! He couldn’t contact me either, as my wifi and data was turned off. As we studied the wall and the pictures of those who had sacrificed their lives to jump and climb over the concrete wall, I felt so close to them in that moment. Right where we stood, right on that patch of grass, was a historical marking in time. It was such a devastating part of history for all of those living in Berlin. Families were torn apart, children were separated from their parents, and young teenagers who had slept over at their friend’s houses the evening before were trapped on the East Side with no way to go back home to their families. When the police built that wall in 1961, lives were changed. People were isolated. And until the Berlin Wall was destroyed in 1989, families would not get to hug their loved ones for many years to come.
As we read the history of East/West Berlin at the Berlin Wall Visitor Center, we turned solemn. Real video footage from the 1960S played at the museum, and my pal and I became so engrossed in the history that we didn’t even notice the time passing until we were asked to the leave the museum for closing.
After the Berlin Wall, we spent the next day at the Jewish Museum of Berlin, as mi amigo gave me a free pass to visit all the museums in Berlin, since he was heading out to Amsterdam the next morning. What a nice friend! He made me promise to pass it along to someone else when I left a day later. (which, of course, I did.)
My friend from Spain was an aspiring photographer, and he had a great passion for design and art. He pointed out to me the famous exhibit Two Millennia of German Jewish History , which allowed us to see the Germany of the past and present through the eyes of the Jewish minority, along with Shalekhet (Fallen Leaves) in the Memory Void, one of the empty spaces of the Libeskind Building. Over 10,000 open-mouthed faces coarsely cut from heavy, circular iron plates cover the floor. As we stepped on the loud plates and moved over the faces, we commented on how emotional the artwork made us feel. So much history has been cemented in Berlin since World War Two, and spending those three days in such a tragic city was very educating for me.
For $26, the VisitBerlin Museum Pass pass scores you three days of admission to 50 museums, including the Pergamon and the Bauhaus-Archiv. Buy it if you plan to venture beyond Museum Island. visitberlin.de
My time is Berlin, although a bit lonely and reflective, was also filled with great stories. I educated myself on a lot of Europe’s history by staying in this beautiful city, and I made a great kindred spirit whom I had shared exciting talks on adventure and seeing the world! It was so nice to have met someone along my backpacking journey who had shared the same vision for life that I had: traveling, creating great adventures, meeting new people, and to be in constant awe of the world.
I left Berlin in the opposite state that I had arrived in; I felt full. Full of adventure. Full of wonder. Full of knowledge. But mostly, I felt full of life.
Any exciting adventures or educational experiences you’ve had in Berlin??
Tell me about your experience in the comments below.
Thanks for reading!
A few images from my trip back in 2015. Note: These pictures are all blurry iphone pictures, years before I ever learned a thing about photography, I am totally and completely apologizing for the lack of quality here. 😉