A couple of weeks ago, Steve and I had the opportunity to travel to Berlin, Germany and Prague, Czech Republic for the week. It was my first trip to Europe! Although I wouldn’t have picked either of those places out of all of Europe to explore first, I ended up being surprised by how wonderful each of these cities is.
We traveled as part of a group of MBA students from the University of Portland. Steve is getting his MBA and had to go, and I wasn’t about to let him go without me. As always when you travel in a group, you meet some characters that are very entertaining. Fortunately, most of the characters were pretty cool with us stealing away by ourselves most of the time. So that was nice.
Berlin really took me by surprise. I didn’t expect to enjoy exploring it as much as I did. Before our trip, we spent a bit of time thinking about what we wanted to do. We had limited time – essentially only two free days to explore, so we wanted to have an idea of things we really wanted to do or see so we could get them done.
I’ll just throw it out there that if you’re into museums, Berlin is the place for you. They have a whole place called “Museum Island.” And then they’ve got like a whole bunch of museums not on that island. Personally, I’m not the museum type. Especially not on short trips. I like to just walk around and look at things and eat things. Mostly, the ideal vacation is walking from good food to good food and seeing things along the way. So our plan was basically to look up food places, find them on a map, and then find a cool way to get there.
My favorite day was Tuesday. We set out for the Cafe und Kondetorei Buchwald because I read some random article on Buzzfeed recommending this place as one of the top 25 bakeries in the world. I don’t know that I would put it on that pedestal, but it was a fun adventure. On our way there, we walked through the Tiergarten. It was beautiful in the fall, and not too huge. In the middle of the Tiergarten we happened upon the Victory Column and decided to climb to the top. For about 3 euro a piece, this is one of the least expensive, touristy things you can do and I totally recommend it. The views from up there are amazing.
One of the most interesting things about Berlin, I think, stems from its separation into East and West via the Berlin Wall. From the top of the Victory Column you can still see the division of the city – old in the east and new in the west, with the line getting blurrier day by day.
A few other things you might consider doing on your adventure:
Cafe und Konditorei Buchwald – they’re famous for something called baumkuchen. It’s like an apricot cakey thing. And sometimes it’s covered in chocolate. It’s no cronut, but you should try some for the German experience and all that.
Berlin Wall – we stumbled upon the “Topography of Terror,” which is just as inviting as it sounds. It’s a city block where they have preserved a piece of the Berlin Wall next to the footprint of where the Prince Albert Hotel once stood before it was bombed towards the end of World War II. The hotel became the headquarters of the SS and all of Hitler’s operations. It’s an incredibly eery place to be. There is graffiti all over the wall and one of the markings said, “To Astrid: maybe someday we will be together.” Yep, made me cry right there in the middle of the city. It was even more impactful after having finished Ken Follett’s Century Trilogy this summer. The final book features a family separated by the Wall, so standing by something that caused so much pain and suffering for so long was a very sobering experience.
Brandenburg Gate – it’s huge, it’s beautiful, one time Napolean walked through it. And probably some other famous people, too. Go at night. It’s lit beautifully and there are fewer people around smooshing you. Also, it’s right next to the Reichtstag, which is not as well lit, and therefore probably more interesting to explore in the daylight. But it is the place Hitler had the SS set on fire so he could take control of the government. It is currently where the German parliament meets.
Augustiner am Gendarmenmarkt – Our hotel recommended this as one of the best, authentic German food restaurants in the area. You can ask for an English menu. It was delicious. I had a potato and sausage soup that was so good and soothing on a slightly jet-lagged stomach. Steve had the veal schnitzel. I stole some and it was good.
Gendarmenmarkt – it’s so beautiful at night. And there is a concert hall. If we had more time, we would have gone to a concert because it looked amazing. Also, there is a little Christmas shop there that sells the famous hand-carved Christmas pyramids. They are incredible. Bring $100,000 with you so you can buy some.
Additional tips: Bring a warm coat. It’s cold in the fall and winter. Everyone there is wearing puffy, down coats so you won’t look out of place. // Also, know what you are going to order before going up to the counter. In Berlin, they prefer the clipped, most direct form of speaking. No “danka schoen” necessary. Just “danka” will do. // In restaurants, you will likely end up asking for the check.If you’re in a hurry, do it sooner rather than later.
Oh! And the most important thing. Well, in my opinion. The tap water is totally drinkable, but most locals don’t drink it because they
are crazy prefer sparkling water or beer or wine. As someone used to drinking about a gallon of water a day, I thought I was going to whither away. If you ask for water in a restaurant, they will ask you “Still or Sparkling” and whichever one you pick, it is going to cost more than wine and they’re going to give you about a shot’s worth. Seriously. They treat it like Cleopatra just dropped her pearl earring into your water. But you can ask for tap water. And they will bring it to you and it is free and there is a lot of it. So, get yourself some tap water. Thank me later.