I’ve never set off all alone for an adventure. I’ve always had a friend, family member or boyfriend at my side to accompany me on my travels. Newly single, I decided it was a good time to step out on my own (or partially) for once. My first stop on my grand adventure, Berlin!
I arrived in the late afternoon after a long plane delay, nonetheless my mood was as good as ever and I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face. I stepped out of the metro, backpack on back, directly into the center of Alexanderplatz. All around me were small wooden cabins selling a variety of festive foods and decorations. German Christmas markets are nothing short of magical.
My next task was locating where I’d be sleeping that night. Recently I had signed up for couchsurfing, a site that allows travelers to connect with locals as well as other travelers. One person has proposed to host me, and I gave it a go. A free place to stay, Why not?
Couch surfing also gave me the opportunity to connect with a few other travelers, who ended up going with me that evening for dinner. (Thanks couch surfing!)
After googling « best curry wurst in Berlin » all 3 of us headed for the other side of town to a place called « curry wurst 36 ». The food was great and it was also another check off on my bucket list. However, with the excitement of new foods and a new city we decided to go a little overboard and try a German kebab as well. This kebab, I kid you not, ended up being the highlight of our evening. If you’re ever in Berlin, Mustafa’s Gemuse Kebab is a must try!
The next day was much more touristy. I joined in on a free walking tour of the city, not the original one,but an alternative one that aimed to showing us around the lesser known areas of town. Additionally, the tour focused a great deal on the street art scene of Berlin. Our guide was full of energy and interesting facts. She showed us graffiti by some more famous street artists and some lesser known as well. She had anecdotes about lots of the art.
For example, this one below shows a girl and her cat. Originally this little girl and her cat were part of an old Soviet television show, and they did everything together. Now the street artist has taken to depicting the girl trying to kill her cat in different ways, all over the city.
Another you can see below. One artist took to creating an advertisement with his street art, for the brand Levi’s. Another street artist, disliking the fact that street art was being used to promote a big company, answered back by creating a stampede running towards the advertisement. War between artists.
Street art is illegal in most areas of the city, and artists can be given fines up to 500€. However, there have been certain parts of the city set aside to let artists express themselves freely without getting in trouble for doing it. One of these places is the courtyard of an old squat that was bought out by the « dead chickens society ». Street art comes and goes in this courtyard because a lot of it end up getting painted over.
One painting has remained quite a long time though. A lovely portrait of Anne Frank, at the entrance of a museum dedicated to her life.
The guide also spent a great deal of time talking about gentrification and the effect it is having in Berlin. Not only did she talk about it, but she showed us the direct effects. She showed us this by taking us to the YAAM (young African American market) and explaining the regulations that had forced them to move from one location to another. Another fun fact she shared, was that people were intentionally making buildings look old and run down with graffiti in order to keep their rent prices down.
The last item on the agenda with the guide was an old tree house. That’s right a tree house. Yet it wasn’t just any old tree house of course. This tree house had been built by a Turkish immigrant named Osman Kalin after the wall went up. Apparently a small section of land right next to the wall got ‘forgotten’ and so this Turkish man quickly claimed it for himself and built a farm and a tree house for him and his family to live in. He still sits on the porch on warm summer days to smile at those passing by.
To finish the day, my new friends and I went to museum of espionage. Never did I expect to learn that espionage has been such a large part of history! Preventing wars, starting them… if you are ever in Berlin I highly recommend visiting the museum of espionage near Potsdamplatz. Plus there is a small section dedicated to James Bond for those who enjoy learning more about 007.
To finish off my stay in Berlin I thought it would be a good idea to do another free walking tour, this time for the main tourist sites of the city. Again, I had a wonderful tour guide who was full of energy and information. The 3 hours were jam packed with history and sites to see.
The Jewish memorial. A sombre, moving monument that may be hard to interpret at first. No two blocks are the same. Every person is open to their own interpretation of the monument. I’ll keep mine to myself for you to build your own when you visit.
Beneath is a free museum dedicated to the murdered Jew’s of Europe. Also an intense experience, I highly recommend it.
Directly after the monument our guide took us to the area of land located over top of the bunker where Hitler committed his suicide. It’s now an old parking lot, and we were reassured that it is in no way a meeting point for Nazi’s.
We visited bebelplatz as well. This platz is the location where book burnings took place. As we all know, books written by Jew’s were not allowed and we’re therefore burned. The memorial for these tragic occurances is thus a room with empty bookshelves. The space is enough for roughly 40,000 books, about the number that were burned at this location.
My overall impression of Berlin
Overall I think the city is great, with lots to offer. You can clearly see that the city is young, and that most of it was destroyed over the past century. Berlin is still in the process of rebuilding and of course growing even larger. That being said, there is so much history within the city. It may not be 100% evident at first, but when you have a guide, or look further, you start to understand just how rich the history of Berlin is.
If you visit the city here are the sites for the free walking tours I talked about:
Both are great, both are a must.