Berliners are Winners

10 Dec

Throwback Wednesday…

December (2017) is not traditionally the time to visit Berlin, Germany but when Wow Airline offered a $350 roundtrip (!!!!) ticket from Pittsburgh to Berlin it was just too good to pass up — Rachel and I bought tickets.  (Also, yay to me for not letting myself get a full year behind with blogging!)  Rachel and I have known each other for years.  Here are a couple of a refreshers from that time we were in Asia; Vietnam, and Thailand.

We spent over a week in Germany and oh, Berlin…what can I say about Berlin?  My mind is drawing a blank; my thoughts have hit a wall. Haha — get it? Too soon? Ok, just kidding. In reality, there’s almost too much to say about Berlin because it is FANTASTIC. A week wasn’t long enough, there was so much to do and soooo much history.  In fact, even someone who isn’t into history (*cough*) would be convinced to get passionate about it here; an armchair historian, if you will (and I will).  As Rick Steves, my idol, has said: “Germany is beloved by armchair historians, including people who never cared about history before coming to Berlin (a common affliction).” If I’m reading that correctly, Rick Steves thinks I’m normal.

Berlin came highly recommended to me and I can see why, quite simply, it’s the best; The energy of the city is incredible; live music in the subways, everyone spoke English, lots of people are expats and from all over the world, incredible street art, adorable cross-walking signs, gorgeous architecture, and long names for everything like Reichsluftfahrtministerium, which was the former air ministry.   I loved it all.

One of the first things we did was visit the parliament building; the tours are free, but you have to sign up in advance.



Beautiful architecture!



The idea behind the neat glass globe is that government will remain transparent to the citizens and regular people who can look down on the politicians and monitor them from above.



Looks pretty transparent to me…Maybe we can learn a thing or two and make the White House the Glass House…



Damn, check out the syllables on that strasse! Also pictured here is a way to display billboards…  This method we learned about on one of our many walking tours, thanks Rick Steves.


Because there was so much to see, I’m essentially breaking this trip up into three sections: The Holocaust, The Wall, and Modern Berlin.

And in this current climate of anti-semitic rhetoric, and since this Friday will mark two weeks since the Pittsburgh Synagogue shooting, I’m going to start this post with…


T H E    H O L O C A U S T

One thing I noticed about Berlin, which I really loved, was that they handle their history with dignity and respect. That is, they acknowledge it. They don’t try to hide it, but they also don’t wallow in it or capitalize/exploit the tragedy by setting up tourist traps. Their memorials are tasteful and subtle, they aren’t in your face, though you know they’re there. For example, the “Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe” is extremely powerful and moving yet simplistic in nature.


Jewish memorial; the pillars vary in height as you get deeper into the maze-like structure.


They also have these literal stumbling stones placed throughout the city so that as you walk, you’ll remember the Jews who were forced to move from these spots.  Back in the 1930’s there was an expression that, if you tripped, a Jew did it do you – which is why these stumbling stones, designed to actually trip you today, are so powerful.  Tripping, changing your foot pattern, brings you back to reality, back to the present moment and forces you to remember these people who used to live in these buildings and then were mercilessly murdered.



Some of the stumbling stones. This was a family of four.


Between the memorials — the book burning memorial in Bebelplatz was one of the most powerful, a room full of empty bookshelves — Hitler’s bunker (denoted by a simple sign and definitely not a tourist site because they don’t want it to become a real attraction), and the museums, we learned about Berlin’s Holocaust history.  Rachel also ended up going to one of the former concentration camps, but I couldn’t bring myself to go. It was too painful.   

In a bit of a more uplifting lens, we decided to visit the Otto Weidt blind museum where we learned about heroes of the Holocaust — the survivors and their advocates.

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This guy & his amazing mustache brought us some much-needed cheer while at the Otto Weidt museum.


Another interesting thing we noticed was that the government seems to be still making up for its wrongs from years ago. In addition to all of the memorials, they also still protect Jewish structures; synagogues, Jewish schools, etc. all have barriers in front of them with armed guards standing in front for “protection”. They also have made these buildings blend in with the other houses on the street to help ensure their safety.


A subtle, powerful entryway.


Noteworthy, was an international event that happened while we were there. The United States acknowledged Jerusalem as the capital of Israel (because…a different country can just decide that for another one…?) and announced that the government would be building the U.S. embassy there. There were protests and police presence in the streets — it got pretty loud and aggressive as we hurried to get off of the streets.

Although somber, this part of our Berlin tour was really important, and I think that you can’t really understand Berlin unless you learn about its dark past.

And so now, in true systematic fashion, we’re moving on to…


T H E     W A L L      (1961 – 1989)



Gettin’ nice and cuddly.


Explaining, in any sort of depth, the situation with the Berlin Wall is way above my paygrade.  I’m just going to touch on that it’s an amazing sight to see in person. Rachel and I did an incredible Rick Steves tour, got a history lesson about the wall and learned how the allies (France, Britain, USA, and the Soviet Union) all got parts of Germany — Berlin itself was divided (thus the erection of the Wall). We got to see Checkpoint Charlie, which was a famous crossing point between the Eastern and Western sides of the wall.

At Checkpoint Charlie, a lot had changed since it was an actual checkpoint.  Today, capitalism prevails; there was a McDonalds and plenty of souvenir shops.  Rick Steves told us that even the larger than life poster of the famous (so-called) “Soviet” soldier is actually a Dutch model, photographed years after the fall of the USSR, wearing a nonsensical uniform of random medals, with a Russian (not Soviet) flag on his shoulder.


WARNING: DO NOT get your passport stamped here…; it will invalidate the document.



Famous picture of a soldier crossing over.


A cool thing about the wall, besides the history, is that is has become a haven for some really awesome graffiti (in this way it’s similar to the Palestinian wall).  After taking an in-depth tour of the museum and grounds (thank you so much, Rick) we had a lot of fun looking at all of the art on the parts of the wall still standing.


A piece of history.



The Wall… somebody get Pink Floyd over here.



Jokes about Trabi, cars made in East Germany.  Courtesy of Rick Steves.


I N T E R M I S S I O N:

Ok, so I know I said I was going to separate this trip into 3 sections, but…food!!  The food in Berlin consists of sausages, spaetzle, kebabs(!), AND MORE.  Some of it is seriously delicious; like the Turkish food, for example. One night, for 3 euros, Rachel and I ate the best kebab I have ever had and so, the next day, we headed back to try another one in order to see if it was really that good (it was!).  So, think of this as a commercial break where I advertise (or rather, make you jealous of) the food that I got to put into my mouth.

The most memorable spot was a restaurant that Rick Steves recommended; old world style food that was incredible.


Get into my belly, please.


Or, in contrast, was it this insanely delicious Vietnamese vegan meal with Couchsurfers and friends?!


Vietnamese and vegan! I’m salivating.


Some more dreamy food:


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Homemade candy at a traditional sweet shop.


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We went out to a breakfast and ordered the Hansel and Gretel. I think it means that the restaurant staff could’ve fattened us up and eaten us if they had wanted to. This food was mesmerizing.


Another breakfast (not pictured) was at a place so cute it’s name is worth mentioning — Romeo and Romeo — in the specifically gay area of Berlin.


Spaetzle is special.



We had to go to this famous biergarten, it’s in the Berlin rulebook (and also there’s a branch in Pittsburgh!).



This was a former men’s bathroom turned restaurant. Can somebody say sausage fest?! Just kidding, they serve burgers.


M O D E R N      D A Y      B E R L I N

Rick, if you’re reading this blog please know that your book and your tours completely influenced our time in this city for the better. We used all of your walking tours (and I mean all of them) to take us around… Having you in our ears and in our hands (in book form) was a fantastic idea because Rachel and I learned a ton that I won’t bore this blog with trying to convey but I will show off some of our pictures.  I HIGHLY suggest the Rick Steves Berlin book for anyone heading to this marvelous city.  

Of course we saw the main sights like Brandenburg Gate (or Unter den Linden).



Come in December, you’ll beat the tourist crowds.


And also the hotel where the King of Pop, Michael Jackson, held his kid over the balcony.



Where’s a baby and a blanket when you need one?



One day we went for a hike in the Bavarian forest to an old spy station but we had to turn around after several hours of not finding what we were looking for because we didn’t want to get lost in the dark.

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Into the woods.


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Are we still in Berlin?!  (yes!)


Rachel and I continued to see lots of street art, went to the Monster Gallery (a loud moving art exhibit), and saw A TON of graffiti. No seriously, the graffiti is everywhere:

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Most definitely not a crack den. Don’t let the walls fool you.


Moritzplatz (not pictured below) is a train station where we spent most of our time.



Can you see the Christmas? WELL CAN YOU?


And because it was December, we went to many Christmas Markets, which are just about the most European thing to happen and are popping up all over Berlin. This year (2017, reminder), the security was on high alert with a lot of added barriers and extra protection since last year (2016 because, math) there was a terrorist attack involving a horrible man driving his truck through the market and killing people.  So sad. But this year everything was safe and they all served delicious, warm mulled wine to keep us warm.



An adorable Christmas market.


Okay, okay. Get to the WILD stuff, you’re saying…I hear you.

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Welcome to the nightlife.


If you’ve heard anything about Berlin’s nightlife, you’re probably waiting to hear about the crazy sex dungeon clubs that are scattered all throughout the city. So I’ll tell you from my experience, I’ll tell you about the INSANEEE club we went to where we saw some REALLY INTENSE… jazz, sans BDSM, at Zig Zag Jazz Club. Okay, okay. I’ll get to the real stuff. To the gritty and raunchy…

…comedy show we saw at the Cosmic Cat. It was in English, how wild is that?


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English comedy in Germany? That’s funny.


Ok, but really. We did go to a club on a random Tuesday night (because Berliners party throughout the week. Going out here is a marathon, not a race). We went to The Suicide Circus (and no, no one was hanging from the rafters in assless chap clown suits). We had a good time, but the music wasn’t our cup o’ mulled wine, and the crowd was not one we would normally find ourselves in.


Graffiti bathroom, typical Berlin.



Flaming absinthe shots. Drink responsibly. We only had one, thanks.


The most fun I had the whole trip was hanging out with Rachel (of course!) and Sofia (introduced below, thank you, Paula!), and a variety of Couchsurfers, both hosts and new friends, who showed us around. Life is about the people you meet (and about the Rick Steves tours you take :)) We stayed with a Turkish guy, Mehmet, for the first part of our trip — he was super nice, and we really enjoyed our stay.  We switched it up in the middle of our trip (because no one wants long-term guests who don’t pay rent except, I guess, for children) and stayed with Silver, a cool Frenchman turned Berliner and his dog, Nacho.



This is Nacho dog ❤


We had so much fun with each of our hosts!  One particular night we decided to go to a Couchsurfer party at a cozy bar. We made sooo many new friends, it was a blast! I really do love Couchsurfing.  And later, we took all of our new friends to a bar on the rooftop of a parking garage where we continued to bond.




Mehmet, our gracious host, with Rachel.



To the couchsurfing party we go!


Everyone we met in Berlin was lovely, especially darling Sofia.  Here’s her introduction 🙂 We met her by chance because Helen had wanted to order some perfume that she could only get delivered to her in Germany and I graciously told her that I would “figure out a way to pick it up for you!”.  Luckily, Paula – whom I love – introduced me to Sofia who said we could use her address (thank you!!!!)  It was through this interaction with Sofia that I learned how WEIRD mail in Germany can be.   If you’re not home, the mail people (that’s what they’re called, right?) leave your mail with the neighbors. Any neighbor depending on who is home when mail gets delivered.  …That means it’s potentially a different neighbor every single day.  CrAzY!  Long story short, Sofia tracked down the perfume (thank you again!) and chatted to us in the courtyard, telling us mail horror stories.  Rachel and I LOVED talking to Sofia and convinced her to “please continue hanging out with us”.  Sofia agreed! And came on a walking tour with Silver where she, too, fell in love with either Rick Steves or us because after that, she was a regular on all of our outings.


On the train heading towards adventure!




We did try to visit this garden in the cold and rain but it was too expensive to enter and was only open for another 30 minutes. We had spent hours on the S-bahn but it turned into a classic tale… more about the journey (and the company!) than the destination 🙂


Berlin was one of the most amazing cities I’ve ever been to – There was so much to do both day and night and everyone, everyone spoke English.   Rachel and I found endless learning, seeing, and eating.  We made lots of good friends from all over the world.  Berlin was SO international AND SO FREAKING WONDERFUL!!  The energy was incredible, we never wanted to leave. I HIGHLY recommend visiting.  It rivals New York as the “City That Never Sleeps.”  Although, I don’t think Berlin is competing.  It doesn’t need a title.  It’s THAT cool.

Ich liebe dich, Berlin.



Rachel and Sammi say: GO TO BERLIN

One Response to “Berliners are Winners”

  1. deekerson November 27, 2018 at 11:24 pm #

    Ich liebe dich, Sammi aber genug von Rick Steves! 🤣

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