Ah, big big Berlin.
Didn’t know it back then, but apparently Berlin is a huge travel spot for many college-aged/twenty-something-year-olds like myself. I did notice that the city had quite a “young crowd” of college students and whatnot, but it wasn’t until I did a year abroad in France for work almost four years later that I realized that Berlin was quite, well, cool!
I spent one day in the city as part of the Scandinavia tour back in 2012, even though Berlin isn’t part of Scandinavia (but was still included in the travel package, so why not?). It was also one of the longest city tours for the whole vacation, the second being St. Petersburg, Russia (more on that place soon!). Seriously, we were out from 7h30 to 21h00 that day, taking the 3-hour train ride from one of Germany’s ports (Berlin is more inland) and spending the day in the city before taking the train ride back. Our guide was a young college-age lad, whom some of the older women on our tour said resembled a “young Hugh Grant” (and yes, I’m quoting them). Kind of cheeky, but still remember it to this day! 😉
We arrived in Berlin and were given free time to explore the city for the day. Our “Hugh Grant” guide gave us a city map, and we were off. At first, my family and I got a bit lost, since we were confused by the directions and street names (after all, German isn’t easy!).
We stumbled upon Humboldt University, considered one of the most prestigious universities in Europe, and is known to best one of the best for arts and humanities. Apparently, this was also where Hitler had ordered the burning of some 20,000 books during the Third Reich, as they were deemed to be “non-Germanic.”
Next, we oriented ourselves (finally!) and visited the Brandenburg Gate, the iconic symbol of Berlin and also of Germany itself. It was built to commemorate an old city gate that had connected the city to the small town of Brandenburg an der Havel. It was featured prominently during the tearing of the Berlin Wall back in 1989, and since then has been a huge tourist draw for the city. Its pillars, of course, are modeled after those of Greece’s. I admit, I had such a difficult time getting a good photo of it, just because there were so many people out that day (then again, it was in the middle of summer!).
Afterwards, we made the decision to walk the 2 kilometers (about 1 1/4 miles) to the Berlin Wall, or at least what remained of it. Mind you, it was quite hot and we didn’t know exactly where we were going, so walking there instead of taking public transportation could’ve been a bad idea. Thankfully, it went smoother than expected, and we arrived there only to be disappointed by how small it was. I guess my expectations were too high (literally, high like the wall itself), but the wall itself was pretty short and was filled with graffiti (but I know that today it’s considered art). Well, I can say now that I’ve seen it, even if it didn’t live up to my expectations.
We headed back to the city center and visited several more locations: the Berliner Dom (“Berlin Cathedral”), the history museum, and the Altes Museum (which houses antiquities). Along the way, we stopped by a small food stand to try Germany’s traditional street food, currywurst, which is essentially a curry sausage. Not cheap, but not bad: while I don’t think it’s any more special than Italian sausages, the German wurst is better than the American’s, which I don’t even particularly like.
By the time we finished eating the currywurst and visiting those named landmarks, we still had an hour to kill, so we hung around near the tour’s meeting spot, even stopping by a chocolate shop, Fassbender & Rausch (apparently, one of the oldest ones in Berlin) to admire the chocolate desserts. We even purchased a couple to taste; I recall getting a chili-pineapple flavored one and a white chocolate truffle- they were pretty good, although I think I’ll still stick with Belgium’s Godiva chocolates. 😛
Finally, it was time to meet up together as a group to take the train back to our ship. We got on the train, but had to wait over 30 minutes for a couple from our group to return- apparently, they had gotten lost. Little pissed off, since it would be a 3-hour train ride back. Eventually, the couple returned and we set off, leaving Berlin behind. We arrived back on our ship close to 21h00, had a late dinner, and turned in for the night.
Overall, it was an exhausting 13-hour visit in the capital of Germany, and I’m sure that there was so much more we could’ve done if we had more time (perhaps another day or two), but in any case, that particular visit was good enough back then. It would be nice to go back soon and see what has changed (or not) in the last four years, as well as experience more of that “young, hipster” scene with the bars and street art instead of the typical, touristy monuments (although I wouldn’t mind seeing them again). But to try something new in a place that I’ve already been to, well, it’s enriching!
That’s about it for this post! Again, I’ll be posting another of my adventures from my Scandinavian trip soon. Next up: Tallinn, Estonia!
— The Finicky Cynic
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