Berlin? More like BURRRR-lin, am I right?
Let me tell you, Northern Germany in late November is pretty cold, albeit not as cold as Canada has been the last few weeks, but still pretty cold!
We arrived in Berlin after taking the greatest bus from Prague. It was like taking a upper class plane on wheels called Regiojet. We each had our own TV with recent movies, the chairs were like lazy-boy recliners, and it made me a little sad that we couldn’t have booked a bus like this for one of our overnight trips.
It was GLORIOUS!
Anyways, after a very comfortable ride in we went straight to our hostel in the city. We had already stayed in one Wombat Hostel in Austria and had a positive experience, so we were looking forward to our stay here. We got in pretty late, with just enough time to drop off our bags, get some dinner, and find out that the hostel bar served wheat beer (Krystal’s favourite).
Our first full day in Berlin was bright, early(ish) and brisk! We went on another classic Sandeman’s Free Walking Tour to learn about the most hipster city in Europe.
Why is Berlin so hipster you might ask?
Well, it’s going through a gentrification process. For anyone unfamiliar with that term, it basically means that Berlin used to be an actual living hell hole and when it was released from communist powers it was labelled as an “undesirable place to live”.
So the rent was cheap, and you know who loves cheap rent? Students, artists and entrepreneurs, the three groups that know how to take what’s available and build something eccentric and, often times, beautiful.
“Now Greg, living hell hole seems like a bit much doesn’t it? You sound like you are being overly dramatic.”
I wish I was!
But this was the simplified way that Berlin was explained to us.
After World War Two (WWII), Germany was split into four different quadrants, each quadrant was overseen by a different one of the allied powers to help ensure that World War Three didn’t start.
Long story short, some of the Allies differed in opinion on Capitalism vs. Communism and this ended in the building of the Berlin Wall.
I want to highlight that this is an extreme over simplification of the complex social issues that were present at the time that the wall was put up, but I wanted to get the point across quickly.
The Berlin wall split West and East Germany and was literally put up overnight.
The residents were told repeatedly, “No, no, we have no intention of building a wall” and then BAM on the morning of August 13th, 1961 there was a crude barbed wire fence put up splitting the city and no one was allowed to cross it.
Now, just imagine this:
You wake up tomorrow and your child is having a sleepover with their cousins across town and now they aren’t allowed to come home. If you or your child tries to cross this new fence you’ll be killed on the spot. How messed up is that?
Or, you had an overnight shift at work, you get off at 7 AM and you go to make the 3 block walk home, and what’s this? A fence? What the hell is going on? I want to go home!
… but you can’t.
This has been one of many times Krystal and I have had a talk along the lines of, “How the hell could you do that to another human being? Let alone an entire group of people!?”
Anyways, the tour content was pretty heavy all the way through.
We learned about book burnings in the University, where members of the Nazi party burned books that were declared “Not German enough”.
We saw the spot of Hitler’s bunker where he took his life at the end of the war. This is a very controversial spot, it is marked with a sign that is only about a foot wide and is located on an unpaved, crude parking lot. A memorial of any kind was never built because many German citizens were worried that Neo-Nazis might use it as a gathering spot or perform further hate crimes here.
We also saw the largest Jewish memorial in Berlin, but I’ll touch more on that later.
The positives out of this tour were that it was very informative, we got to try currywurst a glorious sausage and curry dish, and we learned about all the different Christmas markets (there’s 50-100 friggin' Christmas markets here depending on the year).
This day was wrapped up with even more conversation about what we learned over a beer or three.
Because the conversations got a little heavy, and the beers flowed a little too easily we had a slower start to our second full day. We decided we wanted to focus on some happier topics of conversation, so we went to a Christmas market.
These markets are filled with tiny little wooden huts with many vendors selling Christmas ornaments, homemade crafts, mulled wine and mouth watering foods. This day was a little slower for us, we hadn’t realized yet but our travel burnout was really kicking in. So we took a leisurely walk back to the hostel to enjoy a movie and an early sleep.
Our third day wasn’t what we expected at all.
We found ourselves back to the Jewish Memorial site, this is a free exhibition that typically takes 45 minutes for most visitors to complete at their own pace. For us, it took closer to three hours.
We arrived fairly early, braving the cold weather and a 40 minute walk outside, anticipating an hour long stay.
The decision to get an audio guide was an easy one to make, 3 Euros for a headset filled with information was definitely worth it.
I’m not sure if this site was more captivating for us because of the exhibition itself, or because we had recently visited the two Auschwitz Concentration Camps near Krakow, but we were hooked. I don’t believe my writing is strong enough to do it justice, but this is a must see spot in Berlin.
There are many artefacts, letters, pictures and stories from the victims of WWII. The site makes all of the victims far more relatable than any statistic you’ll ever read. We saw hand written notes from victims, some who knew what fate awaited them, some who didn’t. The entire memorial is incredibly depressing, but also important.
It helped me reflect on what things that should be valued in life and it really helps one appreciate aspects of our Canadian lives that are often overlooked, like freedom of speech and the general safety of our country.
In addition to the exhibition, which is set up underground, there is also a Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe on the street level.
The memorial is made up of 2,711 concrete slabs that differ in height and shades of grey. It is a unique site, we saw it on a crisp sunny day. The weather really affects how this display looks. When it is dreary or raining the concrete sometimes looks like it is weeping and the site takes on an even darker tone.
The site definitely makes you feel a little uneasy, and I truly believe that was the artist’s full intention. Without turning this into a knowledge dump, I’ll just implore you to visit this site if you have a few hours to spare the next time you’re in Berlin.
That evening, Krystal and I reflected that we were missing some of the Bavarian aspects from our earlier trip in Germany, so we looked up a Bierhaus nearby.
The whole experience felt a little bit forced, it wasn’t quite as good as the real thing in Munich but it was fun nonetheless.
My favourite part of the night was when Krystal ordered her beer.
Over the past few stops we learned that not everyone understood what we meant when we ordered “a pint” of beer, they’d often just ask “Big or Small?”
So at this point, Krystal thought she’d get ahead of the game and when the server asked what she’d like, she ordered a “Big Weiss Beer” to which the server replied, “Big, are you sure?” and Krystal said “Of course!”
As soon as the waiter walked away, I had fun explaining to her that their beers were measured as: 330ml (a glass), 500ml (a pint), and 1L (a stein), so the “Big Beer” she just ordered was a litre of beer!
It took her awhile to finish but she enjoyed every drop.
Our last day in Berlin was filled with rain, so we spent our day hanging out in the hostel reading and doing research while waiting to head to the airport and fly to Brussels.
All in all, Berlin was an enjoyable, albeit expensive place to visit, there is a lot of history there and it has lead to a unique and artistic culture.
Lessons learned for Germany:
Always leave time to debrief after tours that have emotionally draining topics of conversation
The German Beer Purity law means the Germans don’t mess around with Beer, we didn’t have a bad beer at all during our visit
When ordering a beer, keep their sizes in mind: 330ml (a glass), 500ml (a pint), and 1L (a stein)
Recommendations for Munich:
Head to Augustiner and try as many beers as you can
Visit Neuschwanstein castle, but take time to explore the lake outside instead of going inside the castle (or make sure you leave time to do both)
Do the Third Reich Tour, there is one offered in Berlin too but we enjoyed the one in Munich
If there are pretzels on your table at a restaurant, pay the Euro to try them. They are the best pretzels we’ve ever tried!
Recommendations for Berlin:
Go to the Jewish Memorial site and museum, I can’t stress this one enough. It is free to enter and only 3 euros to listen to the interactive headset
Skip Checkpoint Charlie, it is one of the most overrated tourist stops in Berlin (it's a street corner with a sign!)
Take the Free Sandeman Walking Tour here, it covers a large part of the city and is very informative. It takes you to a lot of spots you might not find easily on your own
If possible, try to cook some meals on your own in a hostel or AirBnb, we found eating out in Berlin to be very expensive
If you're in Berlin near the end of November to the end of December, it's worth it (even if you don't celebrate it) to visit a Christmas market or two! Your nose and stomach will thank you
Cost Breakdown for two for 8 nights in Germany (in CDN$):
Transportation: $188.21 = 113.74 (Flixbus from Amsterdam to Munich) + 57.21 (Regiojet from Prague to Berlin) + 17.26 (trams to and from Berlin bus station)
Accommodations: $443.55 = 239. 67 (4 nights in Hostel in Munich) + $203.88 (4 Nights in Wombat Hostel Berlin)
Food: $550 (restaurants, groceries and snacks)
Entertainment: $88.01 = 45.80 (Third Reich Tour in Munich) + 30.21 (tips for walking tours in each city) + 0 (Free Bus trip to Neuschwanstein Castle with Sandeman loyalty card) + 0 (Free Munich Beer Tour with Sandeman loyalty card) + 9 (Audio guides for Jewish Memorial Museum in Berlin) + 3 (admission for Christmas market in Berlin)
TOTAL MONEY SPENT FOR TWO PEOPLE: $1269.77
Germany is often looked at as filled with cold weather and colder people, but we couldn’t disagree more...well I mean the weather was pretty chilly, but the people were warm!
If you love delicious beers, intense history, magical castles and schnitzel then get online and book your plane ticket now, Germany is waiting for you!
Our next few posts will tell you about some of the adventures we had between Munich and Berlin, so until then…
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