There are some cities that just linger on my mind. They float around my thoughts (and sometimes my Instagram feed), and peak my interest to the point where they eventually make it to the top of my “travel wishlist”.
Berlin had been one of those cities for a few years, and I’d just let my mind run wild with thoughts of being there.
I dreamed of hanging with super cool "Berliners", chatting it up with the hotties, walking through Kreuzberg in my BagLady Basics dresses looking all artsy fartsy, lazing at the parks, taking loads of graffiti pictures, visiting art galleries, and museums; I ‘d let my thoughts go wherever they wanted to.
Earlier this year, I got tired of dreaming, bought a ticket, and got ready for a real life experience in this multicultural metropolis.
The time finally came in May. Excited, but with no real expectations, I packed my bags, and headed to Deutschland (Germany), ready to experience whatever their capital city had waiting for me!
I didn’t do as much as I’d daydreamed about while in Berlin. In fact, I think I’d need to actually live there to do all I’d dreamed about, however, I experienced just enough for me to fall in love with this city- and it was love at touchdown!
My main desire was to experience Berlin like a local, and even chose to stay in three different areas so that I could fully experience different sides to Berlin; so I hopped around Berlin with all of my bags for 7 days, determined to make at least a few of my daydreams come true.
I fell in love with so many parts of Berlin, but have narrowed it down to 10 for your viewing/reading pleasure!
So here goes, 10 things I love about Berlin…
1. FOOD: Yes, yes, yes, y’all know that I MUST start with the food!
You guys already know about my love affair with food, and I was actually a bit concerned about what I’d be able to eat in Berlin.
I love food, but I am very selective with what I eat. I am not vegan, but I prefer to eat that way most times, as well as stay away from fried and starchy foods. I also do not eat pork. When I thought of Germany, I just thought of pork sausages, schnitzel and potatoes, and didn’t’ think of it as being a city where I’d have much healthy options.
I’ve tried dining at the amazing German restaurants in Shanghai, but it has always been a struggle to find something that fits with my dietary lifestyle, especially something that didn't contain pork. My friends also started making fun of me when I told them that I was going to Berlin, and said that I’d probably have to starve during my trip, but starve, I DIDN'T!
I arrived, and to my surprise and delight, was welcomed by a plethora of vegan restaurants, restaurants with vegan options, and even vegan treats.
Also, as a multicultural metropolis, there were many other options for authentic cuisine like Turkish food, which I love, and during the first three days of my trip sampled a couple of Turkish restaurants where I had my fill of döner kebabs, falafel and shawarma wraps. I went crazy on the meat train during this trip, and didn't feel guilty about it, after all, I was on vacation!!
I also tried a lot of street food, during MyFest and the famous currywurst dish at Mauerpark, but the best meal that I had in Berlin was a traditional German dish called kohlrouladen.
I can’t pronounce it, but let me attempt to describe it. It’s a huge and delicious stuffed cabbage roll- the inside containing ground beef. A potato, and generous serving of gravy also accompanied this roll. The meal was huge, but I managed to eat most of it, I just couldn’t let all that German goodness go to waste!
Earlier that day, I also had the best burger I’ve ever had in life, at a spot called Burgermeister.
Burgermeister was once a public toilet, and now the best burger spot ever (at least in my opinion)! The lines are usually long, but definitely worth the wait! There probably won’t be any seats available either but take that as an opportunity to grab your delish meal, head to the river and devour your burger local style. Just find a random spot to sit, grub, and watch the boats go by.
I loved that the portions in Berlin were HUGE and the food cheap! I couldn’t believe that I was paying so little for so much, and often left restaurants with my leftovers (which were sufficient enough for another meal)- I WAS IN HEAVEN!
2. ART EVERYWHERE: Street art/graffiti, cathedrals, memorials, and sculptures adorning the streets, bridges, art galleries/exhibitions, museums, and street style- you name it! The city in itself is art, so go ahead, take a stroll, put down your phones, and take it all in.
3. MUSEUM ISLAND: Ever dreamed of visiting a city where all of the museums are in one place? Dream no further- just head to Berlin!
Ok, ok, all of their museums aren’t located here, but 5 in one location is a lot!
Museum Island is conveniently located in central Mitte, and is a beautiful place to spend a day or three, basking in history and art.
Museum Island is home to 5 museums, including the Neues Museum, Altes Museum, Bode-Museum, Old National Gallery, and the Pergamon Museum.
I bought a museum pass that allowed me to visit all 5 and used my old student ID to get it at a great discount. Sadly, I only had time to visit the Neues Museum, but even just that one was totally worth it.
I also took a quick boat tour along the Spree River. It’s not a “must do”, in Berlin, but it does give you an alternative view of Museum Island, and surrounding areas.
I’d suggest that you spend at least one day at Museum Island, and feel free to take a break and head across the bridge for a snack or picnic along the Spree River. Sunbathe in the grass or lounge on a chair, listen to live music and take in the vibe of the city.
Whatever you choose to do, just be sure to fit Museum Island into your Berlin itinerary!
4. KREUZBERG: Kreuzberg is to Berlin as Williamsburg is to Brooklyn- but on a larger scale.
Need I say more?
Kreuzberg was once a poor borough that was home to immigrants and artists, and now it's become the famous hipster center of Berlin. Kreuzberg is where it’s at, and everyone, local and tourist wants a piece of the subcultures that can be found here!
I spent 2 nights at an Airbnb on one of the main streets, and got a first hand experience of life in the X-Berg.
Expect everything that comes with the cool, "laissez faire", and stylish side of Berlin! Hipster cafes, graffiti art, hip-hop concerts, art galleries, thrift shops, exclusive sneaker spots, and of course people wearing whatever the fuck they want!
Kreuzberg is where you can just go ahead and O.D on expressing "yuhself" (especially at night), or even surprising yourself with wearing some out of the box shit!
I didn’t go crazy with it, but I definitely let my hair down a bit for MyFest…
5. MYFEST: I GOT LUCKY!
Some of you may have remembered how I got a bit unlucky in Ho Chi Minh City by visiting during Tet. Lots of places were closed, tours were limited, and I had to try a bit harder to have a great experience there.
Well that wasn’t the case in Berlin!
I got to Berlin right in time for Labor Day, which meant that I was fortunate enough to experience MyFest on the day itself! It was totally unplanned, which made it even more exciting!
MyFest festivities take place in Kreuzberg, and it’s how this borough celebrates May Day! Kreuzberg shuts down for a day/night for an electric and eclectic street party. It reminded me of Carnival back home (Trinidad), but of course Berlin-style.
There was dancing in the streets, loud speakers blasting music everywhere. Streets lined with food and drink stalls, crowded parks hosting concerts and performances, and some just filled with people getting shitfaced drunk (and high) while dancing to various styles of music.
The crowds were massive, and everywhere, so if you plan on venturing out for MyFest, forget about having phone service to contact anyone- just arrive with your squad!
I would also advise that you go to MyFest with at lest one friend, as it may feel a bit rowdy and unsafe in some areas.
There was also a strong presence of heavily armed police in riot gear, but I didn’t feel intimidated. Yes riots occur sometimes (because it is Labor Day after all), but it can be easily avoided, just be vigilant during your revelry.
I had an unforgettable time at MyFest, and will definitely return to celebrate again!
6. BIERGARTEN: So what if you’re like me and don’t usually drink beer! If you’re in Germany, visiting an authentic Biergarten is a must! Some are a bit more rustic than others, but the more rustic, the more authentic right??? At least lets hope so!
There are lots in Kreuzberg of course, and even at some parks. I stumbled upon a really chill one at Treptower Park which is located along the river. That to me is Biergarten perfection.
7. PARKS: Berlin is filled with parks. This is where lots of Berliners prefer to spend their free time when it’s nice outside! It’s impossible to visit all on a short trip, and probably even on a long one, so if you only have time to visit one, then head to MAUERPARK (on a Sunday). It’s not your typical lush green park (for that head to Treptower park on any day of the week), but it’s special because it hosts an amazing market on Sundays. I’d read about it online, but it was even more incredible to experience in person.
I visited on my last day, and was one of the experiences on my trips that really allowed me to feel the pulse of Berlin. I got there, and I felt that shit.
This market is filled with food stalls selling a variety of dishes, and endless vintage and thrift vendors, with independent designers, and craftsmen seamlessly fitting right into the Mauerpark mix.
I had my fill of food and fashion finds, then strolled around the park to find entertainment like magicians, and karaoke sessions. My favorite experience at Mauerpark was watching graffiti artists cover part of the Berlin Wall (inner wall) with their work.
Visiting this park was a very unique experience, and I hope to encounter more like this as I continue my travels.
Just an hour away on the train from Berlin, Potsdam is this fake "princess’" dream.
Visiting this historical, but equally dreamy town is definitely on my list of top 3 favorite things about my trip to Berlin.
Filled with breathtakingly ornate palaces and stunning gardens, it’s definitely worth the visit. It’s a pretty romantic spot- even if you visit by yourself! Prepare to spend an entire day getting lost here and be sure to walk with lots of snacks, maybe even a picnic basket!
There are shops and restaurants in the town itself, but when it comes to hopping around to the different palaces, it’s best to bring your own food.
There are a lot of guided tours which leave from Berlin to Potsdam, but I suggest that you get to Potsdam on your own and take a tour from there.
I simply took the S-Bahn in Berlin, Alexanderplatz to be exact, all the way to Potsdam, and upon arriving at my stop, bought a day pass at the terminal itself. There’s actually an office conveniently located there, where tourists can purchase passes, and get useful information about Potsdam.
My day pass allowed me to visit all of the palaces, and of course I used my old student ID as in Germany, you get tremendous student discounts on museums and some tours.
After purchasing my day pass and grabbing a few brochures and a pretzel, I proceeded to the street outside where there were tour buses. There were hop on, hop off buses, as well as guided tour buses. I even bargained and got a cheaper price for my tour.
The external grandeur of these palaces takes your breath away, but what you will experience on the interior is indescribable. Images could never capture its beauty and intricate design. I didn’t take pictures on the inside of the palaces, but for one, because a girl was dreamin!
9. JEWISH MUSEUM & HOLOCAUST MEMORIAL:
I must admit, that I felt a bit overwhelmed and lost while trying to decide on which Historical places I should have visited, and at which point I should have started from.
Berlin in itself is a treasure-trove of History, and as I walked around, I just wanted to find out facts about every structure, statue, park and body of water that I passed, so I decided to give the tours in Europe a chance (because you guys know I hate joining tours), and signed up for a Sandeman’s free walking tour.
And I do recommend trying to fit this 2.5 hour tour during your first or second day in Berlin (or any major city). It’s a great introduction to a place, and allows you to decide on where you would like to revisit.
I visited the Holocaust Memorial on the Sandeman’s tour, and was completely captivated by the experience created by architect Peter Eisenman.
The Holocaust Memorial was created in the likeness of a graveyard. The space is filled with rectangular concrete slabs of different dimensions. Many of which are tall and packed closely together, and stand on uneven ground.
While walking through this memorial I felt a bit overwhelmed, intimidated and dizzy. Confused, as I didn’t know which path to take, hopeful, every time I looked beyond the towering concrete structures and up to the sky, and reflective as it made me think of what Jews may have endured during the war.
I knew that after that experience, I’d have to visit the Jewish Museum before I left Berlin.
I am sitting here trying to describe my experience at the Jewish Museum, and am doing so while my eyes well up with tears as I type.
I think that’s the exact and lasting effect that architect Daniel Libeskind wanted to have on all who visit this work of art and experience- create a carefully curated space, in which every visitor would get a minuscule sense of what it must have been like as a victim of the Holocaust. I say miniscule, because I don’t think we could ever really fathom what that could have been like.
Daniel Libeskind takes us on a journey, a deep, dark, emotional and psychological journey; one that’s filled with pictures, letters, installations and sounds that capture the life of Jews during that time of relentless terror.
I strongly recommend that you visit, and give yourself at least 2 hours to really absorb the experience that was thoughtfully and intricately created by Libeskind.
I left feeling ever more so grateful for my life, and realized that my “problems” weren’t really problems compared to what Jews faced during the Holocaust.
I left feeling heavy, but also with a new sense of resilience, and promised myself that I would continue to bounce back from and persevere through whatever challenges I may face. Because after all, I have life, which means that I have a chance.
10. BERLINERS: A great measure of my experience in a city lies with the people, and Berliners truly made me fall in love with theirs! Throughout my trip, I experienced only good vibes from Berliners, to the point where it was unbelievable how nice everyone was.
It was a pleasantry that felt genuine, and effortless. Everyone-the janitor, the waitress, bus driver, shopkeeper, random stranger on the street, EVERYONE was super nice, polite, helpful and kind.
I paid attention to not only how they treated me, but each other- with respect. Locals also took the time to talk to each other instead of spending time on their phones, and it’s something I noticed upon arrival.
I took out my phone to take a selfie and snap a quick Insta story, and looked around and saw that no one else was doing so.
From then on I started taking note of the number of people that were constantly glued to their phones, and there were almost none. People seemed more interested in each other and having face-to-face conversations, than sending a text, or scrolling through the gram.
This in turn made me feel a bit conscious about using mine, so I stopped (for the most part) and it felt great!
I must admit that I couldn’t completely unplug, because a girl needs to cherish her memories through images and videos as well! But I found a balance, and by the second day of my trip, I felt free and less obligated to share every moment of my trip with social media. I just wanted to take it all in, and focus on whomever I was spending time with.
Berliners, thank you! The memory of your warmth is something I would cherish for a long time to come.
In case you were wondering, yes my trip to Berlin included setbacks, which vacation ever goes smoothly for me??!! *Laughs and shakes head.
I battled with jet lag daily, which made it a struggle to experience the infamous Berlin nightlife (but did manage to hit a gritty warehouse club in Kreuzberg, where the cool kids hang).
There were very cold days, or the time I got charged 60Euro on the U because my ticket expired and I didn’t know, and that same day missed my scheduled tour (that I pre-paid for) to Potsdam (I still found my way to Potsdam), or the time when I had to take my heavy bags up and down 5 flights of stairs to my Airbnb, and hurting my back in doing so.
But even with all of these imperfect situations, my trip to Berlin was indeed perfect!
I thought that by visiting I’d stop thinking about this city, but it has done the opposite. I guess the yearning to be in certain places will always be in my heart and my daydreams…