Europe Highlights: Berlin

1 Oct

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That night before any big event in your life — the first day of school or a job, before an interview, before a trip* — it’s impossible to sleep. You’ll always plan on getting tons of shut-eye to make the big event go more smoothly and allow yourself to enjoy it to the utmost, but then you find you simply can’t turn off your brain or the excitement you feel in your limbs. Such was the case for Zack and I the night before our flight out to Europe. We’d been anxious for our flight and connections and to get settled abroad, which made it very difficult to relax. But we needn’t have worried:  our first day of travel went off without a hitch (except for the woman behind me getting sick all over herself on the eight-hour flight. Luckily she managed to keep it contained, but it was still unpleasant to wake up on the flight to her obnoxiously loud and rude son** scolding her, “I told you to go to the bathroom if you were going to be sick!” I picked up my purse from the ground to keep it safe, but really just felt badly for the poor older woman.)

*Festivals. I can never sleep before music festivals.

**Pretty sure it was her husband. He was at least 60 and such an ass.

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When we finally rolled into Berlin, we hopped in a cab and my memory (or lack thereof) of German was immediately tested. Our cabbie spoke NO English, but I faked some German with him for a bit as we chatted* about where Zack and I were from and the weather (yup, German small talk is the same as anywhere). We were dropped off just outside of our hotel, dropped off our bags in our room, and headed out on a mission for German food.

*Caitlin’s being modest. She spoke beautiful German the whole leg of the trip. Well, beautiful for German. Tough sounding language.

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Before we’d even left for Germany, Zack asked that we make a plan outlining our first few days in Berlin so that he’d have things to look forward to. During our research, we discovered one of the oldest bars in Germany was located right around the corner from our hotel, and that they served delicious, traditional German food to boot. We figured this would be the perfect way to kick off our time in Germany, so we made a reservation* and decided that would be stop number one.

*The reservation felt mildly ridiculous at the time, but even more so when we got there.

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We were late for our reservation, but it didn’t end up mattering — it was a quiet Saturday at Wilhelm Hoeck and there was hardly* anyone there. We picked a table in an empty room, and started to peruse a German-only menu. I remembered reading about a Berliner Weisse, this drink that Germans make where they mix beer and one of two fruit syrups. I asked our waitress auf Deutsch if one was sweeter, and she nodded and brought out what has now become my favorite beer in all the world. A Berliner Weisse Rot tastes very similar to a Lindemann’s Framboise, my raspberry-jolly-rancher beer of choice in the states, except that because they mix the Rot with syrup, the bartender can put as much or as little in as they choose. I was given a heavily syruped treatment** that knocked my socks off.

*Literally no one. We were the only ones in the room.

**I can see why Caitlin fell in love with Germany in the first place. This drink was her dream. My beer was superb as well. I wanted a second, but was still fighting off jet leg and didn’t want to be dead at the zoo.

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For our main courses, I ended up with a plate of potatoes swimming in cheese, and Zack had a plate of side dishes surrounding the best meatball he says he’s ever had. Oh man, that meatball. I’d go back to Germany just for the meatballs.

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After our delicious noms, it was time for a bit of showering and relaxing to rejuvenate ourselves before we headed to the Berlin Zoo. There, we got our fill of the lions, tigers and bears (oh my), but we’ll detail that in another post.

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After a failed attempt to find what was supposed to be an incredible sweets shop in our area (but ended up being an incredible sweets shop that was actually off of the map for us), we called it an early night to ensure that we had our wits about us for the next full Berlin day. However, I certainly wasn’t going to let a full day go by without enjoying SOME kind of German sweets, so Zack and I ducked into a cheap grocery called Penny Markt to snag a few candies (the best being my dearly beloved Toffifee, or as Zack called it, “Toe-fee-fee*.”) We also grabbed some red wine for our room, which we poured into wine glasses … and then I promptly knocked over onto the white sheets of my bed. I hoped this meant that I was getting my accidents out of the way early on in the trip** (I was not).

*I stand by that phonetic attempt.

**I said HA out loud just reading that. Not even a top-3 accident of the trip.

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The next day we started early by heading to the Berlin TV Tower and grabbing some delicious breakfast before we joined the Fat Tire Bike Tour group for a near-five-hour ride through the city. The tour was incredible, zipping us past monuments, memorials, and back around the zoo for lunch at a real German Biergarten (beer garden). It was exhilarating to ride around the city on a comfy bike with no helmet — I’m usually a staunch helmet-user but there really wasn’t an option for the tour, so I went with it and it was so nice to whip my head around to make sure we were safe. We mostly took bike paths, and when we went onto the road our guide, Neil, took his time to make sure we were all safely caught up. It was a truly great experience, so much so that we decided to extend our enjoyment by borrowing the bikes (they were free if you were paying for the tour) and riding out to the East Side Gallery to check out more of the Berlin Wall. The Berlin bike tour was perfect. I loved the mix of biking and history and photo ops and our guide was a treat. The pacing was ideal, we saw everything we wanted to see and learned more than I expected to. I couldn’t recommend it more highly. Shockingly better than the Paris version.

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I got a bit cranky on our self-guided tour because we had trouble figuring out the path at first, but Zack helped encourage me to persevere and we safely and successfully made it to the wall. It was cool, albeit a bit underwhelming, and we ended up being more intrigued by the crowds gathering at the nearby O2 stadium. We still have no idea who was playing that night, but we took a photo by a larger-than-life colorful bear nearby anyway before heading back to drop off our bikes and nab me some ice cream. Nice little detour and glad we went, but we both expected more.

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After biking around the city all day, we were tired to say the least, so Zack and I decided we’d rest in the hotel for a while before grabbing dinner at an Italian joint. We shared some wine and got to bed early so we’d be ready for an even earlier wake-up call to take a train to Freiburg. 

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I think Zack and I made a very wise decision in beginning with Berlin. While we didn’t get to explore any kind of downtown, nightlife scene there, we hit so many of the major landmarks and still took it easy enough to gear up for many more days of travel and discovery. Berlin is still on my list of cities I want to return to, but while it used to be a city I held in the highest esteem (I quite earnestly imagined myself moving there after college for a spell), I’m happy just to visit now. The “poor but sexy” city was the perfect jumping off point for excellent adventures to come. It was definitely an ideal place to start. I do regret not having more energy to see what the night life of Berlin is like, but we saw a ton during the day and it set the tone for a wonderful journey. 

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