After another overnight bus, we arrived in Berlin around 7:00am and the city was absolutely dead save for a few brave souls gearing up for the Berlin Marathon, which happened to be this same weekend. We took a taxi from the ZOB (bus station) to the Brandenburg Gate, one of the most recognizable sights in Berlin.
Some of my friends were craving Starbucks so we stopped at a Starbucks for the first time in over a month and combatted the brisk Berlin weather with some warm lattes.
Then, we tried to do our usual bakery crawl ritual to try local pastries, but no bakeries were to be found anywhere in our vicinity. We found a small cafe that had some interesting desserts, so my friend and I tried a “powerball” with coconut and it was almost like a munchkin but with a thicker, nuttier texture.
We continued walking toward the Topography of Terror, the indoor and outdoor history museum about the rise of Hitler and the construction of the Berlin Wall, located on the site of buildings that housed the SS and the Gestapo during the Nazi era of Germany. Being in the place where all the atrocities of World War II originated was really a harrowing feeling, and reading through the exhibit reminded me of all the history lessons I had learned throughout the years detailing the rise of Hitler and the psychology behind how Germans were persuaded to support the Nazi regime.
The perimeter of the Topography of Terror was an original part of the Berlin Wall that had not been moved, even preserving the holes in the wall that resulted from the transition period as the wall was coming down.
Inside the museum, there were even more exhibits detailing the rise and fall of Hitler and the execution of concentration camps. A picture of men getting hanged really couldn’t sit well with me so I had to stop going through the museum. It’s all really interesting, but so sad to read about; there’s only so much reading about the Holocaust that one can handle in a day.
On a somewhat lighter note, we headed to the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, which was not a museum exhibit with heavy, somber text to read, but instead a symbolic monument that has 2,711 columns representing the murdered Jews of Europe during the Holocaust. It was designed with the columns increasing in height as you approach the center of the memorial, as the architect intended to have the viewer feel isolated to think more deeply about the atrocities of the Holocaust.
We also stopped to take pictures among some of the trees that were just starting to turn orange for fall, and since we lack such foliage in Florence, it was a welcome sight.
For lunch, we stopped at a food stand in the Berlin Marathon area and tried bratwurst and currywurst, which was really good.
We headed over to the Reichstag building, which we regrettably didn’t know required tickets in advance in order to actually go into the dome. Instead of going inside, we took some fun pictures outside and lounged for a little bit before finding the nearest S-Bahn station to try to figure out the Berlin subway system – which would turn out to be our biggest downfall this trip (more on that in my next post). The S-Bahn is the above-ground transportation system and the U-Bahn is the underground transportation system.
After we bought unlimited public transportation passes for the day, we took the S-bahn to Alexanderplatz, a cute little square that had an abundance of food stands. We tried so many different kinds of German desserts: Quarkbällchen, Schmalzkuchen, Germknödel, and Rumkugeln (more on these in my German food blog post).
Being exhausted from our two consecutive overnight bus trips with minimal sleep, we crashed at our Airbnb for a few hours before heading out for dinner at Zum Patzenhofer, where we tried Pork Knuckle (a traditional German dish… although so weird-sounding, tasted pretty good) and Goulash (basically a beef stew). We also all had Berlin Lemonade with our dinner, which was spiced lemonade with malt that I would totally get again.
We killed a lot of time during dinner since we had been told by friends who had visited Berlin before that nightlife starts rather late in Berlin, with the clubs opening around midnight and not really getting busy until past 2am. Since we were so tired, we tried heading out to Friedrichshain area to hit up clubs we had heard were good like Suicide Circus, Urban Spree, and Cassiopeia. The famous clubs like Berghain seemed way out of our reach especially since we were all so exhausted and not familiar with the area and the culture.
However, when we got to the first club we saw, we somehow snuck past the bouncer without paying a cover but it was so small and there was only one person dancing with a sole disco ball so we left after a short while. We walked over to Cassiopeia and the bouncer checked our ID then asked us to pay an €8 cover charge – but as I peeked in I saw the club was entirely empty, so we quickly left and resigned to the fact that we were too early, it was also a bad night since it was raining, and we were too exhausted to stay out to wait and see if things would liven up.
My friends and I headed to a nearby bar, had a drink, then headed to our Airbnb, arriving back around 3am. Our first day in Berlin was exhausting especially after two nights of insufficient sleep on overnight busses, but I was so glad we got to see so much and try a lot of great food while experiencing the vibrant culture of the city.