Abbey and I headed for Berlin on a cold, snowy morning in Hamburg.  Our train journey was quick, almost too quick (1.5 hours) as we never really got to “settle in” to our seats.  We had made reservations for this journey, so finding our seats was much less stressful than our ride from Copenhagen.  At 9EUR for two reservations it was well worth it for the security.

We arrived at Berlin Central Station shortly around noon, but we couldn’t check into our AirBnB until after 14:00, so we decided to grab some lunch before figuring out the bus system.  It was hard finding a place to sit down and eat because the entire station was very busy.  The german national rail system had canceled most intercity trains due to the snow storm and everyone was stuck at the station.  Luckily we had arrived at our destination just before rides started to be canceled.

We finally found some seats at a place called “Asia Gourmet” in the train station and enjoyed some spicy udon noodles with tofu.  While the noodles were delicious, they did not completely satisfy our ravenous hunger, so we grabbed some sweet potato fries from Fish & Chips, also in the train station.  After eating, it was approaching 14:00 so we made our way to the buses to take us to the AirBnB.  We were unable to find a ticketing station for public transit, but luckily we were able to pay with cash once on the bus.

After a short bus ride we found the keys for our room and headed up the six flights of stairs to the apartment.  At first the large amount of stairs was daunting, but it became easier the more we used them.  Our room had its own private bathroom, which was a welcomed first for us.  Thus far, this had been the nicest room we had stayed in on our trip.  We didn’t do too much our first night, as is tradition on travel days.  Once we were settled in we took a train to a vegan grocery store called “Veganz” to resupply ourselves with alternative meats and cheeses.  We ate dinner at a vegan food stand near the grocery store where we couldn’t read the menu.  We still don’t know what we ordered, but it was delicious.

Who said you had to eat meat to enjoy currywurst? One of our many currywurst dishes.

The next morning we made our way out to Berlin Olympic Stadium in an effort to buy tickets to a football game that night.  The train took us very close to the stadium, but it felt like we were out of the city because it was very quiet and isolated out by the stadium.  We wandered around and couldn’t find any ticket salespeople.  We ended up circling the stadium with no success, but it was interesting to see the brutal architecture of the stadium (built by the Nazis for the Olympics in 1936).

After failing to find tickets we headed back into the city center and grabbed a quick (and rather disappointing) ramen lunch form a vegan eatery.  It was around this time I began to realize how big Berlin was.  It was by far the biggest city we had been to and train/bus rides took longer than in other cities.  The public transit system was great, but you could tell how large Berlin was by the amount of time it took to get from opposite ends of the city.  A day pass for public transit was more expensive than in Copenhagen or Hamburg, but well worth it because walking was rarely an option.

Following lunch we took a free walking tour of Berlin.  In Copenhagen the free walking tour was a great way to get to know the city before choosing where to spend our time, and it also helped us out in Berlin.  The tour focused mostly on WWII, the Nazis, Soviet occupation, and the Berlin Wall.  Our guide pointed out a lot of free things to do while in Berlin, which was very helpful.

On the tour I realized the Berlin was much more beautiful than I was expecting.  I knew that most of the city was destroyed during WWII, so I was anticipating boring and drab 1950s style reconstruction.  While some of the city fit this stereotype, there were still amazing churches and cute neighborhoods that I was not expecting.  In particular, the giant television tower constructed by the Soviets was interesting to look at in a retro-futuristic sense.

The Memorial of the Murdered Jews of Europe does well to cause one to feel unsettled and somber while walking through.

For dinner that night we found a vegan pizzeria in one of Berlin’s many alternative neighborhoods.  We arrived a little early for dinner so we tried to find a cafe to pass the time.  The best we could find was a bar with an espresso machine.  It was here we realized that smoking in bars is allowed in Germany (not exactly a smell either of us are fond of).  Nevertheless, we sipped our espresso and headed over to the restaurant.  We were both impressed with the delicious pizza and enjoyed it with a bottle of Merlot.  Following dinner we had a relatively quiet night by going to a local brewery and splitting a pitcher of dark lager.

The next day we headed to a vegan eatery, chaostheorie, for a late breakfast/early lunch.  After deciding on our orders we were informed that the stove was broken and no food could be prepared.  We were disappointed to say the least, but still ordered a couple of cappuccinos to sip on while we decided where to eat.  Halfway through our drinks, we were informed that the stove was working again.  We happily ordered and devoured vegan currywurst and chili cheese fries.  In my opinion, this was the best meal we had in Berlin and a restaurant I would visit again if I ever go back to the area.

Following lunch, we decided to take advantage of one of Berlin’s free attractions, the Berlin Wall Museum.  The exhibit started out indoors where there were many pictures and signs detailing the history fo the wall and its effect on Berlin’s residents.  The exhibit took you to the top of the building where you could view an original section of the wall from above and the “DMZ” zone that separated East and West Berlin. The exhibit then took out outside where you walked along the original path of the wall and read signs along the way.

We did not expect to spend long at the museum, but it ended up taking up most of the day.  It is amazing that such an in depth exhibit is free to view.  We didn’t have enough time to see any more attractions, so we decided to pass the time until dinner at a cafe (fueling our increasing addiction to caffeine).  For dinner we had 24 vegan dumplings from Momos and retired early for the night.

The following day we had a slow morning and made our way to the Brandenburg Gate for the international Women’s March.  This protest was the reason we were in Berlin at the moment.  We had originally planned on going to Amsterdam after Hamburg, but decided to change our plans so we could take part in the march.  A surprisingly large group showed up for the protest.  We listened to a few great speeches about the purpose of the protest and then took to the streets!  We marched around the Bundestag (Germany’s legislative building) and chanted the entire time.  A dog in the crowd even joined in by howling along to our chants.  The group arrived back at the gate we dispersed after a successful protest.  It was very interesting to be protesting the Trump administration in a city that has seen the rise of fascism and the futility of walls that divide people.

In the past, the Brandenburg gate evoked imagery of Nazis and the Berlin Wall. Now, citizens of Berlin are reclaiming the Brandenburg Gate was a symbol of their strength and resilience. To begin and end the march here was inspiring.

Following the march, Abbey and I grabbed lunch at a Vietnamese place.  Then we went to look at street art on the Berlin Wall at the East Side Gallery.  The murals were beautiful and amazing to look at, but there were too many people in the area, so we didn’t stay for long.  Our lunch was tasty but not filling, so we decided to grab a snack of vegetarian currywurst and fries.  At this point, currywurst was quickly becoming one of my favorite foods.

We then headed over to the “Topography of Terror” museum.  This was another free exhibit which detailed the rise of Nazism in Germany and the atrocities committed under the Nazi regime.  This was an amazing and detailed exhibit.  It is wonderful that Germany openly recognizes their past flaws and allows people to learn about it free of charge.  Following the museum we had a delicious dinner at a vegan pub, went to a couple bars, and called it a night.

We had a slow day the next day.  Our only real plans were to tour the top of the Bundestag.  We arrived at the legislative building for our appointment at 2pm and headed to the clear dome on top of the building.  From there were took an informative audio tour as we circled the dome and looked out over Berlin’s landscape.  That night we decided to save money by cooking our own dinner at the AirBnB (vegan pepper steak with potatoes and cauliflower) and stayed in for the evening.

The next morning we packed up and headed to Berlin central station for our train to Warsaw.  Overall, I enjoyed Berlin more than I thought I would.  While the city doesn’t have many original buildings, its was beautiful in its own way and I feel like there is a lot more to see than what we explored.  I would love to go back and spend more time getting to know the city.  It was also an extremely easy city to be vegan!

 

Abbey’s Viewpoint

I really enjoyed Berlin. As Kevin stated, it had been (and still is at the formation of this post) the largest European city we had been to. I had been expecting to feel overwhelmed but was surprised when that was the opposite. It was easy to navigate and people were happy to assist us and answer any questions we had (they also always seemed to get a kick out of our poorly formed German).

After disappointing results in Copenhagen and Hamburg in regards to being vegan (more on that in a later post), I was thrilled to be a city that seemingly had vegan options around every corner. I was even more thrilled that they were affordable options – which was the biggest issue in Copenhagen and Hamburg. We ate extremely well that trip and I’m excited to return.

In school growing up, a lot of time was dedicated to learning about World War II. Being able to visit places that these atrocities occurred has been intriguing. To have Germany be so open and frank about their history is sad, but also refreshing. I can think of very few cases where the United States is as open about their past mistakes and provide free museums for people to learn more about such history.