Berlin, Berlin, Berlin… I don't know where to start.
When we arrived in Friedrichshain — in East Berlin, I felt unimpressed. I had never been to a place that was once communist. It felt eerie. All the residential buildings looked exactly the same. They were grey, long, and taller than I imagined. In German, they call them Plattenbau, which translates to a panel/slab building. A lot of them also didn't look very well maintained.
Márcio lived in Berlin for a few months — before we knew each other. He had a great time living there and wanted to show me the city. He likes to call Berlin his first "European girlfriend" — cheese ball. When he moved to Berlin for work in 2011, it was the first time he had ever been to Europe. He talks about Berlin a lot and remembered it as a unique city. But, he was even second-guessing his excitement to visit again. And thought he had romanticized the whole experience.
Despite my initial feelings about Berlin, it is a unique city with a lot of history — that didn't happen so long ago. Friedrichshain is a great area to stay in — there are tons of restaurants and things to do day and night. It's an "artsy" part of Berlin where all the cool kids hang out — in other words, hipsters.
Two Things That Surprised Me Most About Berlin
1- The Berlin wall is A LOT lower and thinner than I imagined. And there were two walls, parallel to each other with a gap between. I know the walls had guards, but it's hard to wrap my head around the fact that a wall that size could split a country.
2- A bottle of beer is cheaper than a bottle of water, and people drink it at 10 AM — any day of the week. No, people weren't wasted at 10 AM, but it was something that surprised me. After work, there were many people walking on the sidewalk with a beer in hand. I thought it was cool and made me think that people in Berlin know how to enjoy life. I guess they work to live rather than live to work.
When I travel, I usually avoid the tourist spots and want to experience the city like a local. But, Marcio likes to make all the stops — we make a good travel team. He also likes to pack the day with more than one event, usually three to five. Basically, we don't sleep.
These are my top five favorite sights and experiences from Berlin — in no particular order.
1- Reichstag Building, also known as the Bundestag Castle
The glass dome is the main reason to visit the Reichstag Building. When you arrive, pick up a headset so you can learn more about when and why the dome was built. We spent about two hours at the dome. There's a ramp that spirals around the edge of the interior and the speaker (remember the headset) is timed — letting you know where to stop, what to look at, and sharing more information about the construction of the building. The mirror panels help shine daylight downward and there is a sun shield that tracks the movement of the sun — to block direct sunlight.
2- Bike Riding Along The Path Of (what used to be) The Berlin Wall
The beauty of bike riding is that you can see a lot in a short amount of time. It's not very expensive, and I like to exercise while I travel — especially after all the (cheap) beers. We rode our bikes along the path of — what used to be — the Berlin wall. We followed it from Friedrichshain through town and to the West Side of Berlin.
3- Free Walking Tour
Free walking tours are something I would never do. The idea of walking around with a bunch of strangers, and on someone else's schedule is not that appealing to me. But, Márcio convinced me to give it a try. I was pleasantly surprised. The tour was roughly 3 hours — and we saw a lot in a short amount of time. The tour started at Brandenburg Gate, the guide led us to the Memorial to The Murdered Jews of Europe (pictured above). We stood on top of Hitler's bunker, which is now a parking lot. Saw the modern day Checkpoint Charlie. And stopped at the Topography of Terror exhibit.
4- James Simon Park
Chill all day long, drink beers, and listen to live music. That's all I've got to say about that. Plus, there's a great view of Museum Island.
5- East Side Gallery
One of our stops when we spent the day bike riding, The East Side Gallery deserves its own section. The East Side Gallery is an open-air gallery in Berlin. Murals get painted on the 1316 m long remnant of the Berlin Wall.
Tell Me Your Berlin Stories
I'd love to hear about your experience. Leave me a note below!