Sunday, January 20, 2013


Berlin has treated us quite well.  Despite our strict budget, we've been able to afford quite an extensive spread of delicious food, including Vietnamese, Indian, German, and Ethiopian.  We've had a fine share of German beers on tap from local bars or bottles from corner stores.  We've met a few new acquaintances and spent time with old friends. 

Eating with friends at an Ethiopian restaurant

Traditional Vietnamese Pho, a spicy chicken soup
One of Berlin's famous street foods- currywurst
 This city is extremely multicultural and progressive.  Walking the streets, you'll pass 20- and 30-somethings crushing gravel with their combat boots and looking like someone took a hole punch to their faces.  A lot of the women don dreadlocks or half-buzzed hairstyles.  But people are still walking their dogs or pushing chubby-cheeked toddlers in strollers.  The buildings are covered in brightly-colored graffiti, but it feels like a city whose inhabitants are simply marking their territory, not vandalizing another's property.  Pushing through any door, be it to a cafe, mini mart, or antique store, you'll feel welcomed.  The people aren't overly friendly; something about the way they react to your entrance makes you feel like you belong.  Almost everyone speaks at least a little English.  The most run-down, crumbling buildings will surprise you with a huge sign for cocktail specials in the window.  A set of rickety old metal stairs might lead to the best currywurst stand in town.

Some interesting characters strolling towards Berlin's Fashion Week festivities

 Berlin seems to have nothing to hide.  Despite the recent ban on smoking indoors, patrons of most bars and pubs feel perfectly comfortable smoking inside.  You can walk through certain parks and have multiple offers for, "Looking for a fun time?" or "Weed... cocaine...ecstasy."  Certain districts host a long line of women scantily dressed calling out to passers by and oncoming traffic, no doubt shivering in the Berlin winter, but putting themselves out there nonetheless.  There is a huge gay scene in the city, even one community is nicknamed the 'gayborhood.' The train system consists of the U-Bahn and S-Bahn, one being a web of underground trains, the other an urban system running above ground from the center all the way to the skirting suburbs.  Perhaps the most surprising detail of this transportation system is not the smooth, quiet and clean trains and railways, but the fact that the system is run on the honor system.  Ticket machines are located at every station and stop, but there are no ticket takers.  You buy your ticket from the machine, validate the time and date of purchase on another small machine nearby, then you're permitted to ride for the next two hours.  No one checks your ticket or tears off the stub.  There are no turnstyles or gates to pass through.  Occasionally undercover workers disperse through the cars checking tickets, and if you're caught without one the fine is something like $50.  However, this occurrence is quite rare and somehow it's worked for years. Much of the city has been quite shocking, but it's part of what makes you feel comfortable, knowing that just about anything goes.  Even more surprising, with all this openness and freedom, the crime rates still rank lower than in the U.S.

Berlin's main train station
To get a grasp of the huge multi-district city, we decided to take the city bus tour, a 2+ hour ride around the main historic sites and attractions of Berlin.  We climbed up to the top deck of the bus, then passed tourist points like the East Side Gallery, the Reichstag, Checkpoint Charlie, the Brandenburg Gate, and Museum Island.  At each point we were able to get off the bus, look around, then wait for the next bus to pick us up and take us to the next stop.  We passed many interesting sites, but quickly learned that most of the city was destroyed during various wars and battles.  To be honest, there's not a whole lot to be seen. On the other hand, being reminded of the immense history that's taken place right where we're stepping is a whole other sort of experience.

The Brandenburg Gate

The Reichstag

Rotes Rathaus or Red City Hall
Every day holds something new and unexpected.  We wake up each morning when our roommates start bustling around.  One is a German girl who is in between apartments as she just started a new job in Berlin.  Another is a guy in his late 20s from Cypress who studies engineering in the UK and is taking his first trip around Europe.  Then there's a thin Lithuanian girl who sits on her top bunk most hours of the day somehow surviving on the same loaf of bread and bottle of orange juice since Wednesday.  Once we're roused, we crack open our locker and start pulling on whatever clothes are at the top of our bags.  We stop in Lidl, the extremely cheap convenient store around the corner for some sustenance and throw around ideas for the day's activities.  One day we tagged along with our roommate from Cypress on the city bus tour.  Another day we spent in Milche und Zucker (milk and sugar), a coffee shop with the best cappuccinos just across the bridge.  Once we wandered around our neighborhood and stumbled upon a flea market.  Some evenings are spent in the hostel's common room, reading, writing, and planning the rest of our trip.  We still have around two weeks left in Berlin and are nowhere near being short of things to do or explore.  I can only hope the rest of our stops are half as inviting.

A flea market in downtown Berlin

Someone gets gabby when he drinks

Kyle having no trouble settling into the Berlin way of life

1 comment:

  1. I'll take that blue couch from the flea market