When I asked people where I should travel, the pretty much ubiquitous answer was Berlin. So I thought, why not? And then, I remembered a friend, Anna, who lives in Berlin, and who came to Prague but didn’t even visit me, and I thought, why not?
So I decided last Monday I would go to Berlin and sent her an email. I bought my bus tickets on Tuesday (~$60 round trip, 4.5 hours each way), I found out on Wednesday that I could crash at Anna’s place (aka, no hostel necessary), and I left on Thursday. I love spontaneity, although even I usually plan trips more thoroughly than this. But even with only the loosest of plans, my trip was phenomenal.
I left Prague at 7am on Thursday and arrived in Berlin around 11:30. Anna had class, so I figured my way around the U-bahns and the S-bahns and got myself to her building. I met bunches of Stanford students spending the quarter in Berlin, and sat in on the last 45ish minutes of their introductory German class. Unsurprisingly, I still don’t know German. Somewhat surprisingly, I now understand (for the most part) how to convert from future singular to future plural verb forms and back again. Not sure how useful that will be in my life, but there you go.
My research consisted mostly of asking someone I know, who has led many, many trips to Berlin, what I should do. I took her suggestion and made a reservation to walk into the dome of the Reichstag building; I made it at sunset per another suggestion, and it was the best idea ever!
We also took an afternoon to hit chocolate-world, including making our own chocolates (mine was dark chocolate with caramelized almonds and raspberry pieces – amazing!) and also to get hot chocolate at the best chocolatier in Germany. Truly and wonderfully amazing. But actually. And then there was the mid-day breakfast at a market, followed by falafels for lunch. And the flea market on Sunday just before I went home.
Prague, though it is truly amazing, doesn’t have as much ethnic food as I wish (I grew up in San Francisco and go to school in Boston; when I go out, I’m used to at least a half dozen options within one region…) Ergo, Berlin, which all the amazing food options, was easy – we ate out. I was only in Berlin for three and a half days, and had exactly ten meals there, including falafel, spinach quiche, currywurst (worth trying, but not as amazing as everyone says), thai food, burritos…. So that was awesome.
I also went on a scavenger hunt with Anna and her German class; they asked all sorts of questions of people (in German, of course!), and I just got to see all the best sights without actually having to navigate. And, I got to be a part of their “creative photo” requirements.
I went to the East Side Gallery, which is a long stretch of the Berlin Wall left standing and painted by prominent artists. Some of the work is truly amazing, and sadly some of it has been painted over by those of significantly lesser skill. I went alone, but then found people from the Stanford program to spend the afternoon with.
I think that this, and the other painted parts of the wall that you can find all over the city, were potentially my favorite part of the trip.
Finally, you really can’t go to Berlin without experiencing some of the night life. I’m really not a partying person, but even doing Berlin “lite” means going out after midnight and not getting home until 6. Since my little brother reads this blog, I’m going to just edit those six hours (times three!) out, and merely make oblique references to the random Slovak guy with whom I spoke for a couple hours one night, the “Turkish” bar that isn’t actually Turkish, and the lady that gave us a lighter to help since we were struggling opening our beers on the U-bahn…
…I barely had two liters of beer.
I definitely thought Oktoberfest was a giant beer drinking festival, but in reality it is a giant carnival. It makes every county fair I’ve ever been to look pathetically tiny.
Literally, dozens of roller coasters and bumper cars and every other type of ride imaginable. And all the crazy foods that go with such madness – including not only cinnamon coated doughnuts and warm chocolate and coconut coated almonds, but also pretzels literally twice the size of my head and roasted fish.
Technically, this madness is a wedding festival, celebrating the marriage of some German king to some beautiful lady. But in reality, it is a two week, three weekend excuse for Germany to shut down and party. There are about a dozen “tents,” each of which takes a couple months to build and a week to take down. My rough estimate is that each tent seats at least 2,000 people, and they probably cover not even a third of the fairgrounds. Oktoberfest is literally HUGE.
A lot of people said that going to Oktoberfest is an absolute must, that I’d be crazy to miss it. Others said that its basically a madhouse and I’d be crazy to attempt it. In reality, both parties are right, but it was totally worth it.
I went to Oktoberfest with Christine and Alessandra, who are friends currently living in Paris. Christine is good friends with my neighbor (they went to high school and studied abroad in France together), and Alessandra is just a few years younger than myself. They have friends, Misha and Sophie, who live in Munich and are ethnically Czech. Just to be confusing. Long story short, we got the real Munich tourist experience, courtesy of Misha and her friend, and got the inside scoop on how to do Oktoberfest right. Being with them also means that we actually had a table reserved in a tent Sunday afternoon, which is apparently a difficult feat. Anyways, we spent Saturday going around Munich itself – churches, fountains, German food and red wine for lunch, and Italian food and white wine for dinner.
The reality is that Oktoberfest was totally worth it. (Expensive, but totally worth it.) I fulfilled my new-country-of-the-month quota (because apparently the Czech Republic doesn’t count and we’re saying Denmark was in August) and I had a really great semester. I got over my homesickness, and had a really great experience. I got to see dozens of adorable German children, hundreds of German women in traditional dirndls, and one dog dressed like this: