The very best way to come into a new city is to be greeted by your lovely friend who’s a local, who can take care of you from the first minute and give you the low-down on your new city. This is how we came into Berlin. We took an easy 5 hour train from Prague and met my gorgeous friend Jessica at the Berlin Hauptbahnhof. This was great because as Eric pointed out to me that day, this was the first time we would be seeing someone who we knew in 2 months. Can you imagine?
Jessica is my beautiful friend who worked with me at IIE. She speaks fluent German and had been spending the summer at an internship in Berlin. She whisked us to her apartment and spent the afternoon giving us the skinny on the city and what to do. That night was her last in Berlin (sadly) and so we went out to dinner to the coolest biergarten ever, Clärchens Ballhaus. It was a very locals place that had delicious, inspired german fare and a beautiful outdoor seating area. The weather was that perfect temperature where you can wear a little chemise with no sweater and be just fine. The main room had been closed for a private party-which from the looks of it was a swing dance soiree as I saw many lovely ladies leaving in their fancy dresses.
Käsespätzle is an egg noodle dish (spätzle) with cheese (kase) and fried onions on top (yum!). Here’s a nice recipe for it here. Weinscholer is white wine with sparkling water, very light and refreshing.
Jessica had found us a great little place to stay in hip Prenzlauerberg in former East Berlin. We stayed at Apartment Schulz which was the right price and the right location. It was actually a great little space for two people, and had a kitchen so we could do breakfast there. Jessica explained the neighborhood as “upper-class student”. I could see this atmosphere from the many cheap eats, cool cafes and trendy shops. It was still off the beaten path enough that there weren’t any H&M’s or high traffic streets around which was great. It was right next to Mauerpark, which is where the Berlin Wall used to run, but is now a large-scale park.
Jessica had told us that the best Flea Market, or Flohmarkt, in Berlin is in this park on Sunday. Luckily, our second day in Berlin was Sunday so we decided to check it out. It was one of the BEST flea markets I had ever been to (a close second to the Melrose Flea Market in LA). Eric and I spent the afternoon eating cheap Turkish food, trawling the pre-war wares, and enjoying the biergarden.
So, another component to the flea market was a large scale karaoke party (this is nothing special apparently, happens every week). If you can imagine doing karaoke… at the Greek Theatre in Berkeley…completely packed…in the rain…this is what that was like. When we walked up a very traditional gentleman was belting out a song that I think was called “Ach Mein Lieben”, apparently a very well known song because the whole crowd was singing along with him. What a sight to behold!
Of course we visited the former Berlin Wall. The largest remaining section is what is now called the “East Side Gallery”. Every piece of the wall has been painted by an international or local artist so that the wall is now a free open-air art gallery. I had been here in 2007 with my friend Amanda, but it seems that in 2009 the whole wall had been refreshed to celebrate the 20 year anniversary of the wall coming down. Here are some snaps from our favorite sections of the wall.
We followed the line of where the wall used to run all the way to Checkpoint Charlie. Along the way there were several large photos of what that spot used to look like when the wall was up.
When we got to Checkpoint Charlie it was a bit overwhelming. They have erected a fake “checkpoint” with actors playing Guards who take photos with tourists for money. Not really our scene. They did however, have a large outdoor historical exhibition about the wall, events leading up to it, how it operated as well as how it came down, which we enjoyed and learned a lot from.
One day I went shopping on Kufurstendamm street while Eric tried to get over a cold. The two most exciting things I found were:
So there I am, walking through the C&A (a European JC Penny equivalent) all of a sudden, in the middle of the mens clothing section these Lederhosens stare me right in the face! Right next to the dress slacks! Now, I find this odd becasue I never saw anyone wearing lederhosens around town….so why are they selling them in the store? Do people wear them around? I could be very ignorant, but it was very odd to see full on leather lederhosens right in the middle of a contemporary clothing store.
The last thing I did that day was check out KaDeWe, purportedly the largest department store in Europe. Ok ok, big fancy department store-been there, done that. But on my little shopping map I saw something called idee creativmarkt and thought I’d check it out. It was amazing! The windows you see above lead into a classroom area where they have courses on lot’s of different mediums. Here are some snaps from inside the store.
A store after my own heart! I only walked away with 3 new fabrics. That’s it! I was very controlled.
On our last day we visited Schloss Charlottenburg, or Charlottenburg Palace. We decided to enjoy the free entrance to the gardens and have a picnic!
We sat by the river with our picnic lunch and then read by the gardens. Then we strolled through the gardens in the perfect weather.
After our day at Schloss Charlottenburg, we stopped by the famous Brandenburg Gate to see the symbol of Berlin. It was sunset so the light was amazing and lots of people were out enjoying the big plaza and taking photos. There was also some street performers out-one dancing around with a glass orb and another who had a big bubble maker (a few buckets and crazy hanger contraptions to make bubbles)-the kids were eating it up.
The reason why I titled this “Berlin: A Love Story” is because we absolutely fell in love with Berlin. We could have stayed another month and still not been satisfied. It’s one of the reasons why there are less pictures from Berlin than from Prague, because we spent so much of our time just hanging out and enjoying the city-soaking it in.
Berlin is so very like San Francisco, it was instantly comfortable for us. It had the same, liberal, quirky, artistic vibe that San Francisco has, but with a hefty spoonful less pretension. And, Berlin is actually affordable to boot. The language was accessible to us, and everyone was genuinely friendly, everywhere.
This was my second time to Berlin (just like Prague) and again, I had a completely different time than when I visited before. The first time, we were there in February when it was biting cold which didn’t help things AND we stayed in the most abysmal hostel in history. Berlin is one of those places that all my good friends absolutely love and have nothing but good things to say about it. I wanted to see what they were talking about because I didn’t see it on my first trip. This trip completely changed my mind about Berlin. It’s a place I could live for a long time.
Berlin was gritty and beautiful in its own way. This one is a contender for the future folks, we might have to figure out a way to come back long-term. What job do you think I can get where I don’t need fluent German? Hmm…. We’ll see what the future holds.
It was really tough to leave Berlin but we were excited for Stockholm and Gothenburg, where we’ll be visiting my dear friend Liana.
Chus! <3 Chelsea
PS. In real time we leave Stockholm today and are going to Gothenburg. After that we’re off to Copenhagen, Denmark! I’ll post our adventures in Stockholm very soon!