The Short of It: Small Layovers & Trips – BERLIN

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Grittiness. Alternative Scenes. Art. I love big cities for some of these reasons, and these reasons are also why I was so amped to visit Berlin. My bestie informed me that we’d have 24 hours on our summer trip where we could squeeze one final city in, and asked how I felt about Berlin. I practically jumped through the phone, “YES!” In all fairness, I realize I probably needed way more time to properly explore the city, but this is a tale of what was and not what I wish had been!

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Pure exhaustion. After sleeping in sweaty hostels and pulling all nighters, we cancelled our reservation at yet another hostel and splurged on a sky rise hotel room which was pure heaven. The bathroom was spacious and it was nice to have some privacy and not have to share the shower and toilet with others! The room was SPOTLESS and modern. The bed was one where you literally sink into, and we spent about an hour laying in it contemplating just snoozing through out entire “layover.” Looking back, I can recognize that this was a massive waste of time, but all travelers know this level of exhaustion! Our brains hurt both from too much drinking and museum-seeing, our bodies were aching from walking all over three cities prior, and a nap sounded incredibly delicious. However, we begrudgingly peeled ourselves out of bed and trekked down to reception to start our day. I realize that this is the laziest part of my post, but that’s because I REALLY want you to get a feel for how lazy and useless I felt in the moments which took place in this section. Do you feel it? No, really. Do. You. Feel. It.

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On the Prowl – AKA – Uncomfortable Wiener Jokes Galore

*A Runner Up for Academy Award for Best Plot in an Action Film: Not Without My Weenie (see below)

I’ll be honest, I had one mission, and it was food, I’m sure you’re all shocked. Whenever I travel, I NEED to try the food specialties of the land, and when inquiring about Berlin, I’d heard about Currywurst repeatedly, an exotic weenie that would allegedly emit magic into my life. How could I claimed to have been to Berlin and not tried some? Well, that almost was the case. Would you believe me if I said it took us decent looking ladies at least six hours to get some sausage from off the street? Sadly, this is factual information and really put me in a bad mood.

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To start, we had only a few hours to utilize the bus tour passes we had just bought. We hadn’t eaten, but found a CurryWurst stand right by our hotel. Unfortunately, it was closed and not opening until later at night. We didn’t want to spend the afternoon only looking for satisfying sausages, even though this WAS a girl’s trip. So, we settled for Mexican food before our bus tour. While the burrito bowl was pretty legit, I just felt like I was cornered into this option and that I wasn’t making the best food choice. Mexican food can be found everywhere, I wanted the real. local. deal.

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The bus tour wound up being one of those hop on/hop off deals, and at each stop we DID find a Currywurst stand. Big disappointment, NONE OF THEM TOOK CREDIT CARDS! Seriously, it felt like nowhere in Berlin took credit! Every stop became a rush of excitement, followed by a huge let down. I pleaded with the final stand owner that we came across. “Please, please tell me that you take credit cards and that I can have your promising sausage.” Even though I’d made the funniest wiener joke in history, he wouldn’t oblige me. “No, cash only.” I saw red –  as red as the ketchup I’d seen pictured on Currywurst. Visions of flipping his food truck over and dumping curry powder on his head and drowning him in condiments filled my mind.

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What the actual fuck? Fine, I’ll play along. At one point we walked in the sweltering sun ten minutes to an ATM to retrieve cash. I was hype. Any minute now, I would be gnoshing on sausages. Upon arriving at the ATM, we both realized we had left our debit cards at the hotel. If you’ve ever seen a toddler having a meltdown, then I need not describe my reaction. I was PISSED. Eventually, after walking all the way back to our hotel from the Berlin Wall, we finally hit the Currywurst stand by our hotel right as it opened. We put in two orders and I shifted anxiously from foot to foot waiting for my food. I practically stuck my head in the window of the food truck at one point as I breathed heavily and awkwardly awaiting. The man hurried along and threw our food onto the ledge. There it was…Currywurst. I quickly snapped a photo (hence the shitty quality of the photo) and dove in. We made the realization, and I want you all to know, that currywurst is a hot dog in curry powder with some ketchup on top. HOWEVER, I love hot dogs and therefore was not disappointed in the least.

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I Like Big Bus, I Cannot Lie. ‘Specially When It’s Hot Outside.

We asked the receptionist at our hotel the best way to see the city quickly and she suggested the bus tour. It took a long time to find the stop closest to our hotel, but once we did, the tour was enjoyable for the most part. Each stop was centrally located to a major site and we were able to see quite a lot in our short time. If you’ve ever done the hop on/off bus tour, it comes equipped with earbuds which allow you to learn more about each stop. The only hiccups were that there was one instance where we had to wait over 20 minutes for the bus to come pick us up, we went into a cafe to buy sodas and snacks while we waited and SURPRISE, they didn’t take credit. Berlin really takes the idea of “living history” to heart evidenced by the fact that everyone acted as though a credit card machine were some new-fangled piece of equipment from the future. It was almost as annoying as when you visit a historical restoration in any part of the US and the people there all really act like we’re in the 1800’s, like when you ask them to take a photo of you. “Oh, what is this device here? I’ve never seen one before.” WELP I handed you sixty dollars to get into this fucking settlement and you didn’t bat an eye even though since it’s the 1800’s it should only cost me a nickel to get in this place. We also missed the last bus back which sucked big time.

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We were having such a great time at the Berlin Wall that we had to walk from the Wall all the way back to our hotel. It was a heat wave outside and each step felt more and more impossible considering how exhausted we already were. Public transportation was nearly impossible to figure out and catch, and every cab that we tried to flag down ignored us. We tried to ask locals for help, all of whom also ignored us. At this point, I was pretty sure that I disliked Berlin. The people for the most part were cold, and Berlin overall just didn’t seem like an intuitive or comprehensive city. It felt icy and everything felt distant. We both became immensely frustrated and couldn’t fathom that we still had SO much further to walk.

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Finally, an off duty driver pulled into a home driveway right near us. We begged him to give us a hand, and while he seemed reluctant, thank GOD his wife met him in the driveway and ordered him to take us to our hotel. While he at first seemed annoyed, reminding us at least 25 times that he was off duty and that he shouldn’t be doing this, he eventually warmed up which in Berlin is speaking a little bit about a topic other than how we’re ruining his life. We had to pay through a ride sharing app once we reached the hotel, and since there was no WI-FI in the car, Amanda had to go inside, download the app, figure it out, and pay, all while I sat hostage in the car.

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Check Point Charlie: Sure it was touristy, but if one could squint there eyes a bit, it was pretty cool to see a small glimpse into what history looked like. I’d been really excited to see this, and I definitely nerded out for a while and enjoyed my time here! Check Point Charlie was the most frequented crossing point at the Berlin Wall between East and West Berlin. It became deeply symbolic of the Cold War. Today, you can take photos with the acting guards there and imagine what is must have been like to have to cross from one side to the other. We didn’t pay to get our photos with the guards, but we watched as other people did. The guards seemed to be really funny and enjoy interacting with guests. Allegedly you can get your passport stamped for an addition fee, but if this is true, I’d imagine it might become problematic and confusing when other countries see the stamp. Oh this stamp? It’s from a fake country called Check Point Charlie.

Brandenburg Gate: One of the most iconic landmarks of the city! It has seen so much of history and it’s hard not to be impressed by its sheer stature alone.

Berlin Wall: Probably the best part of my short visit! How does one describe the East Side Gallery? How does one describe the feeling of seeing the STILL difference between East and West Berlin from the top of a bus? Eerie? Grateful? Surreal? All of this. Our tour told us of stories of people jumping over the wall at the eleventh hour to escape what they felt would be the impending horrors of communism. We learned about the politics of both sides of the spectrum. Normally when I think of heartbreak and devastation, my mind goes to the developing countries I’ve visited. I felt that here, hearing about the stories of real people from very recently. The East Side Gallery was everything I had hoped Berlin as a whole would be. The art is imaginative, captivating, provocative, and utterly beautiful and edgy. It embodied all of the things I love about creativity and is a pure testament to the power and importance of artistry’s ability to impact politics and society. I could have and we did spend many hours here both taking photos, and taking in the history around us.

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Bar Crawl: All I’d heard about was Berlin’s incredible nightlife scene. So, where then, was the nightlife? I realize we didn’t examine the entire city, it’s far too large, but nearly every bar we walked past was closed! I kept imagining edgy basement bars with a leather clad crowd who held out since the Studio 54 days. I imagined bars entirely devoted to themes like the Roaring 20’s. We wound up visiting two spots which kept frequenting the “must see” bars list, and these, while thankfully open, were both nearly empty. First, we visited the Stagger Lee with which I fell passionately in love. Stagger Lee does the 1920’s in a truly authentic, and not at all kitschy way. If you’ve ever seen Boardwalk Empire, you would think you have wondered onto the set, it’s that well decorated. It unequivocally and completely takes you back in time. The drink menu is extensive and expensive, but I need all readers to know, that this is where I’ve had the best drinks of my lifetime ever, period. The cocktails are imaginative and top notch, every drink I threw back was pure perfection and artistry in a glass. To wrap up the evening we had a night-cap at the N.N. Train Cocktail Bar. It’s definitely one of the more unique cocktail houses I’ve ever visited as the bar is literally an old train car! The ambiance is vintage, sexy, and definitely not to be missed, and drinks were very reasonable as well. We were able to sit comfortably on Adirondack chairs outside as we enjoyed our last cocktail of our last big girls trip. That memory will always mean so much to me. Amanda and I have traveled the world from Denver to Mexico to Central America and to Europe.

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We’ve seen so much of the world, and I can’t explain to you how much our lives have been changed by all of the traveling we have done together. We both got married several months before, and while very hard to admit, we just knew that this was going to be our last ever big girl’s trip. One month later I was pregnant, expecting my baby in a month’s time, and she is saving up for a house on Long Island, and those are our priorities right now, and that’s OK because we did everything we wanted to for so long prior. I didn’t want the night to end, as exhausted as I was, and we spent a long time both equally talking about all the good memories around the world, and sitting in silence quietly contemplating what the future will bring. In some ways, it never mattered where we were all these time that we traveled. It didn’t matter that our experience in Berlin was less than desirable, because the memories will always be fond and that’s because we had each other’s company.

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What I Learned Is: I’m glad I got to see Berlin. I’m a history fanatic and I’m so grateful that I got to see some pieces of history that are otherwise only available in textbooks and documentaries to most people. I’m glad that I can say that yes, I’ve seen some of Germany and got a basic feel for the zeitgeist of city.

I DESPERATELY and STILL DO want to love Berlin.

I don’t completely blame Berlin for my time there. It was short, poorly planned, and I was too exhausted to put any real effort into my experience. However, the same issues I raise are reported by people who do spend an adequate amount of time there. There are many cities (New York, Paris, Chicago, Seville, Lisbon, etc) where you step right into the rhythm of the culture, hype, and reputation. For example, when New York promises tall buildings, hot night clubs, top restaurants, and history – you really don’t have to walk all over the city trying to “find” those things, it’s all around you. In Berlin, I felt that the city is so spread thin that everything falls flat. It was a lot of, “Oh, ok, here’s the one building I recognize from photos, where is everything else? Four hours later…OH ok…here’s that one bar…oh and it’s closed.”

I’m eager to return because I want to do it right before I add it to my “underwhelming destinations” list. I’m so hoping that the Berlin of my dreams is real and that I was maybe too fatigued to see it. I’m more than interested in hearing everyone else’s thoughts on Berlin!

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*Not in any way true, factual, or accurate

18 thoughts on “The Short of It: Small Layovers & Trips – BERLIN

  1. I have yet to visit Berlin… however, I truly enjoyed reading this, and your writing style and wit! I hope you’re able to truly immerse yourself and find love for Berlin next time!!!

  2. I like Berlin but I can understand why you felt the city was quite dispersed and impersonal. I live in Hamburg, which is only 2hrs from Berlin, so the fact that cash is key there doesn’t surprise me! Many places in Hamburg are still cash-only. It’s also far more compact than Berlin, with less than 2 million inhabitants, so maybe a good choice for your next German holiday.

    Thanks for a very interesting post!

  3. umiko

    So, do you think there will be a better currywurst besides the the regular hot dog with splashes of curry powder and ketchup on top when you go back to Berlin? This is so funny! I think I never really paid attention before about posts on visiting Berlin, so it surprised me to see that mostly everything is paid in cash there. I can feel your frustration. Hope your next visit will be better.

  4. Rachelle Gordon

    Honestly, I fell in love with Berlin immediately. I had a weekend there during a study abroad and returned after. But I have to agree with you on the currywurst. People kept telling me how much I’ll love it…and I was like…it’s a hot dog with ketchup and curry powder…? But I tried it and can check that off.

  5. Jane Dempster-Smith

    Loved your story. I have not been to Berlin yet but it is planned sometime. I am really surprised about the cash situation, how frustrating. We sometimes use Hop on Hop off Buses to explore a new city and would probably do so if visiting Berlin.

  6. I haven’t been to Berlin yet, but I hope to soon! It does sound exhausting, and hopefully you can return at some point to give it a second chance- under different conditions. I’m also a history fanatic (and history teacher!), and I would love to see the Berlin Wall.

  7. Lol I’m so glad you got your hands on an authentic currywurst, what an adventure! I think sometimes we need to re-visit a city again to see whether we really like it. I fell in love with Berlin on my first visit, but I already had friends there so it might have made a difference. The nightlife is insane there, and I too had some amazing cocktails. You guys did so much in a short time!

  8. Not much fun walking in a big city when you are tired and it’s so hot outside. I too had only one day in Berlin and tried to squeeze in as much as possible. The Berlin Wall was my favorite place to visit in Berlin. I was born and raised under Communism and for me seeing this wall collapse had a very different dimension than for other people. I’d love to return to Berlin and stay there longer. This city is definitely worth more than just a day.

    1. Thanks so much for your thoughtful response! My husband grew up in the USSR, where did you grow up? I love getting other people’s perspectives! Thank you for your support!

  9. What an adventure you had in Berlin! Thanks for sharing about your experience so candidly and for the warning about a lack of credit card machines- that is definitely helpful to know as I would not have expected that. I would love to see the Berlin Wall someday, but it sounds like one or two days in Berlin is just enough. No judgement on lazily enjoying the cozy beds; travel can be exhausting!

    1. Thanks, Sierra! I really appreciate your genuine and thoughtful comments! I can NEVER turn down lounging in a cozy bed. The lack of credit card machines definitely surprised me as well!

  10. What great memories to share with your best friend! I was in Berlin this summer for a short layover as well and loved the city. I think your descriptions of your fatigue were great and relatable. As travelers it’s totally OK to splurge on a hotel room just for a wonderful day of napping. 😜

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