After a delayed flight out of London leading to a missed flight connection in Germany, I made it to Berlin. Despite positive reviews online, our hostel did NOT live up to the expectations. Michael met me at the unwelcoming hostel a few hours later as his train from Prague was also delayed. While I waited, I washed my clothes in the hostel sink using shampoo as I lacked clean clothes, a washing machine and detergent. One can never really prepare for such travel snafus, but we made the most of the situation and chose to explore that evening instead of staying in.
Even though it was April, it was quite chilly, so we bundled up for our evening out. With a list of recommendations in hand, we kicked off the evening with dinner. The only positive feature of our hostel was that it was directly above one of Berlin’s most popular eats: Curry36, where we munched on currywurst, steamed then fried porksausage topped with curry ketchup. Our friend from high school, Alexis, spent the fall semester in Berlin so she advised us to check out the Brandenburg Gate at night when it was illuminated and less crowded. From the Gate we walked around the center of the city passing by the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, which we would visit more in full the next day, and came across pieces of the Berlin Wall.
The next morning we grabbed breakfast on the go at a shop around the corner and headed to meet Michael’s friend, Conner, who was coincidentally in Berlin at the same time. The three of us walked around the Reichstag and planned to enter the observation area, but the crowds of Easter Weekend sold out tickets and made lines much longer than they needed to be.
The Reichstag building was around the corner from the previous night’s explorations so that’s when we spent more time at the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. The memorial was like nothing I’d ever seen. The memorial honors and remembers the six million Jewish victims of the Holocaust. It consisted of 2,711 concrete slabs on a sloping plane. From street level, the slabs look relatively the same height, but as you submerge further into the memorial, you notice the greatly varying heights. The slabs, or “stelae”, ranged from 7.9 in. to 15 ft. tall. Beneath the sterile memorial was a sobering subterranean information center that told the stories of many Jews murdered in WWII. One of the several parts of the exhibit that moved me to tears featured letters from loved ones to their families as they anticipated their deportation to concentration camps. The letters wished their families well, expressed the authors’ fear and made known that these letters were likely to be their final communication.
After leaving such an emotional exhibit, it was a challenge to lift our spirits, but we pressed on. The three of us next headed to the Berlin Wall Memorial and Visitor Center. After learning more about the Wall’s construction and subsequent demolition, we made our way to the East Side Gallery. The East Side Gallery featured several blocks of the Wall that had been colorfully painted and graffitied. The Gallery is situated near the river Spree, where we watched the sunset.
After soaking in the sunset, it was time for dinner. Berlin Burger International was the evening’s decision and it ’twas dee-licious. Not wanting to spend a minute more than necessary at our hostel, we killed some time at a local bar and watched a soccer game. Smoking inside is legal in Germany, or at least the Germans made it seem that way. Bars, smoking and soccer are not my three preferred ingredients for a good time, but it was better than the hostel.
I was told Berlin has a good “club scene” so I did as the Berliners do and went out that evening, but it was nothing to rave about. I tucked away in my surprisingly clean and comfortable hostel bed not too late. (Don’t worry Mom and Dad.)
The next morning was Easter Sunday. It was the first time I’d been away from home and my family on Easter. Michael and I grabbed another breakfast for the road and enjoyed it at Viktoriapark. Since we couldn’t be with our families on Easter, we were able to spend it with friends. I had a handful of USC friends also in Berlin that weekend, so a group of seven of us, including Michael and me, had brunch together.
After brunch at Eiffel, some of us headed to the noted Checkpoint Charlie, the best-known crossing point between East and West Berlin, where I quite literally bumped into Ellie! From there we explored Tiergarten, the city’s largest park. It was no Retiro, but it wasn’t too shabby. We relaxed on some benches by a lake before Michael and I resigned to the fact we were too tired to explore further and thus we had to head back to the hostel.
What made this hostel so weird? Was it the fact that it was in what looked like an abandoned building? Was it the bands of misbehaving German children? Maybe it was their vodka-drinking, karaoke-singing fathers. Or it could have been the miscellaneous men, some of whom looked down right homeless, who sat in the common room all day. Hmm hard to say. Probably a combination of ALL factors.
For dinner that night, we rejoined Conner and met up with Ellie, Stephanie and their friends for dinner at Hans Im Glück. Who wasn’t in Berlin that weekend? Michael had more Valencia friends in town that weekend, so after a quick bar meet-up with them, we headed back to our oh-so-charming hostel.
Despite the hostel’s crummy wi-fi connection, I managed to FaceTime with my entire family who was enjoying Easter lunch at my grandparents’ house. I was so happy that I got to see my parents, brother, aunts, uncle, grandparents and so many family friends. Thank you to Nick and Courtney for passing me around the room and thank you to everyone who popped into the screen for even the quickest hello. It made me feel a little closer to home.
Michael left for Italy shortly after breakfast the next morning so I had some of the day to myself. I went to the Jewish Museum to learn and pass the time before my flight. Berlin is a city full of recent and tragic history. I think I underestimated the gravity of the sights I’d be seeing. The several hard-hitting exhibits and monuments we visited drained me physically and emotionally. I did not find Berlin itself to be as beautiful as other cities I’d visited, but I’m still glad to have spent time there. I say these things not to sound ungrateful as I am so lucky to travel the world, but rather to speak my truth and my truth is that Berlin is not my favorite place I’ve visited. However, after conversations with others who have gone to Berlin, perhaps I did not do the city right. There is much more to see and do than I did, so I don’t want to discourage anyone from going there.
On my way to Spain, I was jealous of the father-daughter pair seated next to me on the leg to Madrid. The flight was late and I would have liked to be the one sleeping on my daddy’s shoulder. Ten days of incredible traveling tired me out and it was a Spring Break I’ll never forget. I can’t believe all the places I visited and friends I saw, but all I wanted to do after stepping off that plane was head home and tell my parents all about my latest adventures. Perhaps it was the exhaustion hitting me, but somehow I expected to land at LAX and head home to Altadena after the flight. Since that was not the reality, my cozy room at Gloria’s would suffice. Only one more month until my parents, Nick and Courtney will be in Madrid!