After two weekends in a row without leaving Rohrbach (!!) a weekend away was getting a little overdue (Side note: I’m aware that all this gallivanting around is getting a bit ridiculous now, but I’m not going to stop). Out of all the trips I’ve made so far, this was the furthest I travelled and the only place I had to fly to, and as such felt the most like a holiday even though it was one of the few places I’ve been to that speaks [a variant of] the same language I’m learning on a day-to-day basis.
After almost missing my bus to Linz (what is it with me almost missing flights recently?) I was on my way. The bus was followed by a train to Vienna airport, where I had enough time to get some work done over a massively overpriced coffee, before settling into my seat and plugging myself firmly into my music to signal to the Easy Jet staff that no, I absolutely did not want to buy perfume (or anything, for that matter) from them. As it turned out, that was completely unnecessary as the captain had barely had time to switch the seatbelt sign off before he announced that we were starting our descent into Berlin. The whole flight took about 40 minutes, so ironically the longest section of the journey took the shortest time.
I was welcomed to Berlin by a weather forecast that promised ‘freezing drizzle’ and feeling slightly disorientated as nobody had asked to see my passport, or indeed any form of ID for the whole journey.
Ian met me at arrivals and we made our way to the AirBnB, which was like a kind of treasure hunt as we navigated the S Bahn and then the U Bahn to find a safebox attached to an ‘old lady bicycle’ which was chained up outside a bank on the corner of the street. After entering the code and obtaining the keys, we then had to make our way to our building, which used to be a famous gay club called Maze that has now been turned into flats, but retains its original signage and disco ball over the front entrance.
The proudest moment of my life occurred when our AirBnB host overheard me speaking to Ian and complemented me on my English, saying that I must have spent a few years in the UK to be able to speak so fluently – having only conversed with him in German, he had assumed from my funny accent that I was Swiss! Being mistaken for a native speaker (even if only for 30 seconds) is basically any language learner’s dream, so I can die happy now. German? Completed it mate. (Look, I don’t have much to boast about so let me have my moment, ok?)
By the time I’d had the shower I had missed in the morning (ew) it was getting late, but we headed out to the Markthalle on Eisenbahnstraße in search of food because I’d heard about an event called Street Food Thursdays that runs every week. It didn’t disappoint, although we did eventually decide we wanted to try the first thing we’d seen when we walked in (namely, steamed buns) but then had to wander around for another hour until we found them again. They were definitely worth the time spent looking for them – they were sooooo tasty.
After walking to a restaurant we’d wanted to try and finding it closed (this would be the theme of the weekend), we ended up having falafel burgers for dinner (yuuuuum) and then heading to a bar called Schwarze Traube that had been recommended to me by Charlotte and her sister. The front door to the bar was locked, and though we could see people drinking inside, I would have assumed they were full if I hadn’t been forewarned. The trick, I’d been told, was just to knock on the door and wait. Just as I was starting to consider leaving after a full three minutes of waiting in the freezing cold, peering in through the door and feeling like the last kid to be picked on sports day, the owner came and let us in. He explained to us that they had no menu, but served four different classic cocktails which they rotated and altered depending on the day. So, we had a cocktail each (I predictably chose the gin-based one) in the cosy warmth of the bar and I started to almost fall asleep on my chair because I was so happy and tired.
In the morning, we went for a late breakfast at Hallesches Haus, a sort of shop-cum-café that served really good coffee. We ended up in conversation with the barista who was from Brighton and who wrote us a list of café, bar and pub recommendations on the back of our receipt.
From there we walked to the Jewish museum, stopping briefly to admire the beautiful street art that Berlin is so famous for.
The museum itself was one of the most interesting museums I’ve ever been to, a kind of cross between an interactive history museum, a memorial and a modern art gallery (but a good modern art gallery). The building itself was very disorientating and if I were the kind of person who knew anything about architecture, I’m sure I’d have something interesting to say about it; unfortunately I’m not, so all I can say is that I liked the building, it woz kool.
There was a really touching exhibition called A Muslim, A Christian and A Jew that was very simple but very effective and showed the same three stick mean doing a number of different activities together and was meant to show how we’re all the same and we should all eat a cake made out of rainbows and smiles and be happy.
There was also an eerie installation called Fallen Leaves commemorating all innocent victims of war, featuring 10,000 iron faces that you’re supposed to walk across. This was uncomfortable enough as it was (the faces looked like they were silently screaming – and we were walking on them), but added to that they made a loud clanking noise when you stepped on them that could be heard almost throughout the whole museum.
The final part that I found really memorable was the pomegranate tree, where people had written wishes on paper pomegranates and hung them up – the pomegranate being a symbol of fruitfulness. My wish was obviously going to be that Justin Trudeau was waiting outside the museum (preferably shirtless) to carry me off into the sunset (or at least to Canada), but after seeing that most other people had written ‘peace’ or ‘justice’ or ‘tolerance’ or ‘love’, I eventually settled on ‘No more walls’.
From there we walked to the Brandenburg Gate ,past Checkpoint Charlie and the Jewish memorial, before ending up at the Reichstag building where we had booked a slot to wander round the glass dome.
It was good fun and I’m glad we went, but the audioguide was actively uninteresting and it was too foggy to see much of Berlin. That being said, the whole thing was free so I can’t complain too much and it was still worth doing.
The cold greyness and heavy cloud cover were getting to me and I needed a coffee break, which we found in a bike shop. We also stumbled across one of the Photoautomats that Berlin is famous for which resulted in some particularly unattractive snaps of me.
We weren’t hungry yet, so we wandered to Alexanderplatz which took a long while and worked up a bit of an appetite. The most interesting features of the walk were seeing a rat outside the Rathaus and a sign for Dildoking. (If being mature means you don’t laugh at the word Dildoking then I don’t want to be mature).
Then we went to Vöner, an all-vegan kebab shop, because we were interested to see exactly what a vegan kebab is like. I can’t say I’m any the wiser as to what they were made of, but I can confirm they were really good – mine was kind of spicy and had a peanut sauce that was soOooooooOoooOoOooo tasty. I liked my vegan kebab more than real kebabs – but then, that’s not really saying much because I don’t like kebabs anyway.
On getting back to the AirBnB after a surprisingly good cocktail in a curry house (!?), we arrived to find the kitchen looking as though a bomb had hit it. It seemed the other guests had not only arrived, but moved in! In their defence, they didn’t know we were there – which made the state of the kitchen, the fact that they ate the cheese we’d bought for packed lunches, and the shouting in the kitchen at 6am slightly more acceptable.
There was a very odd exchange in the morning where the family of four clearly thought we were intruders when we turned up in the kitchen to make coffee, which ended up in them proffering their blue cheese at us out of embarrassment when they realised they’d eaten our food, me making their baby cry with my lack of ability to speak Russian, and a slight existential crisis on my part during which I began to question what exactly the point is in learning language after language if there are still people in the world I can’t really communicate with.
What do you do when you’re having an existential crisis? Doughnuts, obviously. That’s what you do. I was endlessly cheered up at Brammibal’s, not only by the obscene amount of sugar I consumed but also because it gave me ample opportunity to make the Ich bin ein Berliner joke – and make it I did.
We walked back through a small street market and I bought a bracelet made out of a silver cheese fork in some kind of sugar-induced haze. No regrets though – it’s awesome.
We went in search of a particular art gallery but found it closed. On looking up opening times, all I could find was ‘we’re sometimes open but there’s no guarantee’. Bloody hipsters.
Instead, we walked to Tempelhof which was the airport in the middle of Berlin but went out of use in 2008 and is now a public park. The fog was so thick that it was difficult to see more than about 10 metres in front of us, so although the park was quite busy, we couldn’t really see anyone and had the impression of walking round a deserted and abandoned airport. It was more than a little creepy.
When I could take the spookiness no more, we walked to the East Side Gallery which was only marginally less unnerving, especially given recent events. I’m so interested in the history surrounding the Berlin Wall; much to my Italian teachers’ dismay, I focused my second year Italian oral around how much I wish I had been there when it fell in 1989. Careful what you wish for! Looks like I might be alive for the fall of another wall after all. It was certainly a poignant time to visit, and I was very happy because I got to see the iconic Bruderkuss mural and even managed to take a photo in the 0.00003 seconds between people posing in front of it.
After more falafel for dinner, our final stop was Tante Lisbeth, a cosy bar/pub with a tiny, two-lane bowling alley downstairs which was sadly all booked up for the evening.
Sunday involved a 12-hour journey all the way back to Rohrbach (Ian left about 3 hours after me and still got back to his home in the UK before me) but it was definitely worth the sleepiness I’ve endured so far this week. I loved Berlin and I’m very excited to go back in the summer, when I might even be able to see more than 10 feet in front of me.
Until next time, auf Wiedersehen!