After what felt like far too short a visit to Prague, we traveled to Berlin for a 4 day and 5 night stay. Once again, the bus was the way to go, being cheap and fast, with wifi and coffee included in the price. We chose to stay at the Leonardo Hotel in Mitte, which is close to the former Jewish quarter, U-Bahn train system, and plenty of good restaurants. Berlin has a totally different feel than the previous ten-or-so cities we’d been to, and we immediately felt it when using the metro, hearing the people speak, seeing the fashion and architecture, etc. After so much cobblestone and goulash, it was a happy and refreshing sight to see.
On our first full day, we visited the Holocaust memorial and New Synagogue of Berlin, and ate some amazing hummus in the Spandauer Vorstadt neighborhood. The Holocaust memorial is famous, but it really becomes a personal, intimate experience when you walk through it for yourself. I immediately noticed how the huge, abstract stelae were so varied in height, and sometimes even slightly angled. There are a few different optical illusions at play, making it all feel connected like water or a hillside. I enjoyed seeing the moss and foliage clinging to life in the cracks on the ground. We didn’t wait in the long line or pay to go underground, a decision we were okay with given our recent visit to Auschwitz and other memorials.
We did pay to enter the New Synagogue of Berlin, which contains a museum inside describing its history, people, destruction, and reconstruction effort. One amazing story worth noting was the late discovery of the fully intact eternal flame, found buried underneath the concrete floor during the recent rebuild effort in 1989.
That night we met up with Steph’s little sis, Shu-Hua, who recently moved to Berlin. The food wasn’t memorable, but it was fun to hang out with a local, gossip about Steph and her family (not really), and get some good recommendations (like actual ramen in town).
On day two, we hit up the remains of the Berlin wall and the amazing, gigantic Jewish Museum. The wall has what feel like a whole bunch of temporary displays with interesting info of its history. We kinda flew through it, got the basic idea, and skipped the paid portion.
The Jewish Museum of Berlin is huge, and you could spend a few days going through all the content. We arrived in the rainy afternoon and barely had enough steam to make it through, spending about 3 hours in all. We loved their current exhibition, Cherchez la femme. I’ll let their website’s description do the talking:
Headlines and swimwear, headscarves and demonstrations, fashion shows and papal audiences – how much religiosity secular societies can tolerate is shown in our current exhibition. In the 1950s and 1960s, style icons like Grace Kelly wore the headscarf as a fashion accessory. Today, religious context is the main reason why women cover their hair. These traditions go back to ancient times, when status and fashion determined which women were veiled…
The other thing that really stuck with us was the architecture of the building itself, which made me feel like I was inside an Escher painting.
We enjoyed what turned out to be pretty authentic bowls of ramen that night for dinner at Cocolo, thanks to Steph’s sister. We even had to wait in line along the wall behind the soup-slurping patrons, which reminded us of Fuunji in Shinjuku.
On our third day, we totally switched things up and went outside Berlin to Potsdam and the Sanssouci Palace. Potsdam itself is a sizable city, which we took advantage of by picking up a few necessary clothing items. Sanssouci, which literally means “without worries,” was a lovely place to wander for a couple hours, though a bit cold when the sun was hiding.
That night, we enjoyed some beers and German food at a locals’ joint. They’ll keep bringing the beers to you until you tell them to stop. We partook in two half-liters each and decided that was enough. It was nice to see lots of families of all ages enjoying dinner together, giving us the sense that people really love life here.
On our last full day, we repeated the yummy hummus spot near our hotel for lunch. Sadly, Amanda experienced another bad migraine that afternoon, so we hunkered down in our cozy hotel room until our flight off to Dublin the next morning. More on our adventures through Ireland coming soon!