Berlin was off to a crazy start before I even got there. The night before my flight to Berlin, I lost my wallet in a bar. My wallet had almost $100 worth of Hungarian cash in it, and all of my credit and debit cards. So, not only did I not have any cash, I also had no way of obtaining any cash or buying anything for that matter. Luckily, I hadn’t lost my key card to my dorm room in Budapest, my public transit pass, or my drivers license, so I went to bed and decided to face my problems in the morning. Thankfully, my flight wasn’t until the afternoon, so I spent the morning ordering new credit cards and asking my parents to wire me money to a Western Union until the cards came in the mail. Still stressed out, with 200 euros in my pocket borrowed from my generous roommate, I set off to the airport to meet my friend Mallory in Berlin.
In the three years I’ve know her, Mallory (or Mal, as I like to call her), has always been my quintessential free-spirited friend, who is always up for an adventure. I knew that a weekend in Berlin with her was bound to add to the stories I’d remember for years to come, and boy, was I right.
Mal had already been in Berlin for a few days when I met her at our hostel. We both decided that after the crazy night we’d both had the day before, it was a good day to stay in and take it easy. We wandered around the area by our hostel, Plus Berlin, located near Warschauer Straße, then found a cute restaurant with meat pies and potato salad for dinner. Mal had seen a bar on a boat earlier, so we decided to go there for a beer before retiring to our hostel to plan for the weekend ahead and call it a night.
The next morning, we took advantage of the pool and sauna in our hostel (a huge luxury when it comes to hostels!) before walking to Treptower Park. The park was very underwhelming, so if you are only in Berlin for a few days, I wouldn’t bother seeing it.
Our hostel offered a three and a half hour “alternative” walking tour of Berlin, which we decided to do. Despite the bitter cold, I enjoyed the tour a lot. Berlin is known for its street art scene, especially prevalent in the Kreuzberg neighborhood where our hostel was. We saw murals by the notable street artist Blu and even walked past the most guarded McDonald’s in the world (residents of Kreuzberg are extremely anti-gentrification and have attempted to destroy the McDonald’s several times). The tour ended at the East Side Gallery, the longest remaining stretch of the Berlin Wall, and possibly the longest-lasting and largest open air gallery in the world. One side features over 100 paintings from artists from all over the world, and the other side is open for the public to graffiti.
Freezing from spending all day in the cold, we found a restaurant to get some warm chili and tea. I also found a shop to buy a new wallet since I was sans one (I haven’t lost this one yet!). We then took the train to see the Brandenburg Gate, the Reichstag building, and the Holocaust Memorial. The first two were breathtaking and statuesque, and the memorial was powerful. Mal and I were in Berlin right after the attacks in Paris, so there were many touching tributes to the victims near the Brandenburg Gate. After warming up with coffee and making friends with the worker at Dunkin’ Donuts, we walked to Gendarmenmarkt to see some beautiful churches.
We got a little lost on our way back to the hostel. Let me tell you – the Berlin metro is confusing. And this is coming from a self-declared public transit expert. I attribute the confusion to the lack of adequate signage. So give yourself extra time if you are traveling by metro in Berlin.
That night, we were up for going to a few bars, but not quite ready to tackle the Berlin club scene yet, which is a whole nother beast. After a drink at the hostel bar, we met with two Italians Mal had made friends with at her old hostel at a place called Yaam. As you will find out, most of the bars and clubs in Berlin have quite odd names. There was a reggae concert there, but our wallets weren’t quite up for the 10 euro cover, so we decided to wander and do some bar hopping instead. We met two very nice Danish teachers (gotta love the Danes), got some late night falafel, and retired home after a long day. After all, we walked 16 miles that day!
Due to budgetary constraints, we started the next day by sharing microwaved eggs and half an avocado (mmmm). After our delicious and nutritious breakfast, we explored the few Christmas markets already open at Alexanderplatz. Because we first saw the Brandenburg Gate at night, we decided to go see it again during the day, along with the Holocaust Memorial and museum. Afterwards, we ventured to Tiergarten Park and Potsdamer Platz, the modern shopping area of Berlin. Because most of Berlin was destroyed in WWII, the city doesn’t have the “old” feel that the rest of Europe has. Rather, most of the city is a stark contrast of modern architecture and construction sites.
Once again freezing, we found solace at a mediocre Asian restaurant. After my painfully hungry stomach was satiated with some pad thai, we found some more Christmas markets and a mall, where I exchanged what few USD I had for some euros.
Back at our hostel, we napped and recharged our batteries before what would become one heck of a night. The night began with one euro boxed wine from the grocery store that we smuggled into the bar of the hostel Mal had stayed at earlier in Berlin. We met with some friends she had made there and discussed what club we would go to that night.
Now is probably a good time to explain the club scene in Berlin. Like I said earlier, it truly is a whole nother beast. One website describes it as “hedonistic Disneyland for grown ups.” The clubbing scene quickly emerged after the fall of the Berlin wall. Along with newfound freedom, came new identities and activities.
Many clubs are open 24 hours during the weekend, so you could potentially stay there from Saturday to Monday and never leave. Some of the most famous clubs have lines outside in the middle of the afternoon. They are also notoriously hard to get into, especially as a foreigner. Here are the rules of waiting in line: dress down (yep, down not up), wear dark colors, stand in small groups with even male to female ratios (or all female), don’t talk, don’t take your phone out, and be as discrete as possible. And if you don’t speak German, just pray you don’t get asked a question. Also, don’t expect anything but techno. You might wait hours, only to get denied. Safe to say, it’s pretty intense.
We didn’t even bother going to Berghain, which is downright impossible to get into. We attempted to go to Sisyphos, also well known, but GoogleMaps failed us and we ended up in the middle of nowhere. Mal, our new Australian friend Georgia, and I gave up on public transit and took a cab to Suicide Circus. Yep, that’s its name. From there, all I can say is, what happens in Berlin, stays in Berlin.
Luckily, when I decided to leave at 8am, the club was a short five-minute walk from our hostel. We slept a solid two hours before we had to check out of our hostel at 11am. Once again, Berlin public transit proved to be extremely confusing. We had to transfer trains four times to get to the airport. Thankfully, we still made it to the airport with plenty of time to spare before we bid adieu to Berlin and flew to Budapest.
I ended up appreciating Berlin more after I left than while I was there. Although I could never see myself living there, it was unlike any city I have ever been to. Every time I hear the song Berlin by New Politics, I am fondly reminded of this city.
I arrived with an almost-empty wallet, and left with both a completely empty wallet and full heart. The people are what bring Berlin to life, and boy, do they know how to live.