Oh, Berlin, you were lovely. We were *still* a little bit sick when we arrived, but we were so excited to experience the city and meet up with our friend that we hardly even noticed.
We were staying at our friend's charming apartment in Mitte, which was very central and in a beautiful, quiet neighbourhood. The train system in Berlin deserves its reputation of being fantastic – they are clean, efficient, and the main S Bahn line has all these wonderful, high-ceilinged station platforms. We quickly mastered the system, and spent the rest of the week taking advantage of the fast, great trains.
One thing we noticed a lot: the food in Berlin was really great quality. Even in the subway stations, you'd have little cafe storefronts serving fresh sandwiches and salads. And outside of the metro too, the street food and restaurants we went to were all top notch. Our first night we made a trek (we switched trains 3 times..even with German efficiency that was a bit much) and ended up in the most beautiful neighbourhood, in search of a highly rated restaurant that we found on TripAdvisor. After two weeks of Croatian food we both had a hankering for something Asian, so we tried this Vietnamese place. The owner was so friendly, joking around and sitting down with us at the table to advise us on the best fresh juice and appetizers. It was a really delicious meal that we enjoyed on the bustling sidewalk terrace as the sun went down. It was so great.
While in Berlin, we did a lot of touring and I guess you could say paying homage to the history of Berlin. One of the things that I find so interesting and amazing about the city is how much it is in touch with its past. Our guide for our first tour explained that many Germans are extremely aware of their history and the image that other countries have about them. He said that Germany truly believes that expression: “Those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.” The city is rich with memorials and museums (almost all of which are completely free) and I think that's one of the things that makes it so amazing.
We wound up going on a tour to the Sachenhausen Concentration Camp. That trip was very, very surreal. It was almost impossible to wrap your head around where you were standing, and the atrocities that happened there. Our tour was very informative, and more importantly, very respectful. It was a powerful day, and a completely beautiful one, weather-wise, which made the experience even stranger for me. I couldn't bring myself to take a single photo that day, even though many members of our tour group were taking many. I guess I felt that taking photos makes it into a “tourist attraction”, which, I personally feel, cheapens the suffering of the people who were trapped and killed there.
But Berlin has a lot to offer in terms of the present day as well. We ate well, sat in beautiful parks at dusk, drank grapefruit (?!) beer, toured the absolutely stunning architecture, visited the famous Pergamon museum and saw parts of the Babylon Gates (I was blown away), visited beer gardens (delicious food, great beer, and very cheap), went for walks, lay with our heads together on the stelae (concrete slabs) of the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe and discussed the really powerful museum we'd just experienced (you can do anything but stand on top of the stelae), cooked a yummy homemade dinner, and explored the cool East Berlin. Berlin reminded me somewhat of Montreal (although with grander architecture), and I felt happy and calm in the city.
- Sandemann's New Europe Tours: we used this program both for their free tour and for the Sachenhausen tour, and both were really great. The guides are all really passionate about history, friendly, and respectful when it counts.
- Saigon and more..Das Original restaurant: the Vietnamese place with the very friendly owner. We loved the food and the service. Their bathroom is very cool too, completely stocked with anything you might need (and I mean anything) all for free.
- East Side Gallery: a section of the Berlin Wall that was left standing and has been painted by various artists. The art is wonderful and it's such a cool outdoor exhibit.
- Ritter Sport shop: where you can make your own chocolate bar. Enough said, yes?
- Berliner Dom: a wonderful cathedral. We climbed ALL the stairs up the very top lookout and the views were amazing. The inner church is totally stunning as well.