As I’ve admitted on my other blog, I’ve been back from my Central/Eastern Europe gallivanting for almost a week now, but have yet to actually discuss and share my experiences. And part of the reason being is that I always find it difficult to things, as well as select what exactly I want to say; well, both of those things and the fact that I just began another semester of school.
It’s quite funny, really, when you begin traveling for work purposes. Albeit, I didn’t pay for my trip to Berlin, I was there under the pretense of an assignment, and covering whatever I felt was pertinent. I spent a week in the city, but it almost seems I barely spent any time there at all. I had the two days before Berlin fashion week free, as well as some evenings (but by that time, I was quite tired from the mad scramble of seating), and did my best to take advantage of that.
After landing at Tegel Airport, I just dove right into being a tourist since I knew well in advance of my limited time, and that my energy levels would eventually wear down throughout the course of fashion week. Even though I’ve had my fair share of tours, as courtesy of NYU in France, of wherever I’ve visited with the school, and am thus a bit tired of it all, I opted to take a crash course on Berlin with SANDEMAN’s New Europe tours. For the curious, tour is free, and tips for the guide are up to you. I have to say that for a four hour tour of the city, I was quite entertained; my guide (Jonny) was in fact quite hilarious and easy to follow with his British accent and cheesy jokes.
A 10lb dufflebag does wear you out after four hours of walking (that’s right, I headed straight to the tour and not to the hostel), so after the tour, I headed straight to my hostel (Cityhostel Berlin), which I ultimately chose for its proximity to the fashion tents (i.e. Bebelplatz), and low cost (7,50€ per night for a 6 person dorm with ensuite bathroom).
In any case, I did mention to squeeze in some essential things to do in Berlin in my “spare” time:
Try the ethnic food: I’m going to be frank about this – I’m always a little wary about trying ethnic food in new cities simply for the reason being that some may rave about a type of cuisine, but really they have no clue what they are talking about. I’ve had people tell me that New York is terrific for its multiculturalism, when clearly, you haven’t tasted the many neat cultural niches of Toronto. Although I have to give it to New York for having some excellent Japanese ramen and sushi joints. I’ve also had French people tell me about the great Vietnamese food and whatnot, and again, they really have no idea. In any case, I was quite surprised with Berlin. I had definitely read about its optmistic take on ethnic foods, but I reserve the right to be a skeptic until I try it. Though I would’ve liked to taste more, both Makoto along Alton Schönhauser (averaging 10€ per bowl, it was indeed a mighty heap of noodles and soup) and Di Japanese (averaging 15€ to 20€ per main; to be fair, I only went because I had received a gift certificate earlier in the day) along Kurfürstendamm
Check out the museums: The city certainly has flourished since the wall has come down over twenty years ago with its many museums dabbling in art and history. It is certainly impossible (and quite costly even with the student discounts) to see all of them within a week, so here are my top two: Gemäldegalerie (4€ for students) at the Kulturforum near Potsdam Platz, which specializes in a wide array of paintings and such from the 13th to the 18th centuries, and the German Historical Museum (6€ for students) near Bebelplatz, which once served as an armory and now contains pretty much all the history and artifacts imaginable pertaining to Germany.
Go to Sachsenhausen: It will definitely not be one of highlights that you talk about with your friends, but it is certainly one of the more poignant events in history that we should take note of. In case you’re not following, Sachsenhausen served as a concentration camp during WWII, and was subsequently used by the Soviets as a “Special Camp,” until 1950. The memorial itself is free of charge to visit, but if you are interested and would like an audio guide, it will be 3€ but it is surely worth it for contextualizing things. Admittedly, I found it quite hard (emotionally) to go through the entire site, and found myself heading back to Berlin without visiting the Soviet camp site.
And perhaps on a more entertaining note, I found out the hard way the restrictions of the kurzstrecke ticket for the bahn (i.e. subway). Turns out that such ticket is only meant for three stations, and I was fined on my fourth on my way to the train station to leave for Prague. Needless to add another thorn to the situation, it was indeed my birthday. As a result, I wound up with having looks of pity from the controle and having to pay a 40€ fine for my innocence. Really, I had thought that it was either a time-restricted ticket or one that could only allow for travel in one zone. Quite unfortunate for when I was trying to do right by the system, but it could’ve been worse.