If there is one thing Berlin has plenty of, it’s patios. I like this. I don’t think there is any scenario in which I take umbrage with there being unlimited options for outside dining and wine drinking. It’s how I would spend all day every day if I had my druthers. And Graffiti. They like their chaotic street art in Berlin. Patios and graffiti. Oh, and their bicycles. Patios, graffiti and bicycles. And depressing, grandiose memorials. I should start over….
Truthfully, I was taken aback by Berlin’s laissez-faire attitude. Particularly as it is located in a country who’s people are stereotyped as being strict and rigid and preoccupied with maintaining order. As evidence of its go-with-the-flow personality, I submit to you their aforementioned lax policy on building defacement, as well as the fact that in Berlin, it’s perfectly acceptable to stroll down the street with a beer in hand–in glass bottles no less! Definitely a no-no stateside. Further, during an afternoon outing to one of the city’s community pools, we witnessed no fewer than 3924761432342 children sliding down a water slide at once. And running on wet cement–an activity the American lifeguard community views as being on par with smoking a cigarette indoors—is not only not reprimanded, it seemed downright encouraged. Then, there’s the part where before Heath jumped off the diving board, he politely asked the pool’s only lifeguard whether doing flips was permissible. He was met with a befuddled response: Of course this is fine. Why would it not be? Perhaps I’m applying the community pool’s gentle policies a little to liberally to the entire city, but still, Berlin as a whole seems content to let its people be. It’s likely the result of a long and tragic history marked by a series of oppressive and totalitarian regimes. But Berlin seems to have learned a thing or two from its past, and today enjoys a vibrant and resilient atmosphere.
But I say all this before arriving at the crux of my argument. Berlin–like every place–is made more special by the people you experience it with. Our German vacation was made what it was by the company we kept. As I’m inclined to list off all the things that make Berlin unique, I’m also inclined to include Nick and Melissa on that list—two people who were pivotal to the good times had.
Berlin is teaming with street-front patios, confusing traffic signs, gratuitous graffiti and swiftly moving bike paths. Of course, I knew virtually none of this before landing in Germany’s vibrant capital and experiencing it myself.
It’s sort of funny to think about the series of events that led Heath and I to Europe. The whole trip was practically born from a drunken happy hour (as if there is any other kind) with my female soul mate Melissa. She and hubby Nick were about to depart for a 5-month bike tour through the European country side before relocating permanently to Seattle. Rather than lament her loss, Melissa and I instead tipsily planned a reunion for the four of us in Germany. I promptly returned home and recounted our plan back to Heath. Not for approval, mind you– we don’t have that kind of relationship–but for the sake of healthy discussion. For what it’s worth, Heath’s and my original plan for summer travel was to do a relatively cheap backpacking excursion in the Rockies so that we could save the big bucks for some much needed electrical upgrades. Sexy, I know, but as many homeowners know, when you’re on a budget it’s touch sometimes to relinquish your liquid assets on a plane ticket over something with some actual ROI. After crunching the numbers and recounting our promise to ourselves that we wouldn’t start our human family until we’d traveled together to 3 continents, we both decided now was as good a time as any to cross the pond and butcher a few languages. A few clicks through priceline.com later, an itinerary to and from Berlin was sitting in my inbox. A few Rick Steves episodes after that, a course was charted and we had a regular old European road trip on our hands.
We got to Berlin on a Friday morning a little after 7 o clock. Despite a raging case of jet lag, we walked from our Hauptbonhof adjacent hotel to Brandenburg Gate so Heath could take his requisite history teacher selfie, and so we could begin our stroll down Unter den Linden. Apparently, the popular promenade was once shaded by centuries old Linden trees, which Hitler had removed during his burgeoning political career and replaced with German flags. The uproar from Berliners was so great that the flags were removed and the trees replanted. Interesting priorities there, pre World War II Germany. Normally, the boulevard is teaming with tourists and ritzy cafe patrons, but we were there before most shops had opened and had nearly the entire boulevard to explore by ourselves.
We walked passed Hotel Adlon (of Michalel Jackson baby-dangling fame), Humboldt University (where academic legends like Albert Einstein have taught), a statue of Frederick the Great (rumored lover or famed French philosopher Voltaire), and a handful of kitsch Ampelmännchen souvenir shops before arriving at Museum Island.
Museum Island is a great part of town, home to five internationally renowned museums like the National Gallery, the Bode Museum and others. Despite a mean case of jet lag setting in and our traveler’s high adrenaline increasingly wearing off, we spent the 16 Euro admission to pass through the German History Museum. The museum beautifully chronicles the region’s history from roughly the middle ages to present. We circled the collection through WWII before finally succumbing to our jet lag and heading back toward the hotel, by way of one quick stop for a taste of currywurst.
A long nap and much-needed shower later, we walked to nearby Zollpackhof Biergarten for libations and grilled meats. Beer and patio lovers we are, the Berlin beer scene is one I would very much like to reproduce in America. Austin has a few biergarten imitations (Bangers, Scholz) but none that capture the laid back atmosphere of the German gartens. You order at the counter, choose your own seat, and enjoy the environment without interruption or pressure to be hasty. It’s worth noting that unlike Texas’ outdoor atmospheres, Berlin’s biergartens are free of mosquitoes, and the temperature maxes out at comfortable 85 degrees: warm enough to enjoy a cold one, but not so hot that you’re patting your arm pits down with paper napkins.
We spent a few healthy hours here talking about relationships and conspiring about life. Around 11, we departed from our beer-drenched den of contemplation and headed to Tiergarten–Berlin’s Central Park–for a midnight stroll.
We left Berlin in the morning, only to return a week later.
Next up: Dresden, Prague and Bone Church.