I embarked on my first solo journey this fall and there could not have been any other city to embrace my soul than Berlin. Berlin has been on my bucket list since I was a teenager blogging on xanga and to finally make a trip there a decade or so later is surreal, to say the least. Now that I have sat down to write about my adventures, I kind of don’t know where to begin to describe my lovefest with this eclectic, tolerant, individualistic city — perhaps I should start off with great-tasting beers that cost less than a bottle of water.
As an American, we have an ironically humorous definition of freedom. We are allowed to open-carry in most states but not open-drink on streets or in trains or smoke inside bar/restaurants. I was amused when I first witnessed Germans drinking beers while chit-chatting in trains+trams & I knew I had to do the same. So I walked into a corner store, asked for a local brew and the kind gentleman referred Berliner pilsner. I paid a measly €1.25, walked out to the bright sunlight, gulped 2 sips, cracked a smile and continued walking on Rosenthaler Platz. I had tasted freedom Europeon style for the first time and trust me, I loooooved it.
Streets on Jewish Quarters
Berlin is a grand city with many historic streets to gasp at and landmarks to sight-see. As a traveler, one should take advantage of the super-advanced, efficient, and timely rapid transit system. Initially when I viewed the Sbahn/Ubahn & tram map with all lines overlapping or interconnecting, I was slightly overwhelmed. But upon my landing at Schonefeld airport on that cold, autumn night, I practically had to run to catch Rtrain on platform 4 towards Friedrichstrabe and that’s when I had an epiphany of sorts — I ride New York City MTA on a daily basis and the level of high stress and anxiety I endure perhaps prepared me to deal with superior transit systems in other parts of the world. End of the day, navigating different neighborhoods of Berlin via train, tram or bus was effortless (at €3.30 per trip with transfer) and seemed like I was doing just fine without a car or Uber.
Before I delve into the details of my touristy shenanigans in this intricate, compact & methodized city, I’d like to share my spontaneous decision to head to a trance club at 1230 am via tram & Ubahn. Whether you are travelling with siblings, friends, partner or #solodolo, if you have an ounce of love for music, you must add a trance club in the itinerary. Germans party true, I mean they party hard all night and into the sunlight of 10am. Europeons from all over the continent go to Berlin to let loose because the clubbing culture is frank, open-minded and non-judgmental. I have been a witness to many insane things happening once I was granted entry into the club and even if my feathers were ruffled a bit, I went back to doing me, i.e. dancing to pure trance. On one of my respites, I made friends with cool french girls from Lyon who were in the midst of a snow transaction and were equally horrified when I complimented Berlin’s cleanliness. One girl chimed in, “noo, but everyone considers Berlin so dirty. You must visit Hamburg and see how clean that city is. Berlin is very, very dirty.” I told her I don’t doubt her words but she should give me the benefit of the doubt since I’m from New York & our streets and subways are puke-worthy filthy. The girls laughed, sighed and had heart eyes speaking about how they want to visit New York so badly, right after they snorted some of the good stuff. I smiled, took swigs off my pilsner lubs and was thinking that this is another wish off my bucket list; I have finally raved in Berlin & I’m in zen. It was an all-nighter for me at the club and I left for my hostel few hours prior to my flight out scheduled at 11 am. I will reiterate how super safe riding in the most-accommodating and timely rapid transit was to me but also be aware that the key to utmost safety is to have your senses intact, follow your instinct and apply common sense.
Raving for the trance Gods
I did not sign up with any tours groups to guide me in exploring Berlin. I did my homework from before and because of my passion for history, I also had an extensive knowledge of Berlin’s dark history. My first stop was Berlin memorial (more on next post) and to reach there, I walked through yesteryear streets of East Berlin and Jewish quarters.
Jewish victims of Fascism sculptures
I was greeted by these hauntingly painful sculptures before entering the oldest Jewish cemetery in Berlin & I knew the walk will be a tough one. This cemetery’s history is ancient (built in 1600s) & dire. During Hitler’s regime, gestapo destroyed majority of the tombstones & turned the cemetery into a prison camp for the Jews. During WWII, this cemetery had seen a mass grave of civilians, soldiers & thousands of Jews. Walking around this well-kept cemetery & reading German inscription in the memorials, I was tearing up even though I can’t understand a single word of German. The sad history weighed on me and I realized I didn’t have the courage to visit a concentration camp this trip. I couldn’t cry on this journey I was partaking in & I promised myself that I will visit next time. Because with Berlin, there will always be a next time for me — deep infatuations never completely cease, you see.