Above – The Berlin Cathedral
Many of you may remember the falling of the Berlin wall and WWII. Berlin was the center of it all. From the days of Hitler, the Gestapo and the Nazi’s, and the Cold War era, the city has had its share of boiling points. Wow, has this city changed. Not recognizable from the old war photos or even to the elderly that have lived the last century here. I was just happy to see any of it in my lifetime.
The main focus for this quickly planned trip, was the acquisition of my German visa, which allows me to work as a freelancer and not worry about the 90 day law that applies to travel in and out of the Schengen Area – a 26 country border free area in Europe.
I vaguely remember hearing about the Berlin wall coming down while in high school and now I know what all the fuss was about. This was the reunification of a country long divided by the USA, France, England and of course, Russia after WWII and continued so during the Cold War.
Airbnb was my choice this trip as to save money and be in the midst of another expat who I could get the scoop on local living from. My host was born in China and grew up most of his life in Hungary before moving and settling in Berlin. The city has become a melting pot of artists and start up dreamers who seem to come together in this busy city. There was another guest living in the flat, located only a 15 min walk from Checkpoint Charlie. His name is Bao and he hails from Vietnam. He was here working for a tech company building apps for Android systems, which had unfortunately had him in Berlin without his wife and child, who were waiting for him to get settled into their new flat before they made the long journey from Vietnam. We quickly became friends and had some great times exploring the city.
It was cold and unfortunately his eyes were close, thank you to the German guy that took the photo.
My time in Berlin was short but productive. Most of my efforts were focused on the visa paperwork and it was not that hard to be honest, as I had a few friends already living here and they really came through when it came to references. I will explain the steps to getting a visa in a separate post.
Berlin is a young city due to its destruction in WWII, so to be honest, it really felt like just another big modern city. I expected more historic sites and traditional German food outlets, but as I soon found out, that was not the case. It was like the US threw up on Berlin. Starbucks on every block, KFC, McDonalds and glass high rises throughout the city. It was expansive with its 3 million person population and offers so much for the expat which they really need to have if they want to keep the edge as the progressive city of Germany. Artists, musicians, writers, geeks and designers flock here to to be seen and heard by fellow peers.
There were though, many historic sites still standing from before WWII which I was so interested to see and photograph.
Above – The Brandenburg Gate
The city is completely walkable if you have the time as it is very spread out and includes many areas. For me, the metro was fine and I took it all around this metropolis. Similar to most European cities, the tram, metro and bus are widely used by all and is normal. No one looks down on you for taking the local bus because here it is just a part of life. In the USA people are classified in most all cities for the way they travel around. If you ride the bus or local metro, people assume you are poor or have no drivers license, this of course is with the exception of New York City where all classes of people ride the metro lines. Why do these classes exist in the USA? Maybe due to the horrible metro systems in 90% of the country. Hey, if the citizens want to spend their money on hefty car payments, insurance, possible traffic violations, risk of drunk drivers on the road and long waits on the commute, that is their choice. Not mine.
Above – A mobile wiener?
Oh, and did I say that drinking on the streets in Germany is completely legal? Well I did now. Prost!
Berlin was a city of museums, historic landmarks and a huge cultural melting pot. After WWII, the Turkish government sent many workers up to Germany to help rebuild and restore a crumbled city. It worked and now there is a huge Turkish community with currywurst and doner joints all over. Yes, I said currywurst. The combination of a German sausage and curry spices from Turkey. Surprisingly delicious and as to not have me running for the toilet in agony. Add one beer and happiness is the result. The cost of food and drinks in Germany is not cheap. Similar to most of the northern countries in Europe – Sweden, Norway, Netherlands and Belgium. Germany does use the euro as their currency which makes sense as the EU bank is located in Frankfurt.
Bao took me to some great Vietnamese spots for food and I have to say I was surprised at how cheap the food was and quite tasty. I recommend always to eat many different types of foods when traveling abroad. In the USA, most of the food is catered to the taste of the US citizen and is not traditional. This was. There were even some delicious burger joints around town but I will have to say the best foreign food I found was a Tex Mex place near Friedrichstraße. The food is made fresh as are the margaritas and that makes all the difference. The Tex Mex spot was cozy and small with many currencies hanging from the ceiling which told me many-a-traveler have came through the parts, you reckon?
Once I was completed with the process and received my visa, I was amazed and had that feeling come across me. You know that feeling you get that says – WOW, I really have accomplished something amazing. Something that most people said, “good luck with that.” Luck was not a factor nor do I believe in luck. I guess I really want to show people that yes, you can make a big change in your life and it can make your life better, more satisfying. Do you want to look back and say what if, what if? Hell no. Life is not convenient. Life does not wait for you to be ready because you will never be ready. To many events happen while you are planning that “perfect time”. Nothing in life is perfect, ever.
But this here was my moment! Above – my German Visa
Under this section of the wall was the Gestapo headquarters which the allies bombed the hell out of. In fact this entire city was leveled. Only a few structures from the pre war era still stood.
Above – rooms from the basement of the Gestapo and the Berlin Wall above those.
While I was walking by the Wall and taking some cool photos, I was angered by everything the Nazi’s had done and how many lives were destroyed in the assault. I felt sad as well for those German’s still living and how they are reminded of the atrocities everyday they walk through the city. Hopefully they have found peace with time.
But enough of the sad and achy breaky heart. Berlin has emerged as a 3 million strong city of arts, architecture and a bright future. Similar to Barcelona, people flock here from all ends of the globe to study, work and meet new people.
The airports are old and a new mega airport, the Berlin Brandenburg airport, is being built now and should open 2017 to allow 37 million people a year to come through here. The metro is one of the best in the world. You have a veritable choice of the subway, tram, train or bus. The same 3 Euro ticket can be used on all of them making it extremely affordable to even the most starved artist. And the food is no exception… Check out this guy below –
A portable sausage grill? Does this thing really work? Yes it does –
For a 1.50, this is awesome. I was hoping to get a cheap beer with it but he didn’t have a portable cooler on him. Maybe he can start wearing a backpack cooler..
This area of town, Alexanderplatz, is very popular. Many sites and shopping areas including the TV Tower.
I was staying at a guesthouse for 4 nights and this was the first stop on the bus line so I found myself always stopping off here first to explore other gastro spots and to do some very cheap shopping of my own. Many places had 70% off sales to clear out the year end merchandise. I found a winter coat and a sweater for 29 euro. No complaints here. And don’t be fooled by the blue sky, it was bloody cold out. Most days were 4-9C out!
Above – traditional German onion and beef soup.
In many ways Berlin reminds me of a typical city in the states minus the great metro system and lack of guns. The metro systems in Europe are the best I have experienced. And yes I said it, I am proud of Europe for it’s no tolerance gun laws and no tolerance drunk driving. Only cops and military need to own a gun in the city. Simple math – less guns = less gun violence. There is no wildlife to hunt so what is the point of owning a gun in a city? I really feel that the people in EU countries are so fortunate to freely travel and work in other EU member countries. Who knew? Oh yeah, they did.
One of the coolest landmarks I saw was Checkpoint Charlie. The US Army Checkpoint on the the US/France/UK side of the Wall.
You can see in the above photo, the bricks in the street. Those are in place of the wall after it came down. If you have seen the recent movie, Bridge of Spies, you will remember the Checkpoint. Imagine large military tanks and soldiers hovering around the area in the 60’s. Berlin was split between the east and west with the Russian communist party controlling the east. This funny looking clown car was made of paper to make it lighter for outrunning military and police. The car did not stay long in production but remains part of the cold war history. Anthony Bourdain drove one in his Berlin episode of No Reservations.
Above – the US Embassy.
The average price for beer was dirt cheap. 1-2 Euros. There are many Starbucks and I even saw a Pizza Hut which was a little disappointing. You expect to see McDonalds and Burger King across the globe but a Pizza Hut? No thanks. I will stick to the local food.
After overthinking whether to spend the money going up the TV Tower, I said screw it and went up.
As the highest tower in Europe, this will go on the map for accomplishments of my travels. The elevator had a glass top which awesome to photograph.
This was pretty damn cool. There is also a revolving restaurant just like the Space Needle and the Stratosphere.
All in all, Berlin was a fascinating city, if not for anything but its ability to rebuild and to move forward. The people are diverse and the beer is great. I now have a sense of what history was like and how it changed the lives and the culture here. Berlin, I will be back.