Berlin has been on our “must see” list while living abroad since we moved here. It’s taken us a while to make it there and finally in August, we made it happen. Cody and I packed up a car and headed north for a weekend in Berlin.
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Written by Cody
Our trip to Berlin starts with a question I ended up asking most of my coworkers over the first year working here (or at least the ones over the age of 40).
Being enthusiastic about history and the cold war in general, I wanted to know: What do West Germans think about East Germans now, 30 years after the fall of the Eastern Bloc and the following ‘Deutsche Wiedervereinigung’ (German Reunification)? Do they still see a geographical divide of “us” and “them”, which was (or still is?) pervasive in the United States after our forced reunification in 1865?
To find out, I had to ask because it wasn’t something that had been mentioned in casual conversation between my coworkers- the local Bavarians or the one from the former East. (Well, besides the occasional comments about funny accents.)
My original question was almost universally answered along the lines of – “we don’t really think about the divide much anymore, except when we look at our taxes”.
(I learned there is an extra 5.5% deduction in every paycheck to help fund economic development in the former East. Want to teach the failure of communism? Tax the following generation to pay for it.)
So what was the truth? Was avoidance of the topic a case of “best behavior” in front of a foreigner? Or something else? Like a shared cultural unity, despite strict geographical and harsh ideological separation for over a generation?
A search for context (not to mention our dedicated pursuit of interesting food) led us to Berlin.
A Weekend in Berlin
After numerous urges from friends, and a list of about 25 restaurants from all of our friends in Germany, we set out for a weekend in the land of Currywurst, Döners, and a wide array of International cuisines.
Thanks to a recommendation from my friend, Sara, and some credit card points, we booked three nights at a swanky hotel overlooking the Berlin Zoo. We counted this as our anniversary trip so it worked out for a little splurge.
Sight Seeing Berlin
Upon arrival for our weekend in Berlin, we stowed our bags with the staff at the hotel and immediately set out for coffee, a bus, and some sightseeing. Per our usual, we consulted our friend Rick Steves to guide us around the main historic sights of Berlin.
Despite Berlin being a city of such historical significance, there weren’t as many historical sights to see as I was expecting. The few we did see, however, were grand and fun to snap photos of.
We hung out on the West, exploring the area surrounding the German Parliament building and Frau Merkel’s offices (I so badly wanted to go say hi to her and thank her for her leadership these past few months, but knowing the Germans “it would not be possible.”)
After walking over the stones in the ground depicting where the Berlin Wall formerly stood, we walked under the Brandenburg Gate and into the former West.
The Gate is an iconic German monument and the background of a lot of protests and movements. Most recently, the Right protesting against the Corona Virus restrictions in place.
We stood here longer than we should have to wait for the three girls who were here to finish their photoshoot. Finally, we gave up, realizing they weren’t leaving anytime soon. Yet, we somehow snapped this photo with them out of view.
Although, I am glad I have all the shots with them there because Shelby’s doppelganger was in that group and I swear it looked just like her.
Our historic walking tour took us to sights like the Riechstag (Parliment building) Brandenburg Gate, The Memorial for Murdered Jews of Europe, Hitler’s Bunker, Unter den Linden (a wide street full of shops and lots of Linden trees), Museum Island, and the TV tower.
I should also note that I spent a fair amount of time walking through these blocks at the Jewish Memorial trying to snap another picture of Shelby’s doppelganger who followed us over to this site.
We wrapped up our tour of Berlin with an on-the-go dinner of Currywurst.
Our evening ended with a trip to BRLO Brwhouse– a local brewery. It was very difficult to find the entrance but it worked out in our favor! We stumbled upon a weekly Food Truck Pop-Up Festival. This was really all in the Lord’s planning as he guided us right to a Nashville Hot Chicken/ Honey Butter Chicken Food Truck.
We waited in line for 10 minutes, yet the line moved zero steps. A little Social Media sleuthing by Yours Truly told me the food truck would be “popping up” at another location in the vicinity of our Saturday plans.
So, we ended the evening with some beer, ice cream, and reading outdoors.
We had a few more stops on the walking tour to hit, so we got to walking and hiked about 15,000 steps across Berlin. Some of our stops along the way included the Markethalle, coffee (of course), the Berlin Cathedral, before stopping for “apps.”
Despite dinner reservations at Neni Saturday night, we opted for appetizers from Humble Pie Co. This was the food truck we spotted Friday night. The owner is a Tennessean cooking up Nashville hot chicken and Southern pies for the Germans.
Since Cody loves all things spice and I do not, my “health-conscious” attempt to share a chicken biscuit was immediately shot down. (No complaints here, though! Look at that thing!)
Relaxing on our Weekend in Berlin
Like I mentioned above, there wasn’t a ton of sightseeing to do in Berlin. There were plenty of museums, but if you read my post about Food in France, you’ll know that museums aren’t typically our thing. (Although, we just booked tickets for a museum in Italy next week…I guess I spoke too soon.)
So, instead, we spent Sunday lazing around Berlin.
Each morning I took up post in the hammock and Cody got it each night after we were back for the evening. The reading hammock was definitely a highlight of the trip.
I read The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah over the course of the weekend and it was one of the best books I’ve read in a long long time. So needless to say, I spent a few hours in that hammock.
After finally getting up and dressed, we biked across town to the Prenzlauer Berg neighborhood which is famous for lots of new eateries and hip coffee shops. We essentially did a Progressive Meal with a few sights along the way.
Our Berlin Food Tour started with lunch at Mogg Cafe for probably the best meal of the trip!
After lunch, we walked to the nearby Princess Cheesecake for dessert and good people watching. The only thing that sucks about people-watching in Germany is that I don’t understand the things the Germans are yelling at each other.
After snacking on cheesecake and reading, we moseyed our way over to a coffee shop for more reading and iced coffees (which are surprisingly hard to come by in Regensburg).
After a leisurely afternoon, we took a ride down the Spree River. The cruise was guided by a lively German woman who spoke in both languages throughout the tour. Cody and I sipped on a Radler while we relished in all the German words we understood!
Reflections on Our Weekend in Berlin
Our trip investigations surprised me (Cody). I anticipated the West to be the shiny and orderly part of the city. But the former east side had many of the best site-seeing and cultural attractions. It seems to generally be known as the “hip” and “vibrant” side of town (a function of cheaper real estate?).
So on our first afternoon in the city, we stepped over the iconic brick strip laid within the asphalt in front of the Brandenburg Gate and headed east. Instead of feeling my capitalistic urges melt away or feeling more connected with the proletariat, it felt…pretty much the same.
No doubt, certain neighborhoods have the same extra spice of chaos crossed with old world charm I associate with the former eastern bloc. But overall it was apparent how much effort the citizens had put into becoming one.
Checkpoint Charlie, despite being tourist trap-y (yes Kelly, I know you warned me), still ended up being a worthwhile stop to see the juxtaposition of the iconic “You are now entering the American zone” sign surrounded by McDonalds, KFC, and Starbucks.
Flanking the street leading up to the checkpoint was an excellent exhibit timelining the several attempts for Berlin to unify themselves before 1989. The pictures really brought home a point: the power of a shared history, despite ideological differences.
The German people were choosing to unite while still being between dueling outside influences tugging them towards opposite ends of the political and economic spectrum. Once these outside forces stopped forcing them apart, they were given the choice of self-determination, chose reunification, and are now stronger for it.
Until next time,