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Berlin. What can I say?

You’re really nice. Really. You’re cool and dark and edgy. But the fact is that I’m just not going to love every place I visit. It’s nothing personal, it’s just that my artistic romanticism feels crushed by your stoic demeanor. I hope we can still be friends.

I’ll admit, I don’t love Berlin. I don’t hate it or anything; it’s just not a place I click with. I came in with a good attitude and an open mind, but after the magical beauty and historic charm of Prague, Berlin just…kind of fell flat.

Charlottenburg Palace, Berlin

Charlottenburg Palace has been the highlight of Berlin for me…besides the food.

The city itself gives me a slightly cold feeling. There have been a number of places I’ve visited that feel like they blend historic architecture and modern amenities seamlessly. In Belgrade, Budapest & Dublin, it just works. In Berlin, it feels forced.

New Berlin has recently emerged as an alternative contemporary with edgy street art and a burgeoning music scene. But walk through the city and you’ll see construction everywhere as they work to rebuild historic buildings, which just don’t fit with the rest of the city’s ambiance.

Not that I’m not having a good time. I’m Couchsurfing with a wonderful host who cooks gourmet meals for his guests just because he likes to make people happy. So far I’ve had duck l’orange, sausage & veggie fritata, a fruit-filled crepe with reduced red wine & whiskey sauce, and tandoori masala chicken with shiitake mushrooms chopped in bacon. Yeah, it’s a far cry from the cheap street food I’ve been living off of for the past month.

Duck L'Orange

Duck l’orange, stuffed potato balls & sweet red cabbage. Couchsurfing WIN.

I’m staying next to a little biergarten that has live music most nights. There’s a U (subway) right on the corner, and Berlin does have easy-to-use public transportation. There are cool things like clothes dryers that dry my clothes in 7 minutes (I mean…whaaat?!) and you can get a liter of wine for 3 euros. I do like the little neighborhood outside of the city that I’m staying in, but for some reason I’m just not that inspired by the city itself.

Sunday brunch

I am, however, inspired by this Sunday brunch spread

And really, it’s not Berlin’s fault; I take full responsibility. A girl I was Couchsurfing with said “Berlin is best at night,” and I have to agree. Problem is, I’m not much for nightlife these days. I enjoy loud, smokey clubs about as much as a nice root canal without Novocaine. Techno, house music & electronica give me migraines, and I loathe crowded dance floors where I have to touch people I don’t know (yes, I know, I have a weird hangup about touching strangers, but it’s just one of my idiosyncrasies).

But hey, I figured, I was in Berlin so I’d give it a shot. The first night we went to (err, tried to go to) the famous underground. I was not impressed. It was basically a madhouse of dirt, public intoxication, smoke, drugs, and swarms of people. And every single club had a minimum 2 hour wait to get in.

I’m sorry, but unless Ryan Gosling is waiting in there to make out with me, there is nothing that could possibly be inside a graffiti-covered concrete building worth standing in line for 2 hours.

Patience is not one of my virtues. Finally, around 4:30 am, we gave up after using a dumpster as a bathroom. Again.

The next night we decided to go to a real club. One with its own bathroom. We found a reasonably upscale-looking place, the E4 Club Berlin. I tried to put on my happy face for the rest of the group, but I’ll admit, my attitude was not great. My idea of a good time does not include paying $15 to get into a place with absolutely nowhere to sit down unless you spring for VIP. Or paying $5 for the world’s tiniest warm beer.

(It was around this time that I realized my whole “go wherever other travelers suggest” philosophy might need to be modified to take age and priorities into consideration. As in, I should probably stop taking travel advice from 20 year-old, club hopping Inter-railers. No offense.)

I’m not meaning to trash this club, because I’m sure it’s a very cool venue if you enjoy this kind of thing. They had some talented dancers breaking it down on platforms and white balloons strung up all around the balcony railings. Taking them off and watching them float down to hit the dancers in the head kept me occupied for an hour or two. Nelly, my co-Couchsurfer, informed me that the music was really good. I was just proud of myself for staying awake until 5 am TWO nights in a row. I survived the club scene.

Next stop, the Topography of Terror (former headquarters of the Secret Police & the SS during the Third Reich, now a museum) and the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. Obviously not pleasant experiences or great photographic opportunities, but undeniably important parts of Berlin’s history. I was surprised at how moved I was by the memorial tributes. I’m not easily shocked but reading a letter written by an SS soldier to his wife in which he describes shooting babies out of their mothers’ arms will haunt me for the rest of my life.

Tribute to the invasion of Warsaw, Poland

Tribute to the invasion of Warsaw, Poland

I saw the Berlin Wall East Side Gallery and the Warsaw tribute. I meandered through Alexanderplatz, the bustling center. I explored Charlottenburg Palace and the exquisite gardens, and took a free walking tour provided by Sandeman’s, which was the most interesting and informative tour I’ve been on yet. But, even a beautiful palace and a fantastic tour guide weren’t enough to make me love Berlin.

Charlottenburg Palace, Berlin

Charlottenburg from the gardens

While I may not exactly love Berlin, I do have a great respect for the city. The ugly parts of German history are never forgotten or swept under the rug. Rather, they are exhibited as a constant reminder of past mistakes. Schoolchildren are taken to the concentration camps and not spared the gritty details. This is not done to shame, but to educate.

Mother cradling her dead son tribute

Mother with Her Dead Son monument

This is what impresses me most about Germany in general. Many countries try to deny or forget past atrocities. I can say that, as an American, I’ve often had the attitude that sure, slavery was a bad thing, but it didn’t have anything to do with ME. My personal ancestors never kept slaves or anything, so why should I feel guilty about something other people did years ago?

Berlin has helped me to understand that the point of remembering isn’t to transfer guilt; it’s to make sure that it never happens again.

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” – George Santayana

So…Berlin isn’t my favorite city. But even though I can’t say that I connected with it, I still gained a lot in terms of knowledge and understanding. I also had some invaluable practice in dealing with personality clashes, but more on that later. 🙂


I don’t mean to offend or discourage anyone from visiting the city. I know lots of people who absolutely love Berlin, and just because I didn’t “get it” doesn’t mean you won’t!

Author

Mandie

Mandie is a writer, rebel & web design junkie. In her spare time she enjoys drinking wine, traveling & working on her perpetually unfinished novel. She was a nerd before it was cool.

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Comments

  1. realgunners    

    When I was selecting my Europe Tour package back then, it seems all the tours omit Berlin. We would all go to Koln, Frankfurt / Heidelberg, and Munich. I guess there are a lot of people who feels like you do about Berlin and the tour companies have done their homework enough. By the way, your host’s cooking puts mine to shame, they look incredible!

    1. Mandie    

      Yeah, it’s not terribly exciting but I am finding it a super cheap and convenient base to take day trips from. When I looked at staying in Koln, Frankfurt or Munich even the budget hostels were crazy expensive.

  2. coffee in a cup    

    places are like people: you cannot like everywhere or everyone 🙂

  3. Amy Lynne Hayes    

    I spent a weekend in Berlin when I lived in Paris. I was visiting a girl I had met in London through Couchsurfing, so I had a local guide. It was cold and rainy, and we did hit the clubs for dancing (not usually my scene). We went to the main sights and rode bikes around the city. I have to agree with you though – it didn’t leave much of an impression. I haven’t been back since, and I keep hearing about its prominence as an art city. I don’t know, maybe I need to try it in summer when my fingers won’t freeze.

    1. Mandie    

      Yeah I came here because 3 different travelers I met raved about it. It’s not terrible or anything, but I think I’m just not cool enough to ‘get’ Berlin. Also, it’s summer now and it’s been mostly cold and rainy, so your luck might not get any better! Lol

  4. kelli    

    Hey Mandie
    Great read. Travel is such a subjective experience isn’t it?. I can’t tell you how many times I have been somewhere I loved only to have other people tell me they didn’t like it, and vice versa. I am not much for nightlife either, like can totally do without it and I’m fine. I like to go to bed early, I don’t drink and I hate loud, crowded places.

    I visited there on a trip around Europe many years ago, and I remember liking it, but I don’t recall any specific details about why I felt that way. Getting that good food sounds awesome–traveling has given me a new appreciation for good eats when I come across them.

    Your blog is really good and I enjoy reading it!

  5. Anna    

    You described your feelings about Berlin so perfectly! I was there for a week, and I just could not love it, even though I really do respect the fascinating history. I’ve been struggling to figure out how to talk about it, but you put it so perfectly! I didn’t try the club scenes, since I’m not up for that kind of stuff anymore, and I don’t feel like I missed out!

  6. Dale    

    One of the first things I learned during our travels was that it’s really subjective, that no two people will think the same about one bar, one city or one country. It really depends on the type of person you are, what you’re into and what makes you happy. Clearly Berlin wasn’t right for you, or you for it; but just because I’m utterly in love with it might mean the exact opposite when I reach Prague!

    It’s really hard to travel without having a preconception made by all of the great travel stories that travel blogging presents, sometimes it works sometimes it doesn’t – that’s precisely why I love to travel 😀

  7. Anda    

    If you only knew how much I agree with you on this. While I can’t say I disliked it, I was not impressed at all by Berlin. Great read.

  8. Sammi Wanderlustin'    

    I love Berlin!

    BUT…. each time I have been, I have done it in an entirely different way than anywhere else I have travelled to. The first time I rented an apartment with five other travel bloggers- one of whom was from Germany, and the second time I stayed with a friend who had moved there from Koln for university. I’ve done the touristy things, but not at night time (well we went up the Reichstag Dome one night). The first time around we went to a Greek restaurant and drank a lot of wine. The second time we went clubbing, to a place called Fritz which we arrive at around 2,30am after pre drinking all night & got home around 8am- it was a good night, and it was solely German which was awesome. I have never really understood the need for Alexanderplatz, apart from the shopping centre.

    1. Mandie    

      Isn’t it weird how people have totally different responses to a city?? I think it depends a lot on who you’re with, too. Although, no matter who I was with I don’t think I could enjoy the party until 8am thing – I like to be asleep by 2:30am, not going out. Lol I’m lame. 😉

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