My first trip with Iain was to Costa Rica last February. We had been dating for a few months, but I was still so surprised to hear the same sentiment from so many people: some variation of, oh this is make or break it! or you don’t really know someone until you travel!
We had an amazing time, and our travels since then have all been fun, lovely, and even carefree. What these people must have meant to say was, you don’t really know someone until you lose your luggage together.
We lost our luggage en route to Berlin and, I know this sounds very whiny, but it was definitely a test. The thing about Berlin is, there are endless things to do (more on that later!), but we spent the first part of each day at the local H&M, buying an outfit for each new day after not receiving our luggage the night prior.
I won’t bore you with any more of the lost luggage tale, so we’ll leave it at, they were missing for three weeks, I am a horrendous shopper, and a little bit of romance dies with each pair of recycled underwear and dress-with-sneaker combo.
With all that said, I absolutely loved Berlin. I’d heard mixed reviews but had a hunch I’d appreciate its quirks and I did, and then some.
Here are a few reasons I will absolutely go back to this fascinating city:
1. Berlin is literally layered with stories. We ate dinner at Pauly Saal, a Michelin star restaurant in what appears to be the gymnasium of a former Jewish girls school. The food was great, but my favorite part of the restaurant was a plaque commemorating the building’s history. The school was essentially emptied of both students and teachers as the majority were sent to concentration camps. It was later opened, again as a school, and closed again during the Cold War. This is the piece of Europe Iain says he misses most; the piece you just don’t get in America. Two MAJOR international historical events, directly tied to the very room in which we drank fancy red wine in 2018. I felt almost guilty about that—like it was disrespectful to enjoy such a fine meal when so many of the building’s previous inhabitants had suffered so much. But that’s the thing with Berlin: this history is everywhere, it’s unavoidable. You can’t turn every building into a memorial, but you also can’t forget all the city has been through.
2. The place is super funky. We went on a guided street art tour (gotta be honest, I still don’t really understand graffiti) which covered miles walking and a few subway stops, and I know we just scratched the surface of this aspect of the city’s counterculture. Everyone’s likely heard of the Berlin Wall’s East Gallery, but the murals don’t stop there. There is art—and the political opinions, color, vibrancy, darkness, and light that come with it—everywhere.
3. There are so many places to drink outside. We tried to go to this pool, saw that the line wrapped around the corner, so found a grungy riverfront bar near the East Side Gallery. We got amazing views of the city from this funky rooftop bar and this more posh hotel rooftop bar (although the couple next to us lived in Berlin and said locals do go there for the views!). We loved this biergarten (Iain now owns a commemorative sweatshirt, thanks to our lost luggage…). And how amazing is this: next to the biergarten was a little playground for children. It’s nice to think that German adults don’t see a biergarten as a place to get sloshed, but an activity everyone in the family can enjoy. We also checked out this biergarten, located in Tiergarten Park. Definitely a chill vibe; nice to sit by the water and watch the row boats go by. TL;DR: We drank many steins outside in Berlin.
4. You’ll leave feeling like you learned something. A lot of things. Per reason #1, there is so much history in Berlin, so many stories. We did this Third Reich bike tour, which was fascinating because I tend to think of Berlin’s notable history being mostly rooted in the Cold War, and forget that Hitler literally lived (and died) in Berlin during WWII. One of the more fascinating tidbits was in an early roundup of Jewish men, their wives protested so insistently that the Nazis actually brought the men back—apparently they realized that making the German women angry so early on would not be good for the war efforts. Between the endless historical anecdotes, memorials, and art, there is no way to leave Berlin without a new story or interesting fact to share.
5. Good food, good people, good prices. This is number five because it should be “standard” for an amazing city visit, but we all know it’s not. Food is meh or overpriced in a lot of places, people are dicks to non-locals, and as a San Franciscan, I KNOW city visits can cost you a pound of flesh. But genuinely, from the Michelin-starred Pauly Saal to the amazing dive bar near our hotel we stumbled into for beers and brats, we ate so, so well without breaking the bank. People were friendly, everyone spoke English, oh, and it would be incredibly easy never to pay for the subway because no one checks your ticket, but it’s the kind of place where you buy a ticket anyway because you just want to.