A Taste of Home in Berlin
I have to admit Berlin was at a major disadvantage. It was the last of four cities we’d visited, it was significantly colder than the rest of Europe, I’d already decided I was in love with Paris and it was at the tail end of the trip (i.e. the part where I started getting anxious about going back home). Berlin was also the city I knew the least about and had the lowest expectations for. But to my surprise, it was the city that felt the most like home.
It’s important to note that we’d been unable to escape Trump mania completely on this trip but we usually stumbled into the conversation once we started exploring the city. In Paris, outside the Louvre, I was telling my husband about Tila Tequila’s newfound affiliation as a Nazi. The fellow tourist in front of us happened to be from San Francisco, and for a few moments, we all shared a collective disbelief at what was going on back home. But there, in Berlin, we’d barely had our feet on the ground for 30 minutes before we got started.
Our cab driver, a very friendly African man, couldn’t wait to get our opinion. I think he was hoping that we’d trash the Donald completely. We demonstrated the appropriate amount of comic concern (something that was easy to do being two weeks removed from reality) but it wasn’t a full-blown bitch session. He laughed at some of our humor and expressed some surprising optimism. He was willing to wait and see what happened. Surely by now he’s laughing even harder after all that awkwardness between Trump and Angela Merkel.
The Trump convo wasn’t the only reminder of home though. We stayed at a Marriott-the only non-boutique hotel of our trip. At this point, it was a welcome change. We had a sizable room, there was a full gym (yes I worked out on my honeymoon) and we were centrally located. Our first night there, we found out we were just a 10-minute walk from the Brandenburg Tor and the restored pieces of the Berlin Wall. Naturally, we ventured out to explore. I had to stop at an H&M because the fingerless gloves that had carried me through Europe were no match for the German cold.
Add to that the buffet breakfast in our hotel each morning and we practically had all the comforts of home. But don’t worry, we did German stuff, too.
We walked the breathtaking Jewish memorial, taking in its sprawling sorrow. We wandered through the Neues Museum to admire a bust of Nefertiti and ogle at the Berlin gold hat. We spiraled to the top of the Berlin Dome to capture a gorgeous aerial view of the city. We got lost, figuratively not literally, in the Salvador Dali museum. We shopped for souvenirs at Checkpoint Charlie. I reunited with a college friend (Chris) for drinks at the 25Hours Bikini Hotel rooftop, Monkey Bar. That same night, Chris took us to a fantastic Christmas market where we sipped glühwein outside.
[A quick note about both Glühwein and Christmas markets. The former is what we Americans call mulled wine but this version is stronger and more popular. And in my opinion, it tastes much better. The latter is a German pastime. Christmas markets are all over the city and we went to four while we were there. These aren’t what New Yorkers are used to. That thing in Bryant Park every year, with the booths and ice skating, is nothing compared to this. There are full restaurants in the German markets. You can walk through and snack or you can dine in. In New York, you just have to freeze.]
We capped off that alcohol-centric night with currywurst. Currywurst could be described as a hot dog or a sausage covered in ketchup and curry powder. But that doesn’t do it justice. There’s something about the mixture of flavors that’s equally savory and sweet. And paired with beer and French fries, it’s incredible. We had our currywurst at a restaurant where Rihanna apparently had hers. We have great taste. What can I say?
I loved currywurst so much that we had it again the next day at KaDaWe (Berlin’s answer to Saks Fifth Avenue). The previous night, we’d traveled off the beaten path to Volta, a trendy gastropub with killer cider and burgers.
Berlin was the most modern of the cities we visited. It felt massive, industrial and evenly mixed between old and new structures. I walked in not knowing what to expect. And like Amsterdam, I left intrigued, yearning for more. Maybe it was the friendliness of the people, the generous food portions, the wealth of culture and tradition at every turn. Though I didn’t see myself living in Berlin, it was a city that felt just as comfortable as home.
It has taken me a few months to wrap my head around the experience in Europe (hence the reason these essays have shown up almost six months later). But I feel forever changed and shifted by what I’ve seen, felt, tasted, listened to and smelled. I don’t think I’ll ever see the world the same way again. And for that, I’m thankful.