The first city I went to on my solo trip was Berlin. I took the red-eye from Toronto and managed to sleep along the way with a little help from Xanax (seriously for long flights it was a game changer folks). The flight was delayed and I had already taken the Xanax, which meant I ended up pretty much falling asleep standing up while leaning against a wall until I could stumble onto the airplane and pass out (not a pro tip).
My first day in Berlin was a bit challenging, but I won’t go into the boring details. Here’s the spark notes version of what happened:
- My phone didn’t work with a local SIM card, leaving me reliant on wifi.
- I got incredibly lost on the U-Bahn and missed my time slot to visit the Reischtag Dome.
- After trying unsuccessfully to eat at three different restaurants I had researched, I got caught in the rain and ended up eating Thai food for dinner in Germany - an authentic experience!
So what I learned from all that was: make sure you’ve fully unlocked your phone before leaving the US, check restaurant hours before showing up, and always bring an umbrella with you.
The next morning I was back in good spirits since my friend B showed up from Copenhagen for the weekend. We wandered around town, walked through Tiergarten, saw statues and memorials and did all of the touristy stuff. One of our favorite spots was the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. From an artist’s perspective, had a great design - while it was minimalist, it created a clear, powerful message. We also came across the spot where Hitler’s old bunker was, which is now a parking lot. You wouldn’t even know the bunker used to be there besides a tiny sign in front of the lot!
That night B + I found an alternative pub crawl online and on a whim decided to check it out. We took a cab across town to the hip and upcoming area of Berlin. Side note: always check with cab drivers before you get in to ask how much they will charge you, and give them shit if they try to upcharge you once you get to your destination! And if your phone works with data abroad, use Uber.
If you’re considering doing a pub crawl in a foreign city, you should definitely do it! We had an absolute blast and met a lot of interesting, solo travelers who were our age. The first bar was a hipster bar that was smaller than my bedroom, with great drink options. The second bar was an absinthe bar, where traditional absinthe was served - it came in a glass with a spoon holding a sugar cubed positioned on top. The bartender lit the sugar cube on fire and let it caramelize, then poured water over it and mixed the sugar in with the absinthe. You’re supposed to sip it slowly and not take it like a shot, fun fact. The third bar was by far the coolest, it was a ping pong bar. I promise it was way cooler than it sounds. It had an unmarked entrance and in classic German style was totally utilitarian, with blank walls and concrete. There was a single ping pong table in the middle of the room with a techno DJ in the back. The game started with anyone who wanted to play walking in a circle around the table and hitting the ball once it was your turn. If you missed, you were out. This kept going until there were two players left, who dueled it out. The techno music, smokey atmosphere, and madness of the ping pong game were intensely magical, and I didn’t want to leave. The fourth bar was….a strip club! B was enthralled, I was amused. I had never been to one before and it was everything I imagined it to be. Keep in mind it was a Sunday night, so there were only about four older men in the place besides us. At this point it was almost two am, so B + I left.
The following morning we headed out to Sachsenahusen concentration camp, which was a hell of an expensive cab ride but the camp was way outside of town and we were running late so we didn’t want to risk public transit. Another tip is that a lot of cabs in Europe don’t take debit cards or prepaid gift cards, and some only take cash, so make sure you have a credit card and cash on you at all times! We took a guided tour of the camp which wasn’t a necessity but we wanted a more in-depth experience. It was incredibly sobering and I really enjoyed it because it put a reality to the things I had learned about the Holocaust in school when I was younger.
We decided to brave it and take public transit back after spending a fortune on a cab out, but we had no idea that there was construction in parts of the subway requiring people to take buses between stops. B had booked a train back to Copenhagen and was worried about missing it, which caused a bit of stress. Luckily we made it in time for him to get his ticket and grab one last meal together before we parted ways.
I headed back to the hotel and met my roommate for the trip, who I was randomly assigned to but got along with really well! We went to schnitzel + beer hall for dinner, then on a walking tour of the Berlin wall which was informative but interesting. Our guide was an Australian fellow with a sharp tongue and a love of cussing, which made the tour way more exciting. Once we finished our tour, we headed out to a nightclub, Matrix. It was pretty much all tourists based on everyone I talked to, but honestly I didn’t care and had an absolute blast. The music was hardcore house music but was perfect with the strobe lights and underground vibe (the club was beneath a U-bahn stop).
The next day I had totally free, so I slept in and then ventured to the Topography of Terror, a free museum which formerly housed Nazi headquarters. I then met up with people from the trip at an outdoor beer garden at Tiergarten, where we spent a solid four hours hanging out and drinking local beer. We were right next to a pond where people were rowing boats, which was quite picturesque. At night, we did a street art tour of Berlin which was really fascinating - I loved learning about the different symbols, East and West Berlin, and squatters. I got a burger after from the famous place Burgermeister, which used to be a public toilet and is now a burger stand.
Apologies for the incredibly long recap, I promise the other cities will be shorter - I just spent the most amount of time in Berlin! Have you been the Germany before? What was your experience like?