The first proper post: it’s a big one isn’t it. That’s why I found it so hard to decide what to write about; do I start from the very first holiday I ever went on? My favourite? Or the worst?
After a lot of thought, I‘ve come to the conclusion that my first proper solo travel experience (without my family) (Ayia Napa doesn’t count), would actually be the perfect place.
It’s September 2016. I’ve recently graduated, and feeling that all too familiar itch to do something exciting, before I settle down into working life. I get my friend Jenny on board, and we start to plan a trip. Within a few weeks, the route is planned, the tickets are booked, and the suitcases are packed: First stop Berlin.
On the 31st October 2016, we were off.
We stayed in Wombats City Hostel, which was in a fantastic location. Right next to the Rosa-Luxembourg Platz U-Bahn (metro) stop, which had easy and quick connections to the city centre. This was my first hostel experience, and it was fantastic (luckily, as we had three more booked on this trip alone). It was clean, friendly, and had a great bar!
We wasted no time jumping into tourist life, dropping our suitcases off and heading straight back out to explore!
We headed straight into the thick of it, to the Brandenburg Gate (for something that is supposed to be iconic, I was a little underwhelmed), and the Reichstag (cue our first photo shoot).
This is when we decided to do something that we would still regret two years later: to get back on the metro and head to the DDR Museum.
We had had a very successful metro journey from the airport to the hostel; buying the correct ticket, and validating it in in the little stamp machine on the platform, but our luck was not to last.
(Full disclaimer: we had been told not by one, but by about three different groups of people that it isn’t worth buying a ticket for any metro journeys, as all of these people used the metro for their entire trips without getting checked. So we decided this time to take their advice, and save all the Euros we could. But, bad luck finds me, so here’s what happened to us.)
We had to get two tubes to get to our destination, and as we got off the first one, we saw a man in uniform get on. ‘Ahh a lucky escape!’ we thought. No it was not.
On our next tube, we were standing near the doors, minding our own business, and thinking about how lucky we were to have missed the ticket man just then. When all of a sudden, a plain clothes man pops out of nowhere, waving his official looking lanyard in people’s faces and yelling at them. In reaction to this, people were showing him their tickets. OH SHIT.
After a panicked glance at each other, we realised the shit we were about to fall headfirst into, and had about 0.2 seconds to pull ourselves together.
Almost instantly the lanyard and the yelling arrived in my face.
I performed a long search through my bag for this non-existent ticket, praying we would arrive at a stop and I would be able to get off. But there was no such miracle (and this point it probably became clear the ticket I was searching for was imaginary, so I definitely didn’t do myself any favours).
So with a triumphant ‘a-hah!’, I confidently produced my old ticket from my airport -hostel journey, that I knew was definitely no longer valid, and knew the ticket man would definitely know too. My best shot now was to act dumb and pray he wouldn’t notice, or better yet, let me off.
Nope! Next thing I know, I’m being literally pulled off the tube by this guy, who is about to have a great time taking all my money, my dignity, and my happiness. And poor Jenny, she could definitely have got away with it and pretended not to know me, but unfortunately she also got dragged into it. (Thank you Jenny).
Once on the platform, we carried on the charade of pretending not to know that the ticket was invalid. The first man’s accomplice took pity on us, and took us to a ticket machine, where we were shown how to successfully buy a ticket (honestly I was so embarrassed for us). To this day we are convinced if he was the one that stopped us, we would have been let off. But no, we were taken back to the original man who is not done with us yet.
He asked for my passport, which I stupidly gave him (and at that point I was convinced I was getting a German criminal record, and Interpol would be waiting for me at my arrival back at Gatwick), and then starts to tell us about receiving our fine. Luckily, it was the first day, and so we had a lot of cash available to us. We offered to pay then and there.
So within three hours of being in the country, I had wasted €60, and become a criminal: fantastic.
After that, we were allowed on our way; and our journey out of the station took us past the metro companies office, where a large queue was formed, all with people with fines in their hands. Yay, we were by far not alone.
The rest of the trip went by pretty uneventfully in comparison. We had a lovely time visiting all the tourist sites, including the Berlin Wall, Checkpoint Charlie, and Primark, where we bought matching ‘Berlin’ jumpers to commemorate the place that we would probably never return to again.
All in all, my four days in Berlin was a very educational, but harrowing experience. It is a city rich in culture, both modern and old, and this makes for a never-ending to-do list of things to see!
A trip to the Jewish Museum was one of the stand-out moments of my time Germany’s capital. It is well worth a visit, and does an excellent job of conveying life as a Jew in Germany throughout the war; from an exhibit of real letters sent amongst families, detailing how scared they are; to a cold, silent, concrete room with only a small speck of light coming through a hole in the ceiling to mimic what it felt like to be in hiding. It was such a raw and emotional experience and honestly I can’t recommend spending a couple of hours in there enough.
In modern day Berlin they have done a good job of equally acknowledging their past, and moving forward. Everywhere you go, you are reminded of the not-so-distant past. You may not be in ‘East Berlin’ or ‘West Berlin’ anymore, but there are even clues in the architecture that serve as a constant reminder of the stark contrast between the two sides, and the two very different lives they led. Take a trip to the DDR Museum to immerse yourself in life either side of the wall, and to lay the contrast bare.
The food in Berlin was delicious. On our second night, we visited a traditional German Pub. We sat on a wooden bench, in a noisy open plan beer hall, drinking from Steins, eating Sauerkraut, and listening to live traditional German music. It was just like you’d imagine it to be if I said ‘imagine a German tavern’. It was such a great experience, and something to do to really embrace the place you’re in. I wasn’t sure of the food at first, but it turned out to be SO GOOD! They are also good at market food and of course there are ‘normal’ restaurants too.
After four days, it was time to say Auf Wiedersehen to Berlin, and get on the train to Prague.
Berlin out of 5:
The People: 3
The City: 4
Things to do: 5
The Food: 5