Berlin: Young and Vibrant
Berlin was the start of a series of travel with family and friends.
Hence, the hiatus. We've simply been moving at a quicker pace. Although it's inexplicably wonderful to share our travels with loved ones, it's simply a different way of moving than we've become accustomed to.
However, Berlin in particular was a highlight because we met up with my sister Emily.
It was a great city to do together. Berlin has a reputation of both charm and grit.
The culture is perpetually changing, and it's evolution has heightened within the past two decades. The vast cultural experimentation draws creatives to express innovative ideas from art to tech.
It's why I wanted to explore Berlin with Emily. It felt like a city to do at this point in time, not to save for later.
We stayed in a typical Altbau, or older building, in Hermannplatz. The location was fantastic, the strenuous five story walk up was not. But it was centrally located between Neukölln and Kreuzberg, two spirited neighborhoods.
The area we stayed in made the experience. On our first full day, we discovered one of the best flea markets of our lives. And our late grandmother was an antique dealer, so we're no strangers to flea markets.
We didn't hold back. But the winner was Emily's six Euro leather jacket. I was jealous. There were also various international food stalls. We tried the paella made to order.
But our favorite was the okonomiyaki, or Japanese pancake.
After, we took the U-Bahn (short for untergrundbahn or underground railway) to East Berlin. Using public transportation abroad always seems to highlight how the U.S. fails to invest in transportation-- the DC metro being a prime examaple.
There was a massive beer festival, spanning around two kilometers long.
It was awesome. But we all couldn't get over how seemingly tame it was. Granted, it was a Sunday afternoon, yet I felt it would have been far more rowdier in the States.
Any flavor, type, class of beer was on display.
Will tried a traditional sausage that was surprisingly delicious.
There were tons of stages setup for all types of live music. and we'd find a table to camp out for a while.
The best was a Lithuanian beer stall.
Will befriended a breathalyzer, who charged three euros for a breathalyzer test. She assured him she was doing healthy business.
To understand Berlin today is to understand it's living history. To gain a better feel for the historic implications, we took a walking tour.
We started at the Brandenburg Gate, located in the heart of the city. Though it was previously hidden behind the Wall, it now stands as a symbol for unity,
We visited the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, a grim site covered with a grid of gray concrete slabs. Constructed in 2005 by architect Peter Eisenman, it's been criticized for not acknowledging the victims or gravity of the Holocaust.
Although there is truth to the critique, it was powerful to wander through the stark pillars.
It's evident that Berlin struggles to strike a balance to acknowledge the city's dark past. Perhaps because it's so raw, so recent. Whereas school children must visit concentration camps at an early age to confront the realities of the Holocaust, there are also sites such as Hitler's bunker that remains an empty and overgrown parking lot. Even when walking downtown, communist East Germany paraphernalia is being sold. It's a strange juxtaposition between old and new.
The tour concluded at Humboldt University, one of Europe's oldest and most prestigious universities.
Alumni include Marxism founders Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels.
Perhaps the most vivid examples of a living history is the East Side Gallery. The largest section of the Wall that still exists is located on the banks of the Spree in Freidrichshain, now covered in art and graffiti.
We spent our last day exploring the longest open-air gallery in the world, spanning 1.3 kilometers. It officially opened in 1990, and was granted protected memorial status only a year later.
Taking note of the iconic mural of Honecker and Brezhnev in a socialist kiss.
Although we did try to absorb some of the tremendous history, we spent most of our days as Will and I would have in any other city.
Fortunately, Emily was on the same page, and we maintained our general structure of breakfast at home and picnic for lunch.
We found some wonderful green space by our apartment, which we visited frequently.
We felt compelled to try currywurst and pretzels after seeing the all-consuming signage. But for the most part, we maintained a steady travel routine.
Emily and I took a yoga class, which certainly ended up being a meditation class. I find that taking yoga in different cities can often be emblematic of the culture.
And Berlin is young at heart. It's a city that draws innovative ideas and energy. There are so many aspects of Berlin that are inclusive.
However, tensions still seem to be ever-present. It's a city with a firm sense of identity, yet still trying to find it's place.
I will say, Berlin's diverse and expansive nature warranted more time than we had. But, few things beat exploring with my two best friends.