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Friday, 7 June 2013

Our Berlin adventure

Holocaust memorial

It's been almost a year since Matt and I visited Europe. Their summer (dead of our winter) was the setting for our first trip together, and my first visit to Berlin. I'd been to almost all our other locations (apart from Turkey) and was excited to see something new. My cousin Jo had mentioned it reminded her of Melbourne, and I have to say I was totally on board with that assessment.

I was so excited to go, Matt was less so. When he asked what sights I wanted to see, I started listing them off: "Berlin Wall, Checkpoint Charlie, Brandenburg Gate..." He started giggling almost immediately. I looked at him strangely, wondering why he was laughing at possibly the most inappropriate things. "Brandenburg Gate? You're making that up." He seriously thought it was a fictional name I had created as a joke. When we actually saw the Gate firsthand, he started laughing again. Nothing I could say could convince him it was a real place until the tour guide confirmed it.

Our first day there was tiring. The transport to and from the airport is not fantastic, which is surprising given how amazing their public transport is within the central city. Trains and trams are really easy to use (granted, we're public transport fiends in Melbourne).

Holocaust memorial

It was also our second time using Air BnB. We'd picked a place in Paris but to be honest, it was pretty underwhelming. Our Berlin apartment was a great surprise: high ceilings, minimalist decor and super spacious. It was also in a great neighbourhood with loads of bars and restaurants nearby to settle in after a long afternoon seeing the sights.

We took one of the best tours of our holiday in Berlin. Fat Bike Tours took us around the city to see most of the historic sights. I was a little terrified: I hadn't ridden a bike in decades and was sure I would fall/crash/die of exhaustion. Instead, I found my calling in this life: tootling around town on two wheels for hours and ending it all with a beer in a gigantic beer garden. It was this tour that convinced me to buy a bike when I returned home to Australia. My bike is from Papillionaire, and if you're interested, I get an average of two compliments for every ride (though that might be my hot ass.)

Berlin bike ride

One thing I was not expecting was the crazy heat. It was the middle of summer; I should have realised. But after a day of wandering I was a nasty shade of pink. There's nothing more embarrassing than sunburn: you're completely unaware of your surroundings and totally out of touch with your health. That pretty much sums me up, to be honest.

But it wasn't all beers and schnitzels (though there was a lot of that). We visited the Berlin Wall and heard stories of attempted escapes, most unsuccessful. It amazed me how recent all this was, particularly given the exceptionally peaceful vibe of the city today.

We also visited the Holocaust Memorial (otherwise known as the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe). For me, it was really important to experience this first hand: walk through the towering blocks, stand in silence, take it all in. It was far more haunting and kind of frightening than I had thought it would be. The museum is also a fascinating, albeit incredibly sad way to learn more about that point in history.

Holocaust memorial

Less sombre, more eaty? Let's talk food. Breakfast was pretty good. We visited a pub up the road on day and had a typical German breakfast. Did you know hard boiled eggs are a staple breakfast food? We enjoyed our breakfast and some great espressos but found we felt a little queasy afterwards. We're totally blaming the eggs and not the several pints of beer the night previous. I also sampled the second best potato salad I've ever eaten (my friend Marlena's is first - she's German too so it must in the water).

Our final night (after being drenched in a freak downpour) we visited a restaurant up the road from our apartment and tried possibly the best schnitzels we'd eaten. We both finished some pretty large servings and wandered back to our cosy little nook for a good night's rest before our flight the following day.

Holocaust memorial

Our departure was not quite as easy. We were all packed, ready and on time. But one thing was wrong. Our flight was not listed on the board. Probably because we were at the wrong airport. A mad dash across the city with the world's fastest cab driver and we arrived with literally seconds to spare. It's so funny, you go crazy trying to get to check in on time, but then spend an hour shooting the breeze waiting for boarding. Anyway, we made it.

How could I sum up Berlin? It's comfortable, relaxed and incredibly laid back in nature. The parks are amazing and people actually use them. Riding seemed like a preferred form of transport and the food, while pretty heavy, was so, so tasty. I just loved Berlin. And I think Jo was right, I felt so at home, it almost felt like I was in Melbourne.

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