Berlin

This was the city I was supposed to love. Rich with history. Rich with restaurants and bars. Rich with fun loving, booby flashing, beer drinking, bar shouting Germans. I think maybe I was thinking of London, or I don’t know, anywhere else.

Now, how is it that I’ve visited more cities in this country than any other country other than my own. Think about it, honestly, how many cities can you really visit or do you even want to visit in a single country? I guess I’ve done a bunch of Spain and a bunch of France, but Germany is certainly up there. High up there, and I just don’t get it. I keep coming and I keep leaving disappointed. Maybe I’m part German, maybe I saw a hot German chick one time and assumed they were doing something over here that I just had to check out. Turns out that I wasn’t missing anything. Glad I came, but outside of my first visit ever to Oktoberfest, done with this part of the world I think.

Now, I did get very lucky in fact. Very lucky, but it was unintentional so I can’t give too much credit. It happened to be the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall while I was there, and they pulled out all the stops. I fucking hate it when you get to a country and they have this really cool, really old thing, and there isn’t one single plaque to commemorate it, or the information has zero English (I’m looking at you Athens). I’m not saying you have to cater to English speakers by any stretch of the imagination, but for god’s sake make sure your tourists feel a draw. If your tourists think your sites suck and don’t even know what they’re looking at in the first place, they will not come back, they will not speak highly of your city, tourism goes down, money becomes scarce, human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria! Anyway, that is not what Berlin did. They went information crazy. There were displays evveeerryyywwhheerree. And cool ones too. Wall pieces, guard houses, uniforms, stand offs, amazing escapes, and a complete history of the separation like everywhere you went. Good show Berlin, for a guy who loves history, and especially WWII history, you could not of done better.

I’ll tell you something else, they do not hide anything that happened. I mean you really have to give them credit for putting one of the worst things to ever happen on planet earth right there, front and center, for all to see. They embrace it. They say it’s so people learn. They say it’s so it never happens again. They have placed a thin line of cobblestones throughout the city wherever the wall used to stand. You will see it, and feel it, and follow it, almost every major place you go. It’s really something. Now on to Berlin beyond WWII.

First of all. There are no boobies. Obviously its Germany and there is sex, but in this gigantic city you almost stumble across it. Its not at all like the red light style areas that you typically see in old European cities, though I suppose technically German cities are some of the youngest in Europe, cause of old dubbya dubbya two. I literally saw like one strip club, and it was on a scary as shit street, and it was dark, and there were less than savory Germans about. In any case, in the capital of this extraordinarily sex liberal country, I expected at leas a proper strip club. Nada.

Now let’s talk sausage. I mean, duuuuuudddee. It’s everywhere, of course right, but it’s so good! I mean they are just grilling and/or frying a hot dog right? But the wurst, in almost any form kicks the shit out of our cheap crap. They get this beautiful skin that crisps up so nicely and makes you want to just lick it, in private of course. And the service is so quick! Like too quick. It’s like the soup Nazi at every stall. Hi um, I think I’d like the Curry Wurst, oh but can you hold the ketchup and give me mustard instead? So, he vants da curry wurst withdout the curry hmmmm? He says to a line of Germans who of course all know that the ketchup itself is the curry in the curry wurst. No, my bad, what I meant to say is that I want to kill myself.
It was damn good though, and I got better as the days moved on.

Let’s talk fun. The Germans are nice people. They smile and they are courteous and I would love to have them over for thanksgiving, but fun, I would not use that adjective. It’s weird. The only rowdy people seem to be foreigners and even they get a sneer or two from a disapproving German passerby. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with that, but I’m headed to Oktoberfest now and I will certainly put this theory to the test.

I do love German beer, and I drank a bunch of it, but the restaurants left something to be desired. I just don’t think German cuisine is all that interesting. It’s fine, it’s just that I hate in a big foreign city when the best restaurants are international food. Maybe we Americans can’t compete with the French either, but at least we have our steak houses! The New York Times did a great review of Lutter and Wegner, a super old restaurant in the Gendarmenmarkt (a really cool square next to the cathedral), so I went and checked it out. Sat at the bar and had a grand old time. BUT, the very dish that came so highly recommended, the wiener schnitzel, was just boring. I am no expert, but it seems to me that veal pounded thin and then breaded and fried is something we surpassed culinarily a long time ago. The potatoes on the side were boring too. Maybe the sauce was ok. I mean the whole thing was ok. Which kind of sucks. There were some bars that a few sites recommended that were ok as well, nothing really to write home about.

Notes to self:

-The Brandenburg Gate and surrounding area is actually quite boring. I mean, it’s cool, but it’s one of those oh yeah, I remember that from Wikipedia/History class sorts of things.
-The Topographie Des Terrors was amazing. I’m not totally sure why they stuck with that name but it’s a free area right near checkpoint Charlie that goes over the entire history of the war. I mean seriously goes over. And they do it right in front of the actual wall that they have preserved. It takes a long time to read and see everything but I could think of no better way to spend a couple hours, it was perfect, and very moving. I swear a tear came to my eye. What they did during that war, and then to be standing there, and reading about it, right where it happened, man, it still gives me chills.
-Checkpoint Charlie isn’t bad. I actually found the city barriers with the information panels lining the street to be the most interesting part. It goes through the whole history of the reason for the wall and the airlift and all that shit. I mean imagine being literally trapped in a small city with armed guards posted all around it. And those were the lucky ones! Really makes you think, and the city does a good job explaining it here.
-The Jewish memorial is really something. I don’t go for abstract art pieces, but this one just works. It’s like the Vietnam Memorial, you just feel sadness and remorse. I can’t imagine visiting there and having an actual connection to that atrocity. You can completely hide among those monoliths, which can bring some pretty serious feelings I’d imagine.
-The Hackeschermarkt area was pretty cool with tons of bars, restaurants, and patios.
-Beware the Kurfurstenstrasse! The part closest to the river is filled with street walkers…which normally I would embrace as fun, but this area was also full of malcontents and what I believed to be German pimps eyeballing me. Don’t you eyeball me boy! However, this street (once you finally get close to the cathedral) is full of shops and shit. Mostly chains. I found the church to be fascinating though. Many wanted to knock this bombed out shell of a church down after the war but they decided to keep it as reminder of how bad war is. I mean the thing must of been hit a hundred times. I’m glad it was left for future generations. It’s a rare monument for sure.
-The “Sightseeing” bus did a pretty good job. I thought that 2 hour loop was more like a 3 hour loop but it definitely hit all the sites and only cost 17 euros, pretty cheap in my experience.
-Lastly, I’ve seen a lot of train stations…but this one is spectacular. If they would just add some restaurants with patios then it truly would be a marvel. Clean and modern and beautiful.


Hotels

Grand Hyatt Berlin (Sep 2015)