The Germans have a word called “fernweh” which is an ache for distant places and craving to travel. Knowing this, I think it truly encapsulates how I am feeling while abroad. I always knew I loved to travel and explore new places, but studying abroad has only made me more aware that traveling will always be a priority in my life.
This being said, my trip to Berlin in early February was my first trip to Germany. I wasn’t really sure what exactly to expect, but after studying world history in high school and college, I had somewhat of an idea of what life was like within Deutschland. As the largest city and capital of Germany, I imagined it as a bustling city like the ones I was used to — DC, New York, Paris, or even Barcelona minus the palm trees. However, what I found upon arrival was a city still very affected by World War II and the divide between East and West Berlin. Our hostel was in East Berlin and through our daily commutes towards West Berlin and the typical tourists stops, the lack of people outside combined with the overly simple, 60s style architecture was jarring. Graffiti was everywhere and reminded me that while most people back home see graffiti firstly as gross vandalism, it serves/served as a form of expression in Berlin. Amidst great oppression, graffiti seemed to historically be an outlet for the city. Though this is all true, the city’s deep historical past is what makes the city great with its cultural diversity and trendsetting atmosphere. From the Brandenburg Gate to the East Side Gallery to the Reichstag, the city is bursting with culture.
On another note, I found that even though there was snow on the ground, the overall chilling essence of the city didn’t have anything to do with the weather. Instead, the museums and memorials of the Holocaust and German-Jewish history sent chills down my spine. They are all very well-done with immense history, personal accounts, photographs, and overall lasting impressions. The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe stood out especially as it consists of over 2,500 concrete slabs of varying heights in a grid-like shape that is meant to instill confusion and entrapment, an attempt to mirror what the Holocaust prisoners felt like while in concentration camps. Further, the Topography of Terror is a history museum located inside the old Nazi Gestapo and SS headquarters. Just being inside the building was unsettling and after spending hours reading about Jewish history in Germany added a terrifying and more disturbing nature to the visit.
If you ever find yourself headed to Berlin, here’s are some of my favorite things:
- FAVORITE CULTURAL STOP: Berliner Dom – absolutely beautiful church built in the 15th century with an impressive interior (including a pipe organ and crypt!)
- FAVORITE PICTURE POINT: Brandenburg Gate – 18th century neoclassical monument that symbolizes European unity and peace
- FAVORITE MUSEUM: Berlin’s Jewish Museum – incredibly thorough account of Jewish history throughout many different floors and exhibits
- FAVORITE ART STOP: East Side Gallery – long stretch of the original Berlin Wall with interesting and though-provoking art from independent artists
- FAVORITE BRUNCH: Silo – trendy spot run by Australians with the best German pancakes and latte art
- FAVORITE SNACK: Pretzels – warm and salty and just perfection
- FAVORITE DINNER: Prince – cool atmosphere of Asian fusion food with reasonable prices and a kickin’ drink menu & bar
Truly the land of pretzels, beer, and history, Berlin has stories to tell and everyone should get the chance to hear them.
Realization of the week: Having a rolling carry-on that fits within the strict budget airline requirements (like Ryan Air, EasyJet, Vueling, etc) should be high on a study abroad packing list. It is an incredible game-changer that makes traveling so much easier. Instead of achy shoulders and back pain from a shoulder/duffel bag, you can easily navigate through cities, airports, and general transit without having to worry about your baggage. I thought my duffel would be easier to manage during my first trip to Amsterdam, but by my second trip to Berlin, I was definitely going with my roller.