By Stepside 5 Comments
So I started a little travel blog a while back that got a lot of good feedback from you guys. It was detailing my upcoming trip to Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Bratislava and Budapest in September-October 2011. I never got around to finish it, so here goes. For those interested - here's the first blog post: http://www.giantbomb.com/profile/stepside/a-trip-of-a-lifetime/30-85989/
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After a 14 hour trip from Ottawa via London-Heathrow, my wife Julie and I finally got off the plane in Berlin. After the obligatory passport weirdness (we were sent to the E.U. line even though we're clearly North Americans) it was nice to finally get going.
We stayed here the first night - Circus Berlin http://www.circus-berlin.de/circus_hotel_berlin.html Awesome little boutique hotel right downtown. The neighborhood is called Rosenthalerplatz - really close to 4 whole streets of outdoor cafes, bars, pubs, restaurants and shopping. Really central (literally 2 minute walk to the Rosenthalerplatz U-Bahn metro stop). After checking in, we decided to do some exploring and grab a pint of beer or two. I gotta say, the German beer (and its accompanying beer culture) is outstanding. Their food...not so much. More on that later.
I actually ended up getting decently drunk the first night - which surprised even me, considering I'm not a huge public drinker. But I figured when in Rome... We stopped at three or four places, all with adult patrons (no fratboys to be found, just a nice 25-35 yr old crowd) and had an amazing night overall. Met some great people, some really chill bartenders (who can all speak 5+ languages, crazy) and loved the vibe of the city. Super safe, Benzes and Bimmers everywhere, beautiful architecture and a very lively feel. Really safe vibe as well, people just kept to themselves. No hassles with beggars or sketchbags like in Paris or NYC.
We ended up staying 2 more nights at a hostel in Kreutzberg (southern part of Berlin, lots of Turkish immigrants [i.e. great middle-eastern food and super-friendly people]) but I wouldn't recommend the hostel. If we could have done it all over again, we would have stayed at the Circus for all three nights.
As for the city itself, we checked out Alexanderplatz, Potsdamerplatz, the Tiergarten (Berlin's main public park), the Holocaust memorial, the Homosexual memorial (gays persecuted during WWII), Checkpoint Charlie (cheesy but worth seeing) and everything in between..
As I mentioned earlier, the Beer in Berlin is phenomenal. They come in huge sizes and run at about 6-9% alcohol content (from the selection I had anyway). What I found astounding was how many women drank beer with regular meals and how in shape they were. Baffling really - hot 5'10 blonde German chicks maintaining their 120lbs while chugging daily mouthfuls of Pilsner. I think the fact that everybody is incredibly active really has a helping hand in this however; we saw men in $3,000 suits and women in full evening wear on bicycles plowing through traffic from sun-up to dawn.
I also mentioned the food....well, there's that, and it's well worth mentioning. What we found is the food is bland as all hell. We could have doused most of our meals in BBQ sauce and it would still have tasted like, well, nothing. I was expecting a lot of meat in tube form, but deep fried meat was the order of the day in most of the spots we went to, Kreutzberg aside.
I think the highlight was the East Side Gallery (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/East_Side_Gallery). It's an open-air street-art and mural art gallery on the longest-remaining segment of the Berlin wall. Julie and I are huge fans of street art in general, let alone street art on the existing portion of the Berlin Wall. Amazing.
I took about 100 pictures of the Gallery, but the above are a few choice shots.
All in all, we spent about 7 hours each day walking (Julie's destroyed heels can attest to that) and just enjoyed the friendly, yet reserved people of Berlin and their wicked city. I'd highly recommend this place as a great hopping-off point for Europe for the weary or first time traveler. It's a safe, incredibly interesting spot with tons to see and do. I could have spent another weeks there immersed in art, history (WWII in particular) and people. English is spoken everywhere and the public transport system is beyond efficient. We had a wicked time.
Once it was time to leave, we grabbed a U-Bahn and headed for the Main Train Station for an incredibly trip through Bohemia on the way to Prague...the city of 500 spires. More to come...