Berlin never used to be a place I was ever interested in seeing. It always seemed like a gloomy city with a dark past. I always wanted to go to it’s Love Parade that used to take place in July (I can thank the movie Chasing Liberty for that desire, too). However, problems arose with the event and now it no longer exists. Once that happened, I didn’t have any reason to visit anymore. But then the more I talked to other travelers who had been to Berlin and realized most people only had good things to say about the city, I figured it was worth a shot. It turned out to be a really cool city and very fun stopping point on our trip. What really drew me in when first deciding to go to Berlin was that it kept coming up in my research that it was one of the best places in the world to celebrate New Year’s Eve. Low and behold, spending our New Year’s there fit perfectly into our schedule! So after spending 4 nights there, I can honestly say that Berlin was a very enjoyable city and I am so happy I had the opportunity to see it.
Our journey to Berlin began with our departure from the Prague train station. We spent about the first half hour thinking we didn’t have any seats so we were stuck sitting on our luggage in the alley ways. Thankfully it turned out that we did have seats and they were just a few cars down. The train ride was much more enjoyable once we were able to sit.
We arrived safely to Berlin’s massive train station. We figured we were better off asking someone at a help desk the best way to get to our hostel. The woman sent us to another part of the train station to ask someone in the tourist office. After we gave the woman there our hostel’s address, she printed us off the train schedule and told us which lines would take us there. Once we got there, we realized we didn’t know how to find the actual street it was on since our phones didn’t work in Germany. We stopped two girls to see if they knew where it was and they were so nice and looked it up on their smartphones. It turned out we were nowhere near the hostel. The woman at the train station who had a computer was completely wrong! We ended up hailing a cab to take us to our hostel which apparently we should have just done in the first place. We were very irritated.
Once we got settled into our hostel, the CityStay Mitte, we decided to do laundry since it was a good halfway point in our trip. It took us a while to find the laundromat that the girl at our hostel directed us too but luckily we found it eventually. It was far too crowded though so I ended up using a different one that just so happened to be a few doors down. While we waited for our laundry to finish we grabbed some Italian food for dinner. Once our laundry finally finished, we realized we were still hungry (of course) so we stopped for a typical German meal: sausage, sauerkraut, broiled potatoes, and a HUGE beer!
DAY 12: NEW YEAR’S EVE!
We started our New Year’s Eve off with breakfast at our hostel and then meeting up with a tour group for a 4-hour tour of the city. The tour was amazing and very informative. It covered so many of the popular spots plus so much more. We saw Museum Island, the TV tower, the Berlin Cathedral, Humboldt University where books were being sold outside (this happens everyday), the Berlin Wall, Checkpoint Charlie, the main Holocaust Memorial as well as another memorial dedicated to the victims, Hitler’s bunker, Brandenburg Gate, and even the hotel where Michael Jackson dangled his baby off of a balcony! The tour was just incredible. Learning about Berlin’s history and actually standing where it happened was the most surreal feeling. A very eerie feeling, actually. In Berlin, it feels as though you can feel ghosts around you. It just feels like such a haunted city. One of the craziest moments was when we were walking around Museum Island and our tour guide pointed out all of the bullet dents on the columns left from World War II. The columns were COVERED in them. It’s even scarier to know that that’s just a fraction of the amount of bullets that were shot in that city and many others during that war.
After our tour we made our way to the Gendarmenmarkt which was said to be the best Christmas market in Berlin. Our tour guide told us that all of the Christmas markets would be officially closed for good on New Year’s Day so we knew we had to get our last fix in! This particular market was so fancy, we had to pay a Euro to enter! There were rows and rows of elegant white booths that all led to a sparkling Christmas tree in the center.
My favorite moment of the day was when we stopped for lunch/dinner at one of the tents in the market. As I was standing in line for my food, I noticed the guy who was serving it seemed to be getting a little frustrated. A woman a couple people in front of me went straight into her order without saying “hello” first and the guy stopped her and said “start with ‘hello.'” When he got to me, I made sure to say “hello” first. Then when I went to go order my drink, the food guy went behind the counter and whispered something to the drink guy. When I asked for a beer they said, “No.” I said, “No? Why?” They said because I was the “Golden Angel” of the day and because of that I got a free glass of Prosecco! It was awesome! I asked if I could keep the cheap gold heart cut-out and the food guy said something along the lines of only in exchange for my phone number haha. I quickly saw where that was going and just politely thanked him and went to go sip my free champagne 🙂
After eating, it was time to get ready for the festivities of my favorite holiday: New Year’s Eve! My expectations were high because Berlin had repeatedly been named one of the best places in the world to spend New Year’s Eve. One of the things that make Berlin’s New Year’s unique from anywhere else is the amount of fireworks going off. I don’t think Berlin has any type of rule regarding fireworks so it seemed like everyone had some to set off. They were being shot in parks, in the streets, off of balconies, etc. It was actually really awesome. We could hear them start to go off that morning during the tour and on our way back to the hostel that evening they just kept getting louder and louder. The loud echoes of all of them going off in the distance made it sound like we were in the middle of a war zone. The only thing we had to be concerned about was actually getting hit by one. Fortunately we avoided that, but one landed right by our feet at one point!
Apparently we did New Year’s in Berlin totally wrong. We really should have planned it ahead of time. When I researched what to do, it said that everyone flocks to Brandenburg Gate for all of the concerts, food vendors, and fireworks . The party starts in the early evening and goes until after midnight. It’s basically Berlin’s version of Times Square. Then after celebrating at the gate, many people head off to a nightclub for the rest of the night. This was what we had planned to do, however things didn’t go exactly as planned…
We got a bit of a late start walking to the gate. It didn’t even occur to me that they would close off the gate area since it was a free event until our hostel roommates mentioned it. We were in such great moods because we stopped at a street vendor for some hotdogs and beer but then suddenly we were stopped by a barricade blocking the rest of the street that led to the Brandenburg Gate! We asked a group of Americans we heard speaking English what was happening and they told us that nobody else was allowed into the gate area because they reached capacity. They told us that this JUST happened about 15-20 minutes ago! I was SO bummed but the group of Americans we met were really cool and we ended up hanging out with them for the next few hours. One of the girls was currently living in Berlin with her German boyfriend so she knew her way around and where to take us. We explored the surrounding area to get drinks before midnight. We went to a stand that was selling mulled wine and just for fun, I had the girl tell me how to order it in German. I spoke it terribly, but apparently when the guy brought the drinks, he blew a kiss to me while my back was turned meaning that they were free! Score! That was my second free drink of the night 🙂 It just goes to show how much they appreciate foreigners attempting to speak their language.
We made sure to get back to the main street before midnight so that we could see the fireworks. When midnight arrived, we each popped open our individual bottles of champagne and dodged the tons of fireworks that were going off! It was incredible. Our American group then moved on to find a bar but Lindsey and I wanted to go to a club so we sort of shadily ran away We felt so bad but we really wanted to go out. They were such nice people and I’ll always remember spending our New Year’s with them in Berlin. It turned out we probably should have just stayed with them. We got back to the hostel and about an hour later we went on a hunt to find a club with a new Australian friend from our hostel. We were stupid about this part because we never got tickets in advance for anywhere so of course we couldn’t find a place that would let us in! It was SUCH a bummer. Eventually around 5 or 6 a.m. when we realized we weren’t going to find anything, we headed back to the hostel to sleep.
Although there were several disappointing parts to our New Year’s and it didn’t work out exactly how I expected it to, it was still a blast and definitely a highlight of our trip! I’ll always look back and remember how I spent NYE 2014 in Berlin!
DAY 13: NEW YEAR’S DAY
We had planned in our itinerary that this would be a sort of “nothing” day because we knew we would be too tired to do anything after the night before. We were right. We got a very late start and had lunch at a nearby restaurant named Don Angelo’s. I got a hamburger which was just what the doctor ordered! We sat there for a long time until we finally got moving. We walked down to the Brandenburg Gate to see it without all of it’s New Year’s Eve madness. On the way we stopped for some Haagen Dazs :). Then we walked over the Reichstag building which I believe serves as their parliament building. Afterwards we explored another neighborhood close to our hostel where we had dinner. I had some delicious apple strudel for dessert!
After a low key day the day before, we awoke with the motivation to complete the rest of our Berlin stops on our last day. We started with breakfast at Don Angelo’s. It was a little awkward because that was the meal we discovered that we were supposed to tip the waitress. In Spain you’re not supposed to tip at restaurants so I guess we assumed all European countries were like this. But when we got our receipt, at the bottom it said “tip is not included!!!” It was awkward because they were so nice to us but obviously they remembered us from the day before and that we didn’t tip. That was our last meal at Don Angelo’s haha.
After breakfast we walked to the Holocaust exhibit. Above ground are rows upon rows of different-leveled gray stones. The straight lines keep you from getting lost, but while you’re walking through, people will pop out out of nowhere and your heart will skip a beat several times. Underground is where the museum is. We walked around the entire thing and it was one of my favorite parts about Berlin. It was such a heart-wrenching experience, but I think it’s completely necessary in order to get a feel for Berlin’s horrible history.
That night we had a wonderful German dinner! Like my favorite meal in Prague, I decided to step out of my food-box a little bit and I ordered the fried pork liver (when would I EVER order that?!) with apples, onions, and mashed potatoes. It was so good! I should really step out of my box more often and order things I wouldn’t normally order because so far I have been very pleasantly surprised! After dinner we decided to walk around the city one last time. We stumbled upon another Christmas market and an ice skating rink in the middle of Alexanderplatz. I haven’t gone ice skating since elementary school because I just remember holding onto the railing the entire time and hating it. But I decided to overcome my fear and give it another try. I happened to LOVE it! It was so liberating, I didn’t want to get off the ice! After all of our hard work skating, we treated ourselves to our last mulled wine of the trip :).
The morning we left Berlin to go to Hamburg was a very rough start to our day. We gave ourselves plenty of time to get to the bus station. However, we were so frustrated with the metro ticket machine (it was just WAY too complicated), we just hopped on the metro without paying for a ticket. In other metros we were on, including Berlin’s, no one was ever monitoring tickets so we took the risk. As luck would have it, we got caught. Halfway through our ride, a very serious looking man was heading straight for us. He asked to see our tickets. I responded with the, “Oh, we were supposed to keep those? We threw ours out…” Turns out the “ditsy, innocent girl act” doesn’t work as well in Germany as this guy was NOT having it. He asked for our passports and took us off the train. Our hearts were racing out of control. Were we going to go to German jail?! That’s the last thing we needed. All we wanted to do was catch our bus! We were ready to give him whatever he wanted, but all we wanted was to stay on the train and do it there so that we wouldn’t miss our bus because at that point we were cutting it really close! He told us “40 Euros.” That’s it?! We thought it would be so much worse! I happily handed him over that money if that meant not having to go to jail! He gave us our ticket as well and we boarded a new train to the bus station.
When we finally reached our stop, we realized the station didn’t connect directly to the bus station. We left the metro station and saw that there was no bus station in sight, so we just walked. I was panicking and trying to run with our luggage. We found a guy who used his iPad to look up where the station was. Once he figured it out, we RAN. We finally found the bus station and frantically searched for our bus. It was pulling away RIGHT when we reached it. I wanted to chase after it but I couldn’t because it was pulling into the main road. Our bus was scheduled to leave at 9 and we arrived at 9:01. Why do Germans have to be so damn punctual?! We couldn’t believe we missed our bus again, just like we missed our bus to Vienna. Fortunately our bus’ ticket stand was right there and we were able to book tickets for another bus that left 2 hours later. But this trip was turning out to be a lot more expensive than we had planned. We lost the money we spent on both of our first bus tickets, had to buy a new train ticket to Vienna, had to buy a new bus ticket to Hamburg, had to pay for a cab to the Budapest train station, and had to pay a 40 Euro fine on the Berlin metro. But we learned from our very expensive mistakes and the most important lesson we learned is to TAKE A CAB EVERYWHERE. Seriously, it would have solved every single problem and we’d be a lot richer right now.
Although Berlin ended on a bad note, it was still an awesome city and a perfect location to spend our European New Year’s.