It was cold, gray, and dark by 4pm.
My friend and I decided to visit Berlin after Prague because we realized via Google Maps that it was only a four-hour bus ride away. Several fellow travelers had boasted of its eccentric culture and lively night life.
They failed to tell us that it’s better to go in the spring. Where the wind does not give you whiplash, and the sky does not make the city seem like a post-apocalyptic movie set. (Or at least where we stayed at.) And where you have more than 7.5 hours of daylight for sightseeing.
They also failed to mention that seeing Berlin after Prague would feel like a disappointment. Honestly, seeing most cities after spending Christmas in Prague would feel like a disappointment. But we didn’t know that. We just thought we were being fun and spontaneous when we booked the trip to Berlin.
So, how do I really feel about Berlin?
Berlin was not a walk in the park. It was not a giddy Christmas adventure (although the Christmas markets were nice). It was a spontaneous trip filled with sudden surprises, as any spontaneous trip should be – though be specific about what kind of surprises you’re open to.
Below are the surprises we encountered in Berlin. If you want to travel to Berlin, take into account:
1. We only spent 48 hours in the city. We’re by no means experts.
2. We were physically not up to par, which can limit how hardcore you go in your travels.
3. Don’t visit any city after Prague during Christmas. Just don’t.
My First Impressions of Berlin
Berlin’s streets are huge compared to other European (and South American) cities I’ve visited.
Our hostel was the biggest hostel I’d ever stayed in. It looked and felt like a hotel that was restructured to be a hostel. When I booked it, I assumed it was near the city center. Near-ish would have been a better word. That being said, it was very nice, and had a cute bar inside.
Eating Bavarian Food in Berlin
After spending the morning in Prague taking pictures of tourist attractions, and then four hours on a train from Prague to Berlin, and then figuring out the public transport system and dragging our luggage to our hostel in the rain, all my friend and I wanted was to eat.
We ended up finding a Bavarian restaurant a 10-minute walk from our hostel. It was the closest we could find without walking more, or taking public transport. And let me tell you, this food was good. I had one of the best beers of my life (okay, three), and this delicious garlic-butter-noodle concoction. Can’t complain.
What Surprised Me about Berlin
I don’t know why, but I was not expecting the buildings to look so…grim.
The weather could have had something to do with it. It was cold, gray, and foggy. Everything looked a bit haunting.
Something else that surprised me was how this history was not too long ago. I was born a few months after the Berlin Wall was taken down. Several modern buildings were built in the 90s.
(I don’t know when these were built. I had to take a picture of the Mercedes building though because a relative of mine used to work there.)
It’s still hard to put into words everything I was thinking and feeling when I was listening to this information on the tour. It’s just strange how so much can change in a relatively short period of time. And how life was so different for those living in East Germany. So many people’s lives were so different just for being born on another side of a man-made wall. You can’t control where you’re born. I don’t understand why these things have to happen in the world. I wish I did.
What was also odd was seeing how some of these places felt more like an attraction than a historic landmark. Checkpoint Charlie was so packed with people taking pictures that it felt more like a prop than a moment in history. So many people were trying to take a picture of The Kiss as if they’ve never seen it, even though it’s one of the most well-known murals on the Berlin Wall. Even the souvenir shops made history into a 5-euro mug that featured the pedestrian symbols of East Berlin (the way to tell if you were on the east or west side of the city was the symbols; East Berlin had symbols of men in hats).
It was a lot more to take in than I had anticipated.
Do Berlin Christmas Markets Match Up to Prague Christmas Markets?
I would say they do.
There were more Christmas markets scattered throughout the areas of the city we visited. In Prague, we only visited the Christmas market in the Old Town Square (which was conveniently next to our hostel).
What can I say about Christmas markets? They’re cute. You can browse through the cute shops. You can drink beer in public outside. You can eat grilled German sausages. You can question your decision of being a vegetarian as you watch everyone else gleefully eat their German sausages while you nurse your beer on an empty stomach. (If you’re vegetarian and gluten free, and go to a Christmas market, sorry, you’re out of luck.)
This Christmas market, which was about 10 minutes walking from our hostel, even had a small ice skating rink and a ferris wheel.
After visiting two Christmas markets, we were all Christmas market-ed out. But it was a fun way to spend the evening, and being around so many people made it feel less cold.
Adventures in Learning About Our Health Insurance Policies at 3 o’clock in the Morning
All I’m going to say is, don’t get an eye infection while traveling. Having a friendly chat with your health insurance provider in the middle of the night is not an ideal way to spend a vacation. Nor is going to a creepy doctor’s office the next day, only to be told to visit a specialist an hour away, when you have a flight to catch later that afternoon.
When my friend and I lamented to the hostel receptionist about this situation, he simply told us, “Well, a lot of doctors are on vacation right now, so it’s not the best time to get sick…”
Meanwhile, I’m thinking, “This is the time where people are more likely to get sick! You’re around more people, and it’s freezing outside!”
So, I don’t know, schedule your eye infections ahead of time that’s not during Christmas season?
Luckily, the airport sold Reece’s peanut butter cups. I’m not saying they’re the cure to an eye infection, but they’re the cure for happiness before a 3-hour flight, which almost felt like the same thing.
Would I Go Back to Berlin?
Originally, I said I would not go back to Berlin. I wanted to like it. But it’s probably one of the cities I’ve liked the least in my travels.
However, two months after visiting, I can now say that I would give it another chance. My friend and I were there for a very short time, and we weren’t feeling our best. And Berlin is such a big city that I feel like it’s one that does require planning ahead of time to see it. There is so much culture and history, and two days isn’t enough time to get a glimpse of it all besides the typical touristic landmarks.
I will say, that when I visit again, it will be in the spring or summer. Because if Berlin is dark at 4 pm in the winter, then the summers have to be amazing. And then I’ll be able to enjoy all of those parks in the city. And best of all, it won’t be during flu season.
Have you ever visited a city that was not up to your expectations? How did you make the most of your trip?