After 5 Days in Berlin, I have these words at the front of my mind: a wider understanding, tolerance, and remembrance. I think most people who come to Berlin (or to Germany), carry with them a lot of preconceived notions about the German people. Even though one makes a conscious effort to check stereotypes at the door, the stigma of the Nazis, the World War, finding out someone you just met is German sparks a little fear. Maybe resentment.
This isn’t my first time in Germany. We visited Munich a few years ago. Very, very briefly. We went to the famous beer hall, and one of the first concentration camps ever built (Dachau). That was a moving experience. This trip to Berlin though has given me more to think about, mostly about the German people, and how they live in the present, given the horrors of their past.
On a side note, I love how open this city is with homosexuals! They’re everywhere! Young and old. Also, I continue to be baffled by the many Dunkin Donut outlets around Berlin! Never have I seen so many Dunkin Donuts outside of Boston.
My top tens…
10 Pergamon Museum – Travel guides say that this museum is a must-do, from the different museums in the museum island. I was tempted by the Neues Museum where we could see the bust of Nefertiti, but we went with our gut and to the Pergamon Museum. What’s cool about this place is how they’ve reconstructed these massive architectural finds and created an experience for patrons. Loved the blues of the Ishtar gate.
9 Reichstag & Brandenburg Gate – Combining these two might be cheating. But I need more slots for other Berlin favourites. The Brandenburg Gate is a national symbol of Germany. Before the Berlin Wall fell, the gate stood on the East side, and it was nearly unthinkable to come close to the gate (the death strip was just a few meters away) much less traverse through it! The Reichstag houses the German Parliament (the Bundestag), and the magnificent dome atop it gives a nice view of the city. The free audio guide’s pretty cool (no buttons to press! It just speaks automatically). The structure itself is a quandary, as overlapping layers of it appear seamless.
8 The seemingly never-ending craving for Currywurst – We were in Berlin for a few days and I think we had this almost everyday! I’m still trying to figure out what the sauce is made of. It tastes like a concoction of ketchup and curry, which just sang when married with the wurst. I don’t really have a favourite. The one we had outside the train station was just as good in the fancier German pub we went to.
7 The Berlin Wall Exhibit / Topographies of Terror – Another interesting memorial, where one sees the remnants of the very famous wall, whose destruction signified the end of the Cold War in the late 1980s. It’s really just a wall, but the ‘Topographies of Terror’ exhibit walks one through the year 1933, a very important year when the Nazis came to absolute power. The modern building which housed the indoor exhibit also describes where the offices of the Gestapo, the SS, used to be.
6 Marjechell Bavarian dinner – Hearty and meant to be shared! I googled ‘the best pork knuckle in Berlin’ and this came up. We took our chance and just did a walk in . Thankfully, they were ok to give us 2 hours to devour or Bavarian meal. What a meal it was! We all had classic dishes: the pork knuckle, schnitzel, and the famous duck (which I must say, reminds me of a Max’s fried chicken!). Was it the best pork knuckle? Errrmm. Let me just say this instead — Our Pinoy crispy pata?? It’s world class man! The restaurant interior was homey, and the owner herself made rounds and chatted warmly with the patrons. Loved the food and the ambience. I wish we could’ve brought two extra people, so we could have wiped our plates clean.
5 Berlin street art – Worth the trip down Hoftbanof. This sort of just sprung up in our itinerary. We saw post cards of it in a gift shop close to the Reichstag, and we asked the store keeper where we could find these. We later saw how popular the East side Gallery was. We weren’t the only tourists there. As with the memorials, the works of art evoked thought about what the artist was trying to convey. My favourite was these picasso-esque cartoonish faces. Great photo fun.
4 Photoautomat – Yes, yes. Photobooths are soooo 2007. The average Pinoy must’ve amassed at least 20 photobooth printouts in their recent lives from weddings and corporate events. I just read about Photoautomat in the Berlin Time Out guide. They said this was a must do, and after two visits, we could see why. Reminiscent of the good ole days when photo-me ruled the passport photo scene, I loved how we despearately crammed ourselves in the tiny space, and the anticipation of how the actual photos would come out (after 2.5 minutes of waiting).
3 Monsieur Vhong – Thanks to a strange recommendation from a work colleague, I was on a mission to find this supposed, ‘Best Spring Rolls in the Whole World’ It was raining the whole day, and the thought of a good ole Asian dinner was most exciting to us tourists drenched in the afternoon rain. The queue outside the Vietnamese restaurant was promising… and boy did they deliver! The asian salad was great and refreshing, the bowl of pho was delicious and tasty! They just ‘hit’ the spot. And the verdict on the spring rolls?? First let me say, these Berlin ones had to unseat the awesome spring rolls we ordered everyday in our Hanoi boutique hotel. Monsieur Vhong is a close second. Very happy overall.
2 Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe (Holocaust Memorial) – A very honest name for a very harrowing event in human history. In both the walking tours we did, the guide used the phrase, “jews who were systematically murdered”. This memorial by a Jewish-American architect, speaks to both the mind and the heart. There isn’t one, singular meaning of these 2711 gray stone slabs. The one I liked the most was the experience of walking through it — as we went deeper into the memorial, I couldn’t help but get an eerie feeling. Like the world around me just disappeared and I was so alone. They say that’s what the Holocaust victims felt, or maybe just a sliver of it. This is a must see and do.
1 The Third Reich Walking Tour – We took two walking tours from two different companies, which overlapped quite a bit. Both our guides (one from Sandemans and the other from the Original Berlin Walks) were uber knowledgeable and entertaining. The three hour walking tour was like reliving a documentary. I experienced so many emotions throughout this tour — fascination, anger, deep sadness, empathy, curiosity… I’ve always wondered about how the German people feel about the second world war and the Nazis. This walking tour has given me an insight about the war. Germany has taken full responsibility for the atrocities of war, but what we often forget is that Germans were victims too. The post-war generation has to deal with the reality of the the ‘sins of their parents and grandparents’. Our guide shared that text books had to be re-written in the mid-1980s, to be more honest about what really happened in the war. Also, there have been controversies around important historical sites in Berlin, and fine line between glorifying them and showcasing them to be a form of remembrance.