Berlin is, by far, one of my favorite cities on the planet. It’s just so damn good in so many ways. I’ve been saying for years I want to move to Berlin and when shit goes to shit in the US, Berlin is where I want to go to.
I arrived in Berlin to Schonenfeld Airport in the early afternoon. I remember when I was in Berlin in 2012, the new airport was supposed to be open, but it was delayed and still isn’t open yet. Anyway, I hopped on the train to the city and got off at Alexanderplatz. Google told me to transfer to another train to get to my Airbnb, but I decided it was a nice day out and I’d walk the mile or so instead, even with my heavy backpack.
When I arrived at my Airbnb, my host’s cleaning lady let me in. The apartment was on the 21st floor and provided an amazing view of the city from both the kitchen and my room. My room was absolutely huge, much more than I needed for just myself. Since I was feeling pretty gross thanks to not showering before leaving Edinburgh, I took a quick shower before heading out for the afternoon.
I didn’t actually end up meeting my host until the next morning after my run, but she turned out to be a sweet old German woman who had lived in East Berlin during the Cold War. She was very friendly and offered me breakfast every day and was eager to sit and talk with me. She also insisted on doing my laundry for me after I asked her how to work her washing machine—it was entirely in German and I can’t make heads or tails of it.
My Airbnb was very conveniently located in Mitte, within a reasonable walk from most things I wanted to do. It couldn’t have been much better. However, next time I’m in Berlin, I might stay in the more northern section of Mitte, closer to more of the nightlife.
Getting around Berlin, well at least Mitte, was pretty easy from memory so that was helpful. And the U-Bahn and S-Bahn are easy to navigate with Google Maps to tell you where to get on and off.
I did three runs while in Berlin. When Danielle and I were in Berlin in 2012, we had plans to run in Tiergarten, but never ended up doing it because we were exhausted. I wasn’t going to let that happen this time.
My first run was five miles along the river. A lot of cities have paths along their rivers, but the section of the Spree I was running along didn’t have one so I was running on the sidewalk next to the river. This left me with a lot of street crossings to contend with, but for the most part they were small enough to cross without having to stop. I ran just into the northern section of Tiergarten near the Reichstag and then turned around to head back. My legs were pretty exhausted for this run, but it was still an enjoyable. Mostly, I was just happy to be in Berlin and going for a run!
My second run was supposed to be a morning nine-miler. Unfortunately, my clothes were…MIA. My host had taken them to wash as she said she would, but I guess they weren’t dry yet and I had no idea where they were. She also either wasn’t home or wasn’t awake when I woke up. So I just went about the rest of my day with hopes of fitting my run in later. And if not, I had a little flexibility to move things around for the next few days.
I ended up squeezing it in later that evening. I was debating if I’d have time to do it before it got dark and how safe it’d be if I didn’t finish before the sun was down. My tour guide from a tour earlier that day said it would still be very safe for me to run even if it was dark so I decided to go for it. I quickly changed and took off towards Tiergarten. Once I got there, I felt right at home along its paths. It was the perfect place to run. Despite being dusk, there were tons of other runners out. It was glorious and my legs were feeling amazing. I was crushing mile after mile and looping all over the park. I was feeling so good I decided to throw a tenth mile in before finishing up. This run literally couldn’t have been better and I finished up before it was completely dark out. Wins all around!
The next morning, less than twelve hours later, I woke up and knocked out my third Berlin run. This was a simple four-miler that just looped a bit into Tiergarten and then back to my Airbnb.
Food is one of my favorite things in Berlin. There’s just so much good stuff to eat!
One of my main goals was making sure I had currywurst. The best I had was at Dom Curry, but I also had it a couple of other times while walking around the city. Yum yum!
The fanciest meal I had in Berlin was at Lebensmittel in Mitte. This is a delicious German restaurant with a 9.2 rating on Foursquare. This wasn’t on my list before going to the city, but I had trouble finding the place I was trying to find one night and ended up picking another one on Foursquare nearby. Unfortunately, Foursquare didn’t tell me you need to have a reservation here, but they were nice enough to sit me at a table outside anyway. The menu was all in German, but I was able to make enough sense of it to order my meal and a beer. It was fantastic! Highly recommended. I followed this up with ice cream from Bandy Brooks on my walk back to the Airbnb.
The morning that I couldn’t run because of my MIA clothes, I decided to take a long walk to find Bonanza Roastery. It’s a coffee roastery and is most excellent!. I stayed for a couple cappuccinos and a pastry for breakfast. Bonanza has a great atmosphere and they require people sitting with laptops to only be at certain tables so as to make sure there are still tables for other people.
A repeat restaurant I hit up from when I was in Berlin in 2012 was Chipps. This was our favorite place on that trip so I wanted to come back for breakfast one day. It was as good as I remember! And it’s in a convenient location to start off your sightseeing day.
On my last day in Berlin, I went a bit overboard trying to hit up some places before leaving. I had lunch at Shiso Burger and ordered the bulgogi burger. It was 👌👏. From there, I went around the corner to The Barn for a coffee and then continued walking around. I walked over to Zeitgeist für Brot for a coffee cake with pie filling. It was so fucking good! And then from there I grabbed another coffee from Five Elephant because it looked cool when I walked by, but it turned out to not be that great in reality. Can’t win them all, I guess. My last stop before heading off to the airport was at Rausch Schokoladenhaus for some chocolate.
Going back to my first night in Berlin for a second, I went on a beer tasting tour. Unlike the pub crawl in Edinburgh, this was much more about actually tasting beer and learning about the history of beer in Germany. We started at Weihenstephaner Berlin which is a restaurant run by the world’s oldest brewery still in existence. We sampled a few different brews there before moving on to Brauhaus Lemke. Part of the tour also included buying some beers to walk around the streets with, as that’s legal in Germany 🍻🚶♀️🤤. We ended at Kaschk, a fantastic craft beer bar which was had also been recommended to me before my trip.
During the tour, I made friends with an Australian couple who was in the middle of a four week European trip. They were great company to have while drinking.
Like the rest of my trip, I packed my time in Berlin.
In 2012, we took an amazing free walking tour from SANDEMANs that we loved. Our tour guide, Sam Noble, was incredibly passionate and knowledgeable and you could tell he just straight-up lived for giving tours and sharing history. At the time, he was working on his PhD at Humboldt University in Berlin. Fast forward to a couple weeks before this trip and I found out he was still giving tours and listed his Instagram on his bio on the SANDEMANs site. I decided to be a little creepy and send him a message asking him if I could request to be in his tour group. He was kind enough to send me his schedule and I made sure to book for when he was doing the tour.
To my delight, he was as great as he was five years ago. His tour had evolved a little, but it was still superb. He was no longer pursuing his PhD and is now giving tours full time so he really puts his all into it. It was such a great time! This tour included Pariser Platz and Brandenburg Gate, the outside portion of the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, Führerbunker, Bundersministerium dear Finanzen (the old Luftwaffe HQ), the Berlin Wall Monument, Checkpoint Charlie, Konzerthaus Berlin, Französischer Dom, Bebelplatz, and The Memorial to the Book Burning of 1933. And, of course, more history than you could possibly hope to remember.
I also did the SANDEMANs Third Reich tour with Theo. This tour was an interesting deeper dive into some of the WWII portions of the free tour. Theo was good, but not as good as Sam. This tour included some of the same stops as the free tour, but also Tiergarten, the outside of the Reichstag, the Memorial to the Sinti and Roma Victims of National Socialism, Soviet War Memorial, Memorial to Homosexuals Persecuted Under Nazism, Potsdamer Platz, Stiftung Neue Synagoge Berlin, and Jüdischer Friedhof Berlin-Mitte.
The final guided tour I did while in Berlin was a tour to Sachsenhausen concentration camp in Oranienburg. This was, obviously, a somber and heavy tour, but it felt necessary to squeeze it into my trip. Our guide, Rob McCracken, took us on the train to Oranienburg and then on the same walk from the train station the prisoners of Sachsenhausen would have been forced on.
The tour was extremely well done and Rob did a great job of telling the history—a lot of which I had zero idea about—and also going deep into the societal, political, mental, and emotional aspects of what happened at the concentration camp and in the town around it. He constantly posed the question of what the German people really knew about what was happening at the time. And he repeatedly urged us to think hard about what each of us would have truly done at the time. It’s easy to look back on something like this and say what you’d have done, but it takes a lot to think critically about yourself and what you would have actually done when faced with that same situation. This should hit any American who takes this tour hard right now.
Despite being emotionally intense, I’m glad I went and I’m even more glad I did so as part of a tour. The tour added a lot more than I would have gotten doing this on my own. I learned more and got a much greater sense of context in which all of the atrocities here happened. At the same time, the tour also allowed me to experience everything with other people and to have a little reprieve from the gravity of it all. On the tour, I made friends with woman from DC whom I chatted with the entire time. I don’t want to say this dulled impact at all, but it helped to give frequent and well needed emotional breaks.
I took a lot of photos while at Sachsenhausen, which is something I felt a bit weird about. It’s one of those things where you want be respectful and you don’t want to make light of anything. But on the other hand, it’s something you need to remember. It’s something no one should ever be able to forget. For me, it felt important to have those photos in my phone’s camera roll. Not because I’d purposely go back and look for them, but because they should be there when I scroll back looking at other photos. They should be there to be stumbled upon as a reminder. For me, taking photos was a way to take it all with me.
Aside from my tours, I did a lot of exploration on my own. I spent some time walking around Mitte and enjoying the street art and walking through Haus Schwarzenberg and Hackenscher Markt. I also walked around Michaelkirchplatz and Kreuzberg on my way back from Bonanza Roastery.
After the free walking tour, I went back to the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe and actually went down into the memorial. I didn’t even know about this part of it when we were in Berlin in 2012. This was, by far, the most emotional part of my trip. This memorial focused very closely on the Jews who were murdered. One room had parts of letters and postcards sent doing the Holocaust. Most of them were little more than recovered fragments. Few were full letters. I cried while reading many of them. This room in particular, to me, was the most real of everything in Berlin. It was the most personal and put more of a human face on Holocaust then even Sachsenhausen did. It was more than a gut punch. It was a pummeling.
The next room told the story of more than a dozen families. Each family had a section talking about where they were from, the members of the family, what they did, and other personal stories. It then went on to detail what happened to each member of the family during the Holocaust. This was another really tough section to get through.
From there, I decided to keep things heavy for a bit and went over to the Topography of Terror. In 2012, this was one of our favorite parts of Berlin. By favorite, I mean it’s very well done and we learned a lot from it. It’s obviously not fun, but it’s a really great museum to spend some time at.
As I’ve mentioned, I really love Berlin. There is a lot of great food to eat, a lot to see, and a lot to experience. It’s the kind of city I could come back to every year. My only real complaint about Berlin is that Germans don’t serve tap water. It’s harder to get water than it is beer in Berlin. When you go out to eat, you have to order bottled water and if you ask for tap water, they won’t give it to you.
My time in Berlin was incredibly surreal, as this was during the height of what was happening in Charlottesville. Being in Germany and visiting the places I did while white nationalists and nazis were holding rallies in America was a strange experience. But the thing about Germany is they’ve dealt with their past. They don’t pretend it wasn’t a problem and they learn from it. Learning from it is a deeply ingrained part of their culture and education. Rather than try to forget it, they keep reminders of it out in the open. This is something America still has not done with racism and slavery. We need to deal with our past the way Germany has. Everything happening in our country now is because we haven’t dealt with it and refuse to.
I'm just an American girl in Germany vacationing away from nazis at home— Amelia Gapin (@EntirelyAmelia) August 15, 2017
Below are my check-ins on Swarm. Some of them aren’t places I went into, but instead were just places I was at or walked by. Some places I was just stealing wifi or using a bathroom. And some, I checked in multiple times as I passed them more than once.