Thoughts on Berlin

In November I had the pleasure of being shipped over to Berlin for a few days, all expenses paid. This was on behalf of the company I’m using to take students to Costa Rica in March. They apparently like their groups to feel prepared and organized, so they take us through a simulated abroad experience with them. I was pumped for a free trip, but def not looking forward to: sharing a bathroom, traveling with a group, giving up some much needed sleep on my days off over break.

I had heard nothing but good things about Berlin, so I had high expectations – what a dummy. I should have known that generally, I always find the opposite of what I’m told. Everyone told me that Athens was a shithole, and I loved it – not so much love for Berlin. Honestly, I’m a little confused why Berlin gets so much hype. I mean, it wasn’t a shithole, but I must have been immune to its gloomy, soviet charm.

Maybe I was just annoyed at my lack of freedom on a vacation. Our tour guide literally carried around a very loud, squeaky rubber duck that she was constantly squeaking for us to follow her. On the first day she said, “For some reason, we can tell tourists a mile away.” Well between her stupid duck and the appalling amount of hoodies and white socks, no duh. I mean, I heard all these people trying to one-up each other with travel stories, but their clothes said another story – a story like “Hey, I’m American, and I’ve only been on a cruise and/or group guided travel.” Maybe I’m being too judgmental.

At any rate, I have long ago accepted that my travels will always be only mediocre compared to some, so I just sat quietly and listened to everyone else duke it out. Also, I was just too freaking exhausted to care. I will say though, I happened to get a roommate from Oklahoma who had never traveled anywhere. She was this super petite mom who told me all about how when she found out about the trip to Berlin her husband told her that her first trip couldn’t be overseas, so they took a quick trip to Dallas one weekend. I did not feel mediocre next to this woman.

While we got to see lots of cool stuff like the Berlin wall, the holocaust memorial, checkpoint Charlie, museum island, and other historic sights, I was extremely disappointed in Berlin’s lack of oldness. I knew that it had the shit bombed out of it in the war, but I was still shocked at how un-European it seemed, and how spread out the city was. My favorite part of the whole trip was Potsdam – a little city just outside of Berlin. I had some free time and after eating a wholesome and extra German lunch of a Nutella and banana crepe, I sat on a firelit patio, sipping a gluhwein in the misty afternoon. It was glorious. I would never sit in the cold and mist in Kansas, why is it so magical in Europe?

The one redeeming quality to the trip was that I got to see my good friend, Jonas. He and his girlfriend drove from western Germany to hang out with me, and I felt so lucky! One night we went to the Berlin Botanical Garden for a Christmas light display and I had my first taste of spiked gluhwein. Yes, gluhwein is already alcoholic since it is wine, but Jonas’s girlfriend insisted I try it with amaretto – not too shabby at all. To sop up all the gluhwein we stopped at a curry stand in the train station for currywurst on the way home, and it was amazing.

The next night we went to a super strange bar called Knutschfleck, or “hickey” in English. The waitresses were all dressed like the cast of Grease and did choreographed dances on a stage. We got drinks, and then the stage was open for all and we laughed at the drunks dancing, and then went and showed them how it was done. We ended up leaving without paying for our drinks – I honestly totally forgot we hadn’t paid – which caused Jonas’s girlfriend to have an unfortunate experience when she realized she left her hat and went back to get it.

Maybe if I would have had the energy, like another boy in our group, to go clubbing all night until our meetings the next morning, I would have felt more love for Berlin, but I didn’t, so I don’t. I’m glad I got to go, and especially for free, but I’d say Berlin would go on my “ok to miss it” list. If you go to Germany, go to Munich instead. Munich is 8 million times better. This is blasphemy in Germany, but I’m in America, so I can say what I want.

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