I survived the Megabus journey from Cologne to Berlin. It was better the second time round and thinking of all the money I was saving did wonders for my tolerance. At only £4 for the journey, I couldn’t complain too much. It was early on Sunday morning when I arrived. I was hungry so I figured I would go to the city centre and find a bakery except, I couldn’t. Bakeries are a lot like buses sometimes.
I got the impression that everything in Berlin is spaced out. The streets are wide compared to London. I tried in vain to find a group of tourists to follow to the city center – that’s the danger of arriving too early on a Sunday. Eventually I came across a chain bakery. Interestingly, in Germany they have little dishes where all the money is exchanged – it’s never transferred directly from hand to hand. I wonder if it’s to do with hygiene or social politesse, or both? You can also get fined for crossing the road at a red traffic light, well that was the case in Aachen anyway. In Berlin, I guess there are just too many oblivious tourists to uphold that rule in any meaningful way.
I was surprised by how much green space there was in and surrounding the city. Tiergarten, the biggest park in Berlin, is beautiful. All the more surprising when you learn that almost all the trees were cut down during the second world war for fuel. Now they’ve been replanted, you could probably get lost in there.
I was a little disappointed that most of the museums charged for admission. Okay, maybe I’m cheap or maybe I’ve just been spoiled by all the free museums in London and Paris. I remember going to an art museum in Belgium for 1 euro. However, there were some really great places that I visited that were free. For example, the Palace of Tears or Tränenpalast. I would really recommend that one. The Palace of Tears was the checkpoint where people would cross the Berlin wall and it gets its name from the tears that people shed when they were forced to leave their loved ones. I found the personal accounts of people’s experiences very moving. It’s strange to think that all this happened not so very long ago.
I also liked the Jewish museum. There was a thought-provoking piece of art where the floor was covered in metal faces with mouths open in an ‘o’ as if they were screaming or shouting. You couldn’t avoid walking on the faces as you crossed the space, and each step made the faces clash against each other so that the sound echoed up to the high ceiling. There was also a special exhibition focusing on the story of Abraham who was commanded by God to sacrifice his son. I liked this one, there were a lot of visual and interactive elements. Again, another exhibition worth seeing.
Aside from the museums, there were also many events. On the Sunday, I went to the flea market at Mauerpark although, when I arrived, the market was mostly over but the party was just getting started. That is to say, there were a lot of musicians and people and food and drink. I went to a “Colours” street food festival which was disappointing but maybe that was just the second day when there weren’t so many people. The atmosphere was rather lacking.
I also managed to visit some of the areas nearby Berlin. Potsdam was a short train ride away and it was beautiful in an old historical way. On another day I rented a bike for 12 euros and rode to Muggelheim. It did take me a while to get there (2 hours) but it was fun. I was a bit put off that the bike only had one working brake on the front wheel but back-pedalling seemed to act like a brake for the back wheel. Some new specimen of bike? I don’t know if I like it. It’s a great way to sight-see though: there are so many places to rent a bike in Berlin and the prices range from 8 euros to 15 euros for the whole day.
As for the food, I did try currywurst with potato salad and also a jägerschnitzel. I get the feeling I overpaid for the currywurst but the schnitzel, on the other hand, was wonderful. So much flavour in the sauce and such a decadent portion too. I did come across Mustafa’s Gemüse Kebab as I was wandering around one day. It’s apparently the best place for falafel in Berlin. I do regret not trying it just a bit now but, the line of tourists was very long… instead I got my falafel fix a few days later when I popped into a non-descript kebab shop on some random side street. I had falafel in pitta bread and it was delicious.