Two days in Berlin is not enough. It just isn’t. You might be Superwoman. He might be Superman. It doesn’t matter. There is just too much packed into a small space that you will feel overwhelmed and give up on doing it all before the trip even commences.
At least that’s what we did.
We didn’t give up and stay inside our rented apartment, stacked floor to ceiling with books. Let me rephrase that. Stacked floor to ceiling, door to door with books arranged by genre, author within genre, and alphabetically titled by author. Perfection. But like I said, we were in Berlin and there just wasn’t enough time to see it all.
Instead of going everywhere and seeing everything, we prioritized by creating a list:
1) Cross through Checkpoint Charlie.
2) See the Berlin Wall up close.
3) Pose in front of Brandenburg Gate.
4) Get lost in the shadows of the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe.
5) Fill up on wurst, wurst, sauerkraut, bier, and more wurst. Oh, and Berliners.
Keeping our list simple and straightforward would allow us to leave Berlin well accomplished and filled to capacity with history, emotion, and having learned so much about each other and our own being.
Let’s get going: Once we left our bags inside our library (apartment), we took the metro to our first stopping point, Checkpoint Charlie. We were humored to see a group of actors standing around a small building situated in the road’s center asking for money in exchange for a photograph at the historical site. Several important signs were posted around these camouflaged personalities, signs of the Berlin Wall’s division of East and West. For thirty years, “You are now leaving the American Sector” was written in four languages to alert journalists and non-German visitors that they were crossing through the Berlin Wall and entering into the German side. Now, the Checkpoint Charlie building stands along with this sign and portraits of two soldiers: One Soviet, the other American. Perhaps the most famous of all signs worldwide: the luminous Golden Arches also hung nearby, indicating that yes, in fact, Checkpoint Charlie has become a proper tourist trap. Despite its cliche tourist bit, the station got us in the mood to learn more about the wall and Berlin’s intense recent history.
Our second point was to see the Berlin Wall up close.
We turned left on the main street after Checkpoint Charlie to follow the Berlin Wall’s trail. Since it’s resurrection, the wall has seen many changes, and now shows itself in several different manners: starting with graffitied pieces, moving on to commissioned works of art, museum-like displays, and finally in the form of nonexistent structures now denoted by small bricks laden into paved streets. Each one caused us to stop to examine its unique characteristics, but two stand strong in my memory.
The Berlin Wall Memorial provided more information than I ever dreamed of, from early leaders and simple lives in Germany to Hitler’s days to the fall of the wall and on to present day Berlin. The greatest surprise of all was that the events taking place during the time of the Holocaust are those moments in history which stand out most to me, but here these were only briefly covered, leaving more room for in-depth reflections of so many events proceeding and following this era. This seemed like a great way to educate the masses about the richness of Germany’s history by reminding visitors that there’s more to their story than one man’s legacy, as influential and destructive as it was. As crowds read through centuries of stories presented before us all remained quiet enough to allow an echoing of only footsteps and the sound of a neighbor’s slowed breaths of concentration.
The weekend we spent in Berlin came with weather humid enough to spell out your own name on camera lenses and feel that either a shower was never needed or was constantly being taken. The sun was also a great accompaniment, soaking deep into our skin and causing sweat to drip from every crevice and follicle. I popped up my leopard print umbrella for extra protection and Ben found shade under the many awnings along the way. We also found relief in museums, tall buildings casting shadows on sidewalks, and of course: at ice cream stands.
The ice cream stand we found was set just next to the Berlin Wall Memorial and offered a cone and one scoop for just one euro. After we grabbed our cones, mine chocolate and Ben’s pistachio, we continued north toward Brandenburg Gate. As we crossed the street, my ice cream dripped, landing with a ‘splotch’ on the pavement. I looked down with an exaggerated frown at the loss of this tiny taste of goodness and realized that the street we were crossing was in the exact spot where the Berlin Wall once continued. Bronze plaques now are planted within the pavement denoting the original path of the wall. That was an incredible realization, and had I not been standing in the middle of the street facing upcoming cyclists and automobiles, I would’ve stood longer to reflect upon its hidden power.
Instead, we kept up a steady pace and soon reached the most pedestrian-populated block in the city: Brandenburg Gate. We arrived as the sun began to set behind puffy clouds, creating never-ending rays which cut through cotton candy skies and invited more selfie sticks into the atmosphere than you could ever imagine. We did our best to dart between tourists and their soon-to-be million dollar photos, arms reaching across one another to get the optimal angle and eyes squinting with smile lines, saying “I don’t quite know where I am, but I know it’s important!”
After Brandenburg, we sat at a crossroads of several attractions, and opted to visit The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. 2711 blocks of concrete stood at varying heights in perfect rows creating a network of mazes, shadows, hidden spaces, and questions. Ben and I got separated within the shadows, mainly due to my curiosity, and I felt as if hours could have passed before I found him again had we remained with the monument’s boundaries. Each structure I passed meant another question and another potential new friend as I never knew who was waiting around the next corner. The two of us finally reconnected and laughed at those moments of separation anxiety we’d just experienced.
Our day on the streets of Berlin concluded with a long walk to the Berlin Victory Column. A golden statue of Grecian Goddess Victoria now stands nearly 70 meters tall as a symbol of Prussia’s defeat over Austria in the Prusso-Austria war. To us, it symbolized gold at the end of a rainbow as we walked for thrice as long as we thought in order to reach the monument. Its tall height creates a deceptive mirage, appearing closer in perception than in reality. We weighed our options one kilometer into our trip after realizing we were just at the halfway point and still had to hit up all-important task number five. Should we continue or turn back? Then we remembered the tale of the blonde swimmer who left a deserted island only to make it halfway, decide she was tired, and turn around to swim back to the island. Mission unaccomplished yet effort just as great.
That’s exactly what we felt like on a day of 38 degrees Celsius (breaking 100 degrees Fahrenheit!) and humidity enough to scrunch my curls four inches shorter. So we decided that unlike the blonde, we would continue moving forward. Once we reached Victoria on her sky-high thrown, Ben found a lovely bench and I walked one hundred meters further to face her head-on.
We called it quits after that – “Berlin, you’re beautiful, you’re historical, you have so much to offer us but we just can’t offer you any more today.”
To conclude the day, we meandered south to a restaurant offering exactly what we were looking for: wurst, sauerkraut and bier. Well instead of wurst, we decided to try the schnitzel. Let’s say that again: Ben decided to try the schnitzel and I thought the “wiener” in “wiener schnitzel” meant it was a hot dog. Buuu on American culture for it is anything but. However, it was delicious and so welcomed after a full day in Berlin. Naming the day successful, we returned home to our library and planned the next day’s final few hours of Sibling EuroTrip 3.0 while skimming through the massive amounts of books and videos available at our disposal.
Two days is far from enough time to see all the colors of Berlin, but from tastebud to shoe sole we were fully committed to doing our best. The best thing about leaving a city without having fully discovered it is we’re yearning for more. More schnitzel, more late nights, more peeks at history. And next time, the first thing I aim to do? Follow this amazing pathway through the life of David Bowie and his pals, like Iggy Pop. Anyone keen to join? Take a look at it here! Time to plan trip #2!