On the transportation, food, art, and clubbing scene in Berlin

We arrived in Berlin at around 8am, with little to no sleep from our memorable journey. I remember it had also been raining – hard – in Birmingham when we boarded the airplane from outside, as is common in Europe. I remember waiting in line in the pouring rain, our soaking jackets, and a wet and cold plane ride.

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Emu posing, suitcase in hand, outside a subway exit.

But alas! We were in Berlin! The skies were clear and white, my absolute favorite. White skies provide the perfect lighting for pictures, evoke such a serene and calm aura, and most importantly, do not blind light-sensitive people like myself. We couldn’t check into our Airbnb until 3pm, which was unfortunate, so we just explored the city with our luggage.

Our first obstacle was figuring out the Berlin transportation system. The fact that each city has its own unique transportation system is somewhat of a pain, especially when you’re only in a city for two days max. We soon learned that Germany has this amazing honor code transportation system. It was 7 euros for an all-day pass (till 3am the next day), and it was valid for all forms of transportation in the city. Trams, subway, buses. Everything! There was also no ticket gate, so technically people without a ticket could enter. However, occasionally (read: rarely) there were guards who patrolled the stations, and those that were caught without a ticket were heavily fined. I know I’m writing a lot about a weird topic  – ew transportation, BUT I was so so impressed and in awe of the cheap price, ease, and honesty of Berlin transportation.

 

We first stopped at Cafe Einstein to eat breakfast. I was excited to try a “traditional German breakfast”, which essentially was just an arrangement of cold sliced meats, cheeses, lots of bread, fruit, smoked salmon, chicken curry (??), yogurt, and lots of jams – arranged in the style of traditional English afternoon tea. Emu got an aesthetically pleasing avocado bagel. Both stuffed, we began wandering the streets of Berlin, stopping first at the Victory Column, a large monument located centrally to the city; Tiergarten, a massive park; Brandenberg Tor, a beautiful gate and symbol of Berlin; Reichstag Building, which used to house the German parliament; and the Holocaust Memorial.

 

We dragged our poor suitcases through many miles and tourist attractions, but the sights and architecture of the city were well worth it – as you can see from the beautiful pictures. We checked into our Airbnb, connected to Wifi, and disappeared for a bit into our virtual worlds. For dinner, we went to a restaurant called Schnitzelei Mitte. They served us welcome beer, which was the most amazing beer I have ever had in my life. I never thought I would like beer until that moment. We ordered German tapas and veal schnitzel (which is sort of like a pork cutlet), both of which were delicious. We also learned the unfortunate way (as seems to be a theme in our travels so far haha) that in Germany, it is customary to tip the waiters and waitresses, unless we thought the service was bad. Oops.

The next morning we pursued what was reputed to be the most delicious bakery in all of Berlin, Zeit Fur Brot. We shared the chocolate swirl bun and apple strudel, quickly scraping the plate clean. We then visited Alexanderplatz, a central plaza; Berliner Fernsehturm, a tall tower; Berlin Cathedral Church, which was unfortunately closed; National Gallery; and the Bode Museum.

 

The four museums were all located on an “island,” and charged one fee for all the museums, which I thought was pretty neat. Not only that, but kids under the age of 18 had free admission! I couldn’t help but think that maybe this is why Europeans, or at least the ones that I have met, are more cultured. I personally didn’t visit museums much/at all as a child, and most museums charged at least a few dollars. The museums also all provided audio guides, which I loved. We only had time to go to two museums, but I felt like I really got something out of these museums. The audio guides taught me a lot about the artwork, and the emotions/impressions/scenes the artists were trying to convey. I especially loved the paintings of Adolph Menzel, mainly because the museum showcased a lot of his unfinished work. For one of his more famous paintings, Flute Concert with Frederick the Great in Sanssouci, the museum showcased his drawing of the piece right next to the finished painting. It was so cool to compare the two side by side, see what he left out, see what he added, and understand a bit better what Menzel was trying to convey. On the other hand, the Bode Museum housed a lot of Christian artwork and sculptures, none of which I’m a huge fan of. However, the museum’s architecture itself was gorgeous and grand! Lots of pictures were taken.

 

We explored an art market that displayed lots of original, creative concepts, such as wooden bowties, small plants in jewelry, polygon-shaped handbags that looked like pieces of modern art, etc. Then, we treated ourselves to gelato and headed to the East Side Gallery – a remaining portion of the Berlin Wall that had since turned into a gallery of graffiti art. The graffiti was truly very cool and abstract, but many had cool quotes. One in particular that stood out was “If street art didn’t change anything, then it would be legal”. We grabbed some currywurst and headed back to get ready for clubbing.

 

Berlin techno. Apparently, Berlin is known for breeding some of electronic’s / techno’s best DJs and home to some of the best electronic nightlife. Berghain is one such club and is open 24 hours from Friday – Monday morning. It is so popular that there is a queue during all hours of the day. Not to mention, the bouncers maintain a strict door policy. It’s still unclear what their exact policy is, but Emily did a lot of research online and some of the myths on how to get inside include: wear all black, don’t talk, don’t use your phones, look 24+ years old, don’t dress up, etc, etc. She also read that the best time to go for the shortest queues was Sunday afternoons. Emily did my makeup and dressed me, hoping that we could pass for 24.

4:30pm. We made our way over to the sketchy, abandoned power plant and entered the line. After 30 minutes, the bouncer at the door took a quick glance at us, and with a shake of his head, we were escorted out. Rip. “Oh well, I have a list of clubs that we could try out in the likely chance we wouldn’t get into Berghain”. Emily to the rescue!

 

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The famed Berghain, sneakily taken as we were leaving.

 

5pm. We grabbed some doner kebabs and proceeded to wander to two more clubs; the first, “:// about blank”, was temporarily closed for the next two weeks and the second, “Sisyphos”, was just not open on Sunday night.

7pm. We headed home and decided to take a break and do some research before heading out again. Given that it was a Sunday night, we realized our options were limited and opted for a smaller club with mostly positive reviews on Google, “Beate Uwe”.

10pm. We got to the club and immediately I realized it was an indoor smoking club. Anyone who has ever walked outside with me before knows that I absolutely detest smoking and the smell. On the streets, I usually run past or hold my breath. Inside the club, I mentally prepared myself for the 1.5 hrs I would be forced to inhale the secondhand smoke. The club was unique in that most everyone danced with their shoes off, which apparently helped people “feel” the music. We also immediately noticed the much older crowd that was vibing with us. The music was definitely electronic but not what we expected. It had chill vibes with African and Indian influences, and while it was objectively a good mix, it was not the upbeat, lit night we had anticipated. I closed my eyes and vibed to the chill mix for 1.5 hrs.

11:30pm We left, we got KFC and called it a night.

Thank you, Berlin. What an incredible cultural experience you were.

Till next time,

Alyssa

On the best way to start an adventure

March 10th, 2018 | Saturday

It is currently 5:22am and Emu and I are sitting at Birmingham Airport, an hr and 8min car ride away from our new homes at Oxford. This morning, it took us almost four hours, (92 + 23.80) pounds, and a series of unfortunate events to make the journey.

I like to think of unfortunate experiences as good future stories. 

Pumped for our first trip, Emu and I left our rooms at 12:50am on Saturday. As I walked over to Emu’s place, I passed a man publicly urinating on the building next to mine. As I waited for Emu outside, I listened as his girl yelled at him for ditching her behind while he ran ahead to urinate. We arrived at the Gloucester Green Bus Station before 1am, sleepy but anxiously awaiting our 1:10am National Express coach to take us to Birmingham Airport. Our flight was at 6:25am, but the 1:10am bus was the latest bus that would get us to the airport on time. I had booked our tickets about a month ago, eager to save money by booking ahead of time. We grabbed some lamb wraps for 3.70 pounds and I checked our tickets. It was about 1:05am. Where was our bus?

Oh. I see. The ticket says Sunday, March 11th. Oops.

I proceed to apologize profusely to Emily, who is one of the most chill, most forgiving humans to ever grace the world. Darn. Ok. People usually buy tickets on the coach the day of. So this shouldn’t be a problem! Emily looked online and found tickets for a coach leaving and arriving at the same time, except on the correct day. “Should I book it?” “Hm.. maybe we should wait. We can always get it on the bus.” One of the workers at the bus station told us that our specific bus was notoriously late, and there was a chance that they would only charge us 6 extra pounds to upgrade our tickets, rather than charge us the full amount for new tickets. Amazing!! Many google searches later, we realized that this was literally our only option as every other option would arrive at the airport after our flight.

1:30am. Is the bus coming?

The friendly worker at the bus station told us that the bus would only stop at Oxford if there were people with tickets they had to pick up. Amazingly, we found two guys at the station who had tickets for Birmingham. Great! So the bus would definitely come, and Emily and I would just buy tickets on the bus and arrive at the airport 3 hrs early. 

1:40am. Where did one of the guys go..? 

A random man approaches us at this point and asks in a thick accent that is definitely not British. “Are you guys going to Birmingham?” Yes, we are! “Great. National Express’ bus isn’t coming so they called a taxi to take you directly.” Wow amazing! Private transportation to the airport. Oh wait, just kidding. National Express actually provided a taxi service to take us to Wheatley Bus Station, 10 minutes further, where the bus would apparently be waiting to take us to the airport. 

2:00am. The taxi man seemed nice, so we willingly got into the Mercedes Benz taxi with a stranger. He was Albanian, had a wife and three children, and was tired. We arrived at Wheatley Bus Station, where there was no sign of life, let alone a large National Express coach. The taxi driver phoned his company, and the three of us sat there in the deserted parking lot chatting, dozing off, and listening to “Friday” night club mixes on the radio. 

2:30am. National Express has this website that allows passengers to track the current location and status of their buses. Emily had the brilliant idea to track the bus and noted that it was already at Birmingham. Hm. So where is the bus that is supposed to pick us up? 

2:45am. After many calls between the taxi agency, the higher up taxi company, and the even higher up National Express, a worker at National Express told us apologetically that since we bought tickets for the wrong day, they had no obligation to provide transportation for us to the airport.

2:50am. Taxi driver uses the loo and gets some coffee for the journey ahead. He thankfully agrees to take us to the airport.

4:30am. We finally arrived at Birmingham Airport in a black Mercedes Benz. We paid the driver 90 pounds plus 2 additional pounds to park, and thanked him endlessly for staying with us through our journey.

Apparently, there was only one guy (let’s name him Tom) who had a ticket from Oxford to Birmingham. National Express felt like it wasn’t worth the detour to pick only Tom up, so they decided to send a taxi for Tom to meet up with the bus instead. That was probably where Tom went sometime between 1:30-1:40am. Somehow, the taxi company sent two taxis and the second taxi found us. Tom made it to Wheatley Bus Station, where the bus was waiting, picked him up, and left. We’re still not sure what happened to the other guy we met at the Oxford Bus Station 😦 Had we arrived earlier, we would have been able to buy tickets on the bus and smoothly make it to the airport. Then again, had I just let Emu buy tickets online when we first realized we had tickets for the wrong day, then we would have also been able to smoothly make it to the airport because the bus would have known to wait for us. Then again, had I just managed to buy the tickets for the correct day, this could have all been prevented! But then there would be no story and no blog post :/

Now we are in Berlin!

Cheers,

Alyssa