Back in January, I made the impulsive decision to buy a flight to Germany for 10 days because I was bored at work and had saved money for the first time in…well, ever.
When I first moved to New York, I only had German friends. I mean I had a few college friends, but all of my first New York friends were German. I met Ajla first at the dorm I lived in when I first moved to the city. And through her, I met Lara and Pascal. From then on, for the first three months I lived in New York, I only hung out with Germans (and still don’t know any German). They were all in the city for internships and eventually they all left me for Germany. So while sitting at work bored of Excel spreadsheets, I decided I needed an adventure and bought a cheap ticket to Berlin through Norwegian Air.
I planned my trip around Oktoberfest in Munich, but decided to fly into Berlin because it was significantly cheaper. I searched through Google flights to find the cheapest flight. I flew into Berlin at 8pm on September 17th and that was the start of my trip around Germany.
After buying the ticket, I decided I wanted to get the most out of my trip. I needed to visit three people and see an entire country. I had never been to Germany before and this would be the first time I was in a country where I didn’t know the language at all (my French may be rough, but I can at least ask where the bathroom is.) I am so grateful that Lara took control of the planning. I had to get out a map just to find the cities I wanted to visit (embarrassing) let alone figure out how to get from city to city. Our plan was for me to land in Berlin and stay there for 2 days, then go to Munich for 2 days for Oktoberfest, then go to Bonn for a day to visit Pascal, go with Pascal to Cologne, then go from Cologne to Munster to visit Ajla, and then from Munster back to Berlin.
For those of you who are also not familiar with German geography. I have created a map.
The first full day I was in Germany I was in Berlin. We got a lot of stuff done in my first day. We started at the Brandenburger Tor.
Then, we went to the Reichstagsgebäude and inside of the glass dome on the top of the building. This building is the German’s parliament building. It has a glass dome on top that is free to tour and has a 360 degree view of the city. When we visited the building in the morning, we were able to go to the visitor’s center and get an appointment to go into the dome later that night.
As we walked from the Reichstag Building through the city, we saw a monument to remember the Holocaust, Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. It was designed by architect Peter Eisenman and engineer Buro Happold. When we first got to the monument, we weren’t really sure what it was meant to represent. We decided to Google it and found that the most common interpretation is that the design is meant to make you uncomfortable as you walk through it. The concrete slabs are aligned in rows, but the heights change and the floor beneath them goes up and down like small rolling hills. As you walk farther in, the concrete slabs around you become higher and higher and it does in fact become uncomfortable. It is meant to represent an ordered system that has lost touch with human reason.
(PSA: If you bring your idiot kids to this memorial, rather than allowing them to run on the concrete slabs and jump from one to the next, teach them why it is there and what it means, that they need to respect it, as well as the people it stands for, and that it is not a jungle gym for them to play on.)
After the memorial, we went across town to the East Side Gallery. It is a 1316m long (that’s long) section of the Berlin Wall that has been transformed into an international memorial for freedom. The Wall is an interesting feeling. On one hand, you’re trying to wrap your head around it’s original purpose and understand the why’s and the how’s. But, on the other hand, there is a lighter feeling. There is art. The Wall is divided into sections and each is a mural created by artists from around the world. I have way too many pictures of it to post here all at once, but I’ll be posting them to my Instagram over time. So stay tuned.
At the end of the day, we went to a cool bar with a great view of Berlin called Klunkerkranich. It is a bar on top of the parking garage of a mall (yeah you read that right). It has great views of the whole city, great sandwiches, and of course beer.
The next day, we were off to Munich. We took a six hour train ride and got into Munich just in time to buy a Dirndl and get some traditional German food at Obacht.
The next two days were Oktoberfest. Oktoberfest was way bigger than I ever imagined. I was imaging huge white tents on a muddy grassland with beer and pretzels (as you can see, I did zero research for this trip.) Oktoberfest is a giant carnival. There are rollercoasters, games, magic shows, all kinds of food, and of course massive beer tents. The tents are filled with long picnic tables and a large stage in the center for the band. You have to be seated at a table to be served, so it is best to show up before noon when there are still seats in the public section. If you have a large group, you can reserve tables online. Each tent has it’s own brew of a special beer made for Oktoberfest (careful it’s more alcoholic than regular beer) and it comes in a liter glass. They also have traditional German food. Each section of the public tables has a waitress, so there’s never any annoying, long beer lines the beer just keeps coming. The beer is cheap too. The Germans were all complaining about the price because they’re used to cheap beer, but I was more than excited to get an entire liter of beer for only 11,50€ (less than the price of a pint in NYC.)
Our tent the first day was full of Americans, so we met a lot of interesting people. The people we sat with originally ended up getting kicked out. Apparently, it’s a thing that if you stand up on the table you are agreeing to chug your entire beer. So, four guys at our table, already a few beers in, decided to stand up on the table and attempt to chug their entire beer. If you fail to chug you’re entire beer, pretzels and pretty much anything people can get their hands on is thrown at you. If you cause a mess, you’re out. So, the guys from our table failed and not only was stuff thrown at them, but they poured beer all over the table and one even threw up. They were immediately escorted out by security. In conclusion, if you decide to stand on the table as a proclamation that you can finish a liter of beer in one chug, you better be sure you can do it. In the following hours, three more men were escorted out for being an embarrassment to beer on German property.
The second day, we were recovering from the first day. We decided to go to the wine tent in the morning (yes, wine is a breakfast food.) After the wine tent, we went on a few rollercoasters. They actually had some really big rollercoasters. I also had my first Bratwurst (way better than I expected.)
Oktoberfest was way more than I expected, but I don’t think my body could’ve survived more than two days of endless beer, pretzels, and rollercoasters.
From Oktoberfest (literally we changed in the train station where we were storing our suitcases for the day), we took an overnight bus to Bonn to visit Pascal. Bonn is a cute city that used to be the capitol of Germany. It is also the birth place of Ludwig von Beethoven (fun fact to remember for trivia nights.) It has a lot of small, old city charm, but also remnants of what was once a capitol city. The university and the older houses around it looked to me a lot like Savannah, GA which I thought was funny. It was a long, large field lined by large drooping trees surrounded by old house (if you know Savannah you get what I’m picturing.) Bonn is also the birthplace of Haribo (the bo stands for Bonn and the rest stands for a name or something German that I don’t know.) We went to the big Haribo store ( I was eating that candy for days) and the Lindt store across the street (can’t skip the chocolate store.)
The next day we drove into Cologne. Cologne is a pretty big city with a huge cathedral and a lot of shopping. They also have their own kind of beer which is Kölsch. The Germans were laughing that it was a very watered down light beer…it tastes like America’s most popular beer, Bud Light (that’s embarrassing.) We walked around the waterfront where there are a lot of restaurants, we tried some Kölsch, and I tried fries with mayonnaise (apparently the way everyone eats them in Germany.) We showed up at the cathedral at the perfect time for morning mass. So, we left and walked around window shopping. And of course, it wouldn’t be a European city without a lock bridge. The lock bridge in Cologne is actually voted the 2nd best lock bridge to lock your love to according to this random website I found when Googling “lock bridge.” Naturally, we needed an Instagram picture with the famous locks. It was a short day in Cologne before we had to get on our train to Münster, but Cologne was a fun city with a really nice waterfront.
From Cologne, we took a train to Münster. At this point, I think we were going a little crazy from all of the traveling (we found Snapchat filters way too amusing.)
We arrived in Münster around dinner time. In Münster, we were visiting Ajla, who is actually the first German I met in New York. We moved into our dorms/apartments (aka womens prison) on the same day and braved the “dining hall” “food” together. We didn’t have much time in Münster, but we walked around the cool parts of the city and the riverfront. Along the river (it was possibly a canal, but I’m not a body of water expert), we ate at a hamburger restaurant. Yes, gourmet hamburgers are now a thing everyone and so is chipotle mayo (Thank God). In true form, I ordered a hamburger bigger than my head and couldn’t even finish half. I also ordered about 6 of the 8 sauces on the menu. To say my eyes are bigger than my stomach, would be an understatement (also, I just love sauces).
Even though we only had one night in Münster, it was fun catching up and planning Ajla’s next trip to the city.
The next morning, it was back to Berlin. We had to wake up super early to catch our final train. We got back to Berlin in the middle of the day. It was a pretty gross rainy day, so we decided to do something a little different. We went to the Dong Xuan Center. It is a cluster of aircraft hangers in one of the outer-parts of the city. It houses a few restaurants, grocery stores, nail salons, hair places, and shops selling cheap wholesale trinkets. It is an interesting shopping experience. They have the most random products for sale in some of the shops and the grocery stores sell some foods I had never seen before. It was fun going from shop to shop looking at the random assortment of stuff. It is definitely off the beaten path and not a normal tourist attraction, but it was a fun adventure for a rainy day.
The next day was unfortunately my last full day in Berlin. But, we made the most of my last day. I have gotten into the habit of getting a new tattoo wherever I travel. So, for my last day our only plans were get tattoos and get kebabs.
We went to Schwarze Hand Tattoo. It is in a neighborhood of Berlin that reminded me a lot of the East Village. We did a lot of research (when I say “we” I mean Lara) before choosing it. I liked it because the artists spoke English, so it made it easier to explain what I was looking for.
Travel Tattoo Tip: (I feel like I need to share this advice after the group of American guys that came in after us did everything wrong.)
If you want to get a tattoo when you travel, PLAN AHEAD. That’s really it. It’s not hard. Do your research. Email the shop. Talk with the artist. Make an appointment. Don’t come in in the middle of the day with a giant sleeve of tribal designs that you want done right then. Most likely, they wont have time. And this isn’t really a process you want to rush. PLAN AHEAD.
I chose a small design by an artist I am a fan of that I wanted done in black, so my tattoo only took about 15 minutes once I picked the perfect size and placement.
I am always hungry after getting a tattoo. So, we went to a popular kebab stand. The very simple, tiny kebab stand had a very long line. There were only 3 items on the menu, but this place had caught the attention of Berliners and tourists alike. We waited about an hour for our kebabs, but it was well worth it. (We waited three hours for milkshakes once, so we have no shame.)
After kebabs, we went shopping and got some much needed Adidas apparel. On our walk back from the mall, we just happened upon the world clock. It was a fun touristy/Instagrammy way to end the day and the trip.
Wow we did a lot! That was a lot for one post. If you’re still with me at this point, you deserve a medal. I’m not even still with me. This was definitely an amazing first trip to Germany. I couldn’t be thankful enough for all of my German friends who helped me plan this and let me crash on my journey. This definitely wont be my only trip to Germany. Can’t wait to see all of my German again soon!