Posted on May 22nd, 2016
My weekend away to Berlin was very spontaneous and hurriedly organised just a week before. This lack of planning obviously meant very expensive last-minute plane tickets but oh my goodness was it worth it! It was honestly the perfect weekend get away. I couldn’t have asked for a better time (except maybe for the weather to have been a bit warmer). It was an amazing mix of good live music, experiencing a local’s day in vibrant Berlin and soaking up the city’s incredibly rich history. If you ever get a chance, definitely head on over to Germany’s capital. I’m sure you’ll fall in love with this colourful and diverse city as much as I did!
After heading to my hostel (The Generator Berlin Mitte) and checking in, I made my way to the East Side Gallery. This is the longest standing section of the Berlin Wall and has become one of the largest open air galleries featuring all sorts of artwork expressing the hope and freedom that followed the tearing down of the Berlin Wall. I was surprised to see how unimposing the wall was. It was definitely a lot shorter than I’d expected.
I then sampled my first Berlin-classic: currywurst. A very typical Berlin dish of sausages, tomato sauce and curry powder. Yum, yum, yum!
I then headed on over to the trendy neighborhood of Kreuzberg. The area was a part of the old West Berlin and is now home to hipsters and all sorts of alternative types. I loved walking through the open streets lined with leafy trees, young people cycling around, quirky bars and restaurants. This was where I went to watch my favourite South African bands: Al Bairre, Shortstraw and December Streets (please do give the band names a click and have a listen to the most amazing South African music!). It was an incredible concert and such a surreal experience watching bands from my hometown, in Germany. And to top it all off the venue was filled with South Africans! If anyone wanted to find all the Saffas in Berlin, they need only have gone to Privatclub that night. I met some lovely people and danced away to some jammy tunes. Definitely a highlight!
The next day I caught the S-bahn to Mauer Park flea market. It reminded me a lot of the markets at the Grahamstown Festival. Walking along the stores I found many thrifty treasures and vintage beauties. I could’ve spent hours there and if it wasn’t for the hang luggage restrictions would have bought SO many clothes.
Popping into the one of the numerous food stalls I grabbed a bratwurst and went to watch the local entertainment: bubble blowers and crazy punk/rock German buskers who were taking themselves just a little bit too seriously but had managed to attract quite a crowd with their funky moves and hardcore songs.
“Beer is cheaper than water. Das ist Berlin” is a quote you’ll find all over the city. It really is true. Berlin culture: buy a beer, walk the streets, do public transport and everything under the sun with it. Oh and be sure to have an extra cold one in your pocket in case you’re bored and thirsty and need to crack one open on the S-bahn. I love it!
Being the weekend of the Carnival of Cultures this culture was only further intensified with people spilling out onto the streets in costumes and high spirits and popping a squat on the side of the road to watch the parade. Dancers, acrobats and musicians dressed in the attire of countless cultures walked the people lined streets. I joined in the festivities grabbing a Club Mate and watching the entourage of Columbian dancers, K-Pop move busting teens, kids on stilts and a massive group of Bolivians in traditional dress. It was such fun and I was so glad that the one weekend of the year that Berlin hosts the Carnival of Cultures happened to be the weekend I was there.
I made the most of the afternoon sunshine and went to soak up all the beauty of Museum Island, the Berlin Dome and Lustgarten. I even found a temporary basketball stadium set up on Alexander Platz. I think that is what struck me about Berlin, just how much there is going on in this amazingly diverse city.
The day was ended off with a typical German supper of Eisbein and potatoes and a yummy cocktail in an atmospheric bar in Kreuzberg.
My last day in Berlin was dedicated to trying to piece together the incredible history of this city. I did this through an amazing free walking tour with Sandeman’s New Europe walking tours. My guide was absolutely remarkable! He was so knowledgeable and just guided us through Berlin’s rich history in such an accessible and comprehensible way. I literally felt like I got a history degree in 3 hours.
We saw the Brandenburg Gate:
The Holocaust Memorial:
And Checkpoint Charlie:
I didn’t take History as a school subject because I didn’t like the way it was assessed but I have always been so fascinated by it. I am so hungry for the knowledge that I just don’t have. It was such a treat to be walking through the places of such historical importance and learning why all of these important events happened. From the start of World War Two to the Berlin Wall, I felt like an expert on all things Berlin after that tour.
Afterwards I went for a stroll through Tiergarten while munching on a doughy and salty pretzel. I smiled to myself just reveling in the joy of all my experiences of the past weekend. Experiences that a week ago I had no idea I’d be having. This is what I’m just enjoying so much about my gap year. I’m learning so much and growing in ways I couldn’t have possibly foreseen or imagined before leaving home. There are definitely moments that are harder than I think I can bear and weeks where I just want to cry but I just keep having to remind myself that it’s for moments like my weekend in Berlin that I’m here. That’s why I’m doing this.