Sick of airports and flying, we decided to take a train from Paris to Berlin. We figured between the ride to the airport, getting there early, flying, waiting for luggage and traveling to our hotel, the 8 hour train ride would take just about the same time as flying and would drop us off in the city center. In theory, it was a great idea. Getting to the train station was much more pleasant than getting to an airport and hopping on a train was almost effortless. While we still vote for train travel, a few delays made our trip more of a 10 hour day. We kind of wish we would have just flown! However, delays on the train resulted in a reimbursement of 25% of our ticket cost! Without even asking or wondering, the train staff came around with vouchers for everyone for the inconvenience. They take being timely seriously here, and we benefitted from it! We did notice that during the first leg of our trip, our train stopped in Strasbourg, another amazing city in France. It only took about an hour and a half from Paris! If we’d known it was that easy, we would have incorporated it along the way (instead of later on when we plan to pop over during the end of our stint in Germany).
There are many areas to stay in when looking for hotels in Berlin, and after booking on Hotels.com through Ebates for our cash back and nights towards a free one (click our links and make a purchase so we get credit!) we decided to stay near the tiergarden at the Sheraton Grand. A great hotel at a great price, what more could you ask for!? While the location was great for a quiet night sleep, We realized we were about a 10 minutes walk from the nearest metro. Not terrible, but definitely not convenient (especially when raining, which it was during our entire first day!). We did however find a bus stop up the street that took us right to the main spots in Berlin, so that turned out great!
Berlin has a 24 hour pass for the public transport which made getting around that much easier. Just hop on and go! A note about the metro pass, you can buy it at machines located in the SBahn or Ubahn stations (Germany’s metro), but they only take coins or Euro based chip credit cards! We don’t normally carry €14 in coins (€7 each for a full 24 hours) and were left trying to figure out what to do. It doesn’t help that barely any English was spoken! We ended up finding a news stand located at our stop that sold the tickets and took our credit card, score! It may have taken a lot of help from google translate, but we’re happy we figured it out! Perseverance is key! Make sure you buy your ticket and validate it, you can hop on any public transport but if you’re caught without a ticket it’s a huge fine.
Our first day we had grand plans of going to see all the main spots, regardless of the rain. Dean’s number one was the Brandenburg gate, the iconic archway. Also on the list was of course the Berlin Wall and the TV Tower. On our way to the Brandenburg gate we passed by the “Memorial for the Murdered Jews of Europe”. The rain made the sight that much more profound. A large memorial with many concrete slabs and an underground memorial with the names of 3 million Jewish holocaust victims.
The good thing about the rain is that it kept a lot of the tourists away from the Brandenburg gate! The bad thing was that it made it harder to enjoy! We snapped some photos and were on our way…it’s just not a fun in ponchos and under umbrellas, nor as picturesque. The TV Tower was shrouded in thick clouds so we couldn’t get many pictures of that either. We did manage to go back the next day when it was sunny and you can see how big of a difference the weather makes! When we were there on the sunny day, it was packed with not only people, but clowns, artists and all other people trying to sell things. It always saddens us to see these great sights getting ruined by this type of stuff.
We decided instead of running around and getting drenched, a perfect rainy day activity would be to go to the Ritter Sport Flagship Chocolate Shop. Not only did they have every type of Ritter Sport bar you could ever want, but they also had a station where you could make your own! €3.90 for a 100g bar and €7.90 for 250g. Worth it in our opinion! It was so fun! Dean had plans of the perfect dark chocolate bar, but found out only when we got to the front of the line and were ready to pick ingredients that dark chocolate is only available in the winter… what?! What sense does that make? Nevertheless, he chose a milk chocolate bar with pink peppercorns, strawberries and carmelized almonds. I chose white chocolate with lemon, chocolate covered Rice Krispies and pop rocks! We both liked my creation the best (minus the lemon, not sure why I did that…). We also saw rhubarb as an option and immediately thought of Dean’s dad, so we made him one too! Milk chocolate with rhubarb, strawberries and biscuit pieces. We hope he likes it! (And it doesn’t melt before he gets to try it!) It was so much fun to make our bars and shop around while we waited for them to be ready. We filled up on our favorites like “cornflakes” “alpenmilk” and some new test flavors like buttermilk lemon and caramel mousse. A great rainy day activity and not to mention they were only €.90 for a 100g bar, they’re usually $3 in the USA! As if we needed another excuse to load up on chocolate…
The rest of our time in Berlin was spent seeing all the other main sights. Luckily the rain only lasted one day, so we were able to see everything we wanted with great weather. We went to Checkpoint Charlie and learned all about its history. Berlin was divided up amongst the victors of WW2 with the US, British and French getting the Western part of the city and the Soviets getting the Eastern part. Checkpoint Charlie was the US checkpoint entrance to Western Berlin and the most famous. If you’re a history buff, you can spend hours slowly walking along the walls near the Checkpoint reading about Cold War tensions, the peril of families split by the city being divided and the horrid conditions that the East Berliners faced. Fittingly enough on the US side of the checkpoint you will find a KFC and McDonald’s as well as guys dressed up as US GI’s charging for a picture. (How American is that?!) We had quite a laugh at that. Once you “crossed over” to the other side, none of that stuff was there. A once tension filled part of the city that was a focus of many showdowns is now a great place to learn.
There are a few different parts of the Berlin Wall throughout the city that you can visit. We went to one end of the and learned all about it. It had the names and photos of dozens of people that died trying to cross over to freedom and puts into perspective just how far Berlin and Germany as a whole have come since the fall of the Wall in 1989.
Oh the food. Every meal was amazing here! We were not disappointed!
Repke Spatzlerei: Being that it was our first night in Germany, we naturally were in search for some its traditional food. Repke was absolute perfection. A homestyle, locals restaurant was exactly what we wanted and got. First, beer… of course! I had a Berlinerweiss with raspberry syrup, a sour beer brought to a happy medium of sweetness that was so refreshing and delicious. Dean had a half liter of Lager and was just as happy! Next was Germany’s answer to pizza, Flamkuchen which has a super thin, cracker like crust. We got the traditional variety with a creme fraiche base topped with speck (smoked ham) and onions. For our main meals, I got spaetzle, a dumpling/noodle made with flour, egg and milk that’s cut over boiling water, topped with melty cheese, chicken and a mushroom cream sauce. Dean got schwein schnizel, crispy fried pork cutlet, with spaetzle. The perfect meal to fill and warm us up! Both traditional and almost as good as Dean makes back home… it gave us nostalgic feeling for sure!
Mustafa’s Gemuse Kebaps: You might ask, Kebap (Doner Kebab) in Berlin? We’re suckers for them in most of the cities we go. There’s just something about the spiced meat shaved off the spit and stuffed into pillowy bread or toasty wrap with the delicious sauces and toppings. There is a huge Turkish population in Berlin and along with it comes the famous Kebap stands, 2 or 3 on a block isn’t unusual, so why is Mustafa’s worth an hour long wait? The meat was amazing, freshly shaved chicken from the spit, slow cooked vegetables to add body and loaded into a fresh Turkish flatbread (not too much different than a pita) with the freshest crunchy vegetables and garlicky sauce and chili. The pictures alone show how amazing it is, and the taste was honestly the best Kebap we have had anywhere in the world.
Currywurst is another famous meal in Germany, and Berlin is its birthplace, so of course that was a must here. The story goes that back in the day, after WW2, when the British were occupying Berlin, one of the Berliners acquired curry powder and ketchup (possibly Worcestershire back then) from the British soldiers and put it over her bratwurst. It was an instant hit and the rest is history! Dean makes a mean version back home and puts it over chicken bratwurst for me and my picky taste buds, but I didn’t find anyone willing to do that for me here! I was left drooling over deans plate and taking his word for it! He tried it twice, the first at a random shop near our train station that left lots to be desired and one version while waiting in the long line for the Mustafa Kebap which was better than the first. When he makes it at home, he sautés onions, adds some red wine vinegar, browns the curry powder and brings the whole thing together with Heinz ketchup. Each bite is packed with curry and deep flavor. Here, while they deep fry the bratwurst (which is always a good choice!) they simply dash some curry powder on some ketchup and call it a day. Most of the “sauce”, if you want to call it that, is just ketchup. Have they gotten lazy throughout the years, or is our home version too sexified? Either way, come to our house and have some to decide which you like better! We promise you’ll see what we’re taking about.
Emma’s: After a long and hard search for dinner, we can across Emma’s on TripAdvisor and had another win for dinner. Dean got Jägerschnitzel, a pork schnitzel topped with a creamy brown mushroom gravy, with a size of crispy potatoes mixed with bacon.
Berlin was such an awesome city! Regardless of the rain, we had so much fun and it’s a city we definitely recommend visiting!
Next stop is Prague, Czech Republic!