The first time I visited Berlin, I hated it. Okay, hate is a strong word. I didn’t hate it, but I certainly didn’t enjoy it and I had no plans to ever, ever, EVER visit there again. Ever. I just didn’t get it. Why does everyone in the world love Berlin? It’s absolutely massive, it’s grimy, it’s intimidating… and everything just seemed so damn hidden. Where were these infamous parties?! Where were this quirky pop up stores, the history, the notable street art. Where were the parties?!?!
When GoEuro invited me back to Berlin to see if they could change my mind about their home city, I was surprised, excited and very grateful, but I wasn’t as psyched as I would have been if it was, say… Prague. Or Paris. Or somewhere else that I hadn’t been before. But it was an amazing offer and hey, maybe this time round I would actually get to see what the city is all about. So I readily accepted.
My first night in Berlin went exactly as my first solo trip to another country in about a year and a half OF COURSE would go. What’s that? Oh, of course my flight was delayed two hours. Arrive in Berlin. My phone ceases to work. I use a payphone for the first time in a decade to ring my lovely GoEuro guide, Susannah. She’ll meet me at the train station in the city. But then obviously the trains were being serviced or just generally not playing nice with me. Cue another 2 hours of trying to get into Berlin at 12.30 at night, tired and grumpy and SO FULL OF HATE for trains and my lack of taxi money.
After enlisting the help of the friendliest German man in the world and borrowing his phone and generally being a little cry baby, I arrived! To my relief Susannah was still waiting there at 2am and, even more to my relief, there were beers in her bag and, after dumping my stuff in the most beautiful old apartment courtesy of Airbnb, we sat by the canal and drank our beers, had a series of ridiculous conversations, and then meandered our way home.
The next day we met up with Charmaine and Charlie from My Destination Berlin with their beautiful BEBES! We ate nice food, drank good coffee, and got attacked by the worlds most persistent wasps. The bebes left, Charlie remained, and we embarked on an absolute quest to get to the attraction of the day – Teufelsberg. After dragging our bikes up and down the U-Bahn (what joy), we made it. A newly enforced tour thing was in place, and after parting with €7, we were permitted entry to the ex-Nazi research facility/Allies spy tower. The next 24 hours consisted of bikes, burgers, beer, a great house party and a parting – incredibly awesome, interesting and an absolute ‘must do’ – Alternative Berlin street art tour.
On my way back to Amsterdam, I was tired, kind of achey, a little bit stressed, but happy. I had such a good time in Germany’s capital second time round – even if we still didn’t manage to tick off 178468 of the Berlin Must Do’s. But what was the difference between this and my first time?
Well, Berlin is a BIG place. I felt – and still feel – that it’s the kind of place where you have to have a plan. Not necessarily a regimented itinerary, but a vague outline of what you really want to do and how you go about doing that. Last year, we wandered around, trying to find an exact centre, trying to find where ‘everything went on’. But Berlin doesn’t have that. Everything that’s happening is just happening, everywhere.
It helped being with such an awesome local, who loved her city and had a cool group of friends who were very welcoming and a lot of fun. There was no stress, there was no feeling of being absolutely overwhelmed with not knowing what to do or where to go. I think I got a taste of what everyone finds addictive about the city, but… It still isn’t enough to make me fall head over heels for it. It did, however, make me want to visit again and spend a lot more time there. It ignites a curiosity and kind of excitement in me that I feel that no matter how many times I go, will never be quenched. And that’s a lot of fun.
My advice for a first time visitor is… I don’t know. It’s an insane, 24/7 city. Couchsurf, stay with locals, don’t have crazy expectations. Take Berlin as it comes, but don’t expect everything to come your way. It’s not an easy city. It’s grimy, it’s underground, it’s almost too cool. But judging by everyone I met who lives there? Once Berlin welcomes you into it’s grimy little heart, it’s hard to escape.