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Archive for Germany

Berlin: The 6 Days that Turned into 2 Weeks

I feel like I owe an explanation as to why it’s been so long since I’ve posted. See, I had a nice long post written about my stay in Berlin, and I was planning on publishing it the day I arrived at my next stop, Kraków. But of course, as I should know by now, things don’t always go as planned while travelling.

See, on the day I was supposed to leave Berlin, as I was exiting the metro station and heading towards the bus station, my wallet was stolen by some asshole pickpocket. There was a fair amount of cash in that wallet, probably about €60, so you can bet I was pretty upset. It wasn’t until I got to the bus station a few minutes later and took my place in the queue for the bus to Poland that it suddenly hit me that my passport had been in that wallet. Yup. I was about to get on a bus to another country, and I had no passport. (How do you say “Fuck my life” in German?)

I’ll save the description of my emotional state on that day for a future post, but let me just tell you that it was the worst day of my adult life so far. I was crying hysterically allllllll day. So, long story short, I’m stuck in Berlin until I can get a temporary passport, which will hopefully be in a few days.

However traumatizing this experience has been, it hasn’t altered my love for Berlin, which I still regard as a wonderful city. Below is the post I had written before my passport was stolen, which like I said, I was planning on publishing shortly after my arrival in Kraków. It’s still an accurate description of how I feel about Germany’s capital city.

Berlin, Brandenburg Gate

Brandenburg Gate, surrounded by adoring fans

 

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After spending four days in pricey Copenhagen, Berlin was a dream come true. Don’t get me wrong, I adore Copenhagen, but you can hardly even buy a sandwich there for less than $12 CAD. In Berlin, on the other hand, you can get a falafel pita for €3 in just about every street corner in the Kreuzberg district, where my hostel was. It’s heaven for a foodie on a budget.

Berlin, falafel sandwich

Just one of the many cheap falafel sandwiches I ate in Berlin

On my first day in the city, I stood in line for damn near an hour at this little kebab stand called Mustafa’s, which I had heard was a bit of a legend in Berlin. Standing in the slow-moving line, I had my doubts that any sandwich could be worth a wait this long. But when I finally sank my teeth into that heavenly pita stuffed with fresh veggies, potato wedges, roasted eggplant, tzatziki, feta cheese, and Mustafa’s special sauces, I felt the wait had been 100% worth it. It was probably the best thing I had eaten so far on this trip. And it was so cheap! I couldn’t believe I had paid only 3.10 for it. So far, Berlin was winning in my books.

Berlin, Mustafa's, veggie kebab

I challenge you to find a tastier sandwich than this veggie kebab from Mustafa’s

Another restaurant you absolutely have to try in Berlin is Dada Falafel. Go there and order the Dada teller for €8. It comes in a meat version and a vegetarian version, and it’s basically a plate with a little bit of everything on it. The vegetarian version comes with falafel, hummus, tzatziki, tabouleh, grilled eggplant, halloumi, etc., etc. I ordered this twice while I was in Berlin because I enjoyed it so much the first time I just had to feel its deliciousness on my tastebuds again.

Berlin, Dada Falafel

The Dada teller at Dada Falafel tastes even better than it looks

As is usually the case with solo travel (or any kind of travel) though, my stay in the city was not without its trials and tribulations.  I stayed at a hostel called Comebackpackers. It was a really nice place and had just about everything you would need at a hostel except… the wifi didn’t work. For the first hour or so after I arrived at the hostel, the wifi was spotty but still usable. After that, it didn’t work at all. Now, lack of wifi may not seem like the end of the world to you, but to me it’s a pretty big deal. I was worried that my mom would think I’d been kidnapped and sold as a sex slave if I went 24 hours without posting a photo on Facebook. I asked a bunch of other people if the wifi was working for them, and they all said no. I mentioned it to the guy at reception, but I guess there was nothing he could do about it. I was freaking out and couldn’t understand how everybody else could be so calm and apparently unconcerned about the whole situation. Luckily there was a restaurant with wifi just a couple of steps away from the hostel, and I figured out that if I stood just inside the door of the hostel I could use the restaurant’s wifi. But still. This obviously was not an ideal situation.

Unfortunately, being deprived of wifi was not the worst thing that happened to me in Berlin. Let me tell you a story about Berlin’s metro and light rail systems, the U-Bahn and the S-Bahn. See, for some reason, whoever designed the city’s public transit network decided that it should operate on an honour system. You’re supposed to buy a ticket to use it, but there are no gates or barriers of any kind that you need a ticket to pass through. This means that it is the easiest thing in the world to get on a train without buying a ticket (and I would venture to guess that many people do). Since I myself am a good, honest, upright citizen (OK, actually only because I’m terrified of getting in trouble), I purchased a ticket upon my arrival in Berlin that would allow me unlimited travel on any public transit for 7 days. For this I paid the not insignificant price of 30. Every morning before leaving my hostel, I checked to make sure I had this ticket with me, just in case a ticket inspector should happen to show up and ask to see it.

Well, three nights before I was supposed to leave Berlin, I went out to a bar with a few people from my hostel. I made sure to take my transport ticket out of the bag I use during the day and put it into the handbag I use when I go out at night.  I didn’t think anything else of it until the next day when I was on the U-Bahn and saw a ticket inspector making his way through the train. Suddenly I realized with horror that I had forgotten to take my ticket out of my evening handbag and put it back into my day bag before setting off that morning. The ticket was sitting in a locker in my dorm room. FUCK. I tearfully explained my situation to the ticket inspector, but he would take no pity on me, no matter how hard I cried (and believe me, the tears were streaming). He made me pay a hefty fine of 60 (almost $100 CAD). To calm me down, he gave me the address of the BVG headquarters (Berlin’s transportation company) and told me that if I brought my ticket and showed it there, they would refund me the 60. I was a little skeptical of this, but he assured me that they would give me my money back without any doubt.

So I hopped back on the train and rode all the way back to the hostel, grabbed my ticket, and headed to the BVG headquarters. I waited probably 15-20 minutes for my number to be called, fully expecting to receive a full refund and a sincere apology at the end of this ordeal. Guess what? They refused to give me my money back. In my desperation, I may have made a bit of a scene as I begged and pleaded and tried to reason with them, but they steadfastly refused to show me any mercy. There was nothing I could do but accept my unfortunate fate. Moreover, not only did this horrible experience cost me 60, it also ate up a good chunk of my time, as you can imagine. It just plain sucked all around. You can bet that after that I was extra careful to keep my ticket on me at all times. You live and you learn, I guess. (But what a shitty way to learn.)

I feel like I’ve made it sound like I had a terrible time in Berlin, but actually nothing could be further from the truth. I love Berlin and I truly enjoyed my time there. I’ve heard it said more than once that Berlin is an ugly city, but I don’t agree with that at all. Berlin is full of beautiful buildings and beautiful spaces, and there was not a single point during my stay in the city at which I felt at all unsafe.

Berlin, Reichstag

The Reichstag at night is a thing of beauty

Berlin, cathedral

The Berlin Cathedral had me in awe

One of the highlights of my time in Berlin happened one night when I went to see the Brandenburg Gate. I had already seen it during the day, but I wanted to see it at night when I knew it would be all lit up and pretty. I expected it to look the same as it usually does at night (as I had seen it in pictures), but when I got off the S-Bahn and walked up to ground level, I gasped. There had been a terrorist attack in London the day before, and the whole of Brandenburg Gate was lit up with the Union Jack as a show of solidarity with Britain. It was so cool to see. It almost felt like I was a part of history.

Berlin, Brandenburg Gate, Union Jack

Berlin, Brandenburg Gate, Union Jack

Berlin, Brandenburg Gate, Union Jack

Another one of my favourite things about Berlin was Charlottenburg Palace, the largest palace in the city. The building itself is beautiful, but it’s the park right behind the palace that really impressed me. It looks like it came straight out of a fairy tale. There’s a lake and a bridge and trees and swans and ducks and… ahhhhhh. It’s all so pretty. I visited just as the sun was starting to set, which made it even more picturesque. I got some pretty fab photos out of my visit, if I do say so myself.

Berlin, Charlottenburg Palace

Berlin, Charlottenburg Palace

Berlin, Charlottenburg Palace

Berlin, Charlottenburg Palace

Berlin, Charlottenburg Palace

Berlin, Charlottenburg Palace

Berlin, Charlottenburg Palace

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So that’s what I wrote about Berlin before I fell victim to a pickpocket. I haven’t let my experience taint my perception of the city, which is one of my favourites. There are pickpockets all over Europe; you just have to remain on guard at all times and you’ll be fine. I was carrying my passport in a wallet inside my bag when I should have been carrying it in the travel wallet around my neck, close against my body. Now I’m paying the price for my carelessness. But I have to say, I can’t think of anywhere else I’d rather be stranded indefinitely than the great city of Berlin.