I know that this blog is slowly chugging along and I am still way far behind. I have just come to accept that this is who I am as a person: terrible about self-imposed deadlines yet still mostly committed to finishing a project. With that being said, please enjoy this incredible retelling of my fall break trip to Germany.
I will admit that I kind of dropped the ball on this one. I knew forever that I would have a fall break and that I should book travel and decide where to go. However, indecisiveness and fatigue got the better of me. I really wanted to stay in Scandinavia, and toyed with the idea of doing a trip to Stockholm or to Oslo/Bergen. Unfortunately, Scandinavia is not the cheapest place, and since I had already planned trips to London and Paris by myself, I kind of dragged my feet trying to figure out a budget trip for a single traveler. So when one of my law school classmates invited me on a trip to Germany with her, I agreed. This was definitely not my first choice because, not to brag, I had already been to Germany a few times and really wanted to experience something new.
Alas, laziness and the allure of not having to plan anything won out and my fall break plans were set. We would be traveling to Berlin and Hamburg, two cities that I had at least never been to. Unfortunately for me, I ended up meeting Other Katie shortly after I committed to the Germany trip, and missed out on joining her in Stockholm so I didn’t exactly have the best attitude going into the trip, knowing what could have been.
Despite my dumb complaints, I did end up enjoying the trip more than I anticipated. I actually really liked both Berlin and Hamburg as cities although I felt decidedly uncool in Berlin. So with my whining out of the way and without further ado, here are my thoughts and experiences from my Germany trip.
We arrived in Berlin early in the morning. If you have been paying attention to my other posts, you know that this was par for the course because the cheap flights are always super early or super late and I love saving money. While this was good for my wallet, it proved terrible for my back because we couldn’t check into our Airbnb until the late afternoon so I had to schlep my heavyish winter clothes all around Berlin. Encumbered by our bags, my travel companion and I took it pretty easy that morning. Once we arrived into the city, we took an almost excruciatingly long brunch. There was nothing else that we felt like doing, given our luggage situation.
After many hours wandering around aimlessly and one coffee stop later, we finally checked into our Airbnb and met up with two other law students who would be our companions for the Berlin portion of the trip. After settling in and assigning beds we quickly headed out to try to take advantage of the rapidly setting sun. Our first stop was the East Side Gallery which is a fairly long section of the Berlin wall that is still standing but covered in art. It was really cool to see not only for its historical significance, but for the art as well. Alas, our time at the Gallery was brief as the group wanted to head out to see some other sights.
We ended up at the Alexanderplatz which gave me “German Times Square” vibes. It seems like one of those obligatory places that you have to go as a tourist even though nobody is really sure why. Nonetheless, we had a fairly nice walk around the area, looking at the world clock, the TV tower, and a bunch of pretty old buildings. Unfortunately, the walk and the long day made the group collectively hangry and it took us way too long to come to a consensus about dinner. We ended up at a schnitzel joint close by our Airbnb which was delicious, although problematic for me. You see, I was kind of dumb and didn’t realize that nobody in Berlin takes credit cards. I was so used to Denmark where it’s quite the opposite so I didn’t take out any Euros when we landed at the airport. Luckily I could borrow some cash from a companion but I certainly learned my lesson.
While my first day in Berlin was pretty pleasant, that feeling would be short lived. I was traveling with pleasant people but I soon realized that we had vastly different travel styles meaning that I was stressed and not happy for most of the remainder of the trip. Now I don’t consider myself a hard core traveler: I don’t always like to wake up at the crack of dawn and pack the day full of activities in an effort to fit everything in. I’m perfectly happy waking up at a reasonable hour, enjoying a leisurely breakfast, and picking one or two things that I want to see.
The next morning we didn’t leave our room until almost noon. It took hours for everybody to wake up, get ready, and actually figure out a plan for the day. Now don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love a lie in, but if I’ve paid money to be in a different city, I’d actually like to see some sights before attractions start closing at 5:00. Planning was another struggle. Somebody initially suggested we see all the major monuments and such which would’ve been great except for it was a cold and rainy day. Tomorrow’s weather forecast was clear and sunny. Once I pointed that out, we made a new plan and decided to head to some museums. But first, lunch.
Another debacle. One of my companions found this “really great” bakery with “excellent online reviews” in the neighborhood. So far so good. A pastry or sandwich seemed like the perfect lunch to enjoy on our way to our final destination. I ordered first and got a small, portable pastry. Everybody else in the group ordered huge meals which required dining in. This annoyed me for a few reasons. First, we were already running late: it was past noon and the museums were only open until 5. Second, I finished eating my pastry before the others’ food was even brought out, so I got to watch them eat their full lunch which was super fun. Had I known that everybody else was ordering meals, I would have too, since I was trapped at the bakery anyways. For what it’s worth, the food was delicious. I just wish we had communicated better about our expectations (and maybe acted with a little urgency!)
Our destination for the day was Museum Island which, like the name suggests, is a cluster of important museums all situated near each other on an island in the middle of the Spree River. By the time we arrived it was 2 o’clock which meant that after everything, we’d only have 3 hours to actually tour. Somehow, it was decided that we would try to see as many museums as possible. We ended up squeezing in whirlwind visits to the Neues Museum, the National Portrait Gallery, and the Pergamon Museum. Exhausting but kind of fun because, as previously discussed, I love a museum.
The Neues Museum was first, and probably my favorite. It was full of artifacts from Germany (interesting!) and elsewhere like Egypt (problematic!). Luckily, we decided to split up since we all had different interests so I was on my own; we’d meet back up after an hour and head over to the next museum as a group. Due to time constraints, I focused my attention on the local stuff and I loved seeing fossils of early humans and their ancestors. So I was pretty pleased.
Our second stop was the National Portrait Gallery. Again, we split up. This time, I had less fun. While I do love an art museum, half the fun is making fun of the art and that’s not very exciting when you’re just cracking jokes silently to yourself. Also, my stamina was rapidly decreasing and we still had one more museum to go so I did a lot of just sitting down at this museum.
Finally, we made it to the Pergamon museum. This is supposedly one of the more popular and impressive museums in Berlin. And while I do agree that it is impressive, I have such mixed feelings about it and ultimately I think that it makes me feel uncomfortable. The main attractions are giant reconstructed Greek, Mesopotamian, and Babylonian ruins including the Ishtar Gate and the Pergamon Altar. These are ginormous and imposing structures in empty rooms. However, as cool as they are to see, I can’t help but think that maybe they shouldn’t have been brought from the Middle East to Berlin. Like it is not Germany’s heritage and I’m sure that important archaeological and historical context was lost in the excavation and the move. (Why yes I did take 5 credits of Cultural Heritage and Art Law why do you ask?)
Overall, I did enjoy the museums although I would not have necessarily chosen them on my own. I would have much rather gone to something much more Berlin/Germany specific like the DDR Museum or the Design Museum. Plus, Berlin is not London and the museums were not free. If I have to pay to get into a museum I’d ideally like to be able to spend more than three hours there, but that’s just me.
Our second day in Berlin was better than the first for two main reasons: the weather was better and we had currywurst for lunch. Again, we were slow to emerge from the Airbnb, making lunch our first meal of the day. However, it was a slightly earlier departure and we did have more daylight to work with so I was in a better mood. Our first stop had to be currywurst. I absolutely demanded it. We ended up at a place next to the train station and the sausage with curry ketchup and fries really hit the spot.
Fortified, we wandered around, hitting all of the major outdoor sights. We made our obligatory stop at the Brandenburg Gate and got a glimpse of the Reichstag building. We also had to see Checkpoint Charlie, of course. It was really weird to see because the area around it is super touristy now—there’s a KFC right across the street and that somehow feels wrong.
After that, things took a serious turn. I don’t have pictures from this part of the day because whipping out my iphone to take them seemed absolutely gauche to me. We went to the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe to pay our respects before heading to the Topography of Terror exhibit. That exhibit is located on the grounds of the former site of the SS headquarters. It was really sobering but very insightful and definitely a necessary stop. I feel like you can’t go to Berlin without acknowledging the atrocities that occurred there. After all, educating yourself about how everything happened is so important so that we don’t ever go down that path again.
Needless to say, we needed some time to decompress after all of the history so we chilled for a bit (and hit up a bakery) before eating our final dinner in Berlin. Weirdly, we chose a Georgian restaurant (the country, not the state lol) which intrigued me because I had no idea really what to expect. After all, Georgian is not really a popular cuisine in the States so I really had nothing to base my expectations on. Alas, my review is mixed. The food was very good but it was absurdly expensive: I spent about 20 Euros which is a lot, for Berlin. I had only ordered a small pot of stew and a beer which left me hungry at the end of the meal. Don’t get me wrong, my food was delicious. It just wasn’t a good value for a student budget. I went to a grocery store on my way home to pick up some snacks because I was still hungry.
With that, the Berlin portion of my trip had come to a close. The gang split up. Half went on to further travels, and another girl and I boarded a bus for Hamburg. This portion of the trip was mixed. I was still a bit grumbly from the Berlin debacle and my introvert self was just so tired of being around people that I wasn’t close friends with. So the first half of Hamburg played much the same as the back half of Berlin.
We arrived in Hamburg just before dinner time: the bus ride was absurdly long (probably too long as the driver didn’t seem to know where he was going). My companion for this half was a girl in one of my law classes who was from a school in New York City. We didn’t have a lot in common besides going to school in the States. She was very much a corporate law big firm type of person which is the complete opposite of me and my entertainment aspirations. I’m mentioning this because it sets the stage for our trip and explains why I was so exhausted for most of it.
We stayed in a tiny hotel right on the Reeperbahn which is advertised as Hamburg’s red light/nightlife district so I expected it to be a lot worse than it was. While the Reeperbahn was kind of crowded and loud I was surprised by how clean it felt. Bourbon Street in NOLA is definitely much dirtier and grittier. Even though I could hear the street through our room windows, it very much reminded me of my studio back in New Orleans where I had single-paned windows and lived across the street from a frat house. Needless to say, I was totally fine with our accommodations.
The first real thing that we did in Hamburg was go to dinner. Normally this would be fine, but my traveling companion had arranged to meet up with her friend from her summer internship who was on a semester abroad in Germany. I was invited to tag along and I kind of wish I hadn’t. I don’t know if I’ve ever felt more like a third wheel (and I’m almost exclusively friends with couples!). It was just very hard to relate to the conversation since they were chatting about firm offers and practice groups and I definitely did not have that experience nor did I have a job offer in hand like they did. However, that dinner was a sort of a wakeup call. I realized that I needed to do what I wanted to do in order to save the trip for myself. I couldn’t just keep going along with the group.
The only attraction in Hamburg that I actually cared about seeing was the Maritime Museum, no surprise there. I informed my companion that I intended to spend all day there because it’s one of the biggest maritime collections in the world and I had no desire to rush through it. Also, I really needed some time on my own so I made sure to emphasize how happy I would be to split up because boats are so important to me. We agreed to head to the museum together and then go our separate ways after she got bored. This was perfectly fine with me.
I spent the whole day at the maritime museum, mostly by myself, and it was pure bliss. There are like seven floors of exhibits and I enjoyed both the displays and the solitude. It was so nice to finally have time alone and not worry about keeping up with or conversing with somebody else.
In fact, I enjoyed my time on my own so much that I continued my isolation though the evening, opting to forgo dinner out in favor of laying in bed. I seriously needed the break given how cranky I had gotten throughout the trip. Thankfully, I was much more pleasant on our final day in Hamburg so the trip did not end on a sour note.
We had a low key end to the trip, which wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. Our final day started with a leisurely breakfast (as per usual) and a quick trip to a flea market. I was expecting to enjoy that more than I did, but the cold October chill was not really conducive to sorting through junk outside. Nevertheless, it was a decent way to pass the time and explore the neighborhood.
Since wandering without a plan really isn’t my style, I insisted that we actually do something with our last day. That something ended up being a stroll through the Elbe Tunnel. It’s apparently one of the top things to do in Hamburg but there really isn’t much to it unless you really love tunnels. It’s literally just a tunnel that goes under the river to the other side. But it’s old and free so in we went.
There really isn’t much to do on the other side, except for a nice view and a little coffee shack. So we very soon made our way back through the tunnel. It was a nice little diversion and it helped me feel like we didn’t waste our last day in Hamburg.
With that, my companion and I split up one final time. She went shopping for chunky sneakers (which are definitely not my style at all) and I went shopping for train snacks. Soon enough, it was time to say goodbye to Hamburg. While a lovely city, I was so excited to return to Copenhagen because I missed my friends and my kitchen.
I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about our train ride back to Denmark because it was one of my favorite parts of the trip. I love trains in general but this one was extra special because there was a ferry crossing involved. That means that the train chugged right onto a boat which then sailed across the Baltic Sea. Needless to say, I was thrilled, though a little sad that it was pitch dark outside.
All in all, I did enjoy the trip even though it was tinged with disappointment. While traveling to Germany yet again was not my first choice, I did enjoy seeing Berlin and Hamburg. Moreover, I learned so much about myself and my travel style. I definitely won’t be repeating the mistakes I made in agreeing to this trip. In the future I’ll make sure that I choose more compatible travel companions, or at least I’ll only agree to go on a trip with others if it’s a location that I’ve been dying to visit. No more settling.
With that being said, I can definitely see myself returning to Berlin as there are some things that I would still like to see. Hamburg, not so much. I really loved the city but I’m not itching to return in the very near future. I felt like I got a good overview of it and there are so many places that I’d rather go instead.