After venturing around London, we hopped on a plane for Berlin to continue our European adventure. (To help with the story, here’s a little background on our adventure: My husband just graduated from the University of Edinburgh with a master’s degree. Thus, we are now poor post-grads who yearn to travel the world. You may be wondering how or if this is even possible – I'm here to prove that it is.)
Our plans have us setting off from London to visit Europe’s major cities on a shoestring budget. Right now, we're traversing our way through London, Berlin, Rome, Florence, Milan, Barcelona, Madrid and Paris. We plan on living like the locals, eating like the locals, and walking everywhere like the locals.
Every place we're staying at on this trip was rented through Airbnb. In short, people put their spare rooms or houses up for rent on the website, allowing you to rent the place and live like a local while saving money. Each place cost less than $50 a night. Yes, only $50 for two people to stay the night at some awesome pads complete with access to a kitchen and, usually, a washer and dryer.
Gone are the days of having to share a co-ed dorm room with 10 strangers in a foreign country, sleeping in a stinky bunk bed with earplugs in all night. In are the days of your own private room, free WiFi, clean bathrooms with towels, and full use of a kitchen and laundry room. While Airbnb has thousands of apartments available throughout Europe for very reasonable prices, you can also check out sites like 9flats and HomeAway that operate on the same business model. However, Airbnb is the most popular of these companies and therefore has the largest number of reviews for accommodations, so you can pick the one that best suits you.
Since we arrived in Berlin late at night, it was hard to get a feel for the city until daylight. I find the best way to quickly get yourself orientated in a new city is to take a walking tour. Free walking tours are starting to pop up in just about every major city in Europe, and are becoming popular among young travelers like ourselves who want a fresh take on the city.
We were fortunate enough to receive a recommendation from a friend to take the free walking tour from the Circus Hotel in Rosenplatz. Before our tour we grabbed some great milchkaffe (coffee with milk) at the Fabisch, the cafe attached to the hotel.
The tour, which leaves at 12:30 p.m. every day and runs for 3 hours, is operated by Brewer's Tours, a group of seven friends who love Berlin so much they wanted to start giving free tours of their city.
Hands down, this was the best tour I have ever been on – free or paid. These people really know their stuff and make a point in explaining things to you at an understandable level. They weave unique personal stories in with historical facts, making it the best three hours you could ever spend in Berlin. The tour ended in front of the iconic Brandenburg Gate (left), where we all dispersed after giving our lovely tour guide a nice tip for showing us the city.
If a walking tour isn’t for you, there's another affordable option available. City bus 100 happens to take the same route that most tour buses take around Berlin. For €3,99 you can download an audio guide to help you explore the sites. Just hop on the bus, pop in your headphones, and head off!
After our tour ended, we took the U-Bahn over to grab a drink at Schwarzwaldstuben and spent the next hour people-watching. After growing up with San Diego's lack of good public transportation, I continue to be in awe of the efficient transportation available in other cities around the world. Following our pre-dinner drinks, we walked several blocks over to Clärchens Ballhaus for some delicious dinner in their unique backyard-like setting. While chowing down on good food and enjoying the cool breeze out in the yard, we noticed that the house behind us was actually part of the restaurant – and a dance hall that provides dance lessons.
But maybe you’re more interested in filling that hole in your life that's usually occupied by Mexican food... In that case, check out Dolores, which takes it namesake from San Francisco’s Mission district. They serve everything from burritos to quesadillas and chips with guacamole to ensure you never feel far from home.
The next day, we spent an afternoon traipsing around the Turkish district, popping in and out of one-of-a-kind shops and admiring the interesting street art.
For lunch, on a hot tip from our tour guide the day before, we stopped for burgers at Burgermeister. This hip place, a revamped public toilet, is located under a bridge next to an U-Bahn stop. (Having been consistently unable to remember the name of the place, my husband and I took to affectionately referring to it as “Toilet Burgers”). Have no fear of our nickname of choice, however: they serve up the best hamburgers I've ever consumed (yes, even better than In-n-Out). They were so good we ate there for lunch and dinner all in the same day.
Berlin is full of culture and art down every street. One day we happened upon Cafe Cinema, where they have a secret little alleyway that features some amazing street art and is updated frequently.
And if you're in the mood for visiting a museum, don’t worry: Berlin has an entire island dedicated to them. Guess what the Germans decided to call it? Museum Island. Always practical, those Germans. (Footage of Museum Island and street art below.)
Berlin, Germany: Museum Island and street art
Exploring Berlin's street art, Museum Island and more.
Undoubtedly, you cannot visit Berlin without seeing the Berlin Wall. While you can see parts of the wall in various areas around the city, the largest piece remaining in its original position is located next to Berlin's Topography of Terror museum. The free museum itself is quite interesting (albeit depressing) and bursting at the seams with information about the SS and Nazi rise to power. The wall and museum are located where the former SS headquarters stood.
Also, Berlin is home to the most beautiful war memorial I have ever seen. The memorial, Neue Wache, is specifically for all victims of war and tyranny, including both those persecuted and those doing the persecution. The stone building sits totally empty except for Käthe Kollwitz's sculpture Mother with Her Dead Son. The sculpture sits under an opening in the ceiling that is exposed to the elements. If it rains, water falls on her; if it snows, snow falls upon them; if it's sunny, the sun shines on them. It’s all quite moving.
Overall, Berlin is a layered city; the new is built upon the old, and history touches nearly every single street you walk on. On a trip through Europe, this city is not to be missed!
Next up, Rome!