Ask any Aussie 20-something who’s ‘done Europe’ where they’d return to and I guarantee they’ll say Berlin. I mean, they might say Prague or Paris or something (I’m not a mind reader) but definitely if pressed for a top 5, Berlin’ll be up there.
Berlin ticks all the boxes: more exotic than London but not so culturally different as to be alienating; as hip as the Scandi cities but not so prohibitively expensive; history and museum rich but not so overwhelming as the lasagne-jumble that is Rome; as architecturally beautiful and imposing as Paris and Vienna but not quite so strait-laced. It is both exciting and accessible; we want to race around Berlin as tourists, but we can also see ourselves setting up shop there for a moderate-to-long stint (cruising around on a 3-speed, attending cool gallery openings, experimenting with winged eyeliner…)
Kate and I had visited Berlin 4 years ago with 2 of our friends on a Topdeck tour. Topdeck leaves a bit to be desired (tours are 90% Aussies; 70% of whom are more interested in swilling beer than sightseeing; and there are a lot of irksome Tupperware party-esque stop-offs at cheese farms and lace-making factories where you’re pressured into buying wheels of Edam or glory-box doilies…) but a good starting-point when you’re a puling infant of a 20-year old who has never travelled sans-parents before and has no life skills (what? They don’t just hand you foreign currency when you hop off the plane?). Also, getting to visit 10 countries in 20 days with 3 of your best friends (even when there is a heightened risk of bed bugs) is kind of the best thing ever.
Returning to Berlin, Kate and I lamented that we weren’t joined by Joules and Tor (whom I still affectionately call Brandenburg Tor in memory of that trip – I know, I’m hilarious) but were super excited to re-explore the city.
Naturally this meant ticking off TripAdvisor’s top ten (which I always set absolute store by. Except if there’s any mention of Escape Games. Ugh).
Reichstag, Brandenburg Tor
We stayed just across from the Zoological Garden at the Pullman, which is apparently where Julie Bishop stays when she’s in Berlin (and we all know that she knows how to back a winner). So we were probably a bit lazy with sightseeing because we were enjoying our hotel comforts like the pool with ice fountain and dubiously-dubbed ‘adventure showers’.
Museum-wise, the highlight for me was visiting the Pergamon, for the reconstruction of the Ishtar gates and processional way of Babylon. Also, the German Historical Museum (2000 years of German history. And Napoleon’s hat) and the DDR museum to learn about everyday life in the former East Germany (thank god the Lipsi dance – DDR’s counter to western dance crazes – didn’t catch on.)
Ishtar Gates (credit: BPK), Napoleon’s hat
Shopping-wise, we perused Bikini mall which is basically a luxe warehouse filled with monotone drapey rayon clothes that scream ‘off-duty’ model when worn by Berlin girls and ‘Dobby is a free elf!’ when tried on by yours truly. We also (window)shopped at the beautiful department store KaDeWe, which has the most incredible shoe floor (Louboutins for miles) and food hall (Lenôtre 8 layer chocolate cake knocks ‘vat of Messina Mr Potato Head gelato’ off its perch as my last meal request).
KaDeWe, possibly the world’s sexiest dessert (ok, post-breakfast snack)
From Berlin I bussed to Hamburg (town square, Harbour, fish market – tick, tick tick) then boarded my Aus-bound plane. 30+ hours later I arrived back in Canberra to be mollly-coddled like a shakshuka egg by my family.
Hamburg harbour, Rathaus, plane that mirrored my mood
And now to try to process this past crazy and amazing year…