As Germany is right next to Holland, I’ve crossed the border for many jovial long weekends away (read: here, here, and here). However, I somehow always seem to miss out on the Berlin excursions. Berlin is a quick 1.5 hour plane ride from Amsterdam, and often the fare is dirt cheap (around €50). I have friends who go for long party weekends, business trips, shopping adventures, or a simple change of scenery. And while I’ve been invited to Berlin a multitude of times, something else always seems to pop up!
When I got let go from my job a few months ago, I made a list of the places I wanted to visit in Europe before I left, just incase. There were ten places on the list, some more costly and exotic than others. I then listed them in order, starting with the top few I HAD to go to before I (hypothetically) left Europe, the others falling somewhere behind. I vowed to make it to at least two or three spots on the list before my visa was up. Guess what the top two were? Cinque Terre and Berlin :) If you’ve been following along on the blog, I’m sure you’ve read all about my Cinque Terre adventures. In fact, I was so taken by the stunning Italian countryside that I am planning a fall-2016 trip to Tuscany, the Amalfi Coast, and Rome with some of the ladies in my family! And man, I can’t wait to go back :) Berlin was also ticked off of my European travel bucket list in mid-October, while Amie was visiting.We flew straight from Pisa to Berlin (believe it or not, a €24 plane ride), and quickly switched from a beachy-sunshine mentality to an urban-exploration mindset. I haven’t formally mentioned this on the blog, but my *new* job is at Booking.com. I’m a Brand Communications Manager, which means that I’m still responsible for overseeing the creation of advertising campaigns, but as opposed to working within the ad agency, I’m now managing from the client side. It’s an amazing gig, and an industry I feel quite passionate about (if you haven’t noticed, I have a travel blog!) So it pains me to say, the above and below photos were taken at the Airbnb Amie and I stayed in while in Berlin. Don’t get me wrong – I love a good hotel. Warm robes, hot breakfast, big tubs. But sometimes it’s fun to live like a local, and in a city like Berlin where design and aesthetics rule, peeking into someone’s home for a week can be an artful delight. If you’ve never been to Berlin, let me tell you . . . it’s HUGE. Amie and I chose to stay in Neukölln, which is the eighth borough of Berlin (there are twelve in total!) While Neukölln is the latest Berlin borough to be hailed as the centre of all things hip (direct quote from Timeout!) there are so many wonderful areas to explore in the city. One could spend days and days roaming the streets, stumbling into new shops, delectable restaurants, and niche art galleries. Luckily, Berlin has intricate metro, bus, and tram systems that connect all corners of the city.On our first night in Berlin, Amie and I set out to meet up with my good friend Bex, who was living and working in Berlin for a few months. Bex suggested we dine at ChénChè, a beautiful Vietnamese tea house and restaurant in Mitte, serving clay pot-cooked fare, afternoon cakes, and dim sum.The atmosphere was warm and relaxed. That, paired with the friendly service and reasonable prices made the spot an instant favorite. We were seated at a beautiful, long table, under an array of lantern-like chandeliers. We ordered some fruity-infused cocktails, and then moved onto mains.I ordered the special, which had a little bit of everything. And by ‘a little bit’, I mean a hell of a lot of food!! The photo below is the tray I was served, which consisted of deep-fried fish, beef stew, rice, soup, kimchi, and a light, refreshing salad (and believe it or not, this entire meal was around €15!!) Amie and Bex both went for salads, which were equally delicious, and beautifully prepared. The meal flew by, and we were sad to zip up our coats and leave. If I ever go back to Berlin, I will go back toChénChè! After dinner Amie and I went for a long stroll, as we had spent half a day on a plane and wanted to stretch our legs after such a satisfying meal.We roamed Berlin at night, loving all of the art and neon lights that adorned the streets.Amie especially loved the pink parking garages ;)
We returned to our Airbnb and fell asleep almost immediately, having enjoyed a long and gratifying day. The next morning, we set off for Alexanderplatz, a good starting point to explore some of Berlin’s historic landmarks by foot. Think being a blogger is all glam? When we got off the train in Alexanderplatz, I realized I’d forgotten the SD card for my camera, and the apartment was 30minutes away :( Amie and I then spent a good 25 minutes walking around, looking for a media store. Thank goodness we were very close by to a Media Mart! I’m lucky that Amie is such a laid-back friend, and is always willing to tag along when I want to take photos from a different vantage point, or am a doofus and forget my memory card ;)By this point we were starving, and so we did what any great German would do and ordered some currywurst! Currywurst is a fast food dish consisting of sliced pork sausage and seasoned curry ketchup (and typically fries!)We ate our fast food fare outside, before wandering aimlessly for the remainder of the afternoon.There is so much construction in Berlin, and at this vantage point we realized there were cranes stretched far as the eye could see! v vI wish I could tell you what all of these stunning landmarks were, but for the most part, Amie and I roamed from one brilliant piece of architecture to the next, ignorant as to what our eyes were feasting on. I do however know that the above photo is the Berlin Cathedral, which is located in Cölln, an old historical neighborhood in Berlin. And this tall, thin landmark below is The Fernsehturm (or in English, the Berlin TV Tower) which is (you guessed it!) a television tower in center of Berlin, Germany. The Fernsehturm is easily visible throughout the city center of Berlin, and is the tallest structure in Germany.Someone forgot their basket of pretzels! v vAs Berlin’s Coat of Arms features a proud bear, there are many stuffed bears throughout the city. How or why Berlin chose the bear remains unknown – but it’s a welcome and adorable tradition!
Our final stop of the evening was the Holocaust Memorial – or put bluntly, the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe.
The memorial was designed by architect Peter Eisenman and engineer Buro Happold to remember the victims of the Holocaust. It consists of a 4.7-acre site covered with 2,711 concrete slabs arranged in a grid pattern on a sloping field. According notes from Eisenmans, the memorial was designed to produce an uneasy, confusing atmosphere, and the whole sculpture aims to represent a supposedly ordered system that has lost touch with human reason. There was indeed an uneasy aura in the memorial, pierced by the laughter of children and shrieks of teens chasing each other through the dark, tall structure. As the sun set, Amie and I hopped on the metro once again, traveling back to Neukölln to prepare for a night on the town. We wanted to have dinner somewhere easy and in our neighborhood, and we found that Txokoa had received some great reviews on TripAdvisor. We made a reservation, which was a smart idea, as many guests walking into the restaurant without a booking were turned away. The concept behind Txokoa is that of a European fusion – while the portions are akin to Spanish tapas, the food is inspired by the “bistronomique” movement in France. And so Amie and I dined on a diverse menu of culinary trends. We had a taste of Spain and France, while traveling in Germany. The atmosphere was unassuming and simple, and reminded me of an old school house, with high ceilings, geometric moldings, and black chalkboards. Amie and I weren’t sure what to get, so we started out with gin. Amie went for the classic cucumber, and I went for the cinnamon and pear, which contained what could only be described as pear caviar (I’ve since run across this machine on the web, and am quite sure it is the mother of the delicious little pear pearls in my drink. I need this).In addition to consuming multiple baskets of bread (we were still in Italy-bread mode!!) Amie and I started the meal off with some simple truffled potato croquettes. Flavor-wise they were amazing, but unfortunately not warm all the way through. The next dish we sampled was the wild deer steak from Brandenburg with potato bacon cheese terrine and green peppers from Padrón. I LOVED this dish (if it’s spicy, it’s n my belly) but Amie did not, as she felt like it resembled Spam. After her Spam comment, I had a hard time finishing my portion. But the flavors were lively and the ingredients were fresh, so overall, a valiant effort. The next dish we tried was the 36 hours cooked veal cheek with cauliflower and brussels sprouts. We both agreed that this was the best dish, although we were sad that the brussels sprouts were only shavings!! As big brussels sprout fans, we wanted more!!The last meat dish we sampled was the 24h slow cooked suckling pork belly with mushrooms and green apples. This was probably our second favorite dish, although the Dutch devil sitting on my shoulder encouraged me to ask for mayonnaise to smother on this dish (which I ultimately did not). The final dish we had was an item off of the special’s list. Honestly, we weren’t big fans. I’ve never had a waffle without a sauce or syrup, and will never do so again. I believe this dish consisted of a potato waffle, poached egg, broccoli, and some kind of vegetable ‘tartar’. We both felt it was ‘meh’, which was fine, as five dishes was WAY too much food – so we briefly sampled but gladly passed on this final dish.Overall the meal at Txokoa was pleasant enough, although there wasn’t one dish that really stood out as a ‘we have to go back for this!’ plate. The atmosphere was however delightful, the cocktails were strong, and the menu was creative. I’d maybe go back again in two years to see if the menu items had been further refined or perfected. Or in another 6 months simply for the tiny pear pearls ;) Following our meal, Amie and I ventured out for a night on the town.The party scene in Berlin is immense, and after a week of rest and relaxation in Italy, Amie and I were ready for a night of debauchery ;)I’ll share some of my Berlin nightlife discoveries in part two.
Have you ever been to Berlin? Are there spots you would recommend? I’m going to go back and would love to build up my list! In the meantime, wishing you all a fantastic Tuesday!