While planning my trip I often had friends asking where I was planning to go, what I would see and who I was meeting. Anytime I mentioned Berlin I was met with big smiles and nods of "Oh, you'll love Berlin" or "That's my favorite city in Europe!". I've grown to brush off most of these "You'll love it there remarks" as people have proved to me they don't really know what they're talking about, but I was curious what about Berlin caused people to love it oh so much. I usually doubt the advice of other travelers but given the number of votes Berlin was getting I decided to trust them on this one, planning to stick around for a few days.
My visit would start with a full day of yoga and meditation, thanks Instagram for allowing me to stumble upon the Forever Now Festival, and thanks universe for letting it collide with my travel dates. Tickets were pricey and my time was [somewhat] limited so I opted for a one day pass rather than committing to the entire weekend. I'm a Couchsurfing advocate however, I didn't want to do the 'drop my bags and run' bit so I decided to stay in a hostel for my first two nights.
Not to sound completely cliche, but the highlight of my first 2 hours in the city was the amazing bread I stuffed in my face before I even reached the checkout line at Aldi (or just Aldi in general). The cashier and another customer commented and laughed at my in-line snacking, but to be fair, the bread was still warm, I couldn't wait! Aside from the bread and scoping out the yoga festival grounds I had a fairly uneventful night, calling it early to prepare for the day head.
Saturday morning I was still trying to sort out my accommodation; I had been in touch with a Couchsurfing host, but was trying to figure out when and where I could meet him. While waiting I walked to the East Side Gallery to take a look at what remains of the Berlin wall. Next, I made my way into the city center and walked along the river past the Reichstag (Parliament), Brandenburg Gate and finally the Memorial for the Murdered Jews of Europe. This last stop was one of my favorite 'tourist spots' in Berlin, the memorial outside is simple yet beautiful and the information center downstairs is very well done.
After returning to the hostel I got lucky when I discovered my hosts apartment was only a few tram stops away, how this happened in such a big city I have no idea. After meeting up with Farzad we took some time to rest at his place, but while doing so the skies decided to open up with rain. We had planned to check out the city center but weren't sure if the weather would allow us to do so or not. The skies let up slightly so we decided to go for it, making a brief tour of Alexanderplatz, the Berliner Dom and Konzerthaus before feasting on delicious [cheap] doner kebab's. I have to say I'm forever grateful to the Turks for taking over the 'fast food' industry of Germany, in doing so they saved me from the traditional sausage, meat and potatoes. Although it was Saturday night and I was in the land of many clubs our evening was quiet, returning to Farzad's place to meet two more surfers arriving from S. America (originally Czech).
The two others surfers were up early Sunday morning to take advantage of their one day in the city, but seeing as I had more time I was in no hurry to venture into the rain. Eventually, Farzad had to get ready for work so I decided to ride with him into the city, stopping at Potsdamer Platz to explore.
Cold winds and spitting rain caused me to quickly change my mind, I first sought cover at the Sony building before resigning myself to a tour of the Berlin Mall. Weird that while traveling in Asia I sought shelter in malls for a good dose of air conditioning, where as this time around it served as a reprieve from the cold and rain.
Eventually, the skies cleared and I was able to get back to being a tourist. I walked over to Checkpoint Charlie, again through Alexanderplatz and finally towards the Kollwitzplatz. I was in search of an apparent weekend market but instead found ice cream, coffee and a park for relaxing. Getting full use of my transport pass I decided to do another swing through Friedrichshain and Kreuzberg, seeing the opposite end of the East Side Gallery and eventually working my way back to my hosts house.
Having altered my travel plans a bit Monday became my last chance for exploring Berlin and lucky for me Farzad had the day off and was willing to accompany me. We had considered taking the train out to Wannsee, but our slow morning didn't really leave enough time for doing so. Instead, Farzad took me west of the city to the Kaiser Wilhelm Church and to show me around his campus. We had planned to eat a cheap meal on campus with one of his friends, but food options were limited so instead I was treated to an Iranian meal, I think I got lucky here. The food and company were both great but it was, unfortunately, time for me to move on, catching a bus towards Dresden. Usually when someone stutters the words "You'll love, or you should" I'm hesitant to believe them, but finally with Berlin they were all right; I really did enjoy my time in this city and easily see myself going back.