I knew that I always wanted to travel for an extended period of time before I had too many responsibilities, and that time happened to be the summer before college.
I’m just going to focus on the major cities on my blog, but I’m starting with Berlin.
In Germany, ICE trains are high-speed trains that have significantly fewer stops than all the other railroads, and so I booked my trip from Friedrichshafen to Berlin on a Friday morning. I had my school backpack and my traveler’s backpack with me, and I was excited! My uncle lives in Berlin, and I was going to get to see him and all of the wonderful sights of Berlin! I ended up standing on that train for five hours. Long story. ICE trains have reservations, and on that Friday morning, every single seat in this ICE train was reserved. So I stood, along with another guy and a group of guys that didn’t speak German or English (or at last pretended not to) in the aisle between two train compartments. I had my traveler’s backpack on my back, and kept a close eye on my school backpack, which is actually heavier, filled with all of my journals and books. Side note, take a Kindle when you travel. I love the feel of a real book, and the sound of pages turning, but I don’t like or recommend the shoulder pain you get from lugging it around to 7 cities.
The train took five hours to get us to Berlin, and that included a delay of about half an hour because they were working on the railroad track that was reserved for us. However, the landscape was beautiful. Germany, being a smaller country, about the size of Georgia, has utilized all of its free space and built vineyards, cherry plantations, and other farms along the road. Not only can you buy local produce super cheap there, but when you’re standing in a train, listening to Justin Timberlake and Hillsong Young & Free, there’s nothing you’d rather see. Looking out that train window and watching all of the cities and towns pass me by at 200 km/hr made me realize that this was the journey of a lifetime, and I was lucky enough to be experiencing it. Everything that hadn’t worked out the way I wanted it to, the airline forgetting my luggage, the prepaid phone not working, and my not having booked a seat on that train, all kind of fell away. That may sound super nostalgic or paint the situation in a different light, but then I realized that there was no situation. I WAS traveling the world, and while I may not have signed up for standing on a five hour train ride, I was on my way to Berlin, Germany, and I was going to have a fantastic story to tell when I got there.
Every time the train slowed and came to a stop, the graffiti on the occasional soundblock wall increased. I saw hearts combined with couple names, paintings enveloped by violet and periwinkle, and the occasional “Becky” spraypainted with bubble letters and sunset colors.
It was beautiful. I feel most productive in the mornings, so I sat down a few times to read my Bible and memorize a Psalm. Traveling alone isn’t always easy, it isn’t always fun or exciting, but it’s still traveling, and the stories you can tell later on are totally worth it. I arrived in Berlin in the afternoon and stepped out of the train to sounds of motorcycle honking, the smell of Turkish food, and a giant statue of Ritter Sport at the train terminal. I called my uncle and walked outside, hoping to find the bus that would take me to his WG. A WG is an apartment building that students usually rent together. Everyone gets their own room, and so it’s cheaper for most students in college to share a WG than to rent their own apartment. Let me tell you, WG’s are no joke. They hold interviews for new roommates, go through a tough decision making process, and you sign multiple contracts regarding paying rent for a certain time period and what duties you will have as a member of this WG.
I walked outside and my uncle was directing me via phone to the bus terminal, when all of a sudden he said “Okay, now stop. Just stand there.” I knew something was up, and I turned around. My uncle, who has so many goofy similarities with my dad, stood in front of me! We rode the bus back to his WG and I met some of his roommates, and then I borrowed his girlfriend’s bicycle to ride along the Spree and journal at a coffee shop right by the river.
A recurring theme that stood out to me was that all of the major cities I visited had large waterways that made it successful, because all of the previous trade that had occurred on those waterways. Now, in Berlin, you can sit on the water and picnic, and the occasional packed tourist sightseeing boat will nonchalantly pass by, the tourists all gaping at the buildings and the statues that are scattered across Berlin.
Ben, my uncle, is a super dedicated Human Resource guru, and as such, he notices things that others don’t. Katherine (his girlfriend) and I were given the tourist treatment while I was there for the weekend, and much of that included staring up at buildings. Let me explain. Since Berlin was quite possibly in the center of World War Two, many of the buildings were bombed clean. Meaning, one building will be from the early 1900’s, and the apartment standing next to it will have a completely different style with a different balcony, and it is obvious that said building had been bombed, the remains cleared, and a new apartment building been built in the late 1900’s.
All of the buildings in downtown Berlin (which is HUGE) have so much character. You can walk alongside stores and see the history in the walls, or if you look up, every balcony will have flowers of all different shapes and colors protruding from the windowsill.
On my first day in Berlin, the three of us decided to brave the rain (the only time it rained while I was in a major city. Not even London had rain while I was there for FIVE days!) and go up to a rooftop bar that had the best view of Berlin. Seeing as how I look like I’m younger than I really am, and I wasn’t 18 yet, I thought they might check my ID or ask me my age, but no! I got a smile and a stamp that said “drinnen” which means “in”, and was ushered onto the roof of a beautiful mall. The roof was covered in green. There were ferns growing out of bathtubs (we’ll see this again later in Berlin), little flower pots standing in corners, picnic tables right by the edge of the roof and metal statues depicting a rooster and other knick knacks on a pedestal. There was even a ricksha- a bike with seats for two in the back, most often found in Asia. It was also filled with plant life. Walking into the white party tent, I was surprised! The furniture seemed permanently set up, there was a little restaurant and a bar, along with a DJ playing music at decibel I couldn’t comprehend. We got our drinks, non-alcoholic for me, although it’s legal for 16 and up to drink soft liquor in Germany, and walked back out to the picnic tables. Just as we arrived, the sky cleared and a rainbow made an arc over the tent. We talked and took pictures and goofed off, and then, at like 8 pm, we headed to dinner. I never went to to dinner that late, but I thought, hey this is Berlin, so why not! We ended up sitting in a very small and tight little restaurant called “Knödel”. A Knödel is a European dumpling, and this restaurant had specialized in making only dumplings. Every week, their menu switches out the three or four types of dumplings they have and it fills the menu! Berlin is full of little restaurants like that. Each one has something they specialize in and then they make it the best meal you’ve ever had.
Spoiler Alert about Teil Zwei: Berlin Wall, Jewish Holocaust Museum, Lahmacun, Checkpoint Charlie, Flea Markets and the longest building in the world. Complete with abandoned air strips.