Have you ever had one of those nights when one minute you’re lying in bed, book and pen beside you, and the next thing you know, the sun is shining through the curtains and a naked laughing baby is charging at you? No? Just me then? Well, that was how my first night in Berlin went, minus the baby. The previous day’s travels had wiped me out completely. I skipped dinner, although if we recall what I had eaten the day before, I think it’s pretty clear I far exceeded my daily caloric intake. I woke up starving, and, rather than quickly dressing and starting my day with a cappuccino and pastry, I reached for the closest snack – a Bifi.
It wasn’t my first choice for breakfast and it certainly wouldn’t be my second. It was enough to stave off an onset of “I’m hungry” whines, which would have been heard by no one. So –what’s a Bifi?
On my BER-CPH Air Berlin flight, the flight attendants came around, asking if we wanted “beefy or sweety.” Beefy sounded ominous and scary, like the polo-wearing guy at the club you desperately try to avoid. Besides, I knew what the sweety was – a full-sized Twix bar. Girlfriend loves her Twix big time. It wasn’t long before the smell of cured meat filled the small cabin space, and I began to salivate. What was this beefy thing? Was it a sausage roll? A hot dog? As I flew from CPH to BER, beefy was my only option, and in the name of travel research and this blog and all of you lovely readers, I accepted.
A Bifi is a salami stick. Definitely not a Slim Jim, but a real deal salami stick. Well, as real deal it could possibly be. I didn’t want to finish it… but then I did. Oops. That’s five Hail Mary’s and six servings of asparagus for me, I guess. Honestly, I’ve only got one real complaint about Bifis and here it is – that smell fucking lingers FOREVER. Seriously. I showered. I brushed my teeth. I washed my hands. I flossed. I gargled. There I was, walking to the Sbahn thirty minutes later and I still smelled the damn Bifi. It’s no wonder the airplane smelled like a sausagefest and not the fun kind.
With that taken care of, I was heading into Mitte, one of Berlin’s most energetic neighborhoods. Cafes, shops, cool architecture – bring it!
One of my greatest dilemmas as a tourist is ensuring I don’t appear like a tourist. I hate Sunday strollers who clog the best streets on Friday afternoons, and I make too much fun of them to join their ranks in good conscience. Usually, I stroll at random until I’m irreparably lost, at which point I hide in a corner and stealthily pull out my map. This time, I took photos of specific sections of my map. You never look out of place walking around, staring at your phone. This handy trick saved me multiple times during the week. I even had people asking me for directions, and I only misdirected them once.
The efficiency of the Berlin metro system is worth a mention here. No matter where you’re headed, there is a means of public transport to get you within spitting distance, and cheaply. You never sit there wondering when, if ever, the train will show up. The longest I ever waited was 8 minutes. Train platforms and connections are clearly marked. I never felt like a sardine in a can where another sardine might have pissed in the corner. An honor system is implemented here, where riders must buy and then validate their tickets before getting on the trains. No pesky turnstiles or gates to smack you back as you politely try to go through – a germaphobe’s dream. In any station I needed an elevator’s help with my bag, there was one. This is a city that understands transport and ease of mobility. My only complaint is this – while your journey may never be plagued with long periods of waiting around for the train, most cross-town trips will take about 30 minutes, 45 to be safe. As far as I know, there aren’t any express trains, so that easily accessible train I was just complimenting will be making many stops along the way, invariably adding to your transit time. Regardless, Berlin’s metro system is, by far, one of the best I’ve encountered to date.
I didn’t take a heap of pictures my first day, strolling around Mitte. As with most first days in a foreign city, I spent my time trying to get my feet on the ground. What does that mean? For me, it usually means accepting the fact that I am stranger in a strange land. Oftentimes, I lose myself in immersion, focusing on emulating local fashion, not getting lost and generally appearing as though I’m a native. The trouble is, I am not allowing myself to relax and really open my eyes and absorb all the colors, smells, sounds and intricacies of a city. Walk slowly. Sit on a bench with a coffee and just watch. It may take me a minute, but I get there eventually.
On my way home that afternoon, I stopped at the local Kaiser’s. When I’m overseas, I make it a point to check out local groceries. That can’t surprise anyone. (Okay, I also had a hankering for a fruit juice and maybe an avocado, if I was lucky. I was.) you can learn a lot about a culture by seeing what they eat. I like to see the prices, the selection of produce and spices, what’s popular at the butcher, what’s available in dairy… In Paris, I learned to pay attention to where produce is sourced from. One stall was selling the most beautiful cherries – from the States. Why?! Last summer, while looking for flour at a supermarket in Stockholm, I faced the most daunting wall of packaged flour a non-Swedish speaking girl could imagine. You would be surprised at how many types of flour you can find. I spent more time looking for flour and unsalted butter than I did making the actual pancakes. I highly recommend this exceptionally fun activity – market visits, not pancake-making in Stockholm, although that’s fun too.
Later that evening, I had dinner with a friend at a small Italian restaurant not far from the apartment. Walking in, I was convinced the food would be as Italian as the Olive Garden, but I was very pleasantly surprised. Shocked? I was, but there is a surprisingly large Italian community in Berlin.
The pizza parma was thin crusted, crisp and every bit as delicious as an anti-Atkins girl like me could hope for. It could have easily fed 2 people. The best part? Only 6 euro. SIX. Two slices of “artisan” pizza cost nearly as much in NYC. The large beer I had with it? Two euro.
Have you booked your tickets yet?