As it turns out, most of the preconceived notions I had about Germany proved to be true within the first hour or so of my visit: for one, Berlin was definitely one of the cleanest cities I toured in Europe; two, the locals have no shame in speaking candidly (or even rudely) to tourists; and three, everyone sure does love their beer. Beyond these rather meaningless stereotypes, however, I found a place heavily seeped in history, burdened by its troubled past and haunted by previous generations' stories of tragedy, fear, bravery, and love.
Before our brief stay in Berlin, I'm not sure I can remember a day that I ever walked so much or for so long. From a three-hour historical tour in the morning to a long, leisurely stroll through the park after lunch, I'm convinced I burned off every bite of bratwurst we consumed while in Germany. (Which was most likely a good thing.) But alas, the tourist attractions were demanding our attention. We spotted the photogenic Victory Column as soon as we arrived, and the Brandenburg Gate didn't take too long to locate either. Of course, the Berlin Wall, with its graffiti-covered concrete slabs, was also amazing to see. But most unforgettable were the countless WWII memorial sites scattered throughout the city, including the "Mother with her Dead Son" by Käthe Kollwitz, the cemetery-esque Jewish Memorial, and Micha Ullman's empty "Library." The abundance of creative inspiration made to honor and mourn lost lives was enough to give me chills.
After we had lunch at a little Italian place (can you blame us for craving something other than meat?), Kristen and I walked off our full bellies by getting lost in the green maze of Berlin's Tiergarten. We spent a blissful hour or two moseying along the path (trying not to be trampled by any of the three thousand bicyclists) and reminiscing about the good old days -- as best friends are wont to do. Time sped away from us, and it wasn't until late in the afternoon that we decided to head back into the main part of town. In lieu of dinner with the group, we returned to Museum Island to snap some photos, climbed to the top of the blue domed Cathedral, and accidentally found the largest bookstore we've ever had the pleasure of perusing. Too bad (nearly) everything was in German.
A long dinner near the river relaxed us both, as we each sipped on a glass of rosé and slowly melted into the comfort of our chairs. When the sun had dipped beneath the horizon, we started on a frantic hunt for ice cream, of all things. Lucky for us, Häagen-Dazs happened to be situated smack-dab in the middle of a busy square full of out-and-abouters, live music, and eateries -- the ideal spot to end our night with a bang. Or so we thought. The real "bang" was trying to find our way back to the hotel from the Metro stop in a shady neighborhood at midnight... but that's a story for another time. Besides a few confusing bus maps and one insignificant case of stranger danger, it was a spectacular trip.
Onward to Dresden!