Saturday, March 11, 2017


Scott did all the planning on his own for this holiday so I was delightfully surprised to learn that Berlin – one of his favourite European cities – was on our itinerary, even though he’s visited the place a handful of times over the years. I’ve only been to the city once very briefly 3 years ago. It’s funny because Berlin was a 10-hour bus ride from where I was interning in Antwerp and none of my friends were actually available to visit the city with me that weekend, but something in me had to go to Berlin anyway. My experience of Berlin then was pleasant but unfulfilling. I felt as though I’d gone there in search of something and left empty handed when the weekend was over.

Summer was just beginning when I was there, so I spent most of my time sat on the grass on Museum Island. I knew at this point I didn’t ‘get’ art, but I was still trying to immerse myself in it – even if that meant sitting on the lawn outside a museum. On my second day in the city, I went to see the Berlin Wall where I met a man – a chef on his day off apparently – who offered to show me ‘a cool place where all the locals hang out.’ Being 22, fearless and a little bit naïve (read: sillly), I followed this man.
Things could’ve very easily gone down the way they did in the movie Hostel but luckily for me, we ended up in one of the coolest neighbourhoods in East Berlin. Hipsters milled about the streets, some basking in the sun as they sipped coffee, others browsing through interesting memorabilia and knick-knacks in quaint shops. I never thought I’d be able to find this district again because I couldn’t remember any street names and it was away from the main tourist attractions in the city, but lo and behold, there we were back in this trendy quarter.

Our flight was delayed by a couple of hours so the sun had set and it was terribly cold when we arrived in Berlin that Sunday night. From the airport we took the S-Bahn into the city. Everything looked different in the dark and when we alighted the train, my brain scrambled to piece everything together. The layout of the station and its surrounding looked familiar, but still nothing really clicked for me. It was only when Scott pointed at our hotel’s neon sign as we were approaching it did the memories come flooding back. I’ve seen that sign before! I know that currywurst stand! I remember that traffic junction! I. KNOW. THIS. PLACE. AHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!! My mind was going wild.

Friedrichshain, as I learnt, drew hippies, artists and squatters while the city was divided in the past. It used to be one of the most downtrodden areas of East Berlin but is now an up-and-coming district as more young and trendy flock to the neighbourhood – transforming it to the epitome of cool. Although it feels more gentrified and upscale today, it remains fascinatingly diverse and brimming with nightclubs, street food and art galleries.

We stayed at the Michelberger Hotel, a stone's throw from Friedrichshain’s infamous nightlife and cafes, the Oberbaum Bridge and the river Spree – not far from the East Side Gallery (the longest standing stretch of the Berlin Wall). The first space we encountered when we entered was a café and lounge that exuded a youthful buzz. Lampshades were made from old magazines and the walls were covered in books – not bookshelves, books. As befits the neighbourhood mood, the feel throughout the hotel is functional and semi-industrial rather than lavish. Our room had a deliberately unfinished feel about it with playful fixtures like mirrors dangling from ropes and a mishmash of Berlin-style “flea market” furniture.
After dumping our bags in the room, we headed out in search of food. It was about 10pm so we didn’t want to venture too far or try anything too exotic. Trusting the old adage that you can always find solace in a kebab shop late at night, we felt justified by our discovery of Saray. We wolfed down our falafel wrap and lamb doner kebab in no time. I just read some of its reviews on Yelp – it’s a pity they’ve only got 2 stars. The lamb doner kebab changed my life!

The next morning, we took a walk down Warschauerstrasse because Scott remembered eating good bagels somewhere along this street. He couldn’t remember the name of the place so we would walk a couple of steps and then peer in through the windows to see if there were any bagels. After walking for 20 minutes in subzero temperature we finally came to a bookshop called Shakespeare & Sons, which had a cosy café inside serving Fine Bagels.
Scott ordered a bagel with roast beef and I ordered a ‘sticky goat’ – goat cheese and honey. Under the impression that bagels were just hard, chewy bread, I couldn’t quite understand his insistence on having breakfast there at first. But after sinking my teeth into one of them fine bagels, I understood immediately.

I understand.

Then we went to HUMANA, a massive vintage and secondhand store – something we don’t get much of in Singapore. Scott loves thrift shopping and is always happy to tell you the story of his awesome sheepskin coat and Lanvin ties which he bought for dirt cheap in a thrift store. Thrift shopping is an art. It is not easy as it requires a lot of patience and an open mind. We left without getting anything because we were too lazy to try anything.

Part of the attraction of Berlin is its unique combination of grit and glamour, which is evident in its food, architecture and culture. A youthful creative vibe permeates the city and it has the unpretentious charm of an international village. Size-wise, Berlin is pretty big but its key areas are wonderfully compact and easily navigated on foot, by bike or by public transport. Step counter fans will be happy to know that we racked up more than 20, 000 steps that day.

Checking out the underground party scene in the day time because it looked too scary after dark.

For lunch we stumbled upon a lovely little place called Hello Good Pie. Our meal was delicious and the chef treated us to a peek of his butt crack. Five stars. Highly recommend.

Went for a very long walk across town after lunch


Got lost and had to take the train
Museum Island

Scott and I don't really buy holiday souvenirs, but we still like to bring home something from the place. We've brought home corals from Sri Lanka and seashells from Boracay and resorted to stealing loose cobblestone from the streets of Berlin.

I didn't have anyone to take a photobooth picture with in the summer of 2014

But come 2017:
By dinner time, we had marched the length of Berlin. We knew we wanted a good German dinner but had no clue where to go. Frozen and desperate, we went into the lobby of a random hotel to ask the concierge for some dinner recommendations, which was how we ended up at Sauerkraut.

Their borscht was so good, we had to order a second bowl because I drank almost all of our first. (Borscht isn't really German, but we had schnitzel too!)

Scott and I decided that we ABSOLUTELY HAD to have a night out in the abandoned industrial wasteland we'd explored earlier in the day. We'd both been around the area during previous trips but always chickened out going into one of the clubs because it seemed a little sketchy with a lot of drug dealers trying to sell in the middle of the street. Also our hotel was only a 2-minute walk away, so we had no excuses. We got home at 8ish after dinner and took a disco nap till midnight. We were so close to staying in bed but managed to summon the strength to get dressed and head out. The DJ played some eerie electro stuff for a bit and then proper house music. So groovy! You could tell everyone was genuinely enjoying themselves and was high on something. Being the seasoned winter party peeps that we are, we ended up peeling off our layers and layers of HEATTECH as the night wore on – so chic, so cool, not awkward at all. They had a 'no photography' policy but I couldn't resist sneaking one of Scotty on the dance floor in a Berlin nightclub.

We decided to call it a night – for real this time –  at around 3am. Since Saray was just around the corner from the nightclub, we decided to have another lamb doner kebab.

We woke up the next morning and went to Shakespeare & Sons again. Hehe.

I decided to order what Scott had the day before because it was SO GOOD. Scott had his bagel with beetroot cream cheese and lox – also very good. Then we made our way to the train station to catch our train to Prague.

It's easy to get hung up on seeing all the sights and eating all the food when you visit a different country, but it's actually so stressful and tiring attempting to tick off all the boxes – an overload on the senses. The wonderful thing about Berlin is that you don’t have to try too hard or plan too much to feel like you’ve seen the city. At every turn, its richly textured history stares you in the face; Old power stations hide vast techno clubs and dilapidated buildings are reincarnated as avant garde art museums.

Fortunately, Scott and I are both pretty chilled as travellers and are very happy to just wander the streets and go with the flow. Thinking back on the 36 hours we spent in Berlin, I realized that even though we didn't make it to The ReichstagCheckpoint Charlie or Brandenburg Gate and ate mostly kebabs and bagels – neither particularly German – we still felt as though we managed to experience the place.

Part 0 – Packing; Part 1 – London; Part 2 – The West Country; Part 3 – Cardiff

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