Friday, April 2, 2010

Berlin: The Best and Wurst.

Welcome to...


I love surprises.

I'm the type of person who will go great lengths to surprise someone. And when there's an occasion for gift-giving, or nice-doing, I will almost always take the path of inevitably more work, trepidation and greater-resistance over just asking for gift-advice or preference.
Maybe it's arrogant on my part to assume others will feel the same way, but I'd wager that most people would agree there is little as satisfying as seeing that momentary but thrilling facial expression when someone is genuinely and fortuitously surprised...birthdays, anniversaries, but most of all, random n0-apparent-reason surprises are my favorites.

Matt surprised me last week when he called and, out of the blue, said, "Wanna go to Berlin?"

Sure, he'd be in a conference. And sure, I'd be left to my own devices with the midge. But two days later, I found myself on a plane, sipping champagne, HELLO Magazine in hand, talking to a freakish-serial-traveler while Matt sweated it out in economy with a not-so-midget in his lap. *shameless grin* And that's only the trip there! There was oh-so-much-more to our little surprise trip to the capital of the great Deutsche "vaterland."

And here is that "so-much-more" in list form. : )

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Berlin: The Best and the Wurst
a list of our top 5 doings

5. World's Largest Cylindrical Aquarium - whaaa?!
LinkI didn't really know what Matt meant when he said our hotel lobby housed the above mentioned, but man was I blown away when I walked into the lobby. Twenty-five meters high and 11 meters wide, this aquarium is no joke. There are parrot fish, blowfish and bonafide scubadivers in there cleaning the sides with a suction holder (so they don't float off) and a sponge.

The Aquarium and its base in the lobby of the Radisson.

It costs over 11Euros to go up in the elevator that takes you through the aquarium which is technically part of an Aquatic Center next door to the Radisson (screw that!), but as a patron of the hotel you get an almost equal view simply going up the elevator to your room. So I went up the elevator a lot. Roman loved staring at the fish, although I have to admit to being even more obsessed with it than him, having had my fair share of fish-owning adventures.

I mean, if you're going to stay in a big corporate-ish hotel, why not make it an interesting one?

4. Honey, can we go to Bavaria for dinner tonight?
YES, I do like cheesy Bavarian restaurants complete with women dressed in dirndls and men dressed in lederhosen. (And yes, I do know Berlin is not Bavaria.) I have no qualms admitting that. And not that I have anything against eating pig knuckles or ham hocks, but I was not leaving Berlin without getting some good-ass Weisswurst.

So sue me - I get a great thrill from holding a giant stein of German pilsner in my hand while shoving copious amounts of sausage, boiled potatoes and sauerkraut into my dainty but ravenous little pie hole! And speaking of pie - bring on the apfelstreudel mr. accordian-player man!

German food is nothing if not unpretentious. Driven by meat and starch it is sure to please anyone whose up for heartiness on a plate and in a glass. One of my more pleasant moments on this trip was when, having finally given up on finding that "perfect foodie German restaurant" due to a reality check involving a squealing 11-month-old, we caved and hit up a large, comfortable, child-friendly place right smack-dab in the middle of Freidrichstrasse. If you're looking for pretty darn decent food at cheap prices, and a little bit of a cheesy tourist ride with regards to over-the-top Bavarian decorations, Maximilians is your place.

Hey, ain't no shame in doing it every once in a while. : )

3. Seeing the Many Splendid Sights of Berlin
Berlin is impressive. Not just because it's a beautiful city where old seamlessly meets new, and not just because there are numerous - almost countless - historically significant traces and remains that boggle and wow both the historically-minded and the ignorant tourist alike. It is impressive because all these things together valiantly thrust themselves in the face of crummy half-winter weather and sometimes (more often than not, actually) awkwardly-abrupt Germans to make it one of Europe's most fascinating and pleasant places to visit.

Checkpoint Charlie, Berlin wall, Holocaust Memorial

The best and coolest sights we saw were Checkpoint Charlie, The Berliner Mauer (Berlin Wall), the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, the Brandenburg Gate, and the Reichstag. I highly recommend staying in Mitte (I stayed there 10 years ago on my first visit to Berlin, actually), East Berlin. From there all of these things are within reasonable walking distance - if you don't mind walking. I probably walked a good 6-8 miles on the one day of sightseeing we had, and my feet ached for a couple of days, but it was well worth it.

The Reichstag

2. The Reichstag Dome

The highlight of my and Roman's historical sightseeing day was, without a doubt, The German Reichstag, or parliament building. Not only is it an awesome and imposing example of neoclassical architecture at its best, but it is a seamlessLink combination of old and new, modern and classical, historical and present-day.

When the building and its hallmark glass and steel dome (constructed in 1894) were damaged by a fire and air raids during the World Wars, the Reichstag fell into disuse and disrepair. And it wasn't until 1990 when renowned British Architect Norman Foster (who brought the amazing Millenium Bridge to London) took over the restoration job that the new, super-futuristic glass dome with a 360-degree view over Berlin was built.

The line we never stood in. *grin*

Every day hundreds of people line up at the front to make the ascent to the famed glass dome that now tops the once crumbling Reichstag. But true to German efficiency, those who are handicapped or have a small bratty child in tow can skip the line entirely and head on up to the Dome in minutes' time by using an alternative entrance. SCORE!!!

Roman and I went up once during the day for photo ops (he slept through it all, of course) and then came back with Matt at 9:45pm to witness the view under the stars. It was breathtaking, both times - both because of the view and climb up the dome!


*chanting with pumping fists*
Whenever I travel anywhere I make it my business to find out what is the most typical thing to eat and drink there. In New York it was hot dogs from Gray's Papaya, in Chicago it was deep dish pizza, in Berlin it was Currywurst.

I won't bore you with details about Herta Heuwer and her curry-ketchup concoction during World War II. The bottom line is, somebody came up with the idea to combine two things I love: curry and sausage. And the rest is history - no really, there's a freaking museum!

I asked for recommendations from locals on where to get the best Currywurst in town. The answer from the taxi driver, the waiter and the otherwise annoyingly snooty concierge was exactly the same: if you want to try this unofficial national dish, the only place to do it right is Curry 36.

Don't let the snazzy website and silver storefront fool you: these people know their sausages and curry ketchup and dish it out with Soup-Nazi-esque efficiency. And whether you get it with bread or "pommes" (fries), it is a damn good (and shockingly cheap) way to get a little piece of authentic Berlin grub.

And who knows, you just might be pleasantly surprised. : )

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Oh and not to forget, of course...

Happy Easter Weekend Everyone!
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  1. Awesome! Love the story of curry wust, intend to add it to my curry series. I'm with you on German food, does not get much better than eating wurst with stein in hand.

    Sounds like you had a blast in Berlin - love all the descriptions and I'd be hitting every button in the elevator for a chance to check out the aquarium.

  2. From the look of the first photo, the 'jump' over the wall looked a wee bit strenuous for you! 8-)

    I always enjoy your travelogues - you do have a knack for finding the local hidden gems but also are unabashed about lovin' the kitschy stuff, too! I'm not sure that I'm feeling the currywurst but most any kind of 'wurst would hit the spot (throw in a bretzel and bier and it's a perfect meal)!