You know when you say you’re going to do something big, but there’s a good chance it won’t actually happen because a lot of external factors could swoop in and ruin things? When my friend Eileen left us back in 2010 to return to Germany, we all promised we would see her again soon. Eileen was a foreign exchange student from Germany. She came to my high school during my senior year and it was BFF status at first sight. She naturally fit in with our really extended group of friends and became one of my best friends. When I studied abroad two years ago, she came to visit me in London and it was so wonderful. Our friend Ali also visited her that same year, although they only spent a day together. I told Eileen I would visit her next time, and I meant it. I was however unsure when I would be able to make my way back to the UK, especially with the amount of crippling debt I had acquired after one trip abroad. Obvs I’ve somehow managed to come back this year and my number one priority was to book a weekend trip to Germany ASAP. The three things I wanted to do in Germany were: 1) Go to Berlin 2) Meet Eileen’s family and see where she grew up and 3) Spend as much time with Eileen as possible
Some flight troubles meant that rather than arriving in Germany on Friday morning, I got there at 10:30 pm, so we lost a whole day together. We still had plenty of time to catch up and foolishly stayed up until about 1:30 in the morning when we had to wake up 3.5 hours later to catch a train to Berlin. We then spent five hours on the train, so plenty of time to nap.
We started the day being touristy af with a McDonald’s breakfast and a hop-on, hop-off bus tour. I like the idea of these tours because you can get off at the stops you want to actually explore, or you can catch up on sleep. We got off at Alexanderplatz and did some shopping. It was around 100 degrees F, sun was out in full, and I was in desperate need of a giant floppy hat. Also, there are so many shopping centers in Berlin. SO MANY H&Ms AND ZARAs. I needed a new outfit after literally sweating through mine. Note to self: never wear black trousers and a long sleeve in 100 degree weather.
We then walked about a mile to Checkpoint Charlie. There was a lot information in a timeline setup detailing what happened at Checkpoint Charlie and its significance to the tearing down of the Berlin Wall and separation of the East from the West. I thought it a bit strange to see loads of stands selling food, ice cream and trinkets right in the same area as all this information, but it was fascinating nonetheless.
We then walked over to the Berlin Wall and read the entire timeline for that. It was amazing learning all the history associated with the Wall that went back to WWI. There was a ton of information related to Hitler and the Holocaust, which I definitely wasn’t expecting, but it all had to do with what led to the construction of the Wall in the first place. We then walked to the other side of the Wall and just took a moment to look at the graffiti. I was expecting bolder, brighter colors and designs, but was met with more muted graffiti. It was still really powerful and there was a giant message that read, “Save our planet.”
We then got off at Dorotheenstadt – the political center with a giant park and so many beautiful buildings. My favorite was the Reichstag Building, which is parliament’s building. It has a massive glass dome at the top which gives visitors a good view of the city. We also saw the Chancellor’s Office, which is where my girl Angela Merkel spends her time. It’s quite modern but I really like that. Ironically, this area was dominated by a legalize marijuana parade while we were there, but that’s Berlin for you. We also saw Brandenburg Gate, a beautiful collection of pillars and statues.
Next, we went to the Holocaust Memorial, something I have been wanting to visit since 2011. I was a little confused as we went through because it is a bunch of cement blocks lined up at varying heights and none of them are perfectly straight. I was insulted seeing people sit on the blocks, sitting between them, playing hide-and-seek, but Eileen reminded me the architect wanted the memorial to be a part of the city and for the people to integrate it into their lives. It was a confusing experience because I didn’t understand, because I couldn’t make sense of it, because I was angry at people for being disrespectful and unaware, but I suppose that’s also my reaction to the Holocaust; I am certainly confused by what happened and how it happened, I could never make sense of it, and I’m angry that it happened at all. Maybe that isn’t the point of the memorial, but that’s what I got from it.
We then got off in Charlottenburg, near the ruined Church that the city has left standing as a reminder of what happens with war, another favorite of mine. We walked around and turned onto the street where we would eventually catch our coach to return to Frankfurt. Eileen spotted the most adorable bakery called Der Kuchenladen and it was full of phenomenal baked goods. Not only were they beautiful works of art, they tasted SOOOO good! Eileen got a slice of NY cheesecake and I got a slice of cake that was essentially strawberries and cream. We were in Heaven. And we didn’t even feel guilty because we walked 27,638 steps/12.96 miles so YOLOOOO.
After nine hours on a coach, we were back in Frankfurt for a shower and a quick nap. Eileen then drove us to her hometown where I finally met her parents! They are so lovely and were literally so accommodating. We had a massive brunch and I ate way too much bread, but that was okay because of how much we had walked the previous day. Next it was time for Eileen’s mom to play tour guide as she took us around the neighboring towns. Our first stop was Bad Nauheim, an area dedicated to naturally healing the ill. There are several baths full of water loaded with iron. We tried some from a couple of fountains and it tasted like really salty blood, but it’s supposed to help, in very small doses. Bad Nauheim also has salines, which are full of sticks and have this iron water trickling down. The air becomes full of this water and helps with respiratory problems and is just generally nice to breathe in. Plus, it’s really cool to look at and quite soothing to listen to the sounds of the water. There’s also a shrine to Elvis in this town because he was stationed there when he fought in the war. It’s quite funny to see a bust of Elvis hanging out. The rest of the town was just gorgeous and full of the cutest shops, restaurants, cafes, and pubs. We went to a restaurant on top of a hill for the best view of everything.
Next we went to Butzbach, a town literally out of a German fairy tale. The buildings have the very German paint jobs and the roads are pure cobblestones. There was also a random castle and churches older than the US (well, basically). We each had massive gelato sundaes and I tried so hard to finish mine, a combination of chocolate and stracciatella gelato with bananas, but it was impossible. We walked around a bit more and then headed back to Eileen’s where I had the biggest German feast of my life. It was all so good and I wish I could have stayed longer, but we had to leave at 4:30 to make my coach to the airport. I was delayed another five hours on my way home and didn’t make it to my dorm until 3:30 am, but WHATEVER! I got to visit Germany and spend time with one of my oldest and dearest friends, finally experiencing her home town and meeting her family. It was an amazing weekend. X sab.