Time for another travel essay. Today’s topic: on why you should talk to strangers while traveling.
A couple of years ago (okay, more than a couple) some friends and I found ourselves in Europe in February with two weeks off from work (gotta love those French school vacations!) and no plans. So obviously, we decided to travel…
Berlin is one of my favorite cities in the world. Why haven’t I written about it until now? Mainly because I don’t have many great photos from my time there.
Berlin is not the most beautiful city in the world. However, it’s definitely in the running for the most interesting.
Reasons to go to Berlin?
1. The people are incredibly friendly. On our way into the town center from the airport, we struck up a conversation with a couple on the train. They invited us to a house party that very night. In the spirit of carpe diem, we went. I honestly believe there’s nothing like seeing a new place from the eyes of a local. And that night, we boozed it up with several.
2. It’s incredibly safe. We were warned before we left not to jaywalk in Berlin. Why? Because since there’s virtually no crime, the police have nothing better to do than ticket jaywalking tourists. Seriously. There are no homeless people (because there is an abundance of abandoned buildings for squatters) and prostitution is legal. Don’t jaywalk! You’ve been warned.
3. The beer. Self-explanatory.
4. It’s mind-blowingly fascinating. If you go, do yourself a favor and go on this tour. You know how city tours can be such overpriced tourist traps? This is the exact opposite.
It started at our hostel (which I will not recommend for a variety of reasons, although they do give you free beer upon check-in). This twenty-something British guy named Barnaby was offering eight-hour walking tours for a pittance. I’m not sure what possessed us to sign up–it was February, cold and snowing–but we did. We spent eight hours stomping around in the cold listening to this man who taught me more in one day than I learned in a year of history class. He took us to the Berliner Dom, which predates 20th century history. He spent a while educating us on the early life of Hitler. He took us to Checkpoint Charlie and explained everything about it that was fake. We saw the remains of the Berlin Wall, the Jewish Memorial, the memorial to the Nazi book burnings. We walked from East Berlin to West Berlin, and everywhere in between.
The tour ended in a parking lot. “Why are we here?” we asked. There was no monument nearby, no memorial, no markings in any guidebooks we’d seen that would have brought us here. Nothing but an inconspicuous plaque on the edge of the lot–informing us that we were standing over Hitler’s bunker.
“You’re standing over the spot where Hitler lived with his family throughout the duration of World War II,” Barnaby said. “And over there”–he pointed–“is where they started building the Berlin Wall.”
We were standing on what is arguably the most historically important patch of land in terms of twentieth century history. And we never would have found it on our own.