My trip to Berlin in November
It has been a busy couple weeks! I am glad that I finally have some time to sit down to share my experience in Berlin with you. I was there mid-November, so if you are from the United States and are traveling during a similar time frame, you may have my experience as a reference.
Get to the airport early
As we all know, the terrorist attack in Paris has been upsetting everyone and follow up controversial discussions about refugees aren't easy either. When traveling internationally, these events do affect your trip, especially if you are traveling in and out of the United States. Prior to boarding your flight, sometimes you may be asked to be verified at a different counter before you can board. Therefore it is always helpful to get to the airport a little early and check at your airlines' counter. For example, when I was coming back from Berlin, my connecton was in Madrid before entering the United States. I had to hustle because they had to verify every passengers' passport and boarding pass before we could get in line for boarding.
Get the portable wifi
When I travel, I need my phone to work particularly if I didn't have enough time to research and prepare. However, the data plan for international traveling can be extremely costly! I think Verizon charged me 100MB for $35, which is not much at all when your smartphone is constantly updating in the background to get you all the notifications. For this trip, I rented a portable wifi from Tep Wireless. It was about $10 per day, plus the shipping cost for the device. If your budget allows, I definitely recommend you to do something like that. You can share the cost if you are traveling with friends.
People in Berlin
Now, let's talk about what happened in Berlin. Not to be offensive, but people in Berlin are not like Southern Americans, they don't get warm and fuzzy with strangers. Based on my experience, they were friendly to me most of the time when I asked for help. I encourage you to be friendly and pleasant wherever you go even when the person servicing you may appear to be cold or unfriendly.
How to dress for the weather in Berlin
When I was there, the temperature was in the 50s, and it was brisk! When the wind blew, I was so glad that I had a hat and a scarf on! Maybe that's why people don't look too comfortable on the street! It rained here and there but wasn't too bad. I grew up in Malaysia and now I live in Texas, so I really don't have much experience dressing for cold weather other than when I went on my trip.
Keep it simple but not too warm for your base layer. The reason I said this because whenever you go indoors, it can be fairly WARM and uncomfortable! You will need to be able to take off all your winter accessories and your jacket if you spend more than 5 minutes indoors. I got a windproof jacket from REI before my trip and it worked really well! Get a windproof and water resistant jacket and you are good to go! If you plan to blend in, I noticed people tend to wear black on the street. In addition to my jacket, I was so happy with my windproof pants from Uniqlo! Perfect for the weather and it wasn't too thick and heavy. To complete your packing, don't forget to bring a pair of waterproof boots that are good for walking. Keep it simple, and don't over pack your baggage, that way you can shop more. Also if you are staying at one of those apartments from Airbnb, it may be on the third or forth floors without elevator.
Foods in Berlin
To be honest, I wasn't there long enough to make recommendations. I was trying to cross-reference between Yelp and Google and it did help to find some awesome restaurants. The duck dish I had was quite good, it was a little similar to the French duck confit except it wasn't salty. I decided to try their pork knuckle once before I left Berlin, so the last night in Berlin, I found a traditional German restaurant a few blocks away that served that dish. It was a very busy restaurant and quite interesting. The owner was a big old lady that went around to talk to customers to make sure they were served well. The pork knuckle I got was quite tasty, but it did take me a while to chew through the whole plate. I would recommend you to share the dish and also try something else if you are with friends. After a week in Germany, I really loved their breakfast! The breakfast was always so fresh and so good. All the hams, the smoked salmons, the fruits were just excellent; and it doesn't hurt that the price was quite reasonable compared to what we can get here in Austin.
If you follow me on Instagram, you would know that I love coffee! Berlin is such a great city for coffee lovers! Coffee shops are everywhere and they were all quite good! Most of the time, restaurants also serve espresso, so coffee addicts like me can really get our coffee fix anywhere! Besides coffee, you can't not drink their German beer! It was great and they were cheap! At least a lot of time they were cheaper than water! I am not kidding here. When you dine in a restaurant, they don't serve you tap water. You will have to order bottle water and the price for the water is definitely higher than getting a glass of beer!
Before I jump to the next topic, I can't not mention their curry wurst! It was a mysterious dish to me. People seem to love it because you really see it everywhere! If I am going to describe it, I would say it is a long hot dog laying on top of a plate full of slightly spicy ketchup, and then curry powder was sprinkled on the "hot dog." Yes, it also comes with a bun, probably for you to soak up all the not too spicy ketchup. I would love it if someone could explain to me about the excellent curry wurst!
Things to see in Berlin
For touristy stuff, you can just Google "Berlin To Do" and you will get a list. If you love architecture, then you will find love in Berlin! Interesting buildings and great museums are everywhere. Personally, I loved the Berlin Cathedral! It was so beautiful and you can walk up and stroll around the dome to see the beautiful city from a higher ground. Other than all the famous spots, I loved the apartment buildings and the courtyards in Berlin! While meeting up with Caitlyn, she recommended a Turkish market and I loved it, I actually went back again by myself! For all the markets, make sure you check their hours, some of the flea markets only open during weekends.
Getting around in Berlin
If you can walk 10 miles a day, Berlin is not too big for you to go on foot! If you are a biker and comfortable to ride in an unfamiliar environment, you can rent a bike and you will able to get around easier. In Berlin, they have specific bike lanes besides the street but not on the street. I needed to frequently remind myself not to walk on them because they were so nice that they just looked like nice pedestrian lanes! The bus system is pretty similar to what we have in the United States, but if you are taking the train, you will need to use a machine to put a stamp on your ticket before getting on. They do have officers that on board to randomly to check train tickets, so don't forget that or you will get fined!
Little things that I noticed
Even though I was there for a short while, I think people in Berlin are efficient. Many things in life are designed a certain way to strip off unnecessary features. For example, the elevators don't have a close button. You can't be mean by pressing the close button when you see other people are coming.
The toilet papers are very stiff and remind me of copy papers. If you think those recycled toilet papers are not soft enough in the United States, then you will struggle with theirs.
Traffic lights turn from green to red pretty quickly compared to what we have in the United States, so you better walk fast because cars in Berlin don't usually wait for pedestrians. If you are crossing streets, make sure you look left and right before stepping on the street because in Berlin the pedestrians have to watch out for cars and not expect the car driver to slow down because the driver saw you on the sidewalk.
At last, I am thankful to have my close friend Mitch go on the trip with me. If you have a good travel companion, it can be so much fun and it often helps each other to grow in life. You can never see everything when you travel, it is about the overall experience and a good traveling partner will definitely enhance your journey!