I can’t believe it’s been two years since my trip through Eastern & Central Europe. I also can’t believe I’m just now posting about it. Lucky for me, I write sooner than I edit photos, so most of the recap below were my live and direct thoughts of my weekend in Berlin! I hope you enjoy.
Berlin was refreshing. After traveling through Istanbul, Budapest, Krakow, and Warsaw and being able to count the number of Black people on my fingers, I was starting to wonder if we existed anywhere in Europe. We’re definitely in Berlin – not to the extent of global centers like Paris, London or New York, but we are there.
Other than the affirmation of knowing other Black people weren’t unicorns, I truly did enjoy Berlin. Something about the wide neatly laid streets and the fresh autumn leaves was quite energizing. The city also had a calm buzz to it. You had the feeling that people had things to do and places to be, but not in a rushed and hurried “I’m going to run you over” that you find in Paris and New York. This might be because Berlin isn’t as crowded as the other two cities so people can hurry by without barreling you over.
My friend Bart and I got into Berlin late Friday night. We had a run in with the German police within minutes of entering the borders of Germany. It was an odd experience to say the least. The police car pulled up beside us, shined a bright light into our car then sped in front of us. On top of the car, words flashed in German that Bart said read: “Follow Me.” My questions is, what happens if you don’t read German? Would you just continue driving? How much trouble would you be in? Anyways, we followed the cop car a few miles down the highway and he finally took a right and we were on a small side road surrounded by woods. Sketchy. I know. The police officers got out of the car. One came to talk to us and the other shined a flashlight into the car and the backseat. They only asked for Bart’s ID and my passport. They took it back to their car and then brought it back to us in about five minutes. I guess we didn’t come up on any international most wanted lists. They drove off without saying anything else and we went back on our way. I have some speculations about why were pulled over, but Bart said they probably increased patrolling since the refugee crisis.
Saturday, we met up with a group of friends and did what I’m assuming are typical German things. We ate at a Mexican restaurant. We went to a flea market – which are pretty big deals in Berlin, and people got various German desserts or just coffee or tea. We walked around to different shops – some people had just relocated to Germany and were décor shopping. I bought a winter hat made in Cuba. Soon after all that, the group of eight was down to four: Bart and I and Bart’s really close friend Konstantin and his girlfriend Naomi. The four of us spent the rest of the evening doing more German things. Naomi and I made chocolates at this chocolate bar. It’s similar to a frozen yogurt bar but a million times more heavenly because it’s chocolate – and I’m not even that big a fan of chocolate! You tell the attendant milk or dark chocolate (dark chocolate of course!) and then you get to pick three ingredient to put in your bar. I choose almonds (duh), candied coconuts (they didn’t have regular coconut) and gold stars (because, why not?). You then come back in 45 minutes for your finished products – after all, perfection takes time. Aka, the chocolate has to be mixed and cooled.
We took that time to see two of the most important sites in Berlin: the Brandenburg Gate and the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. The first made for great photo-ops and the 2nd was somber and a little frightening. The Brandenburg Gate was erected in the 18th century and was inaccessible to either side during the years that the Berlin Wall stood. Today it stands as a sign of European unity and peace. Not a far walk from the gate was the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. It is about 4.7 acres of concrete slabs of varying heights and width. We walked through the labyrinth-like memorial at night and it was hard to know if you were headed in the right direction. As you entered and the slabs got taller and the hill slopped, it felt like you were being further and further enclosed. It was a disorientating and somber experience and one of the most powerful memorials I have ever seen. The slabs contain no names or markers (although beneath the memorial is a ‘Place of Information’ that holds the names of as many Jewish victims of the holocaust as could be collected). It was unique in that it wasn’t so much a memorial that you saw or read, it was a memorial you experienced as you made your way through the sea of concrete slabs wondering just how many there were.
After collecting our chocolate, we had Indian food for dinner and called it a night.
Day trip from Berlin
The next day, we picked up Kons and Naomi from their hotel early in the morning. Their area had to be evacuated because a WWII bomb was found near by – totally casual. We spent the morning at a flea market – told you, big deal, that had various international cuisine. I of course got plantains from a Ghanaian vendor – he piled my plate extra high for his African sister 😉 But it was too early to eat much of the dishes he was offering. Instead I finally tried German sausage and it was entirely underwhelming. I’ve had better sausage from Foodlion.
We then made our way to Potsdam, a town not too far from Berlin where several castles and breathtaking foliage wait to be discovered. The ground of the castle area were vast and gorgeous. You have to pay to enter the castles and by the time we got there, there was either a wait or they were out of tickets – I wasn’t really listening, I was just excited to get outside and promenade in the crisp fall air. Besides we were on a schedule because Bart had to be back in Krakow by 9pm to vote so we were all fine with not paying to see the castles. We ended up spending way more time there than anticipated. It was tough though because there was just so much to see and so many pictures to be taken. Kons also decided it was necessary to collect the most beautiful leaves in the area (um, all of them?) and do a mini photo shoot at the end.
We had a long and uneventful (as in no Germen or Polish officers) drive back to Krakow and Bart unfortunately missed his voting. But Potsdam and Berlin has a way of holding on to you, making you want to linger just one more second to smell the air, admire the foliage, snap a picture of the graffiti. Berlin has such an interesting depth to it. In my weekend there, I had a feeling that I plunged deeply into the city and yet barely scratched the surface.
Have you been to Berlin or Potsdam. If yes, please feel free to let me know all the awesome things I missed out on so I can check it out on my next time there.