Take note: two nights in Berlin is not enough.
My friend Grace and I flew in last Saturday afternoon and left Monday evening. While we managed to see all the main sites, we quickly realized that we could spend weeks and weeks in this city without feeling fully satisfied.
We stayed at The Circus, a hipster backpackers hostel with a cute cafe and a cute staff. We meandered through the area after check-in, and block after block, we squealed at shop after shop. This sounds silly, but the window displays in Berlin are ubiquitously trendier than anything I’ve ever seen. I gawked at literally every cafe, because literally every cafe was simultaneously quirky and perfect.
Needless to say, I was highly caffeinated all weekend, and I loved it.
The Circus also offers a free, four-hour walking tour, which we took advantage of. Our guide Tobey was witty and knowledgeable, walking us through the city center and providing history lessons along the way.
I don’t need to tell you about Germanic history. The Berlin Wall? Crazy! The Stasi? Insane!
But what’s beautiful is how Berlin doesn’t try to hide its nasty past. There are countless museums and memorials that act more like reminders — the city and its people have moved on.
Those dots are bullet holes.
We lucked out, too, and managed to catch some of the seventh annual Festival of Lights, where the city’s monuments are vibrantly lit at night.
The Berliner Dom is already staggeringly beautiful in the daylight, so the psychedelic display was unreal. After a walk through the rainbow trees, I felt like Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.
And, of course, we ate!
Like a food nerd, I prepped quite a bit for this weekend. I surfed countless food blogs, consulted German students and rewatched Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations episode in Berlin. While Grace and I didn’t budget for a nice, sit-down German feast, we did budget for overeating.
Street food in Berlin is dirt cheap, especially compared to the prices we are used in Brussels. The most popular fast food option is probably döner kebab, meat roasted on a rotating spit and carved off into delicious variations. If you’re having trouble picturing it, think about gyros — it derived from the döner kebab.
We trekked down to Kreuzberg, an up and coming district of artists where there’s also a high Turkish population. In other words, we trekked to the perfect district for some döner kebab.
We joined the queue at Mustafa’s Gemüse Kebap and ordered Hähnchen Döner mit Gemüse, like everyone else was doing.
The chicken was succulent, continually doused with fresh marinade as it’s sliced. The bread was at once crispy and soft, and more importantly, warm. Three sauces were generously slathered on — kräuter (a dill yogurt spread), knoblauch, (a garlic sauce) and scharf (spicy and peppery). Plus the perfect meat. Plus some handsome roasted veggies. Plus a fresh salad. Plus feta cheese. And lastly, a squeeze of lemon to brighten the whole thing up.
“If I could eat this every single day for the rest of my life, I would,” Grace said, breaking our silent immersion into kebab bliss. I agreed.
Our other meals weren’t as revolutionary, but they were awfully good. We compared two different currywurst stands, said by bloggers, guidebooks and locals to be the best two currywurst stands in the city.
Recognize the first stand from No Reservations? We ate standing up at the same table as the man himself!
The second stand was Curry 36 in Kreuzberg, just steps away from Mustafa’s. Konnopke lies underneath the train tracks in Prenzlauerberg, the hopelessly trendy area just north of our hostel.
Konnopke is the oldest currywurst spot in Berlin, having opened in 1930. We preferred its old-fashioned vibe to the newness of Curry 36, and we preferred the food as well. The wurst at 36 was a bit watery, and its curry ketchup was less robust. And no, I am not just saying this because Bourdain went to Konnopke.
Bourdain also hit Rogacki, a gorgeous indoor market in Charlottenburg, amidst mainstream shops and wide boulevards. We marveled at Rogacki’s products — from complex headcheese to eel — before heading to its cafeteria-like corner for blutwurst and liverwurst.
Blutwurst is primarily made from pork rind and congealed blood, and liverwurst from pigs’ liver. The casings nearly burst with the pink and deep red silk, blending beautifully with the creamy potatoes, fresh parsley and sharp sauerkraut.
Will I be back to Berlin before my Euro-adventure ends? Goodness, I hope so. If for no other reason, I need to go to eat more.