So I didn’t really know what to expect from Germany. I had never been, and it isn’t somewhere that people usually rave about a whole lot when they travel (aside from Berlin, of course). Besides bratwurst, beer, and pretzels, I just didn’t know a whole lot about it – which I suppose made me easy to impress. The landscape and weather in Germany is actually quite a lot like Canada (at least where I live) so I felt fairly at home. I also loved how each city I went to (Bremen, Berlin, and Hamburg) was totally distinct, yet equally lovely and interesting.
The German’s are extremely modest, but always really friendly if you took a little time to talk to them. I actually had a few conversations with multiple people about the German’s typical attitude and outlook, and was really intrigued. One guy I met had travelled to Canada, and was basically accusing us of being artificially happy; he thought that our optimism and sometimes extreme outward friendliness was kind of an act – which I of course disagree with, but I can see why he thought this because of how reserved many of the German’s I met were. Another friend I met described to me how afraid of rejection the people tend to be – how people will not come up to you in a bar or in public to make conversation because they are scared of coming off wrong, but that often if you do the same, they will actually be really friendly. The same friend also talked about how German’s can often come across as rude because of their stubbornness and cynical humour. I think that these personality traits might put off some people, but I somehow found them both intriguing and endearing (I’m kind of weird that way?).
Anyway, I adored Germany in a completely different way than I loved Spain, but they were probably my favourite countries from this trip. Germany – Hamburg in particular – might even be my top choice for a city to live in if I ever decide to move myself over to Europe. You never know, right?
My first stop in Germany was the smaller (compared to the major cities), medieval, Northwestern city of Bremen. I came here entirely because this is where my best friend, Carley, is living for 8 months on an exchange-type program. I spent about 5 days staying with her, exploring the city while she worked and then hanging out with her and some of her friends during the evenings and on the weekend.
We spent our first evening catching up and walking around Bürgerpark, a massive green space in the middle of the city full of fountains, lakes, spacious lawns, and unique statues. The next day, I spent time exploring the old city centre; I saw the town hall, the famous town musicians, the cathedral, plenty of statues, and tiny, medieval streets with adorable shops, such as the Bremer Bonbon Manufaktur on Böttcherstrasse, an old-fashioned candy store where everything is handmade and I picked up some German style candy canes. I also strolled through the city market, and then headed to the Das Viertel district. I had an amazing chicken curry bagel and a grapefruit smoothie at Coffee Corner, browsed through clothes, jewelry, and cute gifts at Kauf Dich Glücklich, wished that it was logical to purchase basically everything at Grün and Form, a local store with beautiful pottery/kitchen goods/gardening supplies, and drank tea and had flourless chocolate cake at Marianne. It was a busy but wonderful day, and I got to see 3 totally different parts of Bremen – the medieval downtown area, the up-and-coming (full of adorable cafes and shop, but also more graffiti than I’ve ever seen) area of Das Viertel, and the university area where Carley lives.
Over the next few days we spent lots of time swimming and tanning at the lake closest to Carley’s place, watching football games at outdoor viewings – Germany was in the quarter finals at this point, and Carley has lot’s of Brazilian friends from work – and walking around the downtown area at a festival that was in town. Another (highlight?) of the trip was going to a very old-style German brewery and accidentally ordering the hugest currywurst that I have ever seen in my life. The thing was literally two feet long, and other people in the restaurant kept snickering as they passed our table, and some even asked to take pictures. I had an amazing time in Bremen, mainly because I was with my best friend who I had been missing dearly, but also because it is a beautiful city with lots of things to see and do, and hardly any tourists. I would definitely recommend stopping in if you happen to be in the area!
I took a bus from Bremen to Berlin, the only city where I spent multiple days without friends or family. I was actually perfectly content to be alone, because I had a huge agenda, since Berlin is a massive city with SO many things to see and do.
I got to Berlin in the early evening, and immediately met some American guys from my hostel to go for dinner with. We went to Dada Falafel, I place a couple blocks from our the hostel. This meal was among my favourite from my whole trip; I had fresh mint tea and a plate with falafel, shwarma, roasted aubergine, tabouleh, pita, and a range of dips. It was really good value, the restaurant was a nice, bright space, and the service was really good. Afterwards, I went to one of Berlin’s famous warehouse parties with a group of Aussie guys from my hostel – I didn’t get too crazy, because I wanted to be up early the next day, but it was really cool to see the nightlife (even on a Monday night!) and I had a good time hanging out with some new friends.
On my first full day, I rented a bike because I knew I was going to want to see a lot. I stopped for coffee and a quick breakfast at The Barn, a cool cafe that roasts their own coffee – very similar to some of my favourites at home, which was honestly really nice. On my way to museum island, I got very distracted by passing through a shopping district and ended up stopping in a few places. My favourite was & Other Stories, a sister brand of H&M. I went from there to the Pergamon, a huge archaeological museum on what is known as “museum island”. It was pretty impressive, even though museums aren’t really my thing. It ended up absolutely pouring while I was in the museum, so I decided to ditch my bike and just walk with my umbrella, because that for some reason seemed easier. I ended up walking for quite a while, but saw the Holocaust Memorial (both the stone blocks that are above ground and the museum underneath), which was actually really, really cool. I’m really into WWII stories though. After retrieving my bike and walking around some more, I had dinner at an Indian place near my hostel, and then went and watched the World Cup Semi Finals at the Brandenburg Gate with the Aussie guys. This was actually one of the coolest experiences – there were literally thousands and thousands of people crowded in this huge space watching the game, and of course Germany beat Brazil 7 – 1, which made for a pretty crazy night.
In the morning, I went to the bus station to buy tickets to get to Hamburg, and then tried to fit as many things into half of a day that I could, but since Berlin is so big, this was kind of difficult. I went to the East Side Gallery – the longest remaining portion of the Berlin Wall, which has been painted by artists, and then went up to the Prenzlauer Berg area for a take out lunch from Suicide Sue. This place was actually the coolest little sandwich/coffee shop, and Prenzlauer Berg is supposed to be a really cool area, so I was really sad that I didn’t have time to walk around any longer. Of course, I was far too over-ambitious with my time and ended up missing my bus and having to catch a train that was a bit more expensive.
I honestly wasn’t sure what to think about Berlin. It’s not nearly as beautiful as so many other cities around Europe, there were a lot of tourists, and I felt extremely pressed for time. It’s just such a cool city though, and it has a sense of being very “up-and-coming”. I feel like I need more time to explore all of the different neighbourhoods, to see more, smaller museums, and to get a better sense of the city. More so than any other city, I don’t think it was fair to Berlin to spend such a small amount of time there.
One of the things that I really wanted to try while I was in Europe was couch-surfing. Basically, there is a website of people who offer their couches to travellers for free. And it’s not nearly as sketchy as it sounds. Seriously. I got to Hamburg on Wednesday evening and met my host at a coffee shop/gourmet food store called Mutterland (it was the first place I found with wifi, but also had delicious pastries and some really cool food items like homemade marshmallows and dozens of local jams, etc.) He ended up being a really cool, super nice guy. After dropping off my stuff at his place, we went and walked by the harbour (which is lined by some cute restaurants and walking paths) and he told me about Hamburg and we talked about travelling. Since he worked in the morning, we had a pretty early night.
The next day I walked around Hamburg, seeing Speicherstadt, Alsterarkaden, and a large portion of the town centre. I had lunch at Cafe Cholesterin, a nice little hidden bistro with lots of comfort dishes like quiche and lasagna, plus yummy chocolate cake and big latte bowls. When he finished work, my host and I rented bikes, stopped for some kebab, and rode up to Hamburg Stadtpark. We spent the evening talking, people watching, and picnic-ing. We had initially planned on swimming, but ended up opting out. The park was actually so beautiful and hardly felt like you were in the city, because you couldn’t see any buildings past the surrounding trees. There were so many interesting groups of people throwing frisbees, suntanning, picnic-ing, and just hanging out.
I adored Hamburg because it has such a large harbour that it practically feels like it’s on the ocean (and really, it isn’t very far), it’s a large city with lots to do, it is super green with numerous parks, but it didn’t feel very touristy (and it was mid July). I think it probably helped that I was staying with someone who actually lives there, but it just seemed like a really nice place to live.
I was actually pretty sad to leave Germany; like I said, it kind of felt like home compared to how different many of the other countries were, but I was so excited for my next stop – Denmark.