A Look at Berlin, Germany (and why you should visit)

IN CASE you haven’t heard, Berlin is the new spot backpackers, travelers, and vacationers of all sorts are choosing. And somehow once you visit it all makes perfect sense.

Traveling to Berlin was something I had always wanted to do. I mean, who wouldn’t want to visit? There’s tasty beer, char-grilled animal parts, and mounds of bread, pretzels, and donuts. If the images of Oktoberfest with scantily clad blonde beer maidens strutting about, frothy steins overflowing with quality beer, and a whole lot of over-joyous celebration don’t get you excited, well then, you’ve got problems. But hey maybe you’re more of the artsy coffee-drinker, type? In that case, you’ll still love Berlin because it’s become an art mecca and coffee shop paradise. The point is, even with uncertainty and wavering economic conditions in Greece and Italy, Germany should be on your must-see list when visiting Europe.

Berlin used to be a powerhouse, but you know your history…during the first half of the 20th century Germany was the dominant force in Europe, then things got ugly, and that whole World War II thing happened. In the aftermath – the capital city and country as a whole was shamed – forced to put it’s head down and just get by.

Now, more than ever, a combination of austerity measures and strategic stimulus efforts are starting to pay off. Berlin and Germany as a whole are looking mighty good right now with low unemployment, a burgeoning economy, and an uber-high standard of living.

“The debt crisis has been a burden for almost all of Europe, but Germany continues to dodge the worst economic side-effects. Gross domestic product jumped considerably in the country between July and September, growing by 0.5 percent over the previous quarter. On Tuesday, the German Federal Statistical Office released its first estimate showing that GDP grew by 2.6 percent compared with the same period the previous year.” (Speigel Online)

Germany is beginning to be used as a model for recovery and even more so, elevated to savior-status for Europe. With all that high praise and improving development and transportation, if you haven’t traveled to Berlin, Germany, well then, now is your time.

When you travel throughout Europe, curled in a hostel corner and ask, “Hey what’s the favorite city you’ve been to?” You most likely will hear, “Berlin” above all others. The reasons are many but it must have something to do with a plentiful supply of good beer and delicious, quick street food everywhere you turn. It also might be the history of WWII, the Berlin Wall, and the surprisingly beautiful architecture.

STREET FOOD

The first thing you will notice…and love about Germany is the food. Along the city streets you will find bakeries on every corner offering up fresh breads, pretzels, donuts, and more, but when you are walking the streets and need a meal, look for a Doner Kebab. The adopted national sandwich of Germany, these are served wrapped in a warm pita wrap or soft grilled bread and stuffed with chicken, veal, lamb, or beef, and crisp lettuce, tomatoes, and a mix of cool and creamy sauce and spicy or tangy hot sauce.

The other national staple and meal you have to try when visiting is Currywurst. The meal comes in varying forms but it’s important you understand the basics. First and foremost is a healthy supply of hot dogs and sausages – chopped and diced into more friendly sizes, then comes a senseless lathering of a spicy ketchup and curry powder based sauce, and on the side you should find a warm, chewy roll, and a toothpick or fork to attack those sausages.

Some quick online searching confirmed that this is a national favorite, with an almost cult like following. Take a look here and here for all things Currywurst.

But the best serving I found wasn’t even in Berlin. I sampled Currywurst on the trains, at the airport, and while walking the downtown streets, but found the best serving at Curry 54, in the nearby town of Magdeburg.

HISTORY

There’s no escaping the history here in Berlin and even if you could, you wouldn’t want to. Walking the downtown streets and coming up to Checkpoint Charlie, you can not help but slow down and try to soak it all in. Sure there’s vendors hawking memorabilia, t-shirts, and photos, but what you are standing on is practically hallowed ground. This dividing line not only served as the central crossing point between West and East Germany during the Cold War but it symbolized the stark divide and ideological chasm between the Allies and the Soviets.

Today, Checkpoint Charlie will definitely be something you will remember passing through.

ARCHITECTURE & CANALS

You won’t believe the distinctive, gothic architecture and the rivers and canals weaving through Berlin. Seriously who knew Berlin had a river through it?  You can easily spend a 1/2 day strolling these foreign streets and little else –  snapping photos and trying to blend in with either the tourists or locals.

IF YOU GO:

Lufthansa has started offering direct flights from San Francisco to Germany: http://www.lufthansa.com

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