Every time I travel, there is one defining moment that drives the point home for me: I am somewhere I’ve never been before, somewhere that is unlike any other place in time. In some cases, it’s immediate, like landing in Iceland and seeing the alien moonscape of the land beneath an eerie neon deep blue sky. At other times, it takes a few days, like when I stepped out of a Tube station in London and looked straight up at Big Ben (which was renamed the Elizabeth Tower during the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, btw… but good luck getting us Americans to call it that!).
Earlier this month, I flew to Berlin and then Edinburgh. Although I had a short list of must-haves for each city, my true goals would have appalled a type-A traveler. I was really there to relax, take enough pictures to make cool albums on Facebook, try new foods, and soak up precious face-time with good friends who are usually far, far away.
My defining moment for Berlin came about 36 hours after I arrived at my friend M’s apartment. I’d spent most of my first full day there sleeping off an incredible wine-filled dinner at Katz Orange, followed by countless smoky scotches at a bar with an entire wall of seating that looked like high school bleachers. Sometime between scotch numbers 3 and 4, I was happily climbing all over those bleachers, hanging upside down on them, and squealing in pure delight.
When I woke up at about 4pm the next day, I crawled from M’s bedroom (I had weaseled my way in by saying I had to tell her pillow something important when M got up at a normal human hour in the morning) into the living room where she and E (my travel buddy for the Berlin portion of the trip) were curled up in blankets on the couch watching an entire season’s worth of Awkward and munching from three platters and one paper sack filled with croissants, rolls, German cold cuts, cheeses, sliced fruits, and bottles of wine and juice.
“It’s the Breakfast in Bed,” M said.
“She ordered it while you were sleeping,” E added.
Good god, I loved them both so much! I’ll spare you full details of how I ate (“very much” and “with my hands and face” are probably descriptive enough). My defining moment for Berlin was seeing that spread, so European, and knowing it was delivered to M’s door. It felt familiar and yet foreign because of little touches like the neat packets of Nutella included with the condiments, as a staple instead of a special request, or the slices of headcheese, wonderfully translucent and studded with multi-colored specks of meat like some savory version of fruitcake, arranged on a platter with the other cold cuts like it was no big deal. And it wasn’t a big deal. Because I was in Berlin!
Lest you think I’m a depraved individual who spent the whole trip either drunk or hungover (not that I can disprove that statement), E and I did kick into tourist mode with trips to the Bauhaus Museum (incredible), an underground tunnel (where I fell in love with an interactive light installation) to see the Victory Column up close, Reichstag, the Brandenburg Gate, Panoramapunkt, the East Side Gallery, Museum Island (where we chased off whiny gypsies with our New Yorker ‘tude), Berliner Dom, and the interactive DDR Museum (insane shit show, but fun enough that it was worth it).
We learned how to speak German, or rather, the Germans learned how to speak us. E and I would tack “platz” onto the end of most words and repeat what we were saying aggressively until the locals gave in. Success-platz!! Along the way, we ate currywurst, kebabs from Mustafa’s (worth the wait, especially after I realized I could openly drink a bottle of Malbec while on line), proper English fry-ups at East London, and really great sausage pizza at the Fab Berlin office.
Our last night together, the three of us indulged in an eight-course tasting menu at Horvath with the requisite too-many bottles of wine. I’d love to describe the two restaurant meals more fully, but for now, I’m still digesting everything we experienced. It’s safe to say that I enjoyed Berlin very much, and may just be persuaded by M to return in the summer when there’s hillside karaoke and a city full of strangers to embarrass myself in front of.
For now, I’ll say auf wiedersehen (platz!) and save the tale of Edinburgh (with two more amazing friends) for another day.