Guten Tag, and welcome back to another edition of Out of the Kitchen! If you’ve been following along, you know that it was almost a year ago that I got married and started a whirlwind tour of Europe for our honeymoon. So far on the blog, we’ve revisited Barcelona, Paris, and Lisbon. Now it’s time to look back at the next leg of the trip – the artist’s paradise of Berlin.
I was particularly excited about this leg of the journey because I had originally wanted to do a “heritage trip” for our honeymoon that involved visiting each of the places that played a role in our different ethnicities. While that would have been even more money than what our actual honeymoon cost us, we ended up getting part of that experience by visiting Spain for him and Germany for me. As a ninth-generation American, I have almost no connection to where I come from, and I know precious little about my ancestors. One of the few things I do have is a scan of a document signed by the King of Hamburg, giving permission for my many-times-great grandfather to come settle in the Ohio Valley in the 1840’s. So while I don’t feel ethnically German, it’s the part of my heritage that I have the most concrete connection to, and I love to explore more of it whenever I can!
While we didn’t make it down to Hamburg, Berlin kept us enraptured for the few days that we were there. It’s almost impossible to think of Germany without thinking of its tumultuous history, and it can feel kind of awkward trying to navigate that cultural space. Should I acknowledge it or move on like everything is ok? It feels like Germans have taken the stance that education and acknowledgement is fundamental to moving forward and preventing future tragedies. Rather than hiding behind the modern concrete and glass structures that have erupted since the infamous Wall fell in the early 90’s, remnants of history stand proudly on street corners and in parks, forcing you to look these events in the face and confront them.
From the Holocaust memorial with its undulating rows of obsidian columns, to Checkpoint Charlie and the signs warning you that you are leaving the American-controlled zone, everywhere is an opportunity to interact with history. We visited the remnants of the Wall, and learned about the risks people took to cross from East Berlin. Probably most poignantly, we visited a memorial to the LGBT victims of the Holocaust in the expansive city park called the Tiergarten. A stark block of concrete set against a lush background of greenery in the park, the monument features a single glass window, through which one can view a video montage showing gay and lesbian couples kissing. It was a sobering reminder of how far we as a society have come, and we broke our “no selfies at serious monuments” rule because we couldn’t help but celebrate the fact that we were able to remember the persecuted as a legally married couple. While we did have plenty of fun, experiences like these grounded us and played an important part in the memories that we made!
As I said before, even with history all around it, Berlin is a capital of creation. I think it’s best summed up by DJ Ellen Allien in an episode of Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations”: “I think after the Second World War, everything was burned here… you have the feeling that you have to help build something here. I’m a part of it.” With this spirit of rebuilding and belonging, art has become a part of the soul of the city, and there are places to view both fine and street art of all types. Music, too, plays a huge role in the personality of the city. Going out is a form of art itself in this city that truly never sleeps. Clubs are open all night, and the bass of underground electronic drops reverberates to the surface, where people stand in lines a block long just to get a taste of some much-awaited drunk food.
And what a food scene this city has! Much like the rest of the city, the food culture has been rebuilt over the years by those that have flocked to the city and call it home. So while you may have some traditional German staples like sausages and beer, ethnically spiced additions such as currywurst and döner are considered just as German, and just as essential. Currywurst is delicious German sausage slathered with a flavorful and spiced curry ketchup, served with a side of fries. And döner – beautiful, beautiful döner – is a Turkish creation somewhere between a gyro and a Dagwood sandwich. Meat, vegetables, sauce, all piled on warm crispy bread… it’s the stuff dreams are made of, whether you’re drunk as hell or stone cold sober. I recommend going to Mustafa’s Gemüse Kebap in Mehringdamm, but be prepared to wait; I promise it’s all worth it.
So where should you stay in the city to experience all that there is to see? We got an Airbnb near Potsdamer Platz, just west of the city center. We loved this neighborhood because it was so close to many of the historical sight-seeing destinations, but also close to the gorgeous Tiergarten. I recommend taking a stroll amongst the trees, and taking the time to reflect on yourself and humanity. For all of the outgoing and liberal spirit that the city has, it also has the power to make you take a hard introspective look at yourself and realize your values, beliefs, and ideals.
So will you be a part of the rebuilding of Berlin? As an old city made young by tragedy, it’s continuously changing and being molded by its inhabitants. It’s unlike anywhere else in the world in that regard. As Anthony Bourdain once said, “Berlin has always had a darkness that’s hidden in plain sight.” What can you reveal of it, and what can it reveal in you?
Until next time, tschüss!