Bests of Berlin

Berlin is one of the most open, accepting cities in the world, a fact that exists almost in direct contrast with its sordid history. From the rise of the Third Reich to the imposing Berlin Wall, the city has endured a lot of pain. Berlin acknowledges and memorializes its heavy past, ensuring that the history is remembered as the city evolves into one of unparalleled nightlife, art, and inclusivity.

 

When visiting Berlin, there are a number of historical sights that demand a visit. The East Side Gallery, housing the longest stretch of the Berlin Wall still standing, is famed for its panel-like paintings commissioned from artists around the world after the wall fell. It’s rare for a city to boast a site that contains history, art, and a beautiful atmospheric walk all in one, but the East Side Gallery does just that and is a perfect introduction to Berlin.

 

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Also unmissable when it comes to art is the Berlinische Galerie. This modern art museum, one of Berlin’s newest, features a standing collection as well as rotating exhibits of Berlin art from 1870 onward. A visit to Berlinische is well worth it, and usually less crowded than the touristy Museum Island. The first Monday of every month entrance is only 4 Euros, a nice treat for your travel budget.

 

Berlin has some excellent walking tours, and most will take you around Brandenburg Tor and the surrounding monuments. It’s definitely worth spending extra time wandering amongst the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. The memorial, designed by architect Peter Eisenman, is a field of gray concrete slabs that rise in height towards the center, invoking feelings of claustrophobia and oppression. The memorial is controversial for many reasons, but I was extremely moved by it. A formal Holocaust museum stands adjacent to the concrete slabs and is also worth visiting, though be prepared for hour-long lines at peak visiting hours.

 

 

Two neighborhoods stood out during this particular Berlin visit. Kreuzberg, where we were lucky enough to stay with a friend of mine, was reminiscent of some neighborhoods in Brooklyn with its abundance of thrift stores, cocktail bars, and multinational restaurants. Some highlights were Limonadier cocktail bar (happy hour until 8pm for some of the most inventive drinks you’ve ever tasted), Dolden Mädel brew house, and La Bionda pizzeria. A whole burrata arrives atop the Nona pizza, and there are very few things I wouldn’t do for a whole burrata. The leftovers make for the perfect breakfast food as well.

 

Mitte, the city’s middle area, is home to all of the shopping your heart could desire, plus some amazing restaurants and the grand, imposing Volksbuehne theater. For breakfast or lunch, Strandbad Mitte and House of Small Wonder will fill your appetite and your aesthetic sould. House of Small Wonder has a flagship location in Williamsburg (of course we would travel across the ocean to visit a New York cafe) and will probably have a wait, so if you’re starving, head to Strandbad first. Their traditional German breakfasts are filling and delicious, and definitely shareable.

 

Lebensmittel in Mitte was probably our favorite meal in Berlin. The traditional German fair is served on large wooden tables with giant candles burning between guests, making the whole place feel like someone’s homey Bavarian dining room. From traditional gulash and schnitzel to schupfnudel, a kind of potato pasta I’d never had before and am dying to eat again, the menu is hearty and warm with a familial, cozy feel to it. Lebensmittel has an amazing selection of local wines and beers, as well as an unbelievable fruity cakey ice cream-adorned dessert, the name of which I can’t remember because our friend Yannic ordered it for us and I was too busy salivating over it to ask.

 

Last but never least, Berlin has some of the best street food on the planet, period. Make sure to eat at least several doner kebabs and try a currywurst, superior to bratwurst in my opinion. These local foods are easy on the wallet and will definitely sustain you for several hours of city trekking. Don’t forget to wash them down with some gluhwein.

 

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New Year’s Eve in Berlin

Germany is known for wild NYE parties, like the massive open-air party surrounding Brandenburg Tor in Berlin. Think the NYC Times Square party but with alcohol and fireworks allowed in the streets.

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Photo by blog.hostelbookers.com since we avoided this scene at all costs

We did not go to this party. I must admit, it does look beautiful from a safe indoor distance.

Honestly, the whole legal fireworks thing was kind of… terrifying? They are loud, they are everywhere, and they made the woman sitting next to us at dinner shriek with fright.

I had been to Berlin before in the summer, but as any Berliner will tell you the city feels like two opposite places in summer and winter. The summer boasts beer gardens aplenty and parks full of people lounging, playing instruments, probably smoking weed. Biking, to an outsider’s eye, appears to be Berlin’s primary method of transportation.

Then there’s the winter. The streets are gray and likely raining, and people hide amongst huge coats while dashing from place to place. Before coming to Berlin, I Googled what happens to beer gardens in the winter, thinking they might cover them with giant plastic tents an install space heaters. Nope, is the answer. There just are no beer gardens in the winter.

Doug and I stayed with my wonderful German friend Tatjana in Kreuzberg, one of the coolest neighborhoods I’ve seen. More on that another day.  When we arrived on December 31 she immediately took us to ORA for brunch, an über-hip eatery in a former pharmacy building. The decor gives a generous nod to the building’s previous life with medicine bottles lining the dark wooden bar shelves and old-fashioned chandeliers lighting the space. Every hipster bone in my body immediately felt at home here.

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The food itself was simple but delicious, things like local eggs and wide-cut bacon served on thick brown German bread. An excellent post-plane, pre-party meal.

We took a quick walk around Alexanderplatz and the Museum Island after brunch, because in Berlin the metro comes so often that it’s no problem to hop into the middle of the city after brunch in the southeast. If we’d had brunch in Williamsburg in New York and then someone asked if I wanted to go check out Times Square, I would have sent them on their weekend MTA journey alone and prayed they made it back by midnight. But thanks to Berlin trains coming every five minutes tops even on Sundays, we got a nice little pre-tour of the city before it was time to come home and change.

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To avoid becoming incinerated by street fireworks, we picked one locale for the entire evening, a move which I highly recommend. (“It’s amazing that people don’t die setting off their own fireworks,” I told Doug. The next day he looked it up—two people did die this year, and ten more needed amputations. Germany is just… aight with that?)

Our evening began and ended at BRLO Brewhouse, situated nicely overlooking the Spree river. BRLO (which I kept pronouncing “brillo” but is probably, I’ve realized, “berlo”) featured a NYE fondue dinner special of either meat or cheese fondue (Meat. We chose meat.), a welcome cocktail and two house beers, and unlimited sides. There was so much food, and like an amateur I filled up on the insanely good mashed potatoes. But we took down most of the meat and sides like champs, and laughed at the notion of anyone actually cashing in on the “unlimited” part.

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The beers themselves were delicious, and I half-joked that we should go back the next day to sample more. Between the two of us, we tried the Helles, the Berliner Weisse, the Red Ale, and something else that Doug got while I’d moved onto champagne (a cream ale maybe?) Regardless, all were specific and tasty and among the highest quality beers I’d tasted.

At 10:00, the bottom level of the brewery was turned into a dance floor that played hits of the 90s, 00s, and now. Seriously, the DJ knew what he was doing. Just before midnight partiers were ushered outside (we foolishly forgot to grab our coats first) to watch the fireworks over the river. To be clear: There was no grand organized firework show like we’re used to in the states, just the locals saving up their personal firepower for the midnight finale. It felt like the whole neighborhood was participating in the same party, and BRLO and its guests were invited.

As a server, I especially appreciated the fact that the BRLO employees looked like they were genuinely having a great time. They were fun and looked, at least, like they got along really well. The staff celebrated with the customers at midnight, and when we asked our server how she felt about working on New Year’s Eve, she said she’d much rather be at BRLO for the night than out amidst the explosives. Should I ever move to Berlin, BRLO’s the first place I’d look for a job (after learning German).

Beers You Must Try In Stockholm

Ah, Stockholm. The lovely, colorful Nordic city surrounded by water and prime healthcare. If, like me, you happen to make the questionable choice of visiting Scandinavia in the winter, you’ll be faced with the fact that daylight ends at 3:00PM. I’m told that Stockholm has some beautiful parks, and the next time I visit in the summer I’ll have to check them out. This winter, I spent Stockholm evenings the way many Swedes do: indoors, drinking beer.

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I really did love Stockholm for a number of reasons other than the beer – more of that to come. For now, let’s stay cozied up in Södermalm, Stockholm’s hip southern hub deemed one of the coolest neighborhoods in the world by Vogue. The northernmost part of the island is home to Akkurat, one of the greatest beer halls in Scandinavia. Akkurat boasts a huge selection of local and imported beers, with an impressive collection of lambics and vintages for the true connoisseurs. I don’t know enough about beer to pay for the good stuff, but I can at least appreciate funky and unique ones.BEB3424A-2AFE-4791-BA2C-EC8686DB9FCC.jpeg Akkurat has relationships with a number of breweries that make beers exclusively for them, including a tiny one man operation underneath a grocery store on an island to the west of Stockholm. This very brewery makes a beetroot IPA called the Red House Ale, only lightly hoppy and full of bizarre, delicious flavor.

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One of the best ways to explore bars, in my opinion, is to ask bartenders where to go next. The bartenders at Akkurat assured Doug and I that we were already in the best place, but if we had to try something else, Omnipollos Hatt around the corner was the next best option. Omnipollo is a local brewery, its name meaning something like “all-present chicken” in sort-of Spanish. (The logo is a magician’s hat, so I thought omnipollo meant magician in Swedish. Nope. All-seeing chicken.) The Hatt has a daily rotating list of Omnipollo’s out-of-the-box beers. When we went, most were sours and IPAs with a few stouts thrown in. Our first round was the One Ton Of Blackcurrant sour and the Raspberry Pavlova Smoothie IPA. For the Smoothie, the bartenders freeze the beer’s foam into a slushie machine which they dollop on top of the draft. Both beers were tart and delicious, the raspberry so tasty and unlike anything I’d ever had before that I have literal dreams about it.

 

 

The bartenders at Omnipollos Hatt recommended Akkurat (lol), and said another cozy place to try was Katarina Ölcafé. A short walk into Södermalm’s uber-hip Katarina-Sofia neighborhood brings a series of boutiques, restaurants, and this cozy beer bar that serves, ironically, New York Jewish deli-style food. We passed on the Reuben sandwich but did try Katarina’s local lager and sour. Their selection is less extensive as Akkurat and not as experimental as Omnipollo, but for quality Swedish beers served by friendly, engaging bartenders, Katarina was a win.

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Our final quest took us, as per the Katarina bartender’s recommendation, to Mbargo wayyy on the west side of the island. Mbargo has a TON of local beers – it might even rival Akkurat if you’re counting purely Swedish varieties. We opted for some Dugges sours (because thanks to this trip, I guess I like sours now??), Doug especially thrilled with his Mango Mango Mango brew. 0E1A88AE-EF23-4B37-BF27-539C57501BFESince we did not want to collapse, we called it a night after Mbargo, and I have to hand it to the Swedes: bar hopping and talking with the bartenders certainly took up most of the dark hours. I must say, though, beers in Stockholm, like all things in Stockholm, are expensive. I thought that coming from New York no price could shock me, ha! Stockholm was having none of that. Set aside some dough for your beer budget ahead of time, and you’ll be good to glug.

In Bruges

Ah, Bruges. The charming medieval Belgian town made famous in the 2008 thriller is an all-too excellent day trip when traveling from Paris to Amsterdam, say, as I was in the summer of 2016. Beers, belltowers and the richest chocolate imaginable – I dare you to tell me a truer definition of heaven.

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While simply walking around this gorgeous town can easily fill a day, there are some spots not to be missed as you venture around.

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First up: the Belfry of Bruges. The top of the belfry is an epic, key setting in the movie, but for those who haven’t seen the film it’s still worth walking the 366 steps for the most spectacular views of the town.

After your climb, you’ll likely have worked up quite the appetite for lunch.

The restaurants lining the Main Square near the Belfry are all rather touristy and expensive, so I’d recommend taking a stroll down one of the charming side streets to find equally (if not more) delicious, budget-friendlier options. Brasserie Medard is famous for its 4 Euro large, tasty plates of pasta and charming Italian atmosphere. The Olive Tree offers affordable Mediterranean fare, and both restaurants are totally cozy and homey. And not to worry: there will be plenty of places to get your Belgian frite fix around the square if that’s all you’re craving. Any restaurant will offer local beers, which are a must-try. Bruges now has three breweries: Bourgogne des Flandres, De Halve Maan, and Fort Ladin, all of which offer tours.

For desert, pop into one of the numerous local chocolatiers for chocolate-shaped anything. My factories were the locks and tools that looked “rusted” with chocolate powder. This chocolate was insane. Rich, but somehow I ate multiple *large* pieces and didn’t feel sick. Alright, Belgium, I get it. You win.

Now, markets. Wednesdays bring the Main Square market, full of fresh fruit and flowers and absolute loveliness. On Sundays, Zand Square hosts another outdoor market with similar products, including fresh fish. Rent a bike and ride around the cobblestone streets, and make sure to bring home some delicate Belgian lace to remember this slice of heaven.

 

Lisbon Day 5 & Madrid Day 1 ☀️

Free Tapas and Rooftop Terraces

Our last day in Lisbon and first evening in Madrid was mostly a travel day, though the flight between the cities is only a quick hour hop. Shoutout to TAP Portugal airlines for having wildly affordable fares and flights every hour! We grabbed ourselves a 5pm flight, giving us time for a leisurely lunch and walk along the waterfront (with a final nata pit stop on the way back). A 10 Euro taxi took us and our carryons to the airport, and we were off. By magical perfect city, bye Vicente and the slightly-too-hot Air BnB room. Hola Madrid! 💃🏻🕺🏻

Our Madrid pad was a DREAM. It was beautifully centrally located and came with a lovely outdoor terrace for Spanish evening musings. Our hosts, Michael and Miguel (I’m not kidding) gave us more recommendations than we knew what to do with. With those and our Google Maps starred up, we were READY. Our first stop was a favorite tapas place of M & M’s a block away from the apartment called El Mollete. It was tiny, authentic, and tested my Spanish vocab just enough. I’m almost disappointed when too many people in foreign countries speak English and I can’t work on the language. Anyone else feel this way? Just me?

 


Regardless, we learned that food in Madrid was a bit pricier than Lisbon, but wine and beer were still cheeeeeaaapppp. So that was A+++. M & M’s place was in the heart of Chueca, neighboring Malasaña. These were for sure the two most fun neighborhoods to go out in at night (we later learned that Chueca is the gay neighborhood – at first we just thought Madrid was even more accepting than NYC! Which it still might be, reagardless, fun on fun on fun around here).

After tapas that first night, we wandered Malasaña (a soon-to-become nightly ritual) and ended up at a gin & tonic bar – the national drink of Spain, it turns out! They offered a gin of the week special, and since we were slightly travel tired we just stayed for one before calling it. Next stop, sleeeeeeep.

We began our first full day in Madrid by checking out the Royal Palace and Temple of Debod which were both SO close to the apartment. The Temple was a gift from the Egyptian government, and definitely didn’t look like anything else we’d seen in the area. I also just love the idea of one country giving a whole other country a gift. Like France, for example, I see you with Lady Liberty. Solid move, guys.

For lunch part 1, we hit up the Mercado San Miguel, which is a open-stall market in a big warehouse a la Time Out Lisbon. We found some little empanadas, and left pretty promptly because it was swamped. Here’s a photo from Spain Attractions since I was too overwhelmed to remember to photograph.1838E4A2-B969-481C-8982-F1886050A17F-4235-000006B8A7F1E6B3.jpeg

Picture this, but with 1000x the amount of people.

Next, we wandered to Chocolateria San Gines for some churros con chocolate. These churros are actually savory compared to the Mexican churros we’re used to in the States, hence the rich DIPPING CHOCOLATE that you can then DRINK afterwords. HI HEAVEN, FANCY MEETING YOU HERE.

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My Double9 Duck is seeing Madrid’s finest.

We continued towards a *legit* tapas bar off of one of Madrid’s many pequeño side streets. What makes it so legit, you ask? Well traditionally, tapas are served for ~free~ with the purchase of a vino or cerveza. Apparently the more you drink, the bigger the plates get, which is all kinds of exciting. At El Tigre we each opted for one pint of beer and were given a LARGE plate of bread, Spanish ham, and cheese. If you’re lunching on a budged, these tapas bars are the way to go! Here’s a list of some of the best bars with said deals:

  • El Tigre (our fav and a local hangout)
  • Taberna La Tia Cebolla
  • La Paloma Blanca (beer isn’t cheap, but portions are massive)
  • Petisqueria
  • Indalo Tapas
  • El Rincon Abulense
  • El Respiro (very close to El Tigre, if El Tigre is full pop on here, or make it stop one and two of your afternoon tapas crawl!)
  • La Pequeña Grana – we didn’t actually make it here, but it’s in Granada so if you’re jonsing for some tapas in the area, check it out!

After our Tapas we strolled to the Thyssen-Bornemisza museum to sample some art from the 13th-late 20th centuries. We spent a solid two hours touring the floors, so make sure you give yourself some buffer room if you visit (which I recommend you do!) We saved the big museums, the Prado and the Reina Sofia, for the next day, and were very glad we didn’t try to cram three giant halls’ worth of art into one day. The brain can only take in so much culture no matter how Spanish and impressive it is, ja feel?

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Just look at those peachy majestic walls and tell me you don’t want to spend multiple hours here.
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And here we are INSIDE one of the Thyssen’s masterpieces, because why not?

Finally, we took a siesta because, duh, and afterwords began our evening at the Dear Hotel’s gorgeous rooftop terrace bar. (Funny story, when we were waiting to be able to go up to the roof a server asked if we were being helped, and instead of saying we were waiting for the terraza, I said “terreza” which is not a thing but he took it as we were waiting for our amiga Tereza and I was embarrased trying to explain that.)

When we were finally let onto the terraza, we each had orangey-wheaty crisp, delicious beers and watched the sun set over the many old and cobblestoned (again with the cobblestones!) streets. If you’re in Madrid during nice weather, definitely hit up the Dear Hotel for at least one sunset. Plus, you’ll be excellently positioned to explore the Chueca and Malasaña nightlife once you’re done.

We did just that, popping into one of the only restaurants that could take us sans-reservation on a Saturday night. The more you know: if you’re planning on eating in one of the more popular Madridian neighborhoods on the weekend, make a rez! Restraurants in Chueca were booked for the whole night, but we took note of places we walked past for our later meals.

Finally, we had a nightcap at 1862 Drybar, a Malasaña haunt we’d seen wandering the previous night. I ordered a dragon-themed cocktail to stay on brand that came with a heat warning, and though it sadly didn’t make me breathe fire, it was a taste bud wake up call for SURE. A short jaunt back to casa M&M ended our first full day.

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