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Recap: Berlin or Bust!

As you might recall I had planned a pretty full 4 days in Berlin last week (plus 2 days at a conference). I love planning for and exploring new cities, and Berlin did not disappoint! Although this type of schedule might stress some people out, for me it ensures I will get to do and see everything I wanted to… And I did!
I have to admit that Berlin is not very pretty and picturesque in the traditional sense. Obviously I took the prettiest pictures possible, and there are certainly some beautiful squares and charming streets, but Berlin just has a different vibe from what I am used to. I had been to Germany before, but mostly in Bavaria (in the south), which is picturesque and very much what you picture when you think of Germany. 
Over the course of my trip, however, I grew to like Berlin’s unique, tough, and grungy charm. Of course much of Berlin’s look and feel is a product of what the city has endured over the course of the past eighty years – the Nazis, Second World War, creation of a socialist state in East Berlin/Germany, and the relatively recent reunification of the city. It’s quite a history and one that is ever present when you walk the streets of Berlin.
We started our first day immediately after landing (it’s only a two hour flight from Rome). After dropping our bags at our hotel, we dashed to the Brandenburg Gate where we heard rumors there was a Dunkin Donuts and a Starbucks (these don’t exist in Italy, although I hear that might be changing). We couldn’t help ourselves, I got my favorite coffee and Kirsten got hers. We are officially a house divided lol.
After thorough caffeination, we strolled down Berlin’s main street, Unter der Linden and stopped for lunch along the way at a great restaurant (Augustiner am Gendarmenmarkt). We asked the waiter to just bring us the most German food and beer he had – obviously we ate schnitzel and sausages and drank their in-house brew. As if we hadn’t eaten enough, we then headed to a famous chocolatiers (Fassbender & Rausch) and drank the most incredible hot chocolate! Finally after more walking and exploring, we finished our evening at the Brandenburg Gate, which is even prettier at night.
The Brandenburg Gate
Our second day in Berlin was affectionately dubbed museum day, since we visited three museums and the cathedral. I have to say the Pergamon Museum was by far my favorite. The museum houses several really grand pieces of ancient architecture, all carefully reconstructed. You can scale the Pergamon Alter, walk through the gates of Ishtar (Babylon), and gaze up at an ancient Roman city portal. Pretty spectacular! Although the DDR museum, which teaches you about life in socialist East Berlin through interactive activities, was just plain fun!
The Berlin Cathedral
Our third day was dedicated to the Reichstag Dome (you must register online to visit) and the Berlin Wall, which I found myself unexpectedly fascinated by. We first headed north to the Berlin Wall Memorial and then east to the East Side Gallery (there are sections of the wall in various parts of the city). The memorial was more about the history of the wall, while the East Side Gallery is a section of the wall that has been reappropriated by artists. As you can see the weather betrayed us that day!
Noticeably absent from our itinerary were the Holocaust sights and memorials as well as museums dedicated to Hitler and his Third Reich. Since I had visited concentration camps in Germany before this trip, I didn’t feel the need to visit these places, and honestly they are not easy to visit, especially multiple times. Since this was Kirsten’s first trip to Germany and she was very interested in seeing them, she tackled the Holocaust memorial and the Topography of Terror Museum while I was at my conference.
After two long days at a conference, I was happy to have one last day in Berlin before we had to go. We decided to have more of a relaxing day of strolling and shopping (and more eating of course). In the afternoon we met up with a friend to explore the very “hip” Friedrichshain neighborhood, just east of the Spree river. It’s very eclectic – boisterous bars, ethnic restaurants, art galleries, boutiques, outdoor cafes, and a lively punk culture (so many spiked mohawks!).
We found these amazing macarons in Friedrichshain!
My favorite – lavender and milk chocolate!
Thanks Berlin for a fabulous trip!
Has anyone else been to Berlin? What were your favorite sights or experiences?