After a great time in Berlin (a city I will be visiting again, if not living in), Dad and I hopped on a train for a quick, one-night stop in Prague, Czech Republic, while en route to Munich, Germany.
We were now in the country that we both knew the least about. We knew zero Czech words and we had none of their currency either; they aren’t on the euro. As we were pulling into Praha (Czech name of Prague), there was a noticeable difference in the language and writing on the signs. There were also relatively a lot of regular people walking around and across the train tracks. It also looked rather run down. Maybe that’s just what the old communist states look like.
After figuring out the exchange rate of euros (and, in the back of our heads, dollars to euros) to crowns, we were off on the metro in search of our hostel that we got for 12 euros per person! At the time, 1 USD was about 20 crowns. It was cloudy but not too cold, and, knowing we were there for only one evening and were departing to Munich in the late morning, we had to get out and explore. We had dinner at a local restaurant of goulash and some beef with cranberries and drank Budweiser Budvar. Yes Budweiser, but it’s not the American kind. Google ‘Budweiser in the Czech Republic,’ and you can learn about it. With filled stomachs, we went off on foot in search of the Prague Castle which I have been wanting to see for years.
I would have loved to have taken a tour or caught the castle at sunrise too, but this will have to do for my first visit there. We kept walking and wandering around the city as we tried to absorb all the sights and sounds we could.
The next morning, we had a big breakfast at the restaurant at the hostel and were off for a few more hours of exploring before we had to grab our bags and head to the next train.
Our stay in Prague was nice, but just too short. There was so much I just didn’t get to see. If I were doing it again, I’d cut out the city completely and spend another quality day in another city instead of hours on the train and just a few hours exploring. Quality over quantity.
A number of hours and a couple of trains later, we were in Munich. I was really surprised at how happy I was to be back in a German-speaking country. I’ve only ever taken about 4 classes of the it in 6th grade, but I remember it quite well. Maybe it’s my German heritage trying to call me back. We had a tasty dinner of sausage and Augustiner at a beer garden and were in for the night.
We caught up with a guided tour of Munich for a brief intro to the city and spent the rest of the day walking and hopping on the metro.
A tasty kebab from an all-hours restaurant near the train station later and we were in for the night. I performed a quick, YouTube-guided surgery* (Hi, Dad), and we figured out logistics for our visit to Dachau in the morning.
Our guided tour of Dachau was an important goal of mine. I wanted to get a better feeling for the horror of World War II and what my grandfather was fighting to end. The stories and history we heard were interesting, but I was surprised at how unemotional the tour was for me. It was challenging to think of the terrible things that happened there and across Europe, even through the pictures and a few of the buildings that were still around. It was hard to imagine something so awful happening from my modern day perspective, but I’m very glad we went and experienced it.
We made our way back to Munich, a 30 minute train ride, and checked out some of the department stores near Marienplatz. When I go to Germany again, I’m buying authentic lederhosen.
A couple days of drinking Augustiner, eating sausage at every meal and hearing some funny maypole stories in Munich were over, and we were off to spend a few in Rome!
For more of my traveling adventures and to see the previous EuroTrip posts, click here.
© 2013 Ethan Klosterman
After a spending a couple of days in Amsterdam, Dad and I were off to Berlin, Germany.
After another train ride, we arrived at Berlin Hauptbahnhof. This massive station is a gorgeous, glass, German Goliath. Unfortunately we arrived on a nasty, cloudy day, and it began to sprinkle once we stepped outside the station. So just trust me, this station was super nice.
We made the mistake of not packing food or eating on the train (yes, there was a dining car) so we were very ready to eat. We grabbed a bus and headed to our hostel, St. Christopher’s. It’s actually a chain of hostels around Europe that has a bar, Belushi’s, on the ground floor and then rooms upstairs. We had such a good experience there that we stayed at another St. Christopher’s in our next city, Prague.
After checking in and unloading our stuff, we got a recommendation to go to Hofbräu Berlin. I desperately needed food. I was hangry. Real hangry.
After we stuffed ourselves at the restaurant with mixed sausages, potatoes, a pork knuckle for Dad, and German beer, we dodged raindrops as we walked back to the hostel through a steady rain. I updated my Twitter followers, Dad and I planned out what we wanted to see the next day, and we called it a night.
We woke up to cloudy skies, cool temperatures, and an aggressive, face-numbing wind. We went on an easy-going, 4-hour walking tour of the city where we visited many of the big sites around Berlin and heard some informative history that gave us a solid intro to the city. I’m a big fan of the walking tours — especially the ones in cities that have lots of history, like Berlin. Sure, I learned a little bit about Berlin in school, but nothing close to what I got from the tour guide. It’s a nice way to start a city. I think it ended up being my favorite tour of the whole trip.
No, I didn’t burn the foreground in post. The sun burst through the clouds to illuminate the trees just beyond the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe.
After doing some research in Amsterdam and asking the bartender at Belushi’s for recommendations on where to go to get good currywurst in Berlin, Curry 36 came up. It was dee-licious. I could eat that once a week. It was very affordable, too.
Ahh, an American flag. This is the US Embassy in Berlin. It’s ~50 yards from one of the most iconic symbols of Berlin, the Brandenburg Gate (seen below).
There was a large race (run, walk, and rollerblade) kicking off later that evening when we made our way back to the Gate. The teams above were on inline speed skates.
Fun fact: if you’re in Berlin and see this guy on the crosswalk sign, you’re in East Germany. If you see a more standard type of guy with his arms down, you’re in West Germany.
After the race had come to an end and we walked along the dozens of vendors and tents, we walked toward Reichstag to grab a couple shots of the sunset. One full day down and one to go.
We awoke to sunny, much less windy morning. After a bit of wandering, we wound up at Alexanderplatz and under another icon of Berlin, TV Tower.
If you know the story behind the Trabi, you get the irony.
The next stop on our cross-town tour was the longest remaining section of the Berlin Wall. It’s about three quarters of a mile long. On the opposite side of the wall seen in this photo is the East Side Gallery. A sample of the actual art is on the photo above this one. It’s amazing to think about this wall-turned-public-art-exhibit causing so many issues just 20-some years ago.
After stopping at one of the recommended kebab restaurants for dinner, we were off to Potsdamer Platz, the home of the Sony Center.
But on our way to Potsdamer, we passed through the Klosterstrasse Station. We hopped off the train to take a picture of the station. It’s always cool when you see your last name, or at least part of it, as the name of a U-Bahn (metro/subway) station.
We made it to Potsdamer Platz and the Sony Center as the sun was coming out from behind the clouds. It has fantastic architecture and design. This photo doesn’t do it justice. It’s a huge entertainment, bar, and restaurant area. The light pockets that shine in throughout the day must be a photographer’s heaven.
We left Potsdamer Platz and set off for the zoo. We ended up finding it, but unfortunately it had closed for the evening. We did manage to find a random park party/concert with some nice German-ish reggae.
Enjoying the freedom to do what we pleased, we continued walking. We ended up on Kurfürstendamm. It’s the boulevard that’s home to stores like Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Rolex, Prada, Armani, etc. Wikipedia tells me it can be considered the Champs-Élysées of Berlin. $Big money$
It’s also the home of the $1,600 baby stroller that my Dad thought my sister Shannon would love.
After walking block after block and still finding more swanky stores, it was now almost completely dark and time for us to head back into the city.
Berlin was one of my favorite cities. I’m not sure why it is, but I’ve made a list of my top ten reasons that I can put my finger on. I really want to go back and explore some more… and maybe even live for an extended period of time.
Nine reasons why I really liked Berlin:
- History- WWII, Cold War
- Architecture- new & old
- Liter beers
- Giant soft pretzels
- German seems like a language I could get used to. I took maybe four German classes in 6th grade. I still remember how to count from 1-10.
- Seems really clean (Subways, streets)
- The doors to the S and U Bahns will open before the train comes to a complete stop. Sure it’s relatively less safe, but it’s a more efficient and faster way to unload passengers.
- As far as I know, all of my family is from Germany (Oldenburg to be precise). Enough said
With two fun, full days plus an evening spent in Berlin, we were off to our next destination and the place we knew the least about: Prague in the Czech Republic!
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