It’s early evening in Berlin. The cafe tables fill with drinks and the streets come alive with the sounds of the after-work crowd. As I walk down Alte Schonhauser Strasse, I’m lured in by hip bookstores and boutiques and I already know I’m going to like this neighborhood. I have 24 hours in Berlin, and this is where I’m going to spend them.
Sunrise is an amazing time to see Berlin. The whole city is asleep and it’s so quiet I can hardly believe I’m in a place known for its perennial construction. When I arrive at the Brandenburg Gate, the huge square in front of it is empty. I’ve never had a major monument all to myself before, and I savor the moment and its solitude.
My uncle once asked me what I thought was the most underrated country in Europe. I didn’t hesitate to say Germany. Despite the country being the economic powerhouse of the continent, it somehow gets overlooked as a travel destination. It’s a shame, too, because Germany has amazing cities, countryside, castles, and festivals. As such, when a friend that was staying with relatives in Bavaria invited me to visit her the other weekend, I readily accepted.
When my flight landed at Dusseldorf airport the border agent asked me why I was visiting Germany. “The Christmas markets in Cologne,” I told him. “Ugh. Why do all you foreigners like them so much?” he asked. I was nervous. The seven Christmas markets in Cologne were famous all over the world, and yet the first person I met when I arrived suggested they were overrated. Was it true? Had I flown all the way to Germany to be disappointed?
Everyone loves Hamburg. Most of my friends have been there on business, and they all come back raving about the beautiful parts of the city they explore between meetings. After hearing about my friends’ travels for the millionth time, I finally decided to go on my own Hamburg travels to see for myself.
The New York Times is stalking me. It must be. At least the travel section, anyway. Why else would it always publish an article or a “top places to visit this year” list featuring a place to which I just booked a trip? First it happened with Namibia. Then Sri Lanka. Then Santiago. And finally Dresden.
My first ever beer wasn’t the normal American first-beer experience. It wasn’t a light beer in a 12 ounce can that tasted more like water than malt and hops. It wasn’t at a high school prom party or a college frat party. No, it wasn’t any of those things. In fact, it was quite the opposite. It was a full-flavored Bavarian beer. It was served by a hearty German waitress in a dirndl at the Hofbräuhaus in Munich. And it came in a glass mug that measured a liter in volume. It was a serious beer.
My boyfriend’s 77-year-old grandmother is quite the jet setter. With half her year spent in South Carolina and the other half spent near Dusseldorf, she thinks nothing of road tripping across America or traveling in Europe when she’s in Germany. Impressive.