Berlin, Germany

July 3-6:

From Heidelberg, Germany, we headed north to Berlin on a five hour train ride.

Meininger Hostel with the Berlin TV tower in the background

We got to Berlin late and went straight to our hostel to set our bags down before heading out for some dinner. Since our hostel experience in Heidelberg was so great, we figured we would give it another shot!

The hostel we chose was a large chain and seems to be more popular for the private rooms (essentially a hotel). We decided to save a little money and go for the dorm style room again.

The room was about 9’ x 9’ and had 3 bunk beds. There was no central AC or a fan. Berlin, we later learned can be known for their hot and humid summers. There was a little window that could be opened, but did not let in a lot of cool air. There were two girls already set up in the room we were sharing. Their things were sprawled about everywhere. We were planning on staying there for all 3 nights, but we barely made it the first!

The girls came back around 3:30am. Our room at this point was close to 80 degrees. Graham woke up around 4:30am drenched in sweat. He went down to the lobby to get some cool air. He was able to get a portable fan from the front desk. He came upstairs to turn it on and the fan was broken. He immediately booked us an airbnb to stay in the next couple nights.

Our Airbnb with AC!

After a short nap in our new AirBnB to catch up on all the missed sleep from the previous night, we set out exploring!

Brandenburg Gate

Our first stop was the famous Brandenburg Gate! It was built between 1788 and 1791 on the orders of the Prussian king Fredrick Wilson II during the Batavian Revolution. The statue on the top is known as the goddess of victory, “Quadriga”.

At the end of World War 2, much of Berlin was destroyed but the gate survived. It suffered some damage and both East and West Berlin worked together to restore the gate right before the Berlin Wall was placed.

Many famous speeches have been given in front of the gate including John F. Kennedy’s speech (1963) of “I am a Berliner” and Ronald Reagan’s speech (1987) where he famously said, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.”

Brandenburg Gate right after liberation of World War 2, somehow it survived!
Ronald Reagan’s Speech in front of the Brandenburg Gate.
Brandenburg Gate ala Graham and Lizzie!

Holocaust Memorial

We walked through the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe also known as the Holocaust Memorial. It consists of 2,711 concrete slabs all different heights. The pavement is also uneven to give the visitors a sense of confusion and uneasiness. It was very powerful walking through the memorial thinking of the many lives that were tragically lost.

Holocaust Memorial
Holocaust Memorial

Hitler’s Bunker

Right near the memorial was Hitler’s Berlin air raid bunker where he married his wife and then 40 hours later where they both took their lives, marking the very end of the war. The bunker was later filled in and only a small plaque stands above ground in the middle of a parking lot. It seems fitting to have the place where he spent the last minutes of his life be nothing but a little known parking lot covered in weeds.

Checkpoint Charlie

After the Berlin Wall was put up, Checkpoint Charlie was established in 1961. This was one of only a couple checkpoints between the east and west sides of Berlin. The United States, Britain, and France all had soldiers stationed at this checkpoint since it was the only checkpoint that East Berlin allowed military personnel, allied diplomats, and foreign tourists to pass into the Berlin Soviet sector. The west purposefully did not make their checkpoint very elaborate or permanent to show they did not view this division of Berlin to be permanent.

Checkpoint Charlie… Modernized with Kentucky Fried Chicken
A tank standoff at Checkpoint Charlie during the Cold War. No shots were fired!
Checkpoint Charlie
Checkpoint Charlie


As we were heading to the Brandenburg Gate we walked right by a large park close to the center of Berlin. We’ve both learned on this trip to be very spontaneous and take random streets because who knows what you might find! So we took a turn and walked through the park. The park seemed unending. Like a Central Park type of park, right in the middle of Berlin. People were having picnics, running, walking their dog, or like us – just taking a stroll to see what there is to be seen. We eventually stumbled upon this beautiful garden inside the park!

Rosengarten in Tiergarten Berlin

You could smell the lavender and roses as you walked through the garden, the humid Berlin air cooling off after a hot summer day.

Rosengarten in Tiergarten Berlin
Rosengarten in Tiergarten Berlin

Day of rest

Originally, we were planning on only staying for three nights. Monday was going to be our day to go to museums. We later found out that museums are all closed on Monday. So, this called for staying an extra day and just taking a day of rest on Monday. Graham went to the grocery store that morning and got us some sandwich meat and cheeses to enjoy for the next two days.We enjoyed catching up on sleep, reading, doing laundry and reflecting. We didn’t realize before that we would need mornings (or full days) to rest. It’s been almost a month now since we began our Europe journey and each day is filled with LOTS of walking, carrying our big backpacks, and discovering lots of new things. Our brains and bodies were glad to have a day of staying in to rest.

Ethiopian Cousine

For dinner we decided to try something new (for Lizzie at least) and found a family-owned Ethiopian restaurant. We ate with our hands and enjoyed so many new flavors/spices! We thankfully did our research before and did not ask for silverware. We weren’t totally sure what each thing was, but we tried it all and each found our favorite dishes.

Ethiopian dish

Museum Day!

Our final day in Berlin was dedicated to museums! We went to the Deutsches Technikmuseum (Technology Museum) and the Neues Museum.

Our favorite parts of the technology museum was seeing all the old sailboats/ learning about the technology behind the maritime industry, seeing a lot of old military aircraft, learning about the advancement of computers, and seeing lots of old trains! If you know Graham, you know that he has had a fascination with trains since he was little. So this was definitely a highlight!

Deutsches Technikmuseum
Deutsches Technikmuseum
Deutsches Technikmuseum – the difference between first and second class on an old train!

The Neues Museum was certainly one of the nicest museums we have ever been to! This museum has a large collection of Egyptian art, prehistoric objects, and holds the famous bust of Nefertiti. It was so amazing to see the hieroglyphs on old papyrus, mummy cases, canopic jars, and lots of old artifacts that were preserved.

Apparently, Egypt has some beef with Germany over this collection being kept in Berlin rather than Cairo. It‘s not hard to see why – the collection is magnificent!

The Golden Hat – folks would wear this to signify status a long time ago. It was made of real gold!

Currywurst and Frites

We were told that when you are in Berlin, you have to try the currywurst. They don’t look too appetizing, but they were actually really good! Spiced sausage with a ketchup sauce on top with some fries and mayonnaise sauce, sprinkled with curry.

The Fun of E-scooters

Since traveling, we have discovered the joy of riding e-scooters! It’s a great way to see more of the city and they have great bike lanes! Though it becomes a very bumpy ride when going over cobblestones.

A short night sleep

Our final night in Germany was cut short when we were abruptly awakened by a very loud fire alarm at 4:30am. It took a minute to figure out what was going on, but we quickly gathered our shoes and headed downstairs to go outside. We were joined in the stairwells by some young teenagers looking very guilty and cursing in German. The entire building was evacuated and we all stood outside for about an hour in the rain. It only took minutes for the police and fire trucks to show up. The young kids went right to the cops to confess that they were smoking in their room. We finally got back in our room and slept for a few more hours before we had to checkout.

The confession

The mother land of Aldi!

Before heading out of Germany, Lizzie had to experience the glorious Aldi in its mother land. It was very similar to the Aldi’s we have in the states, but way fancier! They had a bread slicer, fresh pastries, lots of fresh produce and an amazing Aldi Finds aisle! We grabbed some snacks for our next long train ride – 2 German pretzels, 2 apple pastries, blueberries, carrots, and paprika Pringles (we‘ve discovered a love for paprika chips during this trip).

Mind the Gap

Quick anecdote from Graham, starting off with a life principle: Mind the gap. No really. PLEASE mind the gap.

Lizzie and I boarded a busy train from Berlin to Prague, and found some seats that could have worked but wouldn’t have been the most comfortable. So I decided to sleuth a few cars forward to see if there were any better seats available. To do this, I had to step out of one car onto the platform in order to get back into the next because of how busy it was. As I stepped out of the first car, my phone starts slipping out of my hand.

Perhaps it was the greasy paprika chips that Lizzie mentioned earlier in the post, or maybe I was simply nervous about running out of paprika chips and my hands were sweating as a result. In any case, my phone didn‘t want to stay in my hand – it in fact wanted to fall out of my hand and land directly on top of the train track. Yes, on top. Of the train track. Where the wheels go. Perfectly balanced.

There were some janitors sanitizing the train door handles nearby, and I ran up to them, pointed back at my phone on the tracks underneath the train and asked embarrassedly, “What do I do!?” We all had a friendly bonding moment of panic together, me panicking in English, and the two janitors panicking in German. The train was just about to leave the platform, and it would have rolled right over my phone – crushing it. Our train tickets, Airbnb reservation, plane tickets, payment methods – everything is on our phones these days.

The janitors pointed me over to a train company official who was standing on the platform – I ran up to him and hastily told him what had happened. By now, the shame of my mistake was palpable. I asked him if I could hop down under the train to grab the phone, and hop up before the train left. And in a thick German accent and a slight joking smile, he said, “Not unless you want to go to jail.”

I came back to see that the janitors threw their cleaning gloves at my phone, which caused it to teeter off the top of the track and fall to the side, saving it from being crushed by the train.

Graham’s phone next to the cleaning gloves that saved its life

We waited for a few trains to go by until one stopped at the platform long enough for the train officials to reach beneath and grab my phone.

The Great Rescue!

I was so embarrassed. And so grateful for the two gentlemen who helped teeter the phone off the main part of the track. We ended up gratefully giving them some money to say thank you, and they didn’t even want to accept that at first, saying that they were just glad to help. It’s always so nice to know that there are folks like that in this world.

The moral of the story? Don’t eat paprika chips. Or if that’s too difficult (which we totally understand), maybe just “mind the gap”.

Heidelberg, Germany

July 1-3:

One peculiarity of our trip this summer is that it’s occurring right as COVID restrictions are lifting for European countries. As such, we are having to monitor European news networks and government websites on a daily basis to learn if a particular country is changing their entry restrictions for vaccinated American tourists. One development that has occurred over the past month has been the rise of the Delta COVID-19 variant in the United Kingdom, likely hampering our ability to visit the UK. While early research shows that the vaccine that Lizzie and I both have is effective against the Delta variant, most European countries aren’t letting folks for who transited the UK into their countries. Additionally, the UK themselves are mandating a 10-day quarantine for all arrivals, regardless of their vaccination status.

With this development, we now have the time to visit countries that weren’t originally on our list. This includes Germany!

From Luxembourg City, we were able to use our Eurail pass to catch a train to Heidelberg, Germany. Heidelberg is a beautiful little city on a river with a magnificent castle that overlooks the old town.

Heidelberg Palace, an extremely old castle, looms in the background of the entire city.
Old church at the end of a city street
Walking the city streets

Philosopher’s Walk

One of the best things to do in Heidelberg is walk the Philosopher’s Walk. It’s a beautiful little street on the other side of the river with magnificent views of the city.

“Philosophenweg”, or “Philosopher’s Walk”

Quite a few authors found inspiration in Heidelberg, including Mark Twain. He finished writing The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in Heidelberg, and was inspired by this exact walk!

A garden next to Philosopher’s Walk
The view from Philosopher’s Walk!

Lotte Hostel

We had our first hostel experience in Heidelberg, at the Lotte Hostel. It was an absolutely amazing experience – and such a great price! We initially weren’t sure what the dormitory life would be like, and were a bit nervous going in. We shared our dorm room with 2 women our age from Germany – which we initially thought would be very strange. What were they like? Would they snore? Would they beat us up in the middle of the night and take our lunch money?

We met the girls in the common area of the hostel as they were cooking their dinner. They ended up speaking perfect English, and were so polite! We loved just standing there in the kitchen getting to know them and their stories. They ended up cooking extra food for us, and we sat together at the hostel dining room table for an hour and a half around a meal. It was one of the highlights of our trip.

In the kitchen, the hostel had coffee, tea, milk, cereal, and dishes to use if you wanted to cook your own meal. The common area had several tables, comfy chairs, and free books. You could also do laundry in their washing machine downstairs. The location was also perfect – it was right in the heart of the city, quite literally at the base of the stairs leading to Heidelberg Palace.

Heidelberg Palace

The crown on top of the city is the Heidelberg Palace. With much of the structure having been built in the 1500s, it was an incredible experience to walk through its ruins.

Built in 1552 – how crazy is that?
This part – built in the 1700s was still in great condition
A massive wine barrel in the palace cellar
The view of the city from one of the palace towers


We were so excited to try authentic German snacks and food for the first time. If you know anything about Lizzie, you know that one of her favorite snacks of all time is a German pretzel. Now that she was in the homeland, we had to stop and grab one!

One of our favorite restaurants in Heidelberg, and potentially our favorite restaurant thus far in Europe, was Weinstube Schnitzelbank. It was authentic German food in an old wine cellar that opened after the war in the 1950s!

Lizzie’s: Kässpätzle, almost like a macaroni and cheese
Graham’s: Wienerschnitzel and potatoes

Initial thoughts on Germany

We already regret not having Germany on our original list of must-sees during this particular trip. It is an incredible country! One of the things we have both remarked on is how similar the culture between Germany and the US feels – more so than any other country we have visited so far. Perhaps the similarity in feel comes from the sheer size of Germany. At over 80 million people, it’s the biggest country in Europe with the largest economy. Or perhaps it comes from the fact that our American culture is intertwined with Germany’s being that so many of our original settlers came from Germany, bringing their amazing culture with them. Whatever the case may be, we have loved experiencing this culture so far through Heidelberg and have decided to go deeper into Germany as a result. Off to Berlin, next!