#TandJLeaveUSA: Berlin

What do you do when the only thing you know about a person is their dark past? You can either distance yourself from them altogether, or you can decide that like everyone, this person is the sum of their experiences and learn more about what really makes them who they are.

That's what Berlin was for Tiona and I, and I didn't realize it til the last night, when our host Julia asked us one simple question: "What do Americans think of when they think about Germany?"

At first I didn't want to offend her, but I decided that a conversation devoid of honesty and transparency is hardly a conversation worth having. I answered, "To be honest, I didn't know what to expect from Germany. I expected people to be militant, not friendly at all. Maybe it's because all I knew was based on the Holocaust and the Berlin Wall, but I didn't expect there to be such a heavy art culture or many creatives at all."

"So all you knew was the history. I see."

While Tiona and I made it a point to visit a few historical sites, we put more focus on really getting to know the 2015 version of Germany, specifically Berlin.

Where Amsterdam felt like one large neighborhood, with each street resembling the next, Berlin greeted us with an intimidating train/bus system, intricate intersections, and very little WiFi hotspots with which to figure it all out. In fact, on our last full day, we told Julia we'd be home in 30 minutes but somehow spent the next three hours navigating our way through the wrong part of town with no WiFi.

Even still, I'm blown away by how drastically my impression of the city changed from our first day to the last. It helped that our amazing host gave us free reign of her beautiful apartment, allowing us to enjoy a home cooked meal and Netflix as we settled into the new city. On day two, though, I was disappointed with how similar Berlin looked to US cities. I wasn't sure what I was expecting, but it was easy to forget that we were in a foreign country. Again, we were looking at the city through its history, not really open to understanding how its evolved.

But the more we saw, the more we grew to appreciate its evolution. We appreciate the powerful art that decorates the streets of Kreuzberg. We appreciate the tension between police and citizens that gave birth to powerful statements about tyranny, patriarchy, and the importance of loving actual art more than the art of war. It sounds strange, but Berlin actually made me appreciate that its beauty can't be conveyed in textbooks or hearsay. You must pursue this city in order to see how incredibly creative its inhabitants are. Berlin forced me to explore, to pursue.

At night, Tiona and I got dolled up...well, as dolled up as we possibly could given our limited wardrobes (for me, it was tying my shirt up in a knot, picking out my fabulous fro and throwing on a red lip) and headed out to Tresor, a techno nightclub we'd heard great things about from Tiona's good friend Britty (thanks for the suggestion!). While waiting to get in, we met two French men, one of which spoke Spanish (perfect practice for us!). We told them about our backpacking plans and they agreed to put us onto the best spots in Paris. The highlight of my night, though? Hearing "Homegirls!" from the bouncer as he checked out our IDs. Turns out, he's from Arkansas, but ended up in Berlin because he's "trying to stay alive." (Subtle nod to the not-so-subtle police brutality.) He also pointed another Virginian in our direction later on in the night. Perfect slice of home.

The most interesting part of the night was without a doubt our interaction with the natives. While sitting by the bar, one man asked where we were from.

"America...Virginia," I responded.

"America...man, you all are so f*cked up over there. Why so much gun violence? We could never imagine having easy access to weapons and walking into a school and shooting. And Obama is finally trying to change it but you guys will not let him. Why? Your country is so behind."

It was embarrassing to say the least.

At the same time, Tiona sat with a gentleman who had a not-so-secret crush on her. "I have a thing for colored girls," he confessed, "Is that how you say it?"

Tiona gently corrected him.

I write this post while sitting in our host home in Prague, and its so interesting how many conversations about race relations in America we've had thus far.

On our last full day, Tiona and I visited the Berlin Wall and Holocaust memorial, both very informative and awe-inspiring. During our efforts to round out our trip with time spent with Julia and her friends, we rushed home, only we rushed onto the wrong train heading in the wrong direction. After three hours of navigating, me getting an uncontrollable nosebleed, and getting caught in the rain, we made it to Julia's just in time to eat delicious food made by her and her friends and talk all things Germany, America, and everything in between.

Without even forcing it, Tiona and I got to enjoy many parts of what makes Berlin so great: the history, the art, the beer, the efficient train system, and the people.

Next stop: Prague!


Janna: Our host, Julia, and her beautiful home, stumbling upon the more bustling areas of Kreuzberg after wandering aimlessly for over an hour, beers that cost 50€ (like 60 cents)
Tiona: Our accomodations were amazing! And one amazing Doner (basically a gyro) after partying at Tresor. Like, it was magical.


Janna: Serious boyfriend withdrawals are kicking in. Unlike Amsterdam, Berlin didn't look or feel like a foreign country (In many ways, it looked like a US city.), getting lost for 3 hours while wearing shoes that did NOT support my ankles, getting two bad nosebleeds.
Tiona: Getting lost for three hours, and in the rain. My poor hair. But, life's all about the journey, or something.

Many people in Berlin had these types of signs outside their homes. Very sweet of them to be so welcoming!

Our first time cooking our own dinner!

First sunset in Berlin *swoon*

Lots of statements like these in the streets

"Love art, hate cops."

There were also many paintings that depict the tension between East and West Berlin

Our first night out...Tresor!

Post nightclub meal. Doner, similar to a gyro, equally delicious!

These buildings were boarded up during the separation of East and West Berlin by the Berlin Wall. Now, they're all redesigned. Berlin Wall a few feet away.

Part of what's left of the Berlin Wall


Holocaust Memorial

1 comment

  1. Never thought I wanted to go to Berlin but you made it sound tempting.


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