A Life Engaged

Lessons Learned in Germany

We packed up our tent and said goodbye to the beautiful park where we had spent the past 3 days at the Best Kept Secret music festival. We hopped on the shuttle and immediately realized that everyone looked and smelled like wet dogs, including us. Without a plan, we warmed up in the train station cafe frantically searching for the cheapest way out of town. Our options were limited in the small town and we decided to head into the closest city, Cologne, Germany, until we made a decision. Spending the previous three days camping in the rain, we decided to cash in some Marriott points for some much needed luxury.

In Cologne, we each took a 30-minute shower, scrubbing the dirt and sand out from in between our toes and enjoyed lying in the nice large clean comfy bed.

Dan found a cheap authentic German restaurant close to the hotel so we went there for dinner. We were talked into ordering the “Cologne Special”, which consisted of a plate full of unidentifiable meats covered in onions and some potato salad. We tried each of the hearty meats and the one that most closely represented braunschweiger tasted the best. The mett (minced raw pork) was harder to swallow. As we were choking down our mystery sausages, in marched a traditional German band full of drums, flutes, and a xylophone. Watching the band serenade a wedding party was fun…for the first twenty minutes. We spent a better part of the next hour waiting for our opportunity to climb over the band to the exit.

German Sausages

The “Cologne Special”

Cologne Band Serenade

Cologne Band Serenade

When we finally saw an opportunity to exit, our attempt at requesting the check resulted in the delivery of two more beers. We joked we would never make it out of this tiny restaurant alive. We left less than satisfied due to our fear of eating the raw meat and popped a bag of popcorn at the hotel. We both forced a taste of every meat but there were definite flashbacks to twisted stomachs experiences from Thailand.

The next morning, we left our pristine Marriott hotel room for the train station to rent a car. Contrary to what we had been told the night before, there were no cars left in Cologne. Frustrated, we plotted ourselves in a Starbucks for the free Wi-Fi and booked a bus leaving in 45 minutes. A quick flash of frustration is always overshadowed by the thrill of snagging a deal on a last minute bus.

We finally made it to Berlin and Jess was in a very foul mood. After taking a few shots at Dan, she was promptly shit on by a bird. Karma can come in unexpected ways and we both had a great laugh at the incident.

Our first real day in Berlin was spent exploring and sightseeing. Upon arriving at the Brandenburg Gate, we noticed a lot of cameras and reporters setting up in Pariser Platz. Queen Elizabeth was in town today. We briefly cursed her highness for bringing the dreary cold from London.

Brandenburg Gate

Brandenburg Gate Today

Brandenburg Gate 1961

Brandenburg Gate circa 1961

After the gate, we headed over to the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe & Museum, which was extremely educational and sobering. We also walked through the Topography of Terror, which showcased how the Nazi Party used propaganda to their advantage during the war.

Other stops on the list were the German Parliament, Postdamer Platz and Checkpoint Charlie. Overall, it was a very informative and somber day.

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe & Museum

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

The next day we met up with one of Dan’s friends from high school, Joe, and his girlfriend. We all shared stories and joked about the perils of being Americans in Europe. After a few drinks, we said goodbye and headed to a trendy part of town for a few more drinks. We had great conversations about life and what we had learned about each other on the trip thus far. After roughly one too many drinks, a minor argument ensued. Fueled by alcohol and disorientation, we both set off in opposite directions for the metro station. An hour later, Jess arrived at the apartment with all of the money (after first being courted by a stranger who wanted her to ‘sleep on his couch’). Dan, on the other hand, remained 10 miles away from the apartment without a cent to his name. After an accidental tour through the red-light district and some panhandling, Dan was able to catch a cab ride home. This was a great lesson for us in both traveling and our relationship, don’t drink too much and always stick together! (and each carry a wallet)

Reunited and it feels so good!

Reunited and it feels so good!

On our last day in Berlin, Dan spent the morning at the German Historical Museum while Jess sat and worked at the museum café. For lunch, we dined on a delicious doner kebab with garlic sauce. Next, we practiced our gangster posing skills and marveled at the East Side Gallery. The Gallery is a 1.3 km stretch of the Berlin Wall, which is now covered in graffiti art and a freedom memorial.

Chillin at the Berlin Wall

Working on her tough face at the Berlin Wall

Jazzin' it up at the East Side Gallery

Jazzin’ it up at the East Side Gallery

We ended the day visiting with our host over Turkish coffee. We shared our next travel destinations while she shared stories about the turmoil and political unrest in Turkey. It was intriguing to learn about the conflict from her point of view.

So far, Germany had presented us with a few challenges and mishaps, but we couldn’t help but soak up the history, food (even the raw meat!), and the hospitality granted to us. Our next adventure would take us north to a small village full of lakes and forests. We’re ready for our first homestay experience!