Our final trip for July was one that both Chris and I were very excited for. Our old and very dear friends Maura and Ed were going on a European adventure and we promptly made plans to meet up in Berlin.
After a freak thunderstorm and a delayed start in Edinburgh, Chris and I arrived a day before them, eager to start exploring. After seeing my Dad’s Spanish success, Chris had started learning German in anticipation. Unfortunately he only started the week before we left and never really got a chance to say “I am a man” or any of the other phrases he had mastered. Maura is fluent in German so until she arrived we relied on the impeccable English skills of the Berliners and our very enthusiastic “Danke and Auf Wiedersehen”.
Maura had kindly found the hotel and it was in the perfect neighbourhood area. We walked to a green leafy street and parked ourselves outside for iced chais and sandwiches, hugely impressed with the terrific first impression Berlin was having on us. We had done some research before leaving, surprise surprise, and we had a hipster hit list of stores to check out. We made our way down a series of streets to Pro Qm, the best Design bookstore in 2006. It was really amazing and we spent ages peering at the spines of all the beautiful books. On our way back we stumbled upon endless independent stores and cafés, happily ogling at the incredible stationary supplies and prints on offer. For dinner we went to Grindhouse burgers, a place we knew nothing about but were pleasantly greeted with the best veggie burger I’ve ever had. After we’d finished eating we wandered around in the warmth of the evening, stumbling upon an old time bluegrass band plucking away at the double bass and washer board, under the tracks of the U-Bahn. Berlin is a city of dichotomies, something we fully appreciated while listening to the sounds of the south as the German trains barreled overhead. We had ice cream at Oak and Ice and then returned home, anxiously waiting the morning and our friends arrival.
The next morning we had some time before Maura and Ed brought their fabulous selves to the city, so we went to Oliv for breakfast. I went for muesli and fresh fruit and it was the most beautiful breakfast I’ve ever had. I’m fairly certain my exact words to Chris were “This bowl makes me feel like I have my life together”. Know what I mean? We had a moment over those oats where we looked at the space around us, the beautiful and vibrant city we found ourselves in, and at each other across the table, and were truly thankful for the opportunity to have this adventure. Moment over we raced back to the hotel to await our Canadian delivery. Unfortunately, instead of the manic and enthusiastic knock on the door we were expecting, we were met with what can only be described as a feeble whisper of a rap on the door. Maura and Ed had spent the previous 24 hours in Amsterdam and the combination of jet lag, beer tasting and travel had left them feeling like death. We gave gentle hugs and left them to rest, promising to return in a few hours time so we could all amble to the Berlin Wall. With some time to spare, Chris and I made our way to Alexanderplatz to explore some of the shops. We wandered in the neat art deco shopping centre before stumbling upon the food hall in what appeared to be the German answer to Hudson’s Bay. We made a promise to return before we left and with a quick pretzel and pastry purchase in hand, we walked to a nearby park that we had passed the other day. We had a mini picnic and people watching session, Chris dying with joy as we watched a French bulldog, on a trampoline, with a toddler.
Once we arrived back at the hotel we were met with a message from Maura saying that her and Ed were worse than ever and that we should go on without them. We left them to rest and made our way to the Berlin Wall. According to the map it was an hour to walk and let me tell you it felt like it. The walk was hot and full of the stickiness that can only come from walking on a highway for 60 mins without shade. It was not the most pleasant of journeys and unfortunately once we were arrived we were less than stunned. We knew that the wall was being restored but unfortunately that meant that any of the artwork we hoped to see was behind a large chain link fence, and any of the wall that was uncovered was damaged and graffitied beyond recognition. At this point we were hot, hungry, fed up with the sounds of traffic barreling past and had absolutely zero time for people fencing with selfie sticks along the overcrowded side walk. Don’t get me wrong, it was great to see it and to be able to say we touched the Berlin Wall is fantastic, I’d just recommend taking a car to get there. For dinner we made our way to a nearby food market, as it was their weekly Street Food Thursdays. The place was packed and the selection endless, and we chomped on dumplings and steamed buns, all while crammed into communal benches and surrounded by a million different languages. We had homemade ice cream for dessert, very welcome in the hot and humid heat that hung around the air.
The next day we were greeted by the manic enthusiasm that we had missed the day before. Maura and Ed had slept for 20 hours and awoke rearing to go. For breakfast we went to a bakery that Chris and I had found the day before, and we talked a mile a minute over coffees and cardamom buns. We walked over to Checkpoint Charlie followed by Brandenburg gate, determined to complete our tourist sightseeing list. Berlin is a fantastic city but it is very sprawled. At nine times bigger than Paris you can only imagine how spread out everything is. We walked for the entire trip and, while it was a great way to see the city, it was also rather sweaty given the 30-degree humid heat. After the Brandenburg gate we stumbled around the downtown core of a concrete jungle, desperate for food and shade. We found an old school Croation restaurant and happily tucked into beer and sausages.
After lunch we went to the Berlinische gallery to get our art on. Chris and I always go gallery hopping and there’s a 95% chance that while there I will have to remind Chris not to touch the art. He always wants to so it was a bit of a dream realized when the main floor of the gallery was an interactive exhibit that encouraged people to “become the art”. Ed and Chris went whole hog and did every single one, reminded by the docent to hold the pose for 1 minute. The true highlight was when the got into a two person sweater. Maura and I were wiping away tears of laughter for the entire time.
After our time at the gallery came to a close we walked back to Museum Island to get a closer look. We settled into the first café we could find and ordered cold drinks and desserts. I had mentioned once or twice, or maybe a dozen times, how I wanted to have German cheesecake so I ordered that along with a couple of drinks that Chris and I thought would be some form of refreshing cocktail. The cheesecake was dense and amazing and I’ve had my fill of cheesecake to last me till the New Year. The drinks on the other hand were the strangest things I’ve ever tasted and can only be described as baby absinthe. They tasted too sweet and too sour at the same time and the colour is somewhere between absinthe and the chemicals I use to clean the bathroom. It was horrid but made for a lot of laughs. It was also over these useless drinks that my personal highlight of the trip occurred. The second Maura left for the bathroom I turned to Ed and quickly asked him if he was planning on proposing. Now this might seem a bit presumptuous of me but after Ed and I had spoken during the summer I knew it was somewhere on the horizon and I am the kind of person that has to ask. So sue me. Ed broke into a big smile and told us how he was planning on doing so the next week when he and Maura were staying at a beautiful German castle. Now I’ve known Maura for 12 years and Ed for six. I love them both more than words can possibly describe and I can’t begin to express the happiness I felt when he told us of his plans and showed us pictures of the ring. When Maura returned to the table we obviously acted as though nothing had passed between us, and I deserve an Oscar for not immediately bursting into tears the moment I saw her.
We returned to our hotel for a much-needed siesta and a chance to rest our weary feet, promising to meet up in an hour or so for dinner. We decided to go full German for our meal and eagerly walked down the road to what we were told was a Berlin institution. The restaurant itself was incredibly large and could probably seat around 1000 given the massive outdoor garden area and the cavernous wood covered hall inside. We sat ourselves down right outside, eager to partake in the biergarten Berlin experience. Waiters clad in lederhosen carrying an obscene amount of plates and beer tankards, rushed by as locals and tourists alike filled the garden full of laughter and smoke. We ordered hot salty pretzels and sausages with mustard and liters of beer followed by apfelstrudel with custard. We spent many hours alternating between lively conversation and uproarious laughter, our stream of dialogue only interrupted by the occasional mouthful of our delicious dinner. It was an evening of good food and even better friends and one that I know both Chris and I will treasure always. We left only as the men inside were beginning to sing along with the polka band, knowing full well that there was no way we could keep up.
Saturday morning saw us up bright and early, eager to spend as much of our last day together as possible. Maura had found a restaurant named after a poem by her favourite surrealist poet (we have really cool friends) so we parked ourselves down outside again, enjoying the warm Berlin air. We had an incredible breakfast of all sorts of food, including chocolate milk with a scoop of chocolate ice cream for Chris, because a coffee would be just too dull of a morning drink. We wandered through a near by farmers market, eyeing up all the beautiful products and produce and falling prey to some cold and crispy cannelés. Once again we decided to walk until we couldn’t feel our feet, so we made our way to the KW institute for Contemporary Art. Inside we happened upon what can only be described as a haunted house for Modern Art. From the first room, which was pitch black and contained a sole robotic pigeon pecking in the corner, to every other room that followed, we made our way through the helter-skelter collection. I think I speak for everyone when I say that a personal favourite was definitely the cavernous room where the floor was covered in water and you sat on the pedway, completely in darkness except for the large video screen in front of you. Wearing headphones playing a series of random spoken word poems, the screen alternated between scenic shots of mountains, to a badly animated women gyrating in front of a room full of servers, as a large human ear floated in front of her. Seriously. You can’t make this stuff up. We made our way through all four floors, never knowing if we were walking into another instillation or about to open a fire escape. It was hilarious and odd and perfectly Berlin. We had a fantastic time.
After the modern art fix to last a lifetime, we popped into some shops along the way back to our neighborhood. We sat outside with burrito bowls and nibbled away, all while trying to figure out if the art instillation we saw earlier called “Puppies puppies puppies puppies puppies” was in fact the large hand sanitizer dispenser on the wall, or if it was in fact the empty hallway. We may never know. We popped into Alexanderplatz to visit the food hall that Chris and I had found previously, and Maura pointed out all the best German confections. I say pointed out but really she just shoved them in our basket and we took her word for it. We went back to the hotel for a final rest before dinner, with Chris and I stopping on the way, unable to resist an outdoor photo booth. For dinner we had burgers and then walked around until we found ice cream and then walked around until we knew that the night was over and that it was time to turn in.
The following morning we said our goodbyes through tearful hugs, and, in the case of Ed, a firm and knowing hug from Chris and a secretly whispered “Good luck” from me. We did as all best friends do, and put a pin in the countless conversations that we had on the go, knowing that the next time we were together we would be able to pick up exactly where we had left off. Because that’s what best friends do.
I would be remiss if I did not mention that a week or so later, in a beautiful German castle that looked as though it stepped out of a fairytale, Ed expertly proposed to Maura and she inevitably said yes. May they have a long and rapturous time together, full of exuberance and mirth. I can think of no two people more deserving of such a life.