My first time traveling solo was in Berlin. Although it wasn’t for more than 15 hours (my friend had to take a later flight than me) it was still a very unique experience, and one that made me decide I want to travel solo again in the near future.
I wasn’t scared. I was excited. Apprehensive. I had never traveled solo before, I was always with at least one other person. I could do whatever I wanted, go wherever I wanted. I had all day to explore. I left my dorm in Copenhagen at 6 am and was in Berlin before 9 am. This is where my adventure began.
I don’t speak any German. Not one word. But I was excited that I had to figure it out for myself. I got off the airplane, everything foreign to my eyes. I had to make it to the Mitte area where my hostel was, and only had a general idea of how to get there- I had to take a bus (I Googled this information and hoped that it was accurate). I asked a woman at the information center where the bus to Alexanderplatz was, she pointed out a door, and I followed. I saw a bus that said TXL Express, the only bus in the area, and got on.
“Does this bus go to Alexanderplatz?” I said to the driver. He stared at me as if he was waiting for more. My stomach churned when I realized he probably didn’t speak English well, or at all.
“Alexanderplatz?” I said again. He didn’t say anything. I was probably butchering the name as well, which didn’t help the situation. I decided to stay on the bus anyway, the worst case being I would (hopefully) end up back at the airport. I paid the 2.80 euros and sat down.
It was cloudy. And cold. I looked around outside as the bus drove through Berlin. I didn’t see any beautiful architecture like in Madrid, Spain, or beautiful scenery like in Sintra, Portgual. But, Berlin became one of my favorite cities in the world. It’s grungy, but not in the dirty sense. It’s full of character. It has personality. There is always something going on. The people in this city know how to party. They have the East Side Gallery, which I will talk about in a later post. It’s beautiful not in the sense of old buildings or luscious landscape, but there is just so much history everywhere, so much art. So much emotion.
After a while, at the last stop, I finally saw a sign for Alexanderplatz. I wandered around, having no clue where to go next. The website told me to take a train that would stop in front of my hostel. I saw a train station, above ground (I was so confused), walked to it, and could not find the stop on the map I needed to get off at (I later realized I needed to take a subway; why did I go to a train station above ground? Really Monica?). I decided I would walk if anything, since I didn’t want to pay for a train ride (college student on a budget).
I saw the huge Berlin TV tower, assumed they would have tourist information there, and walked inside. The woman at the desk did not have the information I needed, so I decided to find a place that had free wifi. Thankfully I found a shop, brought up the hostel on maps, and realized I was a 10 minute walk away. Yay! I found St. Christopher’s Inn, checked in, and had the day to myself to explore.
I spent the rest of the day holding a map to my face and walking around. I first walked to Neue Wache. It was originally a memorial to those who fell in the the Great War, and there was first a block of granite surrounded by a silver wreath of oak leaves before it was destroyed by bombs in WWII. From 1960 on, it served as a Memorial to the Victims of Fascism and Militarism. And now, since 1993, it stands as a Memorial to the Federal Republic of Germany. It’s a statue of a Mother and her Dead Son, one holding the other, and a wreath. It’s mesmerizing. There is an opening above the statue that exposes it to the elements of nature, to show the suffering of civilians during WWII.
I headed back to my hostel and decided to walk the other way, towards the Berlin Wall Memorial on Bernauer Straße. On my way there, I saw amazing, beautiful street art- I loved it. It really gives the city such wonderful vibes and character. I kept wandering, taking in Berlin’s uniqueness while trying to read a map at the same time.
I ended up in a school yard. Don’t ask me how. I kept walking, looked up, found myself behind a fence, on a playground, with children playing on it. I was so confused that I stood there for a minute, seriously concerned with how I found myself here. A man was staring at me, probably a teacher, and came up to me.
“Sorry, I’m really lost,” I said. My cheeks started burning with embarrassment. I really need to learn how to read maps better.
“Go out and make a right,” he said, politely. I nodded and ran out of there. Oops.
But I made it. I found the Berlin Wall Memorial. There were broken pieces of the wall in the center, separating the East side and West side. There were pictures commemorating those who were killed at the wall, either trying to escape, keeping guard, or just exploring. It was haunting. It was beautiful. It was like nothing I had ever seen before. Berlin stole my heart.
I was able to take all of this in by myself. From then on, I realized how much fun solo travel can be. Although this is not a full experience like most travelers have had (it wasn’t even an entire day), it was the first one I’ve had. I explored the rest of the day with open eyes, and a new found curiosity.