The Best Way to Spend a Weekend in Berlin

Berlin is a city with two sides. On the one side is an interesting yet devastating history and the unique culture that has grown from it, on the other is an exciting night life. I’ll admit I’ve seen more of the history and culture than the nightlife but it’s out there! I promise!

I’ve been to Berlin twice, firstly on an evil trip with my university (and I mean that literally – it was for a Literature and Evil module) and secondly for a Valentines weekend away with my other single friends in Feb 2016. Each time was totally different because there is so much to see and do but this post will focus around my most recent trip. So if you’re wondering how to have the best city break in Berlin then take a sneak peak at my Berlin journal to find out…

Day 1

The Valentines squad, my good friends Joey, Miriam and Grace were reunited after our last trip to Paris in 2014 and arrived at Freiraum hostel. We found this place on airbnb.co.uk and was perfect for a small group of friends wanting our own private space. The managers were so helpful in giving us instructions on how to get around and the best places close by for eats.

Screen Shot 2016-04-14 at 14.29.42

Day 2 

One of the best ways to see Berlin, especially if you’re a budget traveller, is to book a Sandeman’s tour. This company hires volunteers with a passion for history to give free tours around Berlin. Though the tour is free there is an opportunity to pay what you feel it was worth at the end and, trust me, you’ll want to give a generous donation because these guides earn it. Our guide, Rochelle, gave us 800 years of German history in 8 minutes and told us some incredible escape stories about the Berlin Wall – one guy even tight-rope walked across!

“I find it impressive how proud Germany are of their culture and how they don’t shy away from their awful history. Rochelle told us they are one of the only places where they are honest about their own crimes while remembering those that died at their hands.”

Other highlights of the tour include all of Berlin’s hot spots like the Brandenburg Gate, the Holocaust Memorial, Hitler’s Bunker, Checkpoint Charlie and Gendarmenmarkt square to name a few. As a book nerd my favourite stop was probably the book burning memorial in Bebelplatz, which I didn’t even know existed before. In the ground is a window you can peer down to see empty shelves beneath. Rochelle aptly quoted Heinrich Heine, a German poet and journalist who said: “Where they burn books, they will also ultimately burn people”.

“I thought this was beautiful that they would remember dead books, lost words, forgotten titles, ashy stories.”

IMG_1569

Once the tour was over we headed towards Rosa-Luxemburg Strasse, a short walk from Alexander Platz, to find a little Mexican burrito places called Dolores. There isn’t a huge amount of choice for places to eat around here but Dolores is one of the quick pit-stop places that serves up some tasty grub to keep you exploring.

And boy did we need it for climbing the 285 steps of the Berlin Victory Collumn! It’s cheap and worth the climb to see some spectacular views of the city. The perfect way to end a day of sightseeing.

“We made it just as the sun began to set, splashing orange and yellows across the horizon, making Berlin city glow.”

 

When the sun has gone down head over to Warschaur Strasse where there are lots of restaurants and bars. I recommend Euphoria for fairly cheap drinks and food but if you like cocktails then go to the swanky Goldfish bar for a cosmo.

Day 3 

The Valentines Squad temporarily parted ways as Miriam and Grace headed off to check out Berghain, a famous techno club and famously difficult to gain entry too (as the girls discovered). So while Miriam and Grace tried their luck there, Joey and I decided to do some more sightseeing.

Our first stop was getting our passports stamped at Checkpoint Charlie. At €5 for six stamps it might seem pointless to some people but it’s just the sort of souvenir I like. Be careful of scammers offering cheap stamps that may invalidate your passport though and get it done at the actual checkpoint.

IMG_1630.JPG

Getting a few cheesey stamps was fun but learning more about the East and West Berlin divide was much more interesting. Right by Checkpoint Charlie is the Black Box, an informative little museum with propaganda, videos, posters, toys and news reels to explain all you need to know about the Cold War. It’s fairly small and will probably only take you an hour to look round but at only €5 entry and €3.50 for students it’s worth it.

Taking a break from history for a bit, Joey and I decided to visit Mauer Park Market. I had heard of this place last time I was in Berlin but didn’t get a chance to visit it. This quirky market is packed with vintage toys and cameras as well as some great street music.You’ll definitely come across some interesting finds here, my personal favourite was a homemade Mickey Mouse snow globe that looked more like someone had tried to preserve the poor mouse in a jar of formaldehyde.

 

Screen Shot 2016-06-14 at 16.53.06.png

Escaping the soggy afternoon we came back to the centre of Berlin to visit the DDR museum (€9 adult, €6 student). Berlin seems to love their interactive museums and this one did not disappoint. The majority of the museum is made up of cupboards you can pull open to see facts and displays about how people in East Berlin used to live. There is even a life-sized set of a house you can explore and an interrogation room where you can listen to an actual interrogation by placing your elbows on speakers in the desk.

Day 4

We couldn’t leave Berlin without visiting the East Side Gallery. I could spend hours wondering up and down the wall admiring the different styles and interpretations on this important piece of architecture. When I visited last year you could walk right up to the wall and I witnessed several people leaving their own mark so now, unfortunately, most of the wall is protected by a chain link fence making the experience slightly less enjoyable. Still it is a must-see and I challenge you to find Batman amongst the many incredible paintings.

“I think people forget how important this artwork is. It symbolises something very significant and yet it’s becoming more and more damaged and graffitied. So sad.”

Before we left we had to visit Burgermeister, a tiny burger joint in a converted public restroom. From the outside it looks pretty innocuous but the burgers are so tasty. I’ll admit it wasn’t as great as the hype lead me to believe but it still made for a great lunch.

I  feel like I’ve seen and done a lot of what Berlin has to offer but that wouldn’t stop me from coming back again. Berlin is a city with as much going on as London but with a more laid back attitude. If you’re looking for a little escape from the 9-5 routine then it’s definitely the place to go.

 

Advertisements

My Epic South East Asia Trip

Ever since my 7 week gap year trip around Australia and New Zealand I have been dying to  go on a bigger, longer, even more awesome trip. Don’t get me wrong, I loved every second of my gap year trip but when I kept running into people who were travelling for three months minimum I started to feel like mine was a little more like an extended holiday. I shouldn’t have put myself down so much because I’ve come to realise it doesn’t matter the length of the trip but the experiences you have along the way. I crammed a lot into Australia and New Zealand and I don’t feel like I missed out on anything. That being said, I’ve still always wanted to go on a longer trip for the simple reason that I can fit in even more great experiences!

One day I drop into an STA travel shop and tell them my budget and my ideas, now a couple of months on I have an epic itinerary planned! STA have been so helpful with putting together something really cool and also kind of complicated; I’d definitely recommend using them. Asian culture is so different from anything I have ever experienced before so it’s been a long time dream to visit Thailand and we built the trip from there. In the end I booked a 5 month trip around South East Asia!

My big trip starts ten days after my last MA assignment and I can’t wait. Here it is:

10th Oct – I’ll fly to Dubai to catch up with my friend Taylor. I’ll be spending four days here with Taylor showing me the best local places, doing some shopping (well maybe window shopping – I have got to save some money for the rest of my trip) and visiting swanky bars.

14th Oct – After this short stop over I’ll be heading to Sri Lanka for a week. I don’t know what I’ll be getting up to in Sri Lanka yet but I’m excited to start planning!da7bcabad41cdf7778311fbaf44d70f8

21st Oct – Next up is India. I’ll be on the Uncover India tour which will take me from Dehli
to Goa. Along the way I’ll be checking out the Taj Mahal, learning henna painting, bathing in Pushkar lake and visiting many temples.

6th Nov – Once I’ve lazed around on the beach in Goa for a few days I’ll be flying to Singapore where I’ll make my own way to Kuala Lumpa. I’m looking forward to this bit; a little taste of freedom to travel where I want, when I want and some independance to figure out how I’m actually going to do that!

16th Nov – I’ll be flying to Manila to explore the Philippines next. This is another leg of the journey I’m doing solo and also where I’ll be celebrating my birthday! I’m hoping here I’ll be able to do some diving as I island hop around Philippines’ 7,000+ islands! Swimming with whale sharks, visiting the chocolate mountains and the hanging tombs are also on my list of things to do.

28th Nov – From there I head over to Borneo for almost three weeks. I’ll fly into Kota Kinabalu and have five days to explore there, perhaps hiking Mount Kinabalu and visiting Turtle Island. Then it’s on to Kuching and my first volunteering experience: Orangutang conservation. I’m sure it will involve some hard work at times but will also be a lot of fun and gives me a chance to explore the rainforest and even stay in a traditional longhouse.

16th Dec – Finally it will be time to head over to the long-awaited Thailand. For this section of the trip I’ll be meeting up with my travel buddy Joey. You’ll hear more about a previous trip we’ve been on together in the next post but in the meantime check out his blog https://themichaeljoseph.com. We’ll spend a day or two in Bangkok before heading up to Chaing Mai where we will do one week of elephant conservation. Elephants are my favourite animal and one I’m currently writing my novel about so I’m really looking forward to this part of the trip. Being up close and personal to an elephant will be a dream come true! We finish just in time for Christmas and hopefully for a couple of other friends to come and join us; Ed and his girlfriend Becky. From there the four of us will head South to explore Thailand’s islands and celebrate the New Year.

IMG_23289 Jan – After I’ve said goodbye to my friends I’ll be joining the Stray Asia bus. This is a flexible hop-on hop-off service that will take me through Laos, Cambodia and end my trip in Vietnam. I chose to travel this way because I did a similar pass with the Oz Experience and New Zealand Experience, both of which were great. It’s a fun way to meet new people and do a wide range of activities with the ease of having a tour guide to help book them for you. They also offer unique experiences like remote homestays I might not otherwise be able to do if I were organising it on my own. This will be the most flexible part of my trip and I’ll be able move on when I like or stick around for a few extra days somewhere if I feel like it- as long as I’m back in Bangkok to catch my flight home on the 1st March that is!

So that’s it! This is my epic jam-packed trip and everything I’ll be doing along the way – or at least what I have planned so far. This will be the longest I’ve ever been away from home and the first time I’ll be travelling completely on my own. I am equal parts terrified and excited. Bring on October. Bring on South East Asia!

 

Welcome to the Blog

Hello and welcome to Jess’ Journal of Joy! As the name of the blog suggests, I am Jess, and this will be my journal for all my travel adventures. You can learn more about me on my about page but to really understand why I’m starting this blog I thought I’d start by telling you what it’s all going to be about, my three main passions in life: Travel, writing and charity.

 

Travel

Over the years I’ve been lucky enough to go to some amazing places, from visiting family friends in South Africa to backpacking (minus the backpack…but that’s another story) around Australia and New Zealand. I’ve swum with dolphins, ridden camels, done the Nevis swing, got my PADI Open Water certificate and have so far seen 3 of the 7 Wonders of the World but I’m still greedy for more. Travel is addictive, the more you see the more you want to see and I’m an addict.

Every step of the way I’ve kept journals of my travels and now this blog is my journal. It’s my way of sharing my adventures with friends and family. It’s something cool to look back on for me. And if you’re a fellow travel addict then maybe you’ll find some useful tips and inspiration for your own travels! This is the section where I’ll tell you all about the places I’ve been, let you know my travel preparations for the future and keep you updated while I’m on the road.
Screen Shot 2016-05-26 at 15.51.01
Swim-throughs in Cozumel

 

Writing

For as long as I can remember I’ve always wanted to be a writer. It’s only been through studying Creative Writing over the past four years that I have come to realise I don’t want to be a writer – I am one and I always have been.

Whether it has been writing my travel journal, scribbling poems, trying my hand at novels, telling stories or  creating imaginary worlds I am never happier than when a pen is in my hand.

I love it because I love sharing stories. I am in awe of how words can change a person. It can be as simple as reading a line that makes you laugh or cry, or as epic as reading a book that changes your life. I can’t claim that this blog will change anyone’s life but it is a chance to share my stories, so I hope you enjoy!

 

Charity

In my second year at university I started writing for my friend’s online magazine, Pie Magazine and in 2014 he asked me if I would be interested in managing the charity section, Give Pie. I’d always wanted to do some charity work but had never known how to get started and thought this was the perfect opportunity. What I didn’t realise is that it would open up a whole new passion I didn’t know I had.

Now I’ve worked with Teenage Cancer Trust and continue to work with Macmillan, both charities I have huge respect and admiration for. I’ve also entered a swimathon for Sport Relief twice and donned a fake moustache for Movember, raising awareness and money for Prostate Cancer UK.

The charities I’ve supported and continue to support are amazing at what they do. The funds I’ve helped raise will make a difference in people’s lives. They were fun! But best of all, each of these experiences challenged me as a person. I think an important and frequently overlooked part of charity work and volunteering is how it can make you grow, teach you to push your limits and discover new aspects of yourself.

I’ll continue to do charity work in the UK but I hope that with my travels I can take these experiences global, sharing them with you here, and maybe inspiring you to get involved and volunteer too.

1653463_10152718180650469_7996633575998620370_n
Team Pie about to run the Glow in the Park 5k for Teenage Cancer Trust
Jar of Joy

The Jar of Joy is something I started at the beginning of 2016 after a really tough year (you can read the full story here). I needed to change my outlook on life and bring back my positive view of the world. I’m a big believer that positive thinking can have a huge effect on your emotional wellbeing and so far this year my Jar of Joy has made a big difference.

Of course keeping a jar full of good memories is not the only way to be happy in this complicated and messy world so this is a little extra section of my blog where I hope to share my thoughts on mental and emotional wellbeing.

So that’s my journal and why I’ve started it! Stay tuned for some posts about my past travels and my plans for the future and finally I hope this journal lives up to it’s name!