Whenever I think about the city of Berlin, I always bring the following quote by George Santayana to the front of my mind: Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
Berlin has had a paralyzingly difficult past of wars, bombs, walls, persecution, and terror—a past so difficult, you’d think that Berlin would only want to forget. But for every corner we turned in the city, Ella and I would learn something new about the city’s rich history. We’d come across plaques, museums, memorials, statues, and even graffiti that spelled out the mistakes that would never be made again, the triumphs that summoned up pride from the dredges of despair, and most of all, the beauty that came with the exhaustion, the forgiveness, and the desire of a broken city ready to make a change.
Some of it was painful: walking among the somber, tomb-like statues of the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. Some, unbelievable: passing my hand along the graffitied concrete fragments on the West side of the Berlin Wall. Others, discouraging: gazing in awe at the ignored sculptures made by artists squatting outside the crumbling, forgotten Kunsthaus Tacheles. Enlightening: reading the fascinating and terrifying history of Berlin between 1933 and 1945 for two hours at the Topography of Terror outside museum. And some, absolutely breathtaking: passing alongside the endless East Side Gallery, breathing in each panel of wild colors, fervent images, and burning words.
The people of Berlin (especially the young people) are hip, friendly, and optimistic, and I can’t help but believe it’s because they live in a city with a history of being repeatedly torn down and having to be built up again. There was something incredible about the modernity of Berlin that I haven’t found in any other city in Europe, even in Paris. The city is the quintessential example of old and new, past and present, classic and modern—whether it’s the architecture, the language, the culture, or, yes, even the food.
History, or at least my history with candy, definitely repeated itself on the Berlin leg of Ella’s and my weeklong EuroTrip. With a little bit of old (or typical, as I always am when it comes to candy) and a little bit of new (some new flavors, new brands, and new adventures), I fit right in.
After a restless and freezing night on a 10-hour overnight bus from Amsterdam—and I’m sure I only made it through because I finished off the rest of my Amsterdam candy stash—Ella and I groggily stepped onto German ground at the charming time of 7 AM. We arrived at our hostel (Pfefferbett Hostel, and if you ever visit Berlin, you must, without a doubt, stay there) and bought a plate for the hostel’s German breakfast buffet.
(A few things about this particular German breakfast buffet and probably almost any other in the entire German world: Sliced meat is a “thing.” Cheese is a “thing.” Vegetables are definitely “things.” As you can probably figure out from the subject of this blog, I do not like un-sweet breakfasts. Which is why I ate at least two bowls of muesli at every breakfast. Thank goodness for oats and raisins. Because those are my “things.”)
After breakfast, Ella asked the two adorable German boys at the hostel’s front desk about what the best thing was to do in Berlin that we could do that day. Naturally, they answered swiftly and decisively, “Party!”
It was 9 AM. Typical Germans.
“What about something we can do right now?” we laughed. One of them told us about a huge outdoor market a few blocks away, so Ella and I locked up our ginormous backpacks and headed out into the cold.
The market, which was in Mauerpark, had so many clothes, so many bags, so many things that I wish I had the money to buy but, alas, I just do not. But the cheapest thing that most often caught my eye was (obviously) the food: sausages, french fries, donuts, even frozen yogurt (sigh). I ended up passing on everything, but Ella and I did splurge 2€ on this…
A potato twisted on a skewer, fried in oil, and showered with salt. As you can see from Ella’s face (hey, gurl!) it was fascinatingly bizarre. And so delicious. It didn’t last more than twenty seconds. After that quick and easy ingestion of fat, carbs, and sodium, we sat on some rocks and listened to a street performer with a very large afro sing and play the guitar as we ate our lunch (which happened to be a roll, a few slices of cheese, and some vegetables that we stole from the breakfast buffet a few hours before).
We then got to exploring a bit of central Berlin, where we came across a weird outdoor “art installation.” After a few minutes of investigating, we realized that the art installation was actually an outdoor, walkable map of the city that made up an exhibition called “City of Diversity” on the history of immigration in Berlin. It was cool and weird and I’ve never really seen anything like it. Go you, Berlin!
The coolest part of the exhibit, though? When nearby volunteers for Jelly Belly walked up to us and asked if we wanted free sample-packets of jelly beans. True Fact: Ella loves Jelly Belly jelly beans. So naturally, we took a few, walked away with wide, greedy eyes, and immediately tore open the packages. We then passed by a second group of volunteers, and this is the interaction that occurred:
Volunteer: “Hey, would you like some free jelly beans?”
Us: *staring down at the empty packages in our hands*
Ella: “Oh, no thanks, we already got some!” *begins to walk away*
Me: “Wait … Yes, we do! We want them ALL!”
Volunteer: “Oh, uh … okay … if you take a picture real quick …”
So somewhere out in the corporate Jelly Belly world (or, eh, probably just floating around the Internet) is a picture of Ella and me holding 15+ packets of Jelly Bellies in our hands and smiling like fools. Once again, I found myself with an excessively beautiful amount of candy in a beautiful European city.
Ya know, in this case, I wouldn’t really mind if history repeated itself over and over and over again.*
(*Duh, history inevitably repeated itself and the next day, I ate bucketloads more of candy. So keep checking back for my next blog post on Day 2 in Berlin!)
Photography by Ella Pennington. Isn’t she a brilliant photographer? Girl deserves all the Jelly Bellies in the world.