Berlin versus Munich: Two Different Worlds

I think I’ve said it before on this blog, but for some reason I never really wanted to go to Germany. I didn’t not want to go, I just didn’t feel like anything in particular was drawing me there. Maybe if I had ever bothered to check where Neuschwanstein Castle was, I would have made a bigger effort to put Germany on an itinerary. As it was, though, I’ve visited both Munich and Berlin basically just because they worked with my plans and my budget. Both trips were amazing, and my brain has finally realized that duh, Germany is worthy of exploration.

With all kinds of places like Strasbourg, Heidelberg and the Black Forest now on my list, it’s now very obvious that Germany is pretty cool. Ironically, those three places are exactly where my parents/aunts/uncles/grandparents are going on a river cruise in April, and you can bet I’m going to be jealous as heck the whole time!

I will preface this by saying that my trip to Berlin was basically a long layover en route from Tanzania to Iceland while Munich was three days spent exploring with locals. Hence, I am 0% an expert on either of these places and especially not on Berlin. However, I fell in love with both places – and both deserve so much more of my time – and was truly struck by how different the cities were from eachother.

The thing that fascinates me about Germany is how different it can be within its own borders. Munich and Berlin pretty much seem like two different countries, and I’d love to see whether the rest of the country fits the north/south stereotypes or if there’s even more diversity to discover.

Architecture

Looking through my pictures from both cities, it’s genuinely hard to believe that they were taken in the same country. Berlin’s rooftops are industrial, kind of communist (I’m so good at describing architecture) and gritty. Munich is classical European all the way – towering cathedrals, lavish building facades and gorgeous biergartens. Of course, some areas of Berlin are more Munich-like (the Dom, Museum Island) and vice versa, but overall it’s just a completely different scene. In Munich all I wanted to do was skip through the cobblestone streets, reveling in their cleanliness and gaping at all the pretty buildings. I’m sure my German hosts were so happy to be with such an embarrassing tourist.

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Berlin, however, was more of a place to be lived in and experienced. The highlight of my stay wasn’t wandering Museum Island and the riverbanks and admiring the architecture, like I would have expected – it was the feel of the city. However, I was surprised by all the incredible buildings I did see. I felt like all the pictures I had seen of Berlin were the edgy parts, and every time I saw a gorgeous classical building I was taken aback. Loved it!

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Before I went to Berlin, every blog post I read said basically what I’m saying – Berlin is just cool. If you’re reading this post and thinking that I should stop being so vague and annoying, that is exactly how I felt about every other bloggers’ musings on Berlin. So basically, I apologize for being annoying. But I promise, the vibe is just cool.

People

I found Berlin much more culturally diverse than Munich, which was no real surprise. Maybe it was just the areas I explored, but Berlin had Turkish food on every corner and the people walking around couldn’t have been more varied. Munich felt much more homogeneous and European. Neither of these is better than the other, I just thought it was fascinating and enjoyed musing on the many reasons for this.

Sights

The things I did and saw in Munich and Berlin were very different. Like I said, Munich’s architecture was a highlight and I spent most of my time being touristy. In Berlin, 100% of everything I did was all about the history. I suppose that’s also touristy, but it felt like a very different trip from one spent wandering polished streets.

Honestly, because of the way I saw Munich (walking around with locals, seeing what they think are the highlights of their city) I don’t even know the names of a lot of the places I went. There were a lot of churches, some markets and a beautiful Biergarten, but one of my highlights was the Englischgarten. The English Garden is a huge manicured park with everything I love in a park.

I don’t normally make time for parks when I’m on whirlwind solo trips, but this one was pretty special! We found a comfy bench to park ourselves on, drank the beer we had bought and chatted and laughed. Also, I don’t know what I was drinking because this was before I learned German, but the guys bought me something that was half beer and half lemonade – I normally dislike beer, and this was perfect for me. I wish I had remembered what it was called!

After a relaxing break, they took me to one of the most fascinating spots in the park. There’s a river running through, and about 15 years ago locals noticed that a 4-foot wave would randomly appear. Somehow, with either science or magic, they found a way to make the wave constantly there and now surfers come from far and wide to surf on the river. It’s so cool to watch and so weird that something like this exists.

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History

As a kid, I had a really sick fascination with World War II. I don’t know what that says about me, but I read an incredible amount of books about the Holocaust (and likely cried at all of them). I’ve always wanted to see Auschwitz, in Poland, to really let that unbelievable history sink in. I haven’t made it to Poland yet, but I did head to Dachau, a small concentration camp just outside Munich.

It was a deeply emotional experience, and I cried basically the whole time. The signage is extremely well done, and I absolutely would not bring your children here. I visited on a gloomy overcast day, and the weather just added to the horrible atmosphere. Upsetting and depressing? Yes. Do I think it’s worth it to visit? Absolutely – to prevent something like this from ever happening again, we all need to understand what really did happen.

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Arbeite Macht Frei: Work makes you free.

Berlin had even more WWII history to fascinate and disturb me. The city’s history is seriously dark and kind of horrifying, but I love the way Berliners are open about what happened and they don’t try to hide away their past. I went on the greatest walking tour ever with Sandeman’s New Europe (for free – just tip your guide!) and never have I learned so much in less than three hours. It was educational, active, interesting and captivating. I love going on walking tours when I first arrive in a city to get my bearings and meet people to explore with – it almost always succeeds in both regards!

The Berlin Wall was also a must-see for me, and it was incredible. While I was there, part of the wall had displays on Syrian refugees with pictures of the injured, details of their stories, and photos of the destruction in Syria. It was unbelievably moving to see this tribute to a horror of our time, plastered on a horror of thirty years ago. I spent about an hour wandering back and forth along the wall.

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The Holocaust Memorial was also one of the most moving monuments I’ve ever seen. Our guide explained that the designer has never explained what the stones are supposed to represent: you have to make your own interpretation. I’ll let you do the same…
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Germany has a crazy history, and both Munich and Berlin have lots of it on display – however, I felt like Berlin did a better job opening up about what happened in Germany in the last century. Munich, however, and its historic buildings and neighborhoods are stiff competition. I feel like visiting both cities gave me a really awesome insight into Germany overall, and all the different parts that make it up – and I can’t wait to see more of this amazing country.

In Berlin I stayed at One80 hostel and it was alright – I was staying in an eight-bed dorm with seven guys, and while that usually doesn’t bother me they were all a little bit weird. At least none of them snored! There was also zero ventilation in the room and the window opened right onto a busy street, so I was either too hot or too distracted to sleep well. The location was good, and the price is not too bad for Berlin at around 35 Euros. 

Roadtrip to Neuschwanstein Castle

Despite the fact that I still have such an excessive number of places to write about from this summer’s trip, I have also neglected to share stories from a ton of places I visited last summer. I was scrolling through my old Instagram posts yesterday, as I like to do to reminisce, and came upon my pictures from a roadtrip to Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria, Germany.

This was one of the places I desperately wanted to visit after seeing an Instagram photo somewhere, but despite my desire I had never actually checked where it was. I knew Germany, but other than that I wasn’t sure. I had no plans to visit Germany last summer, but I had a few free days to fill up. Three of the guys I travelled Morocco with were German, living in Munich, and they invited me  to stay. How could I say no?

When I asked what I should do nearby,  they suggested a concentration camp (I went – cried), and then offhand mentioned that Neuschwanstein Castle wasn’t too far. I think I dramatically gasped, perhaps jumped around a bit, and was immediately overjoyed  that I could visit the castle.

But the best was yet to come. If I had visited Munich the way I normally travel, I either would have had to see the castle on a tour or take a bus that took way too long. I still would have done it of course, but it would have been annoying.

The whole drive was as beautiful as this!

The whole drive was as beautiful as this!

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This way, I got to spend a wonderful day with people who knew the country. Enjoying a German road trip with German music, the opportunity to practice all the German swear words I had learned, and even a beautiful picnic by a breathtaking lake I never would have discovered on my own. I love travelling on my own, wandering strange streets with no idea how to communicate or navigate – it’s a unique opportunity to really delve into a place. But in my experience, staying with locals is amazing in a completely different way. I’ve crashed on people’s couches in London, Paris, Munich, Dar es Salaam, etc…the insight into how people actually live is so valuable and I can ask all my annoying cultural and linguistic questions to people who actually invited me into their homes, rather than pestering waiters, baristas, and random people on the street like I usually do.

But anyway. Back to the castle before I get all emotional about how much I love travelling and subject you to yet another rant. I love castles because I am a five year old girl at heart. And Neuschwanstein Castle, despite not being old and historic (it was only built in the late 1800’s!), was the inspiration for the castle in Sleeping Beauty, so my  deep and abiding love for Disney meant I had to go there.

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It was everything I had hoped. We didn’t pay to go inside the castle, because it cost 12 Euros and all the Germans I was with had already been. All I really wanted was the iconic view from Marienbrucke (Mary’s Bridge) – and that’s free! Wandering the grounds is totally public which is the coolest thing ever. I have read that the bridge is currently closed for repair, which is a terrible shame, but I believe there are other viewpoints you could research.

Mary’s Bridge was pretty crowded, but I managed to make room to have myself a photoshoot. #priorities. The view of the castle, the countryside, and the waterfall you see along the walk up were just amazing. I’ve never felt like fairytales were so real.

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The guy we got to take these photos for us was literally the worst. There’s not a single picture where ANY of us look good.

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The best part of the day (and Germany) – we could just carry alcohol around with us, so we brought along some Hugo, which is a spritz drink that tastes like happiness.

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Writing this made me realize how much I want to go back to Bavaria…mostly for castles. But also for history, practicing my German..no, it’s just castles. If you are ever in this part of the world, make sure you visit Neuschwanstein!