The story of a teenager who had no idea what to expect
Growing up, I had always had a strange obsession with exploring Germany. That obsession began when I realized how many past relatives had ties to the country. That being said, I don’t consider myself to be German. I will always cheer for Germany in international events :p
Skip ahead to July 20, 2009. We had just landed in Berlin, where we were greeted by a small entourage of German friends. Peter (our friend and guide) brought his mom, Christina, to meet us at the airport. I immediately tried to strike up a conversation with her. It was at that point that I realized how behind I was with the language. 9 years of practice in school had allowed me to have scripted conversations, and this only made things awkward. Christina had grown up in eastern Germany, so she had never spoken a word of English in her life. Despite this, she appreciated my efforts to break the barrier and ended up treating us very well. This was the hospitality I was fortunate to experience across Germany.
Before I knew it we were crammed into our rental van. The thing was literally a box on 4 wheels with enough room for 8 people. I made sure I had a window seat, and my camera was ready to snap shots on the go (all of which ended up blurry). I took pictures of EVERYTHING. To be honest, the first 10 minutes of that drive had me thinking that Berlin was a bit of a dump (yet I kept taking pictures).
Things only got worse when we ended up at the hostel. I had only ever heard negative things about hostels, and the one Peter found for us confirmed it. My heart sank when we walked in. I was travelling with my brother, mother, and grandmother. We had no place at this particular hostel, and we all knew it. The only place we felt comfortable in was our room, which ended up being better than expected. That didn’t change the fact that we felt like a bunch of parents supervising a really good party. It ended up being the only hostel we stayed in on our trip. If you are travelling with a family and want to stay in a hostel, I strongly suggest finding out who they cater to. Do more research than simply viewing the booking site! We ended up staying in bed and breakfasts the rest of the way.
After a short nap we were joined by Peter, and we took a brief walk (about 5 minutes) to look for a place to eat. This was ultimately my favourite aspect of European cities. Every street seemed to have multiple options to sit down at, and I found many cultures were represented.
After eating, we found a place near Museum Island where we could sit down and rest. It had imported sand and a ton of beach chairs to grab for free. Sure enough, we struggled to set up the chairs, but we were helped by a few locals. I don’t care what you hear from your friends, because Germans do treat their tourists well. That hectic first day ended on a makeshift beach overlooking the river and Museum Island, with my first German beer(s) in hand. We could see all of the history right in front of us, and we were thrilled to explore it the next day.
I will always remember that first awkward day in Berlin, and I am excited to explore it more in September.