Three years ago, Jay and I went to Berlin, Prague, and Munich for this 30th birthday. It was his first time to Europe, and my first time exploring Berlin and Prague. Jay would say I had this weird affinity with Germany, having learned the language and visited multiple times. The truth is that I love history, and to me, one of the most fascinating events in history is World War II.
The fascination continues when it comes to war movies in general. They tend to be some of my favorite movies of all time because they show the absolute best and worst of humanity. Such an experience pushes others to do unspeakable things, and perhaps on the other hand, or even at the same time, rise above what they once thought capable. If the time called for it, would you be able to stand for your morals? And/or would you be trying to do whatever you could to survive? While I’d like to say I would always do the right thing, realistically, it’s a difficult question for me to answer (and yes, I am absolutely privileged to have this outsider’s view of war and not have to experience its cruelties in person).
I digress. All this is to say, Germany happens to have a lot of monuments after the war so that they never forget their history and atrocities once committed (it’s a crime to make a Nazi salute, even as a so-called joke). There are a plethora of juxtapositions of 300+ year old buildings next to modern ones. Plus, Jay likes beer, and his birthday happens to be right around Oktoberfest.
For his birthday, I made a lunch reservation at Facil, a 2 Michelin Star restaurant nestled at The Mandala Hotel on Potsdamer Platz. Inside, we were one of only a few tables, and it felt like a quiet getaway outside of the city. The plates skewed French, which is a little salty for my tastes, but all were so beautifully done and well-crafted. The rhubarb yuzu cake alone pictured above made me squeal with such delight that Jay questioned if the meal was actually for my birthday.
No trip to Germany is complete without grabbing a stein, so we made a stop to Berlin’s oldest Biergarten, Pratergraten.
Did I mention I love history? Berlin literally has an island of just museums (that’s also an UNESCO World Heritage site) – we visited Pergamon Museum and Neues Museum. The latter quickly became one of my favorites in the world for their decorative rooms, so unlike the typically stark, plain walls of most American ones. The building itself was originally built around the mid 1800s and restored in the early 2000s.
Walk down an alley a couple blocks away from Museum Island and you might find a Persian-style tearoom, complete with colorful carpets and an actual Tadjikistan pavilion. We ordered a set, which came with your choice of tea served over a samovar and an assortment of sweets. Having never had this style of tea before, I thought it was such an unexpectedly unique experience.
Two nights, a Döner and Spezi, a walk by the Berlin Wall, and an incredible currywurst outside a train station later, we hopped on a train to Prague.
This part is a little shorter because not long after taking this photo from Prague Castle, a man stole my wallet in a crowded hallway, and I cried my eyes out for several hours while using Google Translate to communicate at the police station. Fortunately, Jay helped console me, and eventually, we decided to move on to the less touristy parts of Prague and became more vigilant of our bags.
Just kidding about the less touristy part because I cannot resist old things. We ended up visiting Strahov Monastery! It’s home to one of the most gorgeous libraries in the world (which, unfortunately, outsiders can only view from the door), and, of course, more beer. Like most cities in Europe, Prague has a convenient public transit system; several destinations on our list were a comfortable walking distance away from each other.
Theft aside, Prague was really lovely. Fashion seemed stuck in the 90s, people were friendly, and there was so much public art! Some of the sculptures seemed a little disconcerting, but as Černý and Kafka hail from Prague, it is no wonder. We had the best beef tartare from Lokál Dlouhááá and tasty, open faced sandwiches (chlebíčky – the cashier recommended the egg salad sandwich) from Sisters Bistro v Dlouhé. They also have a relatively high Vietnamese population due to a large immigration in the 50s, so we were able to find a decent pho spot as well.
In case you wanted to know, Jay’s favorite beer of the trip was a red ale from U Tří růží.
Oh, Bayern! It’s my favorite German state with its own dialect, regional cuisine, and traditions that differ from the rest of the country. I loved walking on cobblestones in cities as a kid, knowing that some of them date back to the Roman Empire. The awesomeness of that fact still hasn’t faded for me. My aunt treated us to a quiet ferry down the Danube River to Weltenburg Abbey. I know every single brewery in Europe loves to boast about how old they are, but Weltenburg and Weihenstephan Abbey are literally the oldest working breweries (and still operate as monasteries) in the world.
One of the things I love about exploring cities is all the art. They could be structures, sculptures, or trompe-l’œil (Lüftlmalerei) on homes.
I’d be remiss to mention WWII without also mentioning infamous concentration camps. About an hour outside Munich by bus is Dachau, which ran for 12 years. The memorial site is free for the public to visit and a somber reminder of how terribly Nazis treated prisoners (as well as how mass internment camps still exist today).
But Sophia! you say. We came for the Oktoberfest content! Alright, alright. If you want to go to Oktoberfest, it actually begins a couple weeks before October. Originally formed as a celebration of a royal wedding, it’s now a festival known for copious amounts of Bavarian lagers.
Each tent has its own personality, and your best bet to snag a table inside without a reservation is to go in the morning, and drink and eat all day. Hofbräuhaus is the most popular Biergarten, and definitely one of the rowdiest. The later it gets, the more enthusiastically patrons sing and drink their hearts out from the table tops. Alas – I am unable to handle liquor, but I will say that the mackerel is seriously worth getting. Should you need a break from the Bierstiefels, Oktoberfest is basically like any other carnival or county fair, filled with roller coasters and games. Rooms are booked months in advance, so prepare accordingly!
If you’ve made it this far, thanks for following along with my travels, albeit three years later! Though COVID-19 cancelled Oktoberfest this year (and the EU banned most travel to Europe from the US), I hope this helps for future trips. Safe travels!