May was such a busy month that I’m still playing catch-up! (With blogging and everything else!) At the beginning of the month, I headed to Germany (Berlin-Mainz-Berlin) for a combo vacation and work trip.
Berlin is…big. After spending the equivalent of a week there, that’s still my takeaway.
I had always been interested in visiting Berlin because of all the World War II history there, and for the first 3 days of my trip, that’s what I filled my days with. I visited Checkpoint Charlie, the Holocaust memorial, the Berlin Wall, and numerous monuments around the city, including the plaza where books were burned on Kristallnacht. While it was interesting to see first-hand where all sorts of historical events took place, all of the memorials have a distinctive German perspective to them that makes them different, from an emotional perspective, from how the same events are treated elsewhere in the world. Purely from my view visiting these locations as a tourist, there seemed to consistently be a level of trying to de-emphasize Germany’s role in WWII, by (too) starkly contrasting modern Germany from Germany in the 1930s-40s. I understand the perspective but disagree with how it was portrayed.
There were, though, some things I did like about Germany. I had a great Sunday touring around with a friend who used to live there, and who traveled over for the weekend to visit! It’s great to get the local perspective on a new city. Besides visiting some popular locations like the Berlin Wall and the Reichstag building (German parlaiment), we created a bus tour around the city using public transit routes, and we went to an outdoor food/flea market/festival at a local park.
And while most of the food in Germany wasn’t super, I did eat a LOT of wurst, especially currywurst; and sampled doner kebab as recommended by numerous friends; and after Googling “best schnitzel Berlin,” ate a delicious schnitzel with a side of beers! I also found real bagels! I knew they were notoriously impossible to find in Paris, and apparently that is no different anywhere in Europe. Whatever Europeans call bagels, it’s nothing like the chewy, soft things that exist back home. At Shakespeare and Sons in Berlin, I found the closest-to -home tasting bagel that I’ve eaten in 5 months! A simple egg bagel with chive cream cheese made my day.
Following my Berlin vacation, I took a 6 hour train ride to Mainz via Frankfurt to go to the first of three conferences in a row (!), this one called CIMT, all about cancer immunotherapy.
Mainz is the cutest little town ever! The buildings are a lovely shade of pink that matched the tree blossoms, and around around the town’s main square are all these little statues of elves! It’s capped off with a magical fountain comprised of figures of mythical creatures that somehow fits perfectly into its quaint backdrop.
In the extra one day I had in Mainz and between sessions at the conference, I really loved getting to explore this little town. For example, on my first morning, I enjoyed a brunch buffet outdoors, overlooking the fountain and town square.
At the edge of the town is a well-manicured waterfront along the Rhine, with walking paths, benches, and gardens. If you turn 180 degrees, you’re greeted with more pink houses or sleek modern architecture. You can’t lose with the views there!
And the food…well, still nothing special compared to what I am used to in France, or even Pittsburgh. Plus, the conference served us meals for the two days, which were nice because they were free, but they weren’t amazing either. What I did find and live was a little frozen yogurt bar called Mia Gelateria, that besides having yummy frozen yogurt had the option of topping your dessert with shots! Vanilla and Bailey’s for the win! 😉
After two nights in Mainz, I took the train back to Berlin for another conference. Neither the conference (on women in science – a topic for another post) nor the area of Berlin in which it was located were that great, unfortunately; I spent a lot of time skipping conference sessions after I realized that I fundamentally disagreed with the conference organizers on many issues, and instead enjoyed the fresh air around Freie Universitat Berlin, where the conference was located (and since there was nothing else to do nearby). On my last afternoon there, I did enjoy a walk around Alexanderplatz (back near the center of the city) for one last currywurst before heading back to Paris (for another conference)!
So, takeaways from this trip? One, don’t go to Germany for the food. Two, get a taste of both city and small-town life; they’re very different. Visit the cities for the history and towns for the old-world charm. And three, appreciate every travel experience for what it is – a new experience to take something away from; every new location won’t necessarily be a new favorite.