Into the City We Go
Yesterday a group of us loaded into a car headed for "the City" or "die Stadt". After finding a parking spot in Mitte (a name for the center of the city, which literally means "middle") we walked across a bridge by Museum Island, and along a walkway paralleling the Spree river. This little path ran beside a fun Strandbar with an outdoor dance floor and Monbijou Park where there were countless beach chairs ready and waiting for the sun-seekers to find in the later afternoon.
We continued on towards the Hackesche Höfe, a place rich with history - both beautiful and ugly: home to Expressionist poets in the early 1900s, a Jewish Study Mensa in the 1930s, taken over by the Nazis during WWII and almost destroyed, but then put under a preservation order in the 1970s and then returned to an artistic and cultural center in the 1990s. Today the Hackesche Höfe house a variety of shops, rental apartments up above, design pop-ups, a little movie theater, and street art alley, all arranged in little squares with courtyards in the middle that are all connected by little alley tunnel-ways.
After wandering around, hunger hit so we stopped for a Döner Imbiss and took it to-go. On the way back to Lübars, we stopped by an Aldi - a popular store much like a small Fred Meyer that has food, drinks, and basic household supplies - to buy a German SIM card for my phone.
Most people use pay-as-you-go phone cards, which makes cell phones extremely affordable in comparison to in the States. For example, I paid ~$85 a month back home for a decent plan, and here I'll expect to pay only ~20€! Once connected to the local phone system, I felt comfortable to explore Berlin alone on public transit with the back-up of Google Maps and ability to call/text in case I go turned around.
An Evening in Neukölln
After a short afternoon break I made plans to meet up with my American friend Neema, who is here in Berlin studying his Masters. I was dropped off at a Bahn station in Kreuzberg near Neukölln to explore an area with some of his favorite shops, restaurants, and bars.
We walked into Neukölln by foot, so that Neema could point out a paper-goods shop and Späti (short for Spätverkaufsstelle, or a convenience store that is open late). I learned that there is a HUGE Späti culture here - people go to certain Spätis that specialize in various things, like IPA beer for instance.
Next we stopped into Azzam, an Arab restaurant, for dinner. But when I say dinner, I mean feast. Since I had never been, I deferred to Neema's recommendations on what to order. We decided on one order of Baba Ganoush and one order of Shawarma with Hummus. This might not sound like much, but each order comes with a whole bag of pita, a plate of herbs, tomato, onion, pickles, and olives per person, and a plate of condiments including tahini, toum, and ground chili sauce. After your meal, you can help yourself to Persian tea as a sort of Apéritif.
As hungry as we were, we could only manage half of what we ordered, so we took the rest to go. All this, plus two drinks, AND leftovers to enjoy the next day for ~13€! While the ambiance inside leaves a little something to be desired (if you can snag one of the conveted tables outside you're golden!), I can highly recommend this restaurant to enjoy a cheap meal with friends!
Once (over)satiated, we wandered to a bar called Zum bömischen Dorf that specializes in Pilsner Urquell tank beer from the Czech that is unpasteurized and comes straight from the brewery. Lecker! Delicious! It doesn't look like much from the outside, but inside the bar features some really cool decor. While catching up on life over a Maß (liter bier mug), we enjoyed the unique ambiance and DJ in the background.
One new thing I encountered at the bar was vendors who come in off the street to sell flowers or pretzels out of baskets. They aren't affiliated with the bar, but are allowed to come sell to bar patrons, perhaps because many bars don't serve food.
Post-beer, Neema showed me how to buy a BVG (local public transportation that includes bus, street-train [S-Bahn], and underground train [U-Bahn]) ticket and the most efficient way to get back to Lübars from Neukölln - my first solo experience on the Bahn and Bus in Berlin. But I got home without a hitch and look forward to utilizing the public transportation regularly before starting my paid internship in September.