I got off the bus from Prague to Germany sniveling and shaking, the two coats and massive blanket masquerading as a scarf I had on doing nothing to keep away the Eastern European chill. After six hours sitting on a bus next to a window, I caught what I thought was a quick cold.
What it actually was was the plague.
You guys, I don't know if you've ever had a "death is coming for me" fever when sharing a room with seven other people, but it's hella awkward. Everyone is equal parts concerned that you won't be able to rally in time for drinks downstairs and equal parts worried they'll catch the scourge you're currently coughing into tissues and throwing around your bed.
It was sweet in the way that everyone would bring me bottles of water and cough drops after coming back inside from exploring the grit and history that is Berlin, but then it was also disconcerting over how a coughing fit would cause everyone to put their bed sheets over their faces like surgical masks. Sorry everyone - here's hoping you don't catch my Patient Zero disease.
Showing up half dead to Berlin was a disappointment, because it was the first city that I went to that wasn't stacked and tumbling over with 16th century buildings that looked like eight-layer frosted cakes and whip cream pastries, and that couldn't be described as charming, dreamy, or romantic.
Rather, Berlin is all about that grit urban feel, where graffiti paints the industrial buildings with colorful pop art and its concrete slabs and chain link fences are more charismatic than grimy. After cacooning myself in blankets for four days, I decided that I had to venture out at least for a couple of hours on my last day, and so I took a train into East Berlin to go visit the East Side Gallery - a part of the knocked over Berlin wall that was tagged and marked by spraypaint-toating artists.
But instead of turning right towards the wall when I got off the train, I went left in my usual "forever lost" fashion and headed towards the neighborhoods of East Berlin. Getting distracted by a taco stand before I got the chance to unfold my map to see where I went wrong, I moved to the side of the sidewalk to fish a couple of Euros out of my coat pocket. That's when I glanced through a chain link fence and noticed their was a whole warehouse district on the other side, completely and beautifully covered with the most outrageous graffiti. Forgetting the tacos, I nearly tripped over my shoes and ran downstairs to go explore.
It was wall after wall of florescent and electric paints, with nose picking kids, old Hollywood scenes, geometric monsters, and glittering faeries. I was alone for the most part except for the rogue bike cutting through every once in a while, touting a handsome German guy with a beanie and scruffy beard. (Even though I was sick, I was still creepin', you know what I'm saying?)
The further I went the more interesting it became. Warehouses and delivery trucks gave way to cleverly hidden bars and retro-trailer furniture stores, with a blonde girl in a beanie and high waist pants filming a video next to a psychadelically-exploded wall as she sang Aretha Franklin in a raspy voice that sounded like tea and honey.
This place? It had the kind of magic I was looking for.
After spending what felt like half the afternoon tucked away into warehouses, I ventured back upstairs and made my way to the East Side Gallery, as planned. And it didn't disappoint. Stretching for what seemed like miles, the concrete slab that used to keep the East fractured from the West was decorated with grit, nerve, and bravery, turning something ugly into something layered with humanity.
You had couples walking past holding hands, travelers silently looking down the span of the wall, locals playing oddly heated games of "what cup is the ball in," and friends on gap years posing in front of their favorite scenes. Granted I only got to see a tiny, tiny part of Berlin while I was here, and double granted I might have been walking around in a fever dream for the majority of it, but if you make it out to the city, definitely make it a point to head out East.
There's no way you'll regret it.