A new year, a new city and a new set of goals
Given that I'm starting my second year of Germany in a completely new location with no shortage of things to do, it seems appropriate to assemble a new set of goals for the coming year. Here are some of the things I'd like to achieve over the next 12 months.
1) Cross off some of the mainstream Berlin sights
I had made two trips to Berlin prior to moving here, but there are still plenty of "must sees" (or at least things everyone seems to see) that I haven't actually gotten around to seeing yet. Here are the sights currently topping my list:
- The Reichstag: I would love to do a guided tour of the whole building, but at the least I really want to visit the glass dome that tops the building. All of the pictures I have seen make it look like a very cool, unique and beautiful sight, and it's free to visit. You just need to make arrangements ahead of time.
- Checkpoint Charlie: Oh, I know this will be thoroughly touristy and probably even disappointing. But I just have to see it. Even if just for a minute.
- Berlin's museums: I have been dying to go to the Pergamon Museum ever since my parents raved about it to me when they visited Berlin in 2011. It's an art and history museum and houses some incredible holdings, like the massive Pergamon Altar and the Gates of Ishtar. The altar is about to close for a 6-year restoration project, so I need to get there ASAP. Another museum I really, really want to visit is the Topographie des Terrors, which largely deals with the operations of the Gestapo and SS during WWII. The museum itself is located in the former headquarters of these groups. And of course, in a city the size of Berlin, there are tons of other world-class museums dedicated to art, history and culture. I just need to find the time to see them all.
2) Dive into some less touristic sights
Once I feel like I've seen all the things the average tourist to Berlin does, I'd like to start branching out and experiencing parts of the city that most short-term visitors don't take the time to see or don't even know about. The former East German prison Hohenschönhausen isn't far from where I live now, and today you can take tours of the facility, many of which are led by former prisoners. There are several neighborhood parks I'd like to explore on a pleasant Sunday afternoon. Countless opportunities to see small-scale theater productions or concerts (in particular I would love to see a recording of one of my favorite German music programs, TV Noir). Finally, Berlin is a city of memorials, given the numerous historically significant events that have taken place here, and I hope to begin to explore some of the lesser-know and lesser-seen memorials scattered across the city (for example, yesterday a friend of mine showed me a very quiet, understated memorial that marked the place where the body of communist activist Rosa Luxemburg was dumped in the Landwehr Canal).
3) Become a public transportation expert
This is my first time living in a German city with an extensive public transportation network. I have gone from planning my nights out according to when the last bus back to my apartment leaves to weighing my numerous options for going out and about, such as whether I want a faster trip or fewer connections. The wide variety of options available to me here in Berlin -- busses, U-Bahn, Straßenbahn and S-Bahn -- is both overwhelming and thoroughly exciting. Right now though, I am heavily reliant on my phone to guide me along the way -- I use the BVG app to plan my trips, my Zuti route planner app to check maps and explore routes, and my CityMaps2Go app to point me in the right direction when I'm trying to find the actual stop.
As is typical of someone in my generation, I have a hard time imagining how anyone did stuff like this before smartphones. And the fact of the matter is that most Berliners probably don't rely on an arsenal of apps to get them through their commute and trips within the city. So I hope to start to wean myself off these resources soon and feel more confident in heading to a stop and knowing exactly what line I need to hop on and in what direction it should be going.
4) Explore the east
My new location in Berlin means I am now in a position to much more easily explore the eastern parts of Germany (as well as the eastern parts of Germany) which previously were quite far away and inaccessible. I don't plan on traveling a lot since I have a full time job and want to enjoy living in Berlin, but I do hope to have a chance to see some of the larger and more interesting cities in what was once East Germany, like Rostock, Leipzig and Potsdam, as well as to explore any smaller towns that often go overlooked by tourists. Moreover, I am now closer to Poland than I ever have been during my times in Europe, and I definitely would like to take this chance to explore a new, distinct part of Europe with its own deeply fascinating history. I am still not sure where I would go (and if any of the places closest to Berlin are worth seeing), so if anyone has any thoughts on traveling through Poland, feel free to share!
5) Keep my German up
As I mentioned in my last post, one of the strangest parts of being in Berlin is how easy it is to find other English speakers and to use English on a day-to-day basis, if you so choose. I have never lived anywhere in Germany where hearing English on the street is as common in Germany. I'm a little scared that it will be easy for me to become lazy and to not employ German as much in my everyday life. I'm also scared that people will be more inclined to switch to English when they detect that I have an accent, since most people here are used to switching to it and accommodating English speakers, whereas in smaller towns people were still more likely to prefer to continue speaking in German.
That said, I speak German regularly at work and I do live with two Germans, so I seem to have ample opportunities to keep using it, but it will still be strange adjusting to an environment where I can so easily avoid speaking in my second language.