This is a trip I think I only made slight references to in older posts, but I want to talk about it now, because it’s almost been ten years since that trip, and it essentially gave birth to my wanderlust.
Nearly a decade ago, I was able to go on a trip to Berlin, Germany with my Film Studies class in sixth-form (yes, I took Film Studies – it was a good course). My ultra-planner inside me was giddy as hell with the itinerary, with what we had planned for the days we were there. Basically, it was an all-inclusive trip that cost around £250, including flights and hotel, as well as some activities that we would be doing throughout.
I remember how nervous I was at the thought of the trip – I’d never been abroad in my life, so it was a new experience for me. I had studied German in school but because I couldn’t take it as a GCSE, my skills had pretty much gone – and I was one of the top students for German, I just wasn’t allowed to take it as a GCSE. But I really wanted to go, because my birthday was also happening during the trip.
On 9th February 2010, I got on the coach very early in the morning to head to East Midlands Airport. It’s quite a nice airport, not gonna lie, but I was humoured by how many passport checks were required throughout the run from the baggage check to the plane itself. I don’t remember eating a whole lot beforehand, just grabbing a couple of snacks from the Duty-Free and reading at the gate.
Once I got on the plane, that’s when my nerves started kicking in. But I needn’t have worried at all, because I was fine once I was up in the air. I think even to this day, I’m not a great flier anyway.
We landed in Berlin Schonefeld Airport towards midday, and I remember going into border control thinking that the room looked very prison-esque and uninviting. But once we left the airport, it was a different story – it was all new and fresh for me, and it had been snowing, a far cry from the, well, lack of snow back in the UK. We went on the train to our destination, which was the Berlin Central Station, which I remember was massive, with a few levels up and down from the ground entrances. It acted as both a shopping mall and a train station, with Berlin Bears dotted around the place. There was also some kind of film crew there, but I wasn’t sure as to what film they were shooting at the time.
View from Meininger Hotel Berlin Central Station
The hotel we stayed at was the Meininger Hotel Berlin Central Station, where we were introduced and welcomed by the staff there and were given a breakdown of the hotel rules, which were your usual non-smoking, be respectful kind of rules. We were given writstbands to wear to designate that we were indeed staying at the hotel.
How the Meininger works is that they have normal hotel rooms, but also group rooms with two bunk-beds, to sleep four students. I was roomed in a room with one friend, someone I didn’t know and a former bully from school (great). I found out that I was supposed to be rooming with three friends, but they swapped me around for some reason. But we managed to stay civil throughout the trip. Once we were all unpacked and freshened up, we were to head downstairs for drinks and food. For this first night, we were able to have some of the buffet from the hotel.
The drinking laws in Germany are that you can have beer or wine at 16, but then everything opens up at 18, so I stuck to a bottle of Berlinerkindl – I’m not a beer drinker in the slightest, but in Germany, it’s a bit better than most other places. We had that drink and some food, and then we went to Potsdamer Platz because we were going to go to the cinema (because that is what we do as Film Studies students).
I remember Avatar being out and popular then, and we were excited because we were going to the cinema to see… A Serious Man – which was critically acclaimed because it was the work of the Coen Brothers. And it was lifeless, as though someone had picked a random person off the street and filmed their life. Some people walked out and sat at the bar, others – like me – sat through it bored.
We woke up the morning of my 18th birthday to snow. Well, it had already snowed, but it was actually snowing when we woke up. I laid in bed for a while and checked my phone, and slowly got up to get ready (I had showered the night previously). We weren’t in a rush, because we had breakfast to go, and we had a special itinerary. It was gone 7am at this point, and I think breakfast was at 8, so we all had plenty of time to get ready and get the birthday wishes out of the way. The breakfast was an assortment of cereals, fruit, meats and juices, and it was probably one of the healthier meals I remember having throughout the trip, I will admit.
We spent the early portion of my birthday celebrations on a 3-hour walking tour. I dreaded the idea of walking for three hours (although now, I can do it without thinking), but we clearly managed it. We arrived at Pariser Platz, and we had a look in the souvenir shop, and then went over to these two men holding flags – we dropped a Euro in a bucket and took a picture with them – obviously, I handed my phone to someone to get the picture taken.
We started the tour and went through Brandenburg Gate all the way down to the Holocaust Memorial, which from what I heard is beautiful no matter the weather, but I saw it when it had snow on top, which made it even more beautiful (see the featured image). And yeah, because it was slippery and ended up on a slope, I fell down on the ice and skidded down somewhat. And then I fell down on my arse again once we got to the spot where Hitler died (am I cursed?). My tutor said next time I’m staying on the floor!
We went around most of the tourist destinations, like Checkpoint Charlie, the Berlin Wall and we finished with the telling of how the Berlin Wall came down. In between, we had a rest-stop in cafe that did a gorgeous hot chocolate.
After all of this, we went back to the hotel and got ready quickly to go out for the evening. We were going to go to the same cinema as previously to watch Avatar, but it was German-only night. In the end, we decided to take a train somewhere else, and we went to this pub that I cannot remember the name of, sadly. There, I was able to get a Watermelon Man cocktail that I’d wanted to try, as well as a burger meal that was actually really good. A few of us were bought shots just for fun, including one for me because it was my birthday. I was also given this birthday dessert with various fruits, which was quite nice. I was able to share it with some of the people I was sat with because I was already so full of food!
Now here was where the evening got a bit…interesting. So, the laws in regards to ID were pretty lax in Germany, so we were walking around and we (teachers included) ended up in a sex shop. Now, we had a woman come up to us, just to ask if we were over 18. Of course, everyone says yes, and she leaves us to it. It was admittedly a blur because I didn’t even have a boyfriend or any idea of what to do with half of that stuff!
We got back to the hotel and had some drinks, and we were joined by some German school students on a trip from Munich. We had a good time, downed some beers before heading to bed.
Day three happened, and a lot of people were worse for wear – definitely hungover, that’s for certain! Thankfully I was okay, just a bit groggy, but I pulled through. We went to a few haunts, including a couple of museums, before heading to the Film Museum in Potsdamer Platz – it goes through German cinema, including that film Metropolis, which is such a great film to watch.
We followed this up with just an afternoon to spend at the Central Station to have some lunch and do some shopping because later on, we were to head out to a couple of venues. The first was towards Berlinale Palast, which you avid film buffs will know is the main location of the Berlinale Film Festival, and we were there to witness some of the red carpet for the 60th iteration. And just across the road, we went to the Blue Man Group theatre to watch them perform.
I hadn’t heard a lot about the Blue Man Group when I arrived, but we sat towards the back, which had a great view all the same. Any YouTube videos you’ll find will not do the performances justice, I tell you that now because you just have to be there, especially when they call out people for being late, and the audience participation. I had a really good time there, and we got to meet them in the foyer after the show, which was pretty cool.
So we all got back to the hotel, and I was chilling in the room alone, I just wanted to wind down before the flight home the next day. Instead, I got a knock on the door, and I opened it to some of the guys, shirtless and getting me to go to their room because they were hosting a party. I mean, yeah, sure. In short, I ended up properly drunk for the first time, having a laugh and while I had my arm rested on the bunk bed ladder, someone fell and it caught my arm, which was just a little painful at the time. Quite late on, we were eventually told to keep it quiet. I ducked out and went to bed in the end, relatively drunk. I got to sleep at about 3.30am, I remember. I kinda had to keep an eye on one of the girls because she was ill from being drunk.
Last day, and oh boy, I woke up completely worse for wear. I think I was still drunk when I got out of bed (and considering I was in the top bunk, an achievement indeed), and went for my shower at 7am. Everyone else was asleep, but I managed to stay relatively quiet. We all managed to pack away and get some kind of functionality for breakfast, and it was a quiet affair. However, we managed to keep our spirits up as we left the hotel and went over to the train station to go back to Schonefeld Airport.
I think the most that I could really stomach in Duty-Free was a simple salami sandwich before we actually had to rush to the gate and board. Thankfully we picked up some bits in one of the shops just before we had to go. I was more confident on the plane this time, albeit there was turbulence. I’d actually brought A Child Called “It” to read on the trip so that I could have some down-time to myself.
We landed back in East Midlands Airport, and it was quite a nice, sunny day for February. It wasn’t too cold, but that’s coming from having been in a colder climate for the past three days. Border control was simple, and we just headed out to the coach, got on and headed back home.
I recall that throughout the trip, I managed to master the art of living out of my suitcase. It was just more convenient for me that way, and I’ve done it on other trips since, though. There was also that moment after half term where we all came back to college and discussed the trip amongst ourselves and reminisced about the adventures we had. It was a whole bonding experience, but I wouldn’t really do it again as a huge group, due to the scale of it.