Earlier this November my parents flew over to Berlin for the first time ever. They had both been to Europe a few times before, most recently with my sister and I when we were younger, but had never been to Berlin, or anywhere in Germany outside of Bavaria. I was excited to have them come visit so they could see where I had actually moved to. Before the trip, they only knew what Berlin was like from the photos I’d send and skype conversations.
I was actually kind of nervous about the timing of their visit and how that might impact their impression of the city. November is kind of a dull month in Berlin as far as weather and activities are concerned. Most of the days are chilly, the sky is overcast and gray, and everything looks a little bleak. It’s a lull between the lights and warmth of summer, with people enjoying the weather outside cafes, and the Christmas markets of December where the smell of glühwein and backed goods start to fill the air. Nonetheless, we were determined to show them the city and enjoy ourselves.
I did have to warn my parents though. Berlin has a lot of graffiti. It’s just the style of the city. It’s everywhere, and it isn’t a sign of a bad neighborhood. My father has never been to Germany, so I don’t think he knew what to expect. My mother, however, has been to Bavaria and studied in Vienna for a bit. Those two places are worlds apart from Berlin, but they were her only reference point with the German speaking world. I felt I had to brace her for a culture shock as Northern Germany is more industrial and diverse then the quaint little mountain towns she had visited before.
I had been watching the status of their flight all day on my phone and as they approached Tegel, Insa and I took the u-bahn up to meet them. We we picked them up and found a taxi large enough for all of us and the luggage, Insa hopped up front to tell the taxi driver where to go. He was an Armenian man who proceeded to talk her ear off about how life was better under the Soviet Union and to ask her questions about the US and us when he found out where my parents were from. We also hit really bad traffic, which made the whole drive longer.
For the first night we just stayed inside and relaxed. It was already late and they had been traveling for 20+ hours. In the morning they’d wake up and get to see where they landed in daylight.
We decided for the first day to do a quick tour of a lot of the major tourist spots in Berlin. We left the house a little early and went to get breakfast at a cafe on the main drag 2 streets behind my apartment. Normally there is a lot of life on that street, but it was early in the morning on a Wednesday and so things were fairly quite. My mom was excited to see “a German dog” walk by and someone with “a German baby” in a stroller. I get that feeling, I had it too for a while when I first landed. The excitement that everything, everyone you see is actually from this other place different than yours, a place that might have previously only existed to you as an idea.
The exact step by step chronology isn’t important, but during the visit in Berlin I got to show them a lot of the tourist attractions like the Brandenburg gate, Checkpoint Charlie, the East Side Gallery, Alexanderplatz, Bernaur str. wall museum, the Reichstag, Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtniskirche, and Tempelhofer feld.
We even took a trip to Potsdam to show them the palace of King Frederich the Great of Prussia, Sanssouci.
In between the tourist attractions, they also got to see some more personal spots of the city for me: favorite restaurants, favorite park, favorite roof top bar, neighborhoods where I used to live, and the train I take every morning to go to work. I took my dad to my local cigar store, which I think he throughly enjoyed. We tried some smokes and relaxed in the lounge there, and then got a bunch to take home.
My parents really wanted to experience taking a train somewhere on a day trip, so Insa and I looked around and booked tickets to Leipzig. Neither of us had been to Leipzig before, so we didn’t know what to expect, but we heard it was also a cool up and coming city in Germany. It is also only about an hour away by Inter City Express train, so we could do a day trip there and come back.
Much to our pleasant surprise, Johann Sebastian Bach, one of my mom’s favorite composers, lived, worked, and is buried in Leipzig. She was so excited when we found this out. We spent most of our visit exploring Bach museums and seeing the churches where he performed.
I enjoyed Leipzig a lot and thought it was a great city. The prices there are also fairly cheap. Housing seems even cheaper. Insa liked it too, but said we couldn’t move there because the accent would drive her crazy. That and I’d have an hour long commute to work every morning.
On Friday night my parents got to meet some of our friends as they came for a little dinner get-together over raclette. I mentioned raclette in a blog post at the start of the year. It’s a communal grill in the center of the table and everyone has their own little skillet. You grill things on top of the grill, then move them into your skillet and put special raclette cheese on top of it. You then place your skillet under the grill’s broiler to melt the cheese. My parents really enjoyed it and were wondering where they could get it in the States. Insa wasn’t really sure if they could get raclette in the US because it also requires raclette cheese. (Well you could use any other kind of cheese, but Insa says that’s heresy.)
The time few by and very quickly, it felt, we had to hug my parents good by and put them in a taxi to take them to the airport. We had a great time hosting them and I was really excited to show them my new life and this new place I call home. They’re already planning a return trip in the summer. I can’t wait, as I will be able to show them just how nice the Berlin summer can be.