Hamburger Happy in Hamburg

In Hamburg, I ate the most delicious hamburger, because Hamburg is the amazing city where the hamburger was invented! And in the case you don’t know me at all, hamburgers (cheeseburgers to be exact) are my favorite food category in the entire world. It’s actually shocking to most that I have gone almost two months without a burger. So clearly, I was giddy excited for Hamburg like a kid on Christmas morning! We stayed in the second largest city in Germany for one night only, the reason being that the train ride from Berlin to Copenhagen, Denmark was excruciatingly long. So we wanted to break up the tiring train ride (7 hours total) by making a pit stop in an interesting city between the two. Hamburg being our destination of choice. Hamburgers being a big part of that decision. Aside from the delicious burgers, Hamburg was a really lovely city! Being situated on a lake and combining the vibe of small town meets big city made it a really pleasant place to spend the night!

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We arrived by fast train from Berlin early Monday afternoon. Our hotel was located on a quaint street filled with local restaurants, shops and markets. It reminded me of a small, yet vibrant town street in Wisconsin… Almost like a Door County vibe, if you’re lucky enough to know what that means 🙂 The Design Hotel we stayed at, The George, overlooked the water and was hugged by adorable boutiques and cafés. We walked from the train station to the hotel, dropped off our bags, and set out to find the best burger.

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A few of the famous burger joints were closed until late at night and weren’t centrally located to where we were staying, but we did stumble upon one that we had read about. Jim Block – supposedly known for having one of the most amazing burgers. The overall experience reminded me a lot of a quick custard place where you order your food, sit, and then wait for your number to be called. Almost like a fast food chain but not as casual as McDonalds (reference: Kopps or Shake Shack for comparisons). It’s funny because Europeans eat their burgers using a knife and fork. If you pick up the burger with your own two hands, the way us Americans do, you get a lot of funny looks (and not the good kind of funny). So Mike and I politely sat at our little booth, sipped our colas, and properly ate our burgers with a full set of utensils. It didn’t feel natural in the least, and I was a little annoyed because this was the type of burger that looked perfect to pick up and eat. Nevertheless, it was fantastic. If I challenged myself hard enough and was OK with feeling uncomfortably full with a not-so-attractive belly for the rest of the day, I could have easily eaten two!

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On our walk back towards the hotel down the cute street with all the local restaurants and businesses, we happened upon a stationary/gift shop that displayed a few bottles of wine in the window. Curious as to what this was all about and eager to find a bottle of wine to bring back to our hotel room to drink together and relax, we walked in. For those who don’t know me, I love stationary and all things paper related. If I see an establishment filled with greeting cards, I run towards it. In fact, when I was little, it was a dream of mine to create my own greeting card line for Hallmark (still a secret dream, but maybe not for Hallmark, for something more independent!). With a sore eye for local paper stores, I was excited to browse this hidden treasure. Little did we know, the back of the shop was not filled with anything paper related. It was filled with glass gallons upon gallons of local liquors! See image below. My husband and I stood there in amazement. Jaws dropped. The sweet old lady who owned the gift shop offered us a taste! We ended up hanging out in the back of the shop for a bit longer than expected – tasting all different kinds of schnapps, desert wines and even balsamic vinaigrettes! It was so much fun! We each picked our favorite liquor out (my husband choosing a strong schnapps and me choosing a sweet desert wine) and filled up a small glass jar to take with us. We bought a bottle of wine and went back to the hotel with happy hearts.

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It is so nice to go somewhere for a night and just relax. With no agenda of museums or sights to see, it is really refreshing to be able to just sit around in our pajamas and enjoy each other’s company over a bottle of wine and TV. We don’t get too many days like this, our only other time actually doing this was in Innsbruck. So it was really nice. Taking in the peace and quiet, we decided to just dine at the hotel that night and not make a fuss about dinner reservations or getting ready. It was a beautiful evening!

Tuesday morning we boarded the fast train/ferry to Copenhagen. Where we might never return… Because Copenhagen is the best place ever and we are contemplating over-nighting our dog, Calvin, and starting a healthy Danish life together there. Stay tuned to find out whether or not we leave the perfect (literally perfect) city! Until then, Bon voyage!

Berlin The Beautiful

In Berlin, I ate more sausages… Because when in Germany, right?! Really though, aside from the sausage, I ate like I would have on a typical weekend in Philadelphia! It was quite refreshing. As I mentioned in my latest blog post about Prague… I had no idea what to expect of Berlin as I have heard so many mixed reviews. So I was excited to form my own opinion! Drum roll, please………… I LOVED BERLIN. I thought it was the coolest city! I was so captivated by its history and eeriness, and found such beauty in the mix-matched architecture. So much of Berlin being destroyed and bombed in the war, it’s hard to believe that we are now currently in year 2014 and the city is still rebuilding. I found it extremely fascinating to see the contrast between old and new. For example: there were brand new modern buildings next to super old semi-distressed buildings with bullet holes embedded in their facades next to crumbled down buildings that are still untouched… but will eventually be restored. It was a feeling I had never felt before. One you can’t feel learning about what happened in text books. You have to be there to feel the goosebumps.

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We arrived by fast train late Friday afternoon from Prague – Berlin being my mother-in-laws final destination with us until she departed back to the midwest on Monday morning. We hopped off the train into the incredibly modern station and found a cab to escort us to our hotel. We stayed in a beautiful Rocco Forte hotel located in a gorgeous historic building – Hotel De Rome. Everything about it was perfect. The location, the rooms, the luxury and the history couldn’t have been better. Located right across from the opera house, a gorgeous cathedral, and the square at the University where the Nazi’s burned thousands of books during that era. We dropped off our bags and headed out the front doors to explore the city. My husband lead us on a two hour walking tour he had read about of all things interesting – passing the Jewish Cemetery, Brandenburg Gate, Checkpoint Charlie and the Berlin Wall… Just to get to know the city and all its different areas. We ended our tour at the hotel bar with some fun summer cocktails in hand, as the weather was beautiful! That night we dined at a trendy Thai restaurant our hotel concierge recommended (Goodtime) and loved it! It was nice to infuse some Thai cuisine into our diets as we haven’t had it since we’ve been in Europe. And we love Thai food!

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On Saturday morning we made our way to the National History Museum of Germany (similar to the Smithsonian Museum in Washington DC, but instead of American history, it was all German history!). On our walk there, we happened upon a really neat outdoor art fair that we spent some time at. The fair featured all local artists which was really fun to see! The museum was huge, it took us a good three hours to walk through the entire thing, my favorite part being the World War II exhibit located on the entire bottom floor of the building. It was really intriguing being able to see actual photographs, letters, uniforms, newspaper clippings, and other artifacts from the war. This was the moment it hit me that I was in the center of the Nazi’s capital from a terrible war that happened not too long ago. It was a super eerie feeling that made me completely speechless. After embedding so much information from German history into our brains, we sat outside and enjoyed the weather over a big lunch. It was quite a busy Saturday in Berlin – there was some kind of big bicycle race going on, and on top of that, there was a huge soccer game happening there that night – Munich vs. Dortmund. Causing the city to be packed with lots of cyclists, family’s, soccer fans and team supporters…. Munchers, to be exact (Munchers: extremely happy Munich locals who drink an obscene amount of beer, sing a lot of loud songs, and act ridiculously jolly all the time). It was indeed an eventful day in Berlin!

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The one thing I was so excited to see while in Berlin was the Berlin Wall, so after lunch we headed over in that direction. We stopped at Checkpoint Charlie first, of course, and then spent a good amount of time at the Wall. It was cool. And a lot lower in height than I was expecting! I had all these expectations of it being a lot taller than it actually was, but clearly I was wrong. In front of the Wall was a timeline outlining its significance and vital facts about the War, which was really interesting. It was also interesting to read all the graffiti that has been sprayed on the wall over the years. There was even a birthday shoutout form 1970… Pretty awesome! I learned that not all of the graffiti was still in tact though, a lot of it was removed due to inappropriate graphics from the war and language that wasn’t necessary for the public to see. Art (in this case, street art) can teach you so much about time periods and happenings, and I have really enjoyed gazing at all the graffiti I’ve been lucky enough to encounter these past couple of weeks.

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In case you were unaware, a lot of European cities have a habit of shutting down on Sundays. Shops, groceries stores, some restaurants (not all)…. Leaving Sundays perfect for parks, sight seeing and museums. Since Sunday was going to be our last full day in Berlin, we thought it might be smart to graze the local shops on Saturday late afternoon before dinner. Our concierge told us about a really cool area in Berlin that is known for neighborhood boutiques and local designers, which is right up my ally. So we ventured in that direction and shopped local on a cute street that reminded me a lot of South Street in Philadelphia, but a little hipper and more upscale. There was a Berlin designer by the name of LaLa that had the most beautiful assortment of colorful scarves and a selection of really cute and quirky t-shirts! Needless to say, we had a lot of fun there! That night we dined at a very nice Italian restaurant by the name of Malatesta. We sipped on negroni’s and limoncello while indulging in giant plates of pasta. It was spectacular. After spending three straight weeks in Italy the first half of April, eating pasta and pizza for breakfast, lunch and dinner got old real fast…. but now that we have more of a variety of food groups mixed back into our diets, a big plate of pasta every once in a while is perfection! 🙂

Sunday morning was cold and gloomy with some pretty serious rain showers. And I wasn’t feeling well. Straight traveling for a month and a half now, hopping from train to train, hotel to hotel, museum to museum, finally caught up with me and I needed a day of rest. I felt a bug fast approaching and I didn’t want to get seriously sick while in an unfamiliar European city. So I stayed in bed all morning while my husband and his mom spent some quality time together at the Pergamon Museum – located on Berlin’s Museum Island, which is a well known section of the city filled with monumental museums. They both said the museum was amazing, which made me feel really left out. Not knowing just how popular this museum actually was, my husband bought tickets online the night before just to make things a bit easier the next morning. Thank goodness he did this!Because the line for tickets had over a three hour wait! Moral of the story — whenever you can, reserve tickets in advance, because you never know just how long these ticket lines are going to be… And you don’t want to be standing in the rain for three hours. My husband and mother-in-law rolled right in and had a great time looking at impressive ancient alters and artifacts. While I laid in bed and felt sorry for myself.

After their wonderful time at the museum, my husband came to check on me. Feeing so miserably left out, I decided to throw some mascara on, rally, and go to the beer hall with him and Mama K. Both of them ordering large German beers while I sipped on sparkling water and tea. A little sad I couldn’t partake in the beer drinking, I was just so happy to be in their company again! That night we made dinner reservations at a traditional yet modern German restaurant that sat in the same neighborhood as all the cool local shops – Alpenstueck. But before heading to dinner, we had tickets to tour the Reichstag building – Which is the glass-domed building you can’t miss just west of the Brandenburg Gate. This is where Hitler gained power and also where the Soviet’s raised their flag to signal Nazi Germany’s defeat. Some pretty important history took place here and in 1999 it was refurbished by adding the glass dome that attracts tons of tourists (I read close to 10,000 visitors a day!!). The dome was made for walking along the internal spiral walkway, also known as the beehive, offering million dollar views of the city and a glimpse at what Berlin used to be and what it has turned into today. After spiraling the beehive, we walked through Berlin’s gorgeous park, similar to New York City’s Central Park, and then went to dinner. As it was one of my final nights in Germany, I ordered traditional German schnitzel and sipped on a German desert wine after dinner.

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That night was a bit sad as Mike and I had to say goodbye to my mother-in-law. She had an early flight out of Berlin to Chicago Monday morning and we weren’t going to see her until we returned to the States in July. It was a real treat having her join us for 12 days and we were really going to miss her company! While she had a flight to catch, Mike and I had an early train to catch. We were Hamburg bound for some real, traditional hamburgers! As Hamburg, Germany, was where the hamburger was invented 🙂

Berlin’s diversity and culture made it a city I will never forget. And the thing that I liked most about the German capital, was the way it has reinvented itself from its numbing history. Clearly the world is catching on to this too. I am glad we have another night in Germany, I really love it here! Stay tuned for tales on hamburgers and the city that sits on the lake.