Prague & Berlin: Overdressed between Full Moon and Cold War.

January 5, 2020

Reichstag Building Berlin, travel Berlin, Berlin at Christmas
My love and I in front of the Reichstag Building

Prague. I've been here once before, a hundred years ago. When hell was frozen over and I went to high school. The final trip before graduation. I do remember three things: The escalators of the subway were incredibly long and fast. There were a bunch of old houses in downtown where an 18-year-old couldn't care less for. Absinthe kills.


My boyfriend and I are on a train for six hours to get from Budapest to Prague. The train compartments are divided into small cabins. Besides the window a couple is sitting that obviously has swallowed some ice cubes, because they do not talk to each other at all. Next to them a 16-year-old girl with her mother, whose arm is entirely covered with a whole bunch fading star tattoos.

Seriously, I would prefer my Dad having an instagram account rather than having such lousy tattoos.

The golden afternoon sun is shining through the curtains into my face. My fiance puts his arms around me and starts reading. Everything feels peaceful. I close my eyes for a while.


We are on a rail trip across Eastern Europe. We did already hang upside down from the evening sky of Vienna and wandererd through the misty alleys of Budapest. The second part of our trip takes us to Prague and Berlin. To astronomical clocks, dancing houses, glass domes and the wall that once divided Germany into two countries. At a time when Germans and Americans were not yet kissing in Hungarian trains by confusing star-tattooed mothers.

It was dark and the moon did shine brightly

The Old Town of Prague, architecture Prague
The colorful buildings of downtown Prague
It's pitch black as we tumble out of the central station in Prague. My suitcase lets itself be dragged over the cobblestone pavement with slight reluctance. Then I turn around the corner and see the pale full moon over the alley with the historic white facades. A leafless tree is blowing its scrawny branches into the scenery like a soundless wind chime. Shadows on the ground and behind the street lights.
Traveling is not just chasing sights that you have stolen from TripAdvisor. It is the ability to see moods, lights, colors and unique moments - not only with your eyes - and to take the time to let them happen.
Right behind us, on the opposite side of the Vltava River, lays Prague Castle, the largest ancient castle complex in the world. But at this moment nothing is more captivating than the round and perfect moon over the quiet and Christmassy street in the middle of the majestic Old Town of Prague.
In the evening we sit in a small, cream-coloured café that's decorated with pallet tables, fir branches and lanterns. On the wall a black slate. Inscribed with the "house rules": Life is short. Break the law. Forgive quickly. Kiss slowly. Love honestly. Laugh uninhibitedly. And have no regrets.
I'm looking at my boyfriend. He looks at me. „Agreed," he says.
"Agreed," I say.

The Astronomical Clock with Astronimical Ignorance

The Astronomical Clock of Prague, Visit Prague, Sights in Prague
The Astronomical Clock of Prague
"Prague is like a blackout," I say by looking at the light blue, yellow and pink facades of the beautiful houses around the Old Town Square. My mouth is so wide open in admiration that I inhale snowflakes. „I don't remember squat, but it was obviously really good."
I would like to show my boyfriend the Astronomical Clock, which dates back to 1410 and is a national cultural monument. At first I lead him to the completely wrong side of the square.
"Don't worry," he says kindly, while I have to admit that I have not the slightest idea where the fascinating clock is. It does not only show the normal time, but also twilight phases, sidereal time, the moon position, Bohemian hours and zodiac times.
"I forgive you. You were drunk all the time on your graduation trip."
"Not at 10 a.m. when we had a guided tour!" I protest. „But we made fun of the guide and the stupid red umbrella she was holding up all the time."
After a while we get stuck in a crowd. I look up. And there's the clock. Which suddenly strikes eleven, while a skeleton starts to ring a bell at the tower. „Uh, yes. This is the famous carillon that you can hear every full hour", I philosophize around. „That's what I wanted to show you!"
200 Chinese people take a seven-hour-video with their phones and my boyfriend is impressed by the clock. Appearing confident without any real knowledge - something that worked well for me even in high school. My profile in the yearbook said "Sarah can make DNA from water". I leave the interpretation of this to you.

Music magic on the Charles Bridge in Prague

The skyline of Prague, Rail Trip Eastern Europe
Beautiful Charles Bridge - beautiful skyline of Prague

We walk across the Charles Bridge with its massive stone arches.

„This is the Charles Bridge of Prague. Not the one of Budapest," I explain very seriously, as several seagulls are rising picturesquely from the banks of the Vltava River and circle over Prague Castle.

"Ah, shut up," my boyfriend grumps with a smile. He had been very disappointed in Budapest that the Charles Bridge looked "so very different" from the pictures he had seen.

A Czech band plays right on the bridge. It is a group of five men, bundled up in thick, brown jackets and chunky winter shoes to stand the arctic temperatures. But they are obviously having fun. With a double bass, a ukulele and a clarinet. We stop for a while and enjoy the very danceable music while my nose slowly freezes, breaks off and is blown in small shards from the bridge into the water.

My boyfriend is buying a CD. He collects music from locals from all over the world. In this way, we already have a fascinating playlist for all of our road trips.

A thousand coins and a Dancing Couple

The Dancing House of Prague, the weirdest architecture in the world
The Dancing House of Prague

Before we can enter the area around St. Vitus Cathedral we have to go through a security checkpoint.

My boyfriend has two and a half hundredweight of coins in his pockets. And he has to unpack them all. German Euros, Hungarian Forints, Czech Korunas and a few Dollars. „You're a mess!", I say before I mosey through the detector which immediately starts to beep. The security man, who is about six feet tall and works for the Russian mafia at night, looks at me stiffly and walkes around me with a scanner for quite a while. In the end it's just a metal button on my jacket. "Come, my mess!" my boyfriend says and pulls me towards cathedral.

The cathedral is impressive but nothing compared to Notre Dame in Paris or the Cathedral Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence.


From Prague Castle we walk back down to the river and to the Dancing House. My feet are as frozen as Captain Iglo's fish fingers. It is actually only an office building, but with the warped glass facade it looks like a flamenco dancer in the wind. Indeed, the building is inspired by a famous dance and film couple. The stone tower stands for Fred Astaire and the glass tower for his partner Ginger Rogers.

As it gets dark, we enter the cosy Christmas market in the old town, where numerous colourful lights are reflecting in the high windows of the fairytale-looking houses.

Onward journey to Berlin: an evening at the Brandenburg Gate

Christmas in Berlin, Christmas Markets Germany
The Brandenburg Gate at Christmas

"This is the Reichstag Building!" I yell excitedly and wave with both arms in front of the brightly lit building. „It's like the Capitol in Washington."

"The only difference is that there is no idiot sitting in it like in the Capitol in Washington," my boyfriend remarks.

We are on our last stop of our trip. Berlin. It's dark. We can walk from the hotel to the Brandenburg Gate. No, we do not reside at the fancy Hotel Adlon where politicians and actors use to stay overnight. We just like to walk like mad.

There is a Christmas tree in front of the Brandenburg Gate. Somehow I always chose to go to Berlin when it's freezing cold.

"The last two times I was in Berlin, I was so nutso to walk the whole distance from the Brandenburg Gate to the Victory Column!" I say. „The entire Street of June the 17th!"

"What happened on June the 17th?" my boyfriend asks.

"Ehm. A riot," I say. „Prague Spring. Nah, wait, that doesn't sound quite right. Weren't we going to have dinner? I suddenly got very hungry!"

History in a Box

Visit Reichstag in Berlin, climb up the dome, architecture Berlin
The Dome of the Reichstag Building

Luckily it is pouring so hard on the next day that we have to go to see the BlackBox Cold War at Checkpoint Charlie. A somewhat inconspicuous museum in a small and improvised-looking die, which presents the time around the construction of The Wall until the era after the The Wall came down. They did a great job on this multimedial and extremely exciting exhibition.

„Oh look," I say and point to a blackboard. „June the 17th. Famous uprising in the GDR. I told you so!"

Fortunately, my boyfriend is too fascinated by Kennedy's speech in Berlin from 1963, which is explained on a large poster, to give my nonsense any more attention.

"It's so funny how Kennedy tries to say in German that he is a Berliner," I say.

"Why?" my boyfriend and steps forward to the German words: "Everyone in the USA knows Isch bin ein Bearleener!" he says very serious. I'm laughing silently. He sounds just like Kennedy with his cute American accent.

By the way, the exhibition is in German and English, which is really nice if you are traveling with an international mate.


For the evening we have a reservation for climbing up the Reichstag Dome.

"Do you have all your pennies together?" I ask my fiance at the security checkpoint. But this time it is not even beeping. We are super prepared! That's why we have chosen the perfect time slot for sunset weeks ago.

At the top of the glass dome the raindrops drip down the facade. It's cold because the dome is open at the top and at the bottom. But there is a nice self-guided tour where you can learn about the eventful past of the Reichstag, including the big Reichstag Fire in 1933, the Wrapped Reichstag by the artist Christo and the German reunification.

A moving and walkable Memorial

The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin, WW2 Memorials Germany
The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin

On our last day we finally have sunshine. I set up a huge program because I love Berlin. And there is still so much to see in the capital of Germany that I want to show my boyfriend.

We ride to the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church with its ruined bell tower and impressive bullet holes from WW2. They never fixed it because it should remind us of the horrors of war.

Then we go to the Victory Column. From there we seriously walk the entire Street of June the 17th up towards the Brandenburg Gate and the massive Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe.

The memorial is not just another Bill on a horse with moss on his back and pigeon shit on his head. It is a monument to walk through. To feel. To experience. 2711 concrete blocks are spread over 204,514 square foot. Next to the road they are not higher than your ankle. In the center of the site they become outstandingly huge. Covering the blue sky. Narrow. Heavy. It's like they're squeezing your heart.

Drying drops of water run slowly down the stone since it had rained in the morning. It almost looks like the concrete blocks are weeping silently for all the murdered Jews throughout Europe in Second World War.

Overdressed at the Berlin State Opera

Berlin State Opera, Salome, classical music in Germany, Opera in Berlin
An evening at the Opera

After a detour to the alternative quarter of Kreuzberg, where a colorful Einstein with blue hair grinned at us from a tattered wall, we walk along the East Side Gallery. It is an open air gallery with a lot of fascinating murals which were painted on the 4,318 ft long remnant of The Wall.

After sunset we freeze our butts off in the guise of an act of state.

"You must have seen an opera once in your life," my boyfriend said last summer in Albuquerque when we talked about his first visit to the opera. I am always open-minded and curious. So he gave me tickets for the Berlin State Opera for Christmas.

We hurry through an icy night with inhuman temperatures. Dressed only in a suit and a dress. My boyfriend thinks it's "nice and breezy" but he's a crazy cowboy from Wyoming, where it's minus 4F  in the winter. We will be totally underdressed and displaced, because everyone else will show up in golden robes for 5,000 bucks. I feel a bit uncomfortable.


But when we finally enter the huge hall with the red velvet seats, the incredibly high ceiling and the golden decorations, I almost have the feeling that we are overdressed. In front of us sits a guy in sneakers and a tennis shirt. Next to us a woman in jeans. We are definitely displaced. Ha ha.

The performance is terrific. We see Salome by Richard Strauss. The singers are fabulous and the interpretation is captivating.

Travel is the ability to see moods, lights, colors and unique moments - not only with the eyes. Travel means always being on the road with your heart and mind wide open. What a trip!


Find the first part of our rail trip through Eastern Europe in my report Vienna & Budapest: Headfirst into the Old World.

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