Because airfare is so incredibly cheap between European cities, my host parents got me a ticket to Berlin for my birthday. I was incredibly excited about visiting the capital. It's about a 6 hour car ride, so I wasn't sure I would get to visit until they gave me this plane ticket. I immediately started making a list of all of the sites I wanted to see. I had 11 hours in the city, and I needed to make them count.
Google Maps is an incredible tool. Once I picked my sites, I mapped out my route. Between the bus, trams and subway, I planned to visit Checkpoint Charlie, Gendarmenmarkt, Art Hall, Berliner Dom, Hackesche Hoefe, Bundestag, Brandenburger Tor (Brandenburg Gate), Siegessauele, Kaiser Wilhelm Kirche, KaDeWe, Schloss Charlottenburg, and of course, Starbucks.
As the day of my trip got closer, I found myself becoming more and more nervous. I’ve traveled quite a bit in my short 16 years, so I was a little unsure why I was so nervous. My host mother was flying with me to Berlin for work so it couldn’t be the flight. Finding someone who speaks English in Germany is very easy, and by now I’m fluent enough that people ask me if I speak English. The only reason I could think that I might be nervous was the transportation. I take the bus every day to and from school, and at times I take the tram around our city. The only thing our city does not have is a subway, but I’ve taken a subway with my parents. I just could not figure out why I was so nervous.
The nervousness worked in my favor because waking up at 4:00 a.m. to catch our flight was absolutely no problem. We had a nice and easy flight to Berlin, and as I exited the subway for my first stop, I turned around to find myself right in front of Starbucks. It was a great sign that immediately put me at ease. As I sipped my Lebkuchen latte, my new favorite, I watched the sun come up over Checkpoint Charlie. I tried to picture the Berlin wall and imagine what it must have been like to have the city segregated. The concept seemed so foreign that I just couldn’t begin to picture it so I started towards my next destination, the Gendarmenmarkt.
The Gendarmenmarkt was one tram stop up and then a short walk. The square had been set up for a Weihnachtsmarkt. Even though it was early in the morning, the Christmasmarket was so beautiful. There was a wooden fence encompassing the market, and there were little wooden cabins filled with filled with handmade crafts and sweets. Garland wrapped the buildings and Christmas lights hung everywhere.
After viewing the Französischer Dom (French Church), the Deutscher Dom (German Church) and the Konzerthaus (concert hall), which were all quite impressive, I moved on to the Berliner Dom (Berlin Cathedral). After that, I took the tram to Hackesche Höfe, a mall with a food and craft market. While there, I met lady from London who was selling bamboo speakers. It was nice to talk to her even though it was about a market that sells all hand-made, organic stuff.
Several more stops and some incredible architecture later, I met back up with my host mom for the journey home. As we boarded the plane I realized that my nervousness wasn’t really fear per se as much as a mixture of excitement and anxiety about doing something new and on my own. I may only be 16, but I navigated a major city using my second language and did it successfully. I learned so much in planning the trip and in executing my plan. I will forever be richer for these experiences.
This program was spectacular. The only thing I wish was that it could have been longer!