On my last morning in Berlin, I decided to see the inside of the Reichstag Building. It’s free to anyone but you have to make an appointment early. I went in person and stood in line to make mine and thankfully they had spots open on the morning I planned on going. I had to show them my passport and they printed out a piece of paper for me to bring when I entered.
I woke up early that morning, checked out of the hostel, and took the train there. I put my backpack in a locker and grabbed a pastry to fill up my tank. The enormous glass dome roof stuck out over the surrounding area and I made my way calmly to it. The morning air was fresh and Berlin was the calmest I’d seen it.
There were other people waiting, also, all with papers in their hands. We formed a line inside a white tent where we went through a security check. We had our bags searched and went through metal detectors and were then led by a police officer up the steps and into the building. Someone else took us inside the elevator and we rode up to the dome.
We were all given audio guides and told that as we walked, the guide would play each track automatically. I walked around the bottom a bit first because there were display cases with flyers and documents related to the history of the building, including the time it was burnt down and the time Hitler was elected. They also had documents showing that Hitler became the only one on the ballot, establishing his dictatorship.
I tried walking up the ramp a bit and the audio guide started playing. However, I’m deathly afraid of heights and what I didn’t realize was that the ramp was one-way only. Meaning you had to walk all the way to the top before you could walk back down. I tried my best to keep walking up and around, but it was a huge glass room with mirrors looking down and reflecting how high up I was, so eventually I gave up. I probably looked silly but I walked back down the way I came and the audio stopped playing. I walked around on the first level a bit more, taking pictures with the German flag and admiring the building that I was too scared to continue looking at.
Eventually I left, went back to the station, collected my stuff from the locker, and tried to get a ticket to Wittenberg. I’d planned on visiting only for lunch, as it was on my way to Erfurt where I had a room reserved. Wittenberg is home to All Saints’ Church, the church where Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door. It also looked like a cute little German town, and I wanted to experience small-town German life a little since I’d mostly been in big cities during my trip.
It was a bit of an ordeal buying tickets to Wittenberg because I had to race to the platform to catch my train, as they aren’t very frequent. I did make it to Wittenberg, though, and the tiny train station there had machines where I checked the next few trains to Erfurt. I decided on a time I’d try to be back to the station, but didn’t buy my ticket yet. I had no clue where to go but I exited and just started walking. Thankfully, the town knows that tourists come for the history, so getting to the church was pretty straightforward.
I walked through the adorable city square past restaurants and shops that were slowly starting to open their doors. I found the church and went inside. A few people wandered around inside but I was really there to see the famous doors. It took some backtracking but eventually I found it. Other tourists were standing next to it getting their pictures taken. There were some guys from the U.S. and I offered to take their picture if they took mine and they were happy to do so. We swapped “Where are you from in the U.S.?” questions and wished each other good travels.
I found a little cafe with seats outdoors so I ordered a sandwich and a drink and enjoyed the calm of the sleepy town a little longer before trekking back to the train station. I was able to pretty much buy my ticket to Erfurt in German, but I was impressed by the girl in front of me who was with her family. They were obviously American but she was pretty fluent in German and bought her tickets with ease. I got some ice cream and a water at the convenience store inside the station, but the woman spoke to me in German and I just had to smile and nod because I wasn’t exactly sure what she said. I think she was commenting on how hot it was outside.
Unfortunately, I mistakingly bought sparkling water because in Germany, it’s hard to find water that it’s sparkling and the labels weren’t very clear to me on what was and what wasn’t bubbly. The ice cream hit the spot, though, and the station had decent wifi, so I called Junkyu and told him what I was up to. I missed him a lot the whole trip, but I was also having a lot of fun on my own.
In Erfurt, I got on the tram and made my way to St. Augustine’s Monastery – the place where Martin Luther became a monk. Luther also went to university in Erfurt and it’s a beautiful place to visit. I decided to do a mini-Luther pilgrimage mostly for the history and culture of Germany during that time. The monastery dates back to the 13th century, something that blows my mind. I also admire Martin Luther for standing up to the greedy Roman Catholics of the time. He knew they were scaring people into paying money to the church by telling poor people it would save their souls, and Luther thought this was criminal. He stood up for the justice of the common people, and I think that’s pretty cool.
The monastery accepts guests like a normal hotel, so I made reservations a few months before I embarked on my trip. I arrived and started speaking German and was able to get the run-down of the place entirely with my German skills. However, getting to my room proved impossible on my own. I got lost while looking for my room number even though I had a map, so I stopped a German lady who was obviously a guest and she also couldn’t figure it out. I thanked her for trying to help me and made my way back to the front desk.
One of the staff members started speaking in English to me and told me to follow her. She showed me my room and unlocked the door for me. I thanked her and she left, but I realized she hadn’t given me the wifi password. I left my stuff in the room and took my key. I walked through a lobby and found the wifi password written on a poster on the wall. I tried it and it worked, so I went back up to my room. However, I couldn’t open the door with my key. The key fit inside the lock but turning it did nothing. I started to panic and again had to go find the woman to open my door again.
She seemed annoyed and confused as to why I didn’t understand how locks worked. In my defense, I live in Korea where we don’t have keys. We have pin codes on our doors. Also, I’d been staying in nice hostels the whole time I was in Europe, and every hostel door lock is opened with a card key. I wasn’t used to locks. Also, this building was old! And the way she showed me to open the door was convoluted and insane. I had to insert the key, turn it all the way to the right, pull it towards me, and THEN push it open, all while holding the key to the right. Like anyone would be able to figure that out by themselves!
I was so frustrated and embarrassed that I actually had a little cry it out moment. I was hungry and tired from all the logistics of finding the Reichstag, buying train tickets in German, finding the church and the monastery, etc., so the door lock from the 13th century (probably not but let’s say it was) was the last straw. Solo travel is sometimes hard and tiring, and I was nervous and had been running around all day. I watched some Netflix and took a shower to calm myself down, but my stomach demanded that I set out for some dinner.
Walking around Erfurt was amazing. It was bigger than Wittenberg and much more lively, but still quaint and charming. There was a little bridge over a stream with ducks in it and little shops everywhere had cute displays in their windows. I passed by a place that boasted vegan chili on a chalkboard menu and my mouth watered. The place I looked up online ended up being full, so I turned around and went back to the chili place.
It turned out to be a cute little beer garden and it was still early so there weren’t many guests. I was able to read the menu and order in German, so I got myself a Radler (beer mixed with lemonade, a German summertime special) and ordered the vegan chili. In Korea, it’s hard to find chili or even the ingredients for it, so I was particularly excited. It was amazing – some of the best chili I’d ever had in my life – and I sat there enjoying the breeze and the conversations around me.
There was an older German couple sitting at the table in front of me and they had a guidebook on Erfurt and were talking about what to do next. I surprised myself by striking up a conversation with them. They were both really nice and I asked them if they were from Erfurt or just visiting. They said they were visiting and had a son who lived nearby. I explained that I was on a Europe trip and was in Germany to visit some family. They told me my German was good and they spoke a little English! They were curious about me living in Korea and being a teacher, and they wished me a good trip. It was a magical experience speaking a language I’d been learning with native speakers really for the first time I’d been in Germany (not counting ticket takers) and it was the highlight of my day, perhaps even my whole trip until then!
I made my way back to my room where I had a gorgeous view of the gardens. I finally had a private room all to myself and didn’t have to worry about waking anyone up or being woken up by someone else. I was totally free. The next morning, I checked out and took the train to Mering, where my blood relatives were waiting for me!