Being the only city on this trip I've actually been to before, seeing Berlin again from the air during the descent gave me a feeling of comfort and familiarity. It also reminded me that most European cities eschew the skyscrapers of North America, instead favoring their heritage of shorter buildings. It makes it easier to see throughout the whole city, certainly, with multiple vantage points that seem to go on forever.
Once off the plane and on public transportation, Berlin is largely as I recall: bustling but efficient, clean yet lively. There's so many people here that the metro services over 170 different stops; the buses and trains always seemed packed. And yet, out on the streets, aside from the tourist areas during peak hours, it never really feels that crowded.
The bus from the airport teases the popular sites: in particular, the Reichstag seems to be poking its head out from across the river. Alexanderplatz is our transfer, and I immediately recognize it as the location of a street fair Joe and I stumbled upon during my previous trip.
We stayed in this AirBnB place on Kollwitzstraße, a street filled with eclectic shops and people. Not to mention dogs. Stray dogs that no one seems bothered by, just scrounging and sniffing each other. So the neighborhood felt decidely un-touristy, for which I am grateful. It was a chance to see how Berlin worked outside of all the areas I was before.
After getting settled, the first day in country consisted of a lot of walking around the central area. The outside of the Reichstag - you now need a (free) appointment made in advance to go inside, the Brandenberg Gate, the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, and everything else in that walkable area made the list.
Food for the day consisted of currywurst in Potsdamer Platz, a dish I was overly excited to have again, although it didn't quite live up to my expectations. Upon returning to our neighborhood we ventured inside a small restaurant entitled Maison Courage (House of Courage for those not up on their French) and there enjoyed some hearty German beers and a wonderful apple strudel for dessert.
Overall it was a great re-introduction to Berlin, to Germany, and even to Europe in general.