When I told people I’d be starting my Eurotrip in Berlin, they almost uniformly asked “Why?” And not in a normal, curious way, but in a tone that suggested I’d said I was heading to Afghanistan for a beach vacation. And to be perfectly honest, I can’t really offer up a good explanation of why I decided to go to Berlin, I just really wanted to. In college, I was assigned the task of writing a 20-page research paper on German environmental policy, a task I balked at because my professor had explicitly forbidden me from having France. But throughout the course of my research, I became fascinated by post-Cold War Germany. A country that spent the better part of the 20th century either at war or recovering from war had taken it upon itself to devote significant time and energy to the creation of a greener country. My research indicated that it was part of a broader feeling that the country owed a kind of debt to the rest of the world, but to me, it also indicated a sort of pragmatism that I admired (and that my own home country frequently lacks).
Still, it never occurred to me to visit. I’m petrified of going to countries where I don’t speak the language. Yes, I know that many people speak English, but I don’t want to be the sort of American who travels to another country and expects everyone to speak my language. But last year, after a particularly eventful episode of The Amazing Race (yep) set in Bavaria, combined with assurances from many friends that Germans were friendlier about language skills than I might think, I decided it was time.
I planned to spend four days in Berlin and four days in Bavaria, where I’d visit a friend from college. I mastered “I’d like a beer, please,” and “Where are the bathrooms?” and prepared for Deutschland.
And let me tell you, I was pleasantly surprised.