How I Spent Christmas In Berlin : Part III

On our third day, we finally had time to get some breakfast before we began wandering the city. We booked another one of Sandemans‘ walking tours. But this time it wasn’t free and it was a trip to a concentration camp. It was quite an odd thing to be visiting during the holidays but it had to be done.

DAY 3 | Concentration Camp

Sachsenhausen concentration camp is actually in the outskirts of Berlin so we had to buy ABC train tickets (it’s cheaper if you buy as a group of up to 5 people). Our tour guide, George, hopped on the train with us and instructed us on which station to get off. Half an hour later, we arrived in the town centre of Oranienburg. A bus took us to the camp and then we started the 6-hour tour.

Oranienburg, the neighbourhood just outside the Sachsenhausen

Camp’s layout

George giving us an overview of the camp

Tower A which houses the SS camp administration

ARBEIT MACHT FREI, meaning Work sets you free, was the slogan of the Nazi’s concentration camps. Prisoners were led to believe that if they worked hard enough, they could eventually be freed. Subtext: Work yourself to death.

Prisoners were not allowed to step on the neutral zone. One time, a guard threw the hat of a prisoner to that zone and ordered him to go pick it up. Sophie’s choice: Step on the neutral zone to do it and get shot or not obey orders and get shot for not wearing complete uniform.

Some of them had to test newly-manufactured shoes, running and marching all day on this rocky track. Sometimes even while carrying 20 kilograms of sand.

Homosexuals, and even those only suspected to be, were also persecuted. They were further tortured to reveal the names of other homosexuals.

The original barracks were torn down but they recreated two.

This is where they had to wash themselves in the morning. Sometimes even up to 400 men squeezed in.

They slept in overcrowded rooms of three-tiered bunk beds.

Many prisoners died from medical experiments conducted in the camp. Of those who survived, many would have serious health problems or deformities.

When the Soviets arrived, this monument was erected to honor the Soviet prisoners of war.

If there’s a Tower A, there’s a Station Z, cynically named to represent the prisoners’ final station. It was both a crematorium and an extermination site. All we can see now are just ruins but you can still see the remains of the furnaces used to cremate the bodies.

I’ve always had a weird fascination about this part of world history. It affects me so much that I even have had recurring dreams about being chased by the Nazi and hiding from them. And this part of our Berlin visit was a very sobering experience. This camp surely is a stark reminder of what can happen when inhumanity gets out of hand.

DAY 4 | “Museum-hopping”

We didn’t have a solid plan for Day 4 since the rest of my friends wanted to go to Potsdam to meet a friend. The boyfriend and I decided to go museum-hopping but realized that it was a Monday so most of them were closed except Pergamon Museum and Topography of Terror.

Nice stroll on our way to museum island

Waiting in line for the tickets was a bummer. It took us nearly two hours to get inside and the cold wind outside made it worse. Of course you can save yourself some hassle and buy the tickets in advance but I guess we didn’t think it through enough. Regular ticket price is 12€ and half for students and senior citizens. The audio guide is free and you can choose from English, Spanish German and French. There were lockers available to leave your stuff since coats and bags were not allowed.

It was the boyfriend who insisted on going to this museum because he wanted to see the Ishtar gate and other old world antiquities. I for one went with low expectations. I thought it would be your usual history museum with dusty artefacts but Pergamon did not disappoint. They had collections of huge statues of Assyrian kings and lions, facades and doors of the Babylonian empire and even Islamic carpets and ceramics.

We were going to see the East Side Gallery, a section of the remains of the Berlin wall with a lot of graffiti art but it was already dark outside at 5 PM. We google mapped our way to Topography of Terror, a museum where the Gestapo and SS headquarters used to stand. Entrance to the museum is free for all and I highly recommend it to folks who are interested in this part of Germany’s history. This museum aims to educate people about how life was under the Nazi regime. It paints a comprehensive picture of Hitler and the Nazi’s rise and fall. On the other side, it also highlights their inhumane treatment towards the Jews and other persecuted members of society. It’s reading-intensive but also with lots of exclusive photos of different aspects of life during this era. Most of them were heart-wrenching and distressing.

Berlin has been utterly wonderful and history-wise, one of my favourites. This city played a big role on shaping world history and evidence can be seen anywhere you look. It has a very intriguing and dark past and has always been on the frontline – from the First and Second world war all the way through the Cold War and as a 20th century war history enthusiast, it has a special place in my heart. The way the Germans confront their past is just admirable – they built memorials and museums to remind their fellows Germans and everybody else in the world of the mistakes so as not to repeat them.

How I Spent Christmas In Berlin : Part II

We got a fairly good first night‘s sleep in our hostel even though it wasn’t the most comfortable bed I’ve slept in. We put on our full winter battle gear and away we went to wander the streets of Berlin.

DAY 2 | Walking Tour & Reichstag Building

My friend booked us a free walking tour with Sandemans New Berlin for our second day in Berlin. I highly recommend taking 2.5 hours off your trip to get to know the city, learn its history and understand why is it how it is now.

Our meeting place was the Brandenburg Gate, the last surviving one in Berlin. This famous landmark actually has a very interesting history.

The Quadriga, the sculpture at the top, was once seized by Napoleon and taken to Paris as a trophy. It was later returned after his defeat and was redesigned with an Iron Cross. In the 1930s, it was used as one of Nazi Party‘s symbols. Now, it is a symbol of freedom, solidarity, and union of two separated parts of Berlin.

We were divided into groups of around 30 and we went with the Aussie tour guide, Lucy. She fell in love with Berlin and decided to move there and now works as a full-time tour guide. That’s her feet by the way, one foot on East Berlin and one on West Berlin. #twoplacesatonce

We visited the parking lot where Hitler’s underground bunker used to be. It was actually surreal to be standing where one of the world’s most evil regime used to operate. But life goes on. Now there are lots of apartments built around the area. They closed the bunker off though due to the possibility of attracting Neo-Nazis.

During the 15-minute break, we went to a nearby food stand where we met currywurst, this modest dish of sliced sausage bathed in a rich curry-ketchup sauce.

My favourite spot in our walking tour might be the Holocaust Memorial. I think it’s a beautifully-designed, thought-provoking exhibit in memory of the murdered jews under Hitler’s regime. There were no information or signage around it. It was all left to interpretation. I wanted to stay longer and experience this concrete maze but we were only given 10 minutes.

Lucy told us both incredible and depressing Berlin Wall stories while we stood in front of it. She told us about how people tried to climb over the wall and how some people, who surely knew their Greek mythology, managed to cross the borders by hiding in a hollow cow.

The tour lasted about two and a half hours. It was free and the guides let us tip how much we thought it was worth. Well, she did a ruddy good job of keeping us entertained and making sure nobody got left out. (I don’t know if she was just fake-counting, though).

Souvenir shopping while waiting for Reichstag Building 4 PM appointment.

Posing hard for those new profile pictures.

And we just couldn’t get enough of currywursts.

The Reichstag is home to the Bundestag, or the German Parliament. It was great that the Reichstag dome is open for public but they do have airport-level kind of security. This seemingly old facade is actually very modern and even quite futuristic inside. The reference to the landmarks outside the building would have been best seen on a daytime visit.

Although we finished touring the Reichstag at around 6 PM, it already seemed really late and the grandma inside of me wanted to go back to the hostel to take off my shoes and connect to the interwebs. It was a 20-minute walk to go back and my legs and feet were already having their lowest moment. When we finally got to the hostel and actually got to eat something, I regained the energy to reflect on how interesting Berlin’s history is and how I was weirdly excited to go to a concentration camp the following day until exhaustion set in and then I went out like a light.

How I Spent Christmas In Berlin : Part I

My 2015 travel bucket list included “spend Christmas in Germany or Austria” and hell yes I just ticked it off. We flew to Berlin from Málaga on Christmas day, just after having a legit Spanish nochebuena the night before. We, auxiliares, get a the same vacation as the students and teachers so we had to take advantage of this two-week break to travel at least to two countries in Europe.

It was a trip of many firsts: first time to spend Christmas without my family, first time to go to another European country besides Spain, first time to go on a trip with my friends and my boyfriend, the list could go on. It goes without saying that this was one of my most unforgettable trips so far. But it wouldn’t have gone as smoothly and as fun if it weren’t for the pre-trip planning.


  1. Picking a destination – I mostly googled “Best European Countries To Visit on Christmas” and about 90% of the blogs I’ve seen had Germany and Austria in it. We wanted to go to Paris too so we decided to celebrate the New Year there because wouldn’t it be just darn fancy.
  2. Google Flights/Skyscanner – We scoured dozens of sites to get a sweet deal and I find these two the ones with the cheapest flights. Like seasoned travellers, we bought our flights almost 3 months ahead and in total, the multi-city flights only cost us 200 euros each. There are lots of low-budget airlines here in Europe, each country has at least one or two – Ryanair, Vueling, Iberia, Airberlin, easyJet, etc.
  3. City Research – We looked for must-sees, must-tries, all the must-dos. I even read the alternative or those off-the-beaten track lists of activities. Of course everything couldn’t fit into our itinerary so we just chose the ones everybody was game for.
  4. Booking accommodation – I’m an AirBnb and patroness because they’ve mostly got the best deals for hostels and apartments. We booked a 6-person dormroom in One80 Hostels in Berlin and an apartment in Paris.
  5. Itinerary – My friend made our itinerary, booked the free tours and saved us a ton of hassle. All I had to do was save the places in GoogleMaps for future reference.
  6. Finishing touches – Brushed up on my French, checked the weather forecasts and bought a coat, gloves and thermal underwear.

DAY 1 | Arrival, Check-in & Christmas markets

We had an hour layover in Stuttgart from Málaga and we arrived in Berlin at about 5 PM in the afternoon. It was dark already because apparently, sun sets at 4PM in winter. Flying from one Schengen country to another doesn’t require immigration controls and passport checks so it was really hassle-free. I miss getting my passport stamped though.

Public transportation in Berlin is very chill. There are no ticket barriers in almost everything – trams, trains and buses. Passengers are expected to be honest enough to buy the appropriate ticket required and to always remember to do so. A 60€ fine should be paid on the spot if a Kontrolleur randomly checks and catches you without a ticket.

We took the TXL JetExpressBus bus from the Tegel airport to Alexanderplatz, where our hostel was. A single trip ticket costs 2,70 €. While we were buying tickets from the machine, a guy approached us and gave us 2 of his day tickets that he was not gonna use anymore. I suppose he’s just sincerely nice or he did out of pity because we looked clueless on which ticket to buy.

From the Alexanderplatz bus stop, our hostel One80 Hostels was just a few minutes’ walk away. We booked it through and we paid cash upon checking in. It was around 80€ each for four nights. We were five and we shared a 6-person room with 3 bunk beds, lockers and a shared bathroom with all of the guests on our floor. It’s not my first time to stay in a hostel but it was my first time to stay in a hostel with no private bathroom. I thought I was gonna go through the whole trip without doing a number 2 but there were a few ladies staying on our floor and the bathroom was clean enough. I had to take a bath in the communal showers and it was scary at first but it wasn’t that bad. Just try to beat the rush hour and bring a waterproof pouch for your toiletries and extra self-esteem.

We left our things in our hostel room and went to the Christmas markets Germany is famous for. There was one conveniently located in Alexanderplatz.

We tried those long and juicy bratwursts *wink*.

And glühwein, a traditional German warm wine perfect for the cold weather.

And classic brezels. I missed Auntie Anne’s.

More eye candy food stalls inside cute Bavarian-style wooden mini-houses.

I wanted to go ice skating but not everybody was up for it. We just watched people who suck at skating fall on their asses.

It was a great first night in Berlin, all of us soaking up the festive atmosphere as you can see in our sincerely candid photo below.

Travel Diary: Berlin & Paris

While I’m still finding the time and inspiration to blog about my recent travels, I put together this short travel diary of sorts from our 9-day Berlin & Paris trip this Christmas vacation. Our budget was really tight but we managed to pull off a trip to two of Europe’s most popular tourist destinations. We joined free walking tours, got into museums for free and took advantage of their efficient public transport. We slept cheap in a hostel and an AirBnb and we didn’t feel that we missed out on anything.

It was an unforgettable way to end 2015 and start a new year. Travelling with my boyfriend and my friends made it even more special. I had fun filming them as we explored these two cities, tried the local eats and just goof around and embarrass ourselves. So here it is: