Berlin is full of bookstores.
My favorite—if 5 days here qualifies me to an opinion—is called Shakespeare & Sons, but you would only know that if you ventured inside. From the outside it's known as Books & Bagels, which is perhaps more appropriate given that it serves up sublime bagels — perfectly crusty and with just the right amount of bite, so good that for a moment I imagined I was back at my faithful Lower East Side bagel joint (Heaven's Hot Bagels on Houston and Clinton, if anyone is curious). To make things even better, they come in flavors like Rosemary and Sea Salt, a gift to the tastebuds after the sensory confusion of Everything bagels. Add a glass of B&B's hot apple or pear cider, and I'm in afternoon-snack heaven.
My other favorite thing about B&B is, of course, the books. The front stacks read like a laundry list of both things I've read and loved and things jockeying for space on my reading list. Rumor has it that the owners only stock their favorite books (and that they hand-built the bookshelves). If true, it'd be worth coming back over and over on the off chance of running into such genius. If you find yourself in Berlin, I'd recommend doing just that.
Levity aside, Berlin can sometimes feel heavy with the weight of history.
I visited the Holocaust Memorial on a cold, grey Monday morning. It had snowed the night before, and patches of ice were melting into the cracks on the ground and dripping from the tops of the concrete slabs. When the light caught just so, the giant grey blocks appeared to be weeping.
The Potsdamer Platz Christmas Market is around the corner from the memorial, but feels like an entirely different world. It features amongst other things a somewhat incongruous 200-foot-high toboggan run. Christmas markets are possibly the sole reason I came to Germany at this time of year, so accordingly this is my seventh (or possibly eighth - I’ve lost count) in half as many days. Here's some of my collected wisdom: start with a Thüringer Rostbratwurst wrapped in a freshly toasted bread roll — it'll fill you up and help reduce some of the temptation to gluttony. Next seek out a cup of apfelpunsch (or mulled wine if you're so inclined); not only will it taste divine, it'll also serve the all-important purpose of keeping your hands warm as you wander. Finish off with something sweet, like a crêpe with zucker and zitrone (or apfelsoße, which seems to be a crêpe filling unique to Germany) — the sugar will keep your spirits high for the next market. Rinse and repeat and you'll be a market-marathoner in no time.
It was cold and wet for most of my stay in Berlin. Even so, the city felt vibrant and alive with a restless energy, manifest most obviously in the packs of young musicians hoisting instruments on the U-Bahn, the street art and grids of concert posters plastered on every free wall, and even the throngs of Berliners braving the elements at the Mauerpark flea market/sometimes-public-karoake-session on a Sunday afternoon. It was very much the cool cat I'd heard so much about.