I am a big fan of Berlin. At first I was overwhelmed by the bigness of the city. Oh, and the part that after a 12-hour day on the bus from Amsterdam I managed to take the same S-Bahn [surface train] back and forth over and over again. Bah!
BUT… the first day found me checking off nearly all of my “sites” to see with the most awesome New Berlin (free) walking tour. And with the sites came the stories, and I found my interest for the Wall and the communist times, the Nazi times and the Holocaust, and back to the Weimar republic and the great nation of Prussia growing steadily. I think we may have gotten lucky with an extremely enthusiastic and very knowledgeable guide (though he was from Liverpool, not Germany at all)… but either way, I’m a big fan of Berlin.
Some especially interesting things I saw: There was Bebelplatz, one of the grand squares of the Weimar Era reduced to the spot where thousands of “subversive” books were burned by Nazi students in 1933, along with a quote from an 1890’s author (whose own books were burned for being subversive): “wherever they burn books, eventually they will burn people too”… (though originally it referred to the Spanish inquisition!). The only monument otherwise is a glassed in space underneath the centre of the square with a small room of empty book shelves. I found it especially haunting, but then… as you may know… I am quite a lover of books.
There was also the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe which is a whole city block of grey… well, blocks (apparently the grey is the exact shade that people’s bones go when they are burned). The blocks rise in height toward the centre, and loom down on you in a creepy way while the floor drops down and up again. Lots of different speculation as to the meanings. The obvious example would be a cemetery, less obvious the blocks representing the train cars or the role call at the concentration camps, or even more cerebral, the slow descent from anti-Semitism into what it ultimately became (i.e. the Holocaust). Very poignant.
The Nazi site that I found most interesting was the unmarked site of Hitler’s underground bunker where he famously shot himself. Part of my interest is that it is entirely unmarked, under a slightly sketchy patch of grass… because apparently there are enough neo-Nazi’s around for it to potentially become a memorial. Very creepy.
Other than that, pretty much every other “site” (or do I mean “sight”) to see in Berlin was seen. The Brandenburg Gate, some of the wall (which I will discuss later), the Reichstag, some more grand squares, the grand boulevard Unter den Linden, Checkpoint Charlie, and.. yes… the hotel window where Michael Jackson (famously?) dangled his baby out of for photographers a few years back.
After the tour, I headed on up to the Reichstag (the German parliament buildings) to go up its relatively new glass dome on top for some fabulous views of the city with a couple Australians I had met on the tour (Matt & Cass… not traveling together though).
And that night I headed to the New Berlin pub crawl (not free, but worth the money), with those same Australians, along with a few more, some Brits that were also on the tour, and proceeded to meet some cool people (a couple Irish girls – one who knew & lives near Bunclody, where I will be visiting relatives later – and even knew Redmond’s pub!, a few Americans, and one by one: Austrians, Belgians, French.. and probably more.) Neat bars, fun people!
Otherwise in Berlin… Hm.
Well I went to the Topography of Terror exhibit, which is a work in progress. It is the former SS & Gestapo interrogation chambers & prison, but they are still excavating, so for now it’s a free outdoor museum about the rise of the SS and the Gestapo, which was really interesting. It also happens to be next to the longest stretch of unbroken wall left. (And this wall has a fence around it to protect it from “wallpeckers” or people who decide to knock chunks of for souvenir. Oh the irony.)
I also visited another long stretch of wall (though this one partially unbroken, as it is right beside the river Spree, in the punky Kreuzburg district). And this was the East Side Gallery. Basically in 1989, a group of artists decorated the wall to celebrate it coming down. Or at least partially coming down (since clearly, this must have been up if they could paint it!). They redid it in 2000 (damn wallpeckers), and a lot of it is still there. Some has disappeared… but some of the empty parts have been replaced by other graffiti – which, if you are a graffiti fan like I am, Berlin is an excellent place. This was really interesting, and I got some good photos, so if I ever make it to an internet cafe that I can connect my camera cable too, you’ll see them.
Other things I did? Well I did break out some wicked Gangsta’s Paradise at karaoke night at the hostel. (True). And I wandered the city. And took the metro. (Actually easy when you get used to it).
The eating wasn’t too exciting. I was going for a lot of cheap grab stuff. The breakfast at my hostel (Generator Hostel) was the best I’ve ever had at a hostel, so that covered that. I had a marvellous crepe at a kawaii (that’s Japanese cute) crepe stand in a metro station. Peculiar, but it was super tasty. And I looked for Cafe Sybille on Karl-Marx-Allee, a communist East German themed restaurant, but I can barely read maps (and, also, it was tricky) so I couldn’t find it… and went to McDonald’s instead (Haha. Sucks to be you, communism. I went for the most capitalistic place I could find.)
Two German delights on my way out of Berlin:
1) I had to actually break out my German skills when ordering my cheese (brie…yum yum. Also ridiculously cheap in Germany) & bread from behind a supermarket counter because the lady didn’t speak English. And then, she said (in German, because, remember, she didn’t speak English) that I speak pretty good German! That’s right.
2) On the train to Prague I looked out at a little village and saw a girl around my age in traditional German attire, dirndl and all. I was like “WHAT”. But she was probably just on her way to be a serving beer wench or something. (Is that the proper term?)