I’ve decided it’s a city I’m glad I visited, but wouldn’t want to return to anytime soon. Martine and I had high hopes to visit Prague during the long February weekend, but after ticket prices skyrocketed overnight, Martine found some cheap roundtrip flights to Berlin instead. #yolo
While Berlin is full of important history, the looming reminders of World War II are almost overwhelming. We both thought that many of the city’s modern attractions act as distractions from the heaviness of the Topography of Terror, the Holocaust Memorial, and other past reminders. Perhaps the winter weather didn’t contribute well to my overall opinion, but nevertheless it was a memorable experience.
I’m glad I traveled with a friend to Germany because 1. I’m horribly directionally challenged and 2. I know a total of zero German words beyond schnitzel and danke. Here’s one example of a word we had to work with: Einzelfahrausweis. The city is well-communicated but confusing to use for newcomers such as ourselves.
We jumped right into a history lesson early Saturday morning with a four hour walking tour (which ended up being one of the highlights of our trip). A masters student who happened to be half American, half German showed us around the city. We learned a number of interesting facts beginning with the origin of the word Berlin: a Slavic word meaning ‘swamp.’ The city was built on swampland and for years was insignificant (such as in the Middle Ages) until the rivers eventually opened up for trading routes.
Throughout the tour, we passed the Berliner Dom (a beautiful cathedral built to keep up with the rest of Europe’s religious and glorified monuments), the Nikolas Church, the Neves Museum, the Alte National Gallery, Humboldt University (where Marx and Lenin attended and where Einstein taught), Hitler’s Bunker (which is now filled in and under apartment buildings), and part of the Berlin Wall. We also got a quick photo in front of the Brandenburg Gate:
And saw Checkpoint Charlie: probably the most famous crossing point between East and West Berlin during the Cold War. Bridge of Spies, a great recent movie with Tom Hanks has a couple of scenes which took place there.
One of the most controversial sites we visited was the Holocaust Memorial: a section of land with 2,700 blocks, all ranging in height along hilly pathways. Our guide explained that part of its controversy comes from the anti graffiti sprayed bricks. The company that provided the spray also provided the Nazi’s with gas which was used to kill Jews…while this is a disturbing fact, he explained that this is the major (and needed) Holocaust memorial of the city.
After thanking our guide for an enlightening day, we walked back to a section of the Berlin Wall next to a free museum called the Topography of Terror. Between 1933 and 1945, the museum’s location held the central institutions of Nazi persecution and terror and the Reich Security Main Office. Inside are rooms filled with dramatic and gloomy photos of past WWII victims, German soldiers, Hitler, and everything in between. The next morning we ate breakfast at our hostel and walked around the block to the East Side Gallery. This outdoor “gallery” is actually a 1.3 km long section of the Berlin Wall painted in 1990 by 118 international artists in celebration of its fall. I will make a separate post of the Wall with more pictures. 🙂
Afterwards, we visited the Fernsehturm de Berlín (or the Berlin TV Tower) for a grand view of the city. Unfortunately, the crowds and the dirty windows didn’t make the trip worth the money.
We got a better view of the city later in my favorite attraction: the baroque cathedral called the Berliner Dom.
One of my favorite details of the city are the pedestrian lights or Ampelmann. These “little traffic guys” according to our tour guide were pedestrian signals of former East Germany and were almost eliminated, but saved by popular demand. Nowadays, there are numerous Ampelmann shops and you can buy the figures on anything from cards to candies.
Some other views of the city:
Our last stop of the day was the Sony Center which has shops, a movie theater, a plaza where many movie premieres have been held, and restaurants. We had dinner at a place called Lindenbräu with delicious sausages, pretzels, and of course, beer! We figured that it was obligatory to have dessert at Häagen-Dazs, since we were in its country of origin.
Martine and I were tired but happy to return to Madrid after our Berlin adventures. In addition to our photos and postcards, we have a strip of memories from one of Berlin’s Photoautomat or photo booths. I’d love to visit Germany again someday; next on my German bucket list is the Neuschwanstein Castle or October Fest!
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