Monday, May 19, 2014

History, Politics, and Art: A Couple of Days in Berlin

Traveling to Berlin was a wonderful way to kick off the second half of my European adventures.

On Wednesday, March 19th after a long day of classes, I hopped on a night train with Jenn to Berlin. I didn't really know what to expect. I knew about the city's intense recent history, but I had no idea what was going to be thrown my way. I can tell you I was not impressed when I disembarked the train the next morning. All I saw were gray concrete buildings, chain stores galore, and an ugly television tower dominating the skyline. There was nothing about the city that was majestic or breathtaking -  and that was something I had experienced in most of the cities I had visited. From that point forward, I knew Berlin was going to be different.

After arriving, Jenn and I took the bus to our hostel. I was excited about staying at the hostel because it was a part of the same company that ran our hostel in Budapest, Hungary - Wombat's Hostels. When we got there, it was too early to check into our room, so the woman at the desk recommended a cafe down the street. We proceeded to have a delicious breakfast at this cafe. It was called Blauesband. It had a great vibe, and it was completed by someone's cat napping on the bench next to me. Once our stomachs were full and smiles were on our faces, Jenn and I walked from the cafe to the East Side Gallery. It was a lengthy walk, and I was able to enjoy the pleasant spring weather. The art at the gallery was interesting and provocative. I knew the basic history of the division of Berlin, yet, I didn't have a real visceral and emotional reaction to the happenings until the next day. Here is some of the artwork that I saw:

After visiting the gallery, we took the S-Bahn back to the hostel, met up with Jenn's childhood friend, Jess, and we went to dinner at a restaurant called White Trash Fast Food. It was a converted Chinese Restaurant made into a hard-ass restaurant/bar/club. I had a delicious burger, and my favorite thing about the restaurant was this sign:

Jess, Jenn, and I spent the evening wandering around the Sony Center and the area by the Brandenburg Gate. Chris and Wyatt arrived in town from Nuremberg around 11pm. We capped the night off with drinks at the SkyBar at the hostel overlooking the Berlin skyline.

The roof of the Sony Center - it changes color periodically.
The next morning, I woke up, had a cappuccino, and went on a six and a half hour walking tour of Berlin. I did Brewer's Best of Berlin tour, and I highly recommend this tour to anyone who enjoys history and experiencing a city via foot. We visited the Neu Synagogue, the Jewish quarter, Hitler's bunker, the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, the Sinti and Roma Memorial, Freidrichstraße, the Tränenpalast (the former border crossing train station where East Germans said goodbye to people visiting from West Germany), the Nazi government quarter, the SS Gestapo HQ, the Nazi Airforce ministry, the Nazi book burning square, the Berlin Wall, Check Point Charlie, and more. The tour guide, Matt, was incredibly knowledgeable, the tour was very engaging, and I couldn't have asked for a better afternoon and a better way to learn about Berlin. Learning about the complex history of the city made me admire how Berlin is today. How the city has rebuilt itself, the liberal vibes, and the artistic presence made me fall in love with the city. If I could move to any German speaking city, it would be Berlin in a heartbeat.

The Neu Synagogue
Every single street tree in Berlin in accounted for. There are around 439, 000 street trees.
The Brandenburg Gate
Where the wall once stood
The 56 foot steel sculpture of Georg Elser, the man who tried and failed at killing Hitler in 1939.
The war memorial, Neue Wache, houses the beautiful and moving sculpture "Mother and Her Dead Son" by the Berlin artist, Käthe Kollwitz. The sculpture is directly set under an oculus and is exposed to the weathers, symbolizing the suffering of the civilians during the war.
The Reichstag
Stolpersteins - Small, cobblestone-sized memorials for individual victims of Nazism. They commemorate individuals - both those who passed and survivors - who were consigned by the Nazis to prisons, euthanasia facilities, sterilization clinics, concentration camps, and extermination camps, as well as those who responded to persecution by emigrating or committing suicide.
The Altes Museum - Hitler gave his birthday speech here in 1939. 
The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe
Some of what is left of the Berlin Wall
That night, we went to a bar called Aufsturz, and I had a Murphy's Irish Red. So good. Our last two stops the next morning were to the New National Gallery Museum to get our art fix, and the Topography of Terror - a free museum about the perpetrators (Nazis) during the Holocaust. Wyatt and I grabbed shwarma for lunch, and headed for the train to go to Amsterdam.

That was a wrap for Berlin!

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