Free Love

Trip Start Nov 29, 2005
Trip End Nov 21, 2006

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Flag of Germany  ,
Friday, July 28, 2006

My last day in Greece felt in many ways similar to my last day in Ios. I loved my time in the country, but I was ready to move on. I needed a change -- a new culture, a new language, a place where a "p" is a "p," an "h" is a consonant and vowels make sense -- so I went to Berlin. Well, that and I needed to leave the country within the week before I would start breaking international laws. I received a great first impression of Berlin, depositing a 20 euro note into the S-Bahn ticket machine and getting nearly 20 euros back in change even though the ticket cost a little over 2. Berlin was like the gift that keeps on giving (someone pointed out that makes it a little like the herpes as well, for what it's worth). My happy first impression of the city was going to change over the next couple hours though. My flight touched down at 11:15 in the evening and I immediately went to the train station to catch public transport into town. All I knew was I needed the S-9, so I went to the part of the station that said '9' and sat and waited. And sat and waited some more. Then I stood and waited. Walked around and waited. And waited and waited and waited. Finally after a few hours I went to the kiosk underneath the platforms and asked if the S-9 was coming and the man said, yeah at 3:58. By then it was close to 3, so I said fuck it, we'll ride this thing out, I'm not paying for a hostel and a taxi at this point. 3:58 rolled around and there was still no train. Finally, at 5:30 a train pulled in to platform 9 and I got on. Happy days. After a few minutes the ticket lady came along and asked for mine, and I was set to play the role of dumb tourist, not knowing I needed to validate my ticket. Little did I know how well I was playing the role. In her broken English she explained to me I had the wrong ticket. I played along, saying surely it can't be, I bought it at the station. No, she meant, I wasn't on city transport, I was headed out to Potsdam, an hour away in the opposite direction. I should mention at this point, that it had occurred to me that Berlin was looking particularly empty and green for a large industrial city. Long story not so short, about 3 trains later, I arrived at my hostel at 7:30, a mere eight hours after arriving in the fair city.

It was well worth the wait. I had been excited to check out Berlin, having heard some good things from other people I'd met who'd been there. Still, the city far exceeded my expectations. A few hours after arriving at my hostel I set off on a free walking tour of the city -- and free would become the theme of the day. The way the tour was advertised, I assumed it would be something where the most you get out of it is a quick way to orient yourself while your wild and crazy tour guide regales you with tales of the crazy Berlin nightlife. In fact, it turned out to be one of the most interesting, informative things I've done. I heard and saw things I never would've seen otherwise -- Hitler's bunker (now a car park), the monument to the Nazi book burning (through a small glass pane in the middle of a square), even the hotel where Michael Jackson held his baby over the railing (right next to the Brandenburg Gate). We moved from the gate, saw the powerful Jewish Memorial (and learned of all the controversies surrounding that -- for example the company that was going to apply the anti-graffiti chemicals to the stones was discovered to have been the company that helped produce zyclon B during the Holocaust so they were immediately ordered off so they couldn't make a profit off the Holocaust until they volunteered to do the whole project -- about 27 million euros -- for free). We learned about the crazy quirks of the city. For example, you can always know if you're in East or West by the traffic light guy. The socially responsible red traffic light guy in the East is wearing his little hat and holds his arms out so as to block all the little kiddies from running out into the street. The capitalist red traffic light guy in the West cares not about the children, merely if he still has a job and way of life and keeps his hands in his pocket. Not only are the traffic light guys a booming souvenir industry, but when Berlin was transforming itself into one unified city, they were going to make all the lights 'Western' until the Easterners threw a hissyfit about how their ways of life couldn't be changed too much. Tear down our government and system of living, but don't you dare touch our traffic light guy.

We then went by the Stasi Museum about the secret police of East Germany (a FREE museum as well, but all in German -- they have a book in English, but it only translates about half the displays) and then on to the Topography of Terror with a long stretch of still standing Wall and which is now a museum on the sport where the SS and Gestapo had its offices (that museum, also FREE, also mostly in German). We also saw one of the four remaining Nazi buildings on our way to Checkpoint Charlie where you can walk the street where US and Russian tanks stared each other down in 1961 and the world held its breath. The museum there (not free) had no semblance of order whatsoever but had some really amazing escape stories from the Wall -- both successful and not. After that, we saw mostly old buildings and churches that had survived the war as well as the square with 142 love bears (one for each country in the UN). We finished on Museum Island, which as you might guess, is an island filled with museums. And since it was Thursday, those museums were free too. The first one I went in, originally called The Museum, then The Old Museum and now something else that I don't remember had an excellent display on Ancient Egypt. The other one I went into, the Pagamnon (or something along those lines) had a huge Greek temple (but I had just come straight from the source) and as its highlight -- the Walls of Babylon. They had been taken, presumably, piece by piece, and reconstructed within the museum, and the exhibit had even been built so that the halls and everything would match the design of the walls. Absolutely amazing. So within 4 hours I had at least looked at and learned just about everything I thought I could've about Berlin, thanks to the tour guide, Kiwi Mike. I spent that day and the next two hitting one museum after another getting myself good and cultured (one thing I'd like to add, not sure if it's coincidence but the only two museums in the whole city that had air con -- and it was boiling while I was there -- was the Jewish Museum and the museum underneath the Memorial) until my last night when I set out on the tour company's pub crawl. I even had a friend from Ios I randomly ran into on the streets to accompany me. And wouldn't you know it, that tour kept us in free alcohol for the night (minus the admission price, of course). And a word to the wise, the shots they give out, do in fact contain alcohol. Let's just say it made for a less than pleasant five-hour train ride to Prague.
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aszliross on

I am heading to Berlin this May with my mom and sister... we don't have much time for the short stop over... What is the free tour you took? It sounds perfect. (Very much enjoyed your blog!)

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