July 6-11: Berlin, Prague
Trip Start Jun 22, 2012
21Trip End Aug 08, 2012
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With that preface to the past week, I feel I can now talk about the events leading up to this five-hour sweat box. From Lisbon I flew to Berlin where following our literal last-minute realization that we were flying into different airports (we spoke over the phone while I was on the runway about to take off), Naftali and I met at the hostel.
There is no other city I have been to, or that I can imagine, is like Berlin. The contrast between the city's endless modern architecture and buildings and the vast amount of world-changing history that has occurred there makes the city have a weird feel that is hard to describe. Memorials, historical monuments and museums are being built and renovated daily in what is a massive effort to ensure people remember what has happened there, however much of this is being done through a modern perspective. This is not a bad thing, it's just different than any other effort to preserve history I have seen. A prime example of this was the city's Jewish Museum, which used modern, interactive exhibits to document the history of Jews in Germany
Another major highlight was getting a personal tour of central Berlin by an incredibly nice and knowledgable man name Gunter who was instrumental in the development of the new Holocaust Memorial and Berlin Wall Memorial. Gunter gave us a background of this area of Berlin we couldn't have gotten from the most expensive walking tour.
We rented bikes the second day, which enabled us to get out to the more residential neighborhoods of the city. One of the best finds was a small lake where we were the only English-speakers among a couple thousand locals enjoying the nice day.
That evening we took a night train to Prague arriving around 12am when of course all the information booths were closed. It was not hard to realize we had arrived in Eastern Europe. We thought we might as well take a cab to the hostel, which we had learned earlier was only 2 km away. However we soon discovered (and our suspicions were later confirmed by Rick*) that the train station's can drivers were mafia-esque thugs who demanded 25 euros (yes, euros) as their minimum price
We had almost an entire day more in Prague than we did in Berlin, which enabled us to see a lot more (an extra day really makes a difference in these cities). Highlights included finding the greatest strudel shop in Prague (in a residential neighborhood in Eastern Prague that consists of one window where you order the strudel from), live music clubs (Berlin too), touring Prague's Castle and visiting the Jewish quarter. There are too many details to write about all these places so you'll have to forgive me for listing. Hopefully the pictures and videos will help illustrate the experience.
And now only another two hours until Vienna.
P.S. In case you were wondering we did manage to secure a refund stamp from one of the train attendants before he was lost behind a wall of people so we might get our money back for these train tickets.
*Rick Steves is the author of the guidebook we used in Prague. We're on a first-name basis.
Train Update: About an hour after writing this we had a scare at the Austrian border. The Austrian authorities would not allow a train with three times the number of people allowed on a train to pass through so about half the people cramped in the car had to get off. We were fortunate enough to stay on.