July 6-11: Berlin, Prague

Trip Start Jun 22, 2012
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Trip End Aug 08, 2012


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Flag of Czech Republic  , Prague,
Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The bizarre circumstance under which I'm writing requires me to begin this post with a description of the scene. I am awkwardly seated on a small rail with my back pressed against a metal wall. I'm in a storage car of a train Naftali and I are taking from Prague to Vienna and there is about one foot of room between every person on the train. The floor is littered with travel packs and sleeping bags and it's about 30 degrees Fahrenheit hotter inside the train than outside. Going to the bathroom would require climbing over mountains of baggage and pushing through a layer of people only to wait in a 20 minute line. Oh and did I mention we had our seats reserved three months in advance? Since our seat numbers don't exist on the train my theory is that they messed up some logistics and are using the wrong type of train for this trip. At every stop more passengers have been getting on and if you have been on a packed metro train during commuting hours, you know this feeling (although I doubt any of you have five hour commutes). But hope is not lost and in some morbid way this stereotypical Eastern European train experience is actually enjoyable; people are laughing at how truly ridiculous the situation is.

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. At times the modernity was a bit much (i.e. blowing on a holographic table to see verses of the Talmud whirl about).

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 decided on the metro. After getting lost a few times we made it to the hostel. While the trains so far would not live up to a Soviet-era cattle transport standards, the hostels have been prime. The Prague hostel in particular had computers, free wifi in every room, cheap breakfast, a central hang out room and a puppy.

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.

Cheers,

Elijah Jatovsky

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.
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