The first day I got there I was worried that my social dry spell was going to continue. Not that I did myself any favors. What was to first thing I did when I got to the hostel? My laundry. I know, call me a social butterfly. However, I was super lucky with whom I got for my roommates
. All of them were solo travelers and all of them were looking to have a good time. One of my roommates was Beth, a girl from Indiana, who was at the very end of her trip. We separated for dinner but then met back up in the kitchen of the hostel where we got to talking about whatever two strangers will talk about. Sometime later Luke walked into the kitchen and we struck up a conversation with him as well. Before I knew it we were all hanging out at the park right next to our hostel, drinking a few beers. At one point a couple of German guys walked up and asked us if we wanted to buy some... stuff. We soon got to talking to these guys as well. One of them only spoke about two words of English so I brushed up my German skills and to my surprise I was able to communicate with him. At one point he offered to marry me so that I could move to Germany. Yeah, this was when we decided we should probably go to bed.
So the next day a huge group of us from a couple hostels headed off for the free New Europe tour they give us of Berlin. Here we met Liz, a lively Canadian who was always up for a good time. It took us forever to actually start the tour because SO many people had shown up for the free tour. However, once we did get started I was very pleased with the tour guide we got, and English guy named Sam. Sam told us all about Berlin, however most of the history was focused in the last century
. So we heard a lot about the Nazis and the Soviets, which are not exactly the happiest of topics, but very necessary ones. My favorite part of the tour had to be the Holocaust memorial. It is not your average memorial because it is not obvious what it represents. The designer of the memorial specifically wanted the memorial to be vague so that people could come to their own interpretation. As you can see from the picture it is simply hundreds of slabs, all the same width and length, but different heights. They start off at ground level and then in the middle they get to about 3 meters high. My favorite interpretation had to be that when the ideals of fascism started it was easy to ignore, you could just walk by it and think nothing of it. But eventually it started to get bigger and more noticeable until finally it was towering over us and almost beyond out control. Of course this is just one interpretation, but I think it has the most significance.
After this we saw a few more sights and heard a lot of history. The final story that we got to hear was about how the Berlin wall finally came down. I actually had no idea about the events that resulted in the Berlin wall finally being opened. So we got to hear a very detailed account of how the soviet leader in power finally gave all of the different territories their right to choose whether or not they remained under communist rule
. Guess what they decided? That's right: to get the hell out of dodge. The only territory that didn't get a say was Eastern Germany. Well, that did not sit well with many Germans, so soon protests began to emerge. Leipzig was probably the biggest, with over 70,000 people taking to the streets every week on a candle light vigil. Finally it got to the point where the leaders of Eastern Germany could no longer ignore the people. So they decided to hold a press conference and say that they would open the gates to Western Germany...at some undetermined time in the future. However, the official that was to give the press conference wasn't actually at the meeting when this was decided. So, in a screw up of mass proportions he announced to the press that the Berlin wall was being opened...that day. So the masses gathered at the wall and the soldiers who were guarding it had no way of controlling them, so for the first time in decades the gates were opened and families were reunited. Obviously this is an extremely abbreviated history of the events that led to the fall, but I would like to point out that at no time was Ronald Reagan's name mentioned. Apparently it is only in the US that we believe he had anything to do with it. Mention him to a German and they laugh in your face. Literally, that happened to me.
Anyway, after the tour was done Beth, Liz and I went to the East Side Gallery
. This is a section of the remaining wall that they turned into something of an art gallery. They allowed different artists to paint murals that represented their own personal interpretation of what the wall and it's final destruction meant. It is definitely worth a visit, and it's free! In the evening a huge group of us gathered at the Wombar. The Wombar is the bar on the roof of the hostel I was staying at (Wombats). This is a great idea that I think every hostel should adopt because it creates such an awesome atmosphere. Soon our group was well over 30, full of Canadians, Americans, Brits, and Australians. We started playing these drinking games that involved hand-eye coordination...needless to say we all looked very spastic. Around 12:30 a group was getting ready to head out to do some bar hopping. For me, that was a little too intense, so I went to bed instead.
The following day was a relatively relaxed one. Beth and I went to the Fernsehturm. This is the TV tower that gives you the best view over the city. While we were waiting to go up the tower we did some shopping for Ampleman souvenirs. We had learned about Ampleman the day before. He is the lights that you see that tell you whether it's okay for you to walk across the street or not. He was created by the city of Berlin to encourage street safety, especially among younger kids. Essentially he is a super hero in the form of a crossing guard, or vice versa
. A few years back they were going to get rid of Ampleman, but there was such an uproar among the city of Berlin that he remains. I wish I had gotten a picture so you could see him. Really, he is like our walking man on traffic lights, but instead there is a red and a green one and he is wearing a hat.
Once we had done the Fernsehturm we went to the Holocaust Memorial museum, which is under the memorial. It is a free museum and well worth a visit. However, it can be overwhelming. It is meant solely to remember the victims, therefore it has countless personal accounts of what happened to certain people and their families. The Berlin government has said specifically that they only remember the victims of WWII, and not the perpetrators. For this reason pretty much none of the Nazi bunkers have been preserved. And the place where Hitler killed himself and was later burned by his followers is now a parking lot. So the man who carries the most hated name of modern times, his body remains are in an unmarked grave.
Beth and I also visited Museum Isle, which, strangely enough, is and Island full of Museums. On Thursdays after 6pm entrance is free to any of the museums. So we took advantage of this and visited the Pergamonmuseum. I had heard about this on the travel channel and thought that it was a must see
. Many people refer to it as the museum with all the stuff Germany stole. Basically the main attractions are the Pergamon temple, The Roman gate from Milet, and the Gate of Ishtar in Babylon. They have literally taken these things and reconstructed them within this museum. It is a pretty impressive sight to see, made all the more impressive by the fact that our entry was free. We wandered around a little but decided that we were too hungry. So we went and had some wonderful Vietnamese food at a restaurant conveniently located across the street from our hostel. We had actually all gone to a different Vietnamese place the night before, but what can I say? I love me some Asian food.
And then it was time for Chantal's House of Shame at Bussy's. We had read about this place the day before and thought that we just had to go. Amazingly we got about 10 people to join us, have of which were straight men. This place was nuts. I had actually never been to a gay bar before, so this was an experience. It was also a haven for a lot of drag queens. Basically it was a techno party. About half way through the night an American drag queen got up and sang some songs that she had changed the lyrics of. So instead of Lady Gaga's "Alejandro" you got "Your a Homo, your a homo." It was awesome. I'm pretty sure half of the guys we were with didn't know what to do, but they were champs and just kept dancing. Around 3am Beth and I decided it might be best to head back to the hostel, since we had to be up at 6 the next morning. I know, smart decisions is my middle name. SO we went back, got some falafel at a corner store, and went to bed. And that pretty much ends my time in Berlin. It really was unbelievably fun. And it was amazing to hear about and see how much it has changed in the last 20 years. Berlin has gone from a place of repression and turned itself into a place where old and new collide and create this unique kind of energy that sweeps you up and carries you all the way to...a drag club.
I know it has been a while since my last entry but that is because the last few places I have visited have been a non-stop party. First, let's start with Berlin. I love Berlin. Actually, you will find that most backpackers love Berlin, at least all the ones I met did. I came across quite a few people that said they had planned to visit Berlin for a few days and ended up staying for a few weeks. There is just something about Berlin that grabs you and makes you want to stay much longer than a couple days. I know I would have loved to stay longer but my schedule, let alone my pocket book could not afford to.