Trip Start Aug 18, 2011
45Trip End Jul 02, 2012
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That night I met up with my friend, Alex, from Costa Rica for our trip to Berlin. It was my first time traveling outside of the Netherlands in Europe, so I was pretty excited. We said goodbye to good ol' Amsterdam as we took off from Amstel Station on a Eurolines bus. The total trip took about 9 hours and luckily we got to sleep on the bus. I was disappointed that they didn't stamp my passport when we stopped at the border for the customs check.
We arrived in Berlin around 9 on Sunday morning and dropped our bags off at the Hostel, which was very cheap for the close location and quality
First we set off for the Brandenburg Gate and along the way we saw Potsdammer Platz, Berlin's Times Square, a section of the Berlin Wall, and the Holocaust Memorial. The Holocaust Memorial was neat because the stone slabs gradually got bigger as you went in, until they were completely overtaking you. We were told it was supposed to represent either the increase in anti-Semitism from simple discrimination to requiring Jews to wear the Star of David, to putting them in concentration camps, and finally until it was completely out of control and the Nazis began to exterminate them; or the other explanation was that the different heights were meant to represent the different ages of the Jews that were killed. I didn't think the memorial was that great at first, because it looks really modern, but after I heard the explanations behind it, I thought it was pretty cool.
After that, we took an excellent free tour of the city. The tour group offers free tours based on the premise that you should only have to pay if you think the tour was good via a tip of your choosing. It's supposed to make the tour guide work harder to make the tour interesting, because their pay is affected
She explained that the Brandenburg Gate was one of the old entrances into the city. Napoleon took the statue on top of the gate back to Paris after he gained control of Berlin because he like it so much. The statue was later restored to its rightful place after he was defeated. The statue represents peace being driven into the city. Ironically, the statue stares down Unter den Linden and directly at the French Embassy, which was built later. She covered the history of the city and the most interesting thing I learned was that Germany only just finished paying its World War I reparations in October 2010, almost a century later.
Next our tour guide told us she was taking us someplace really cool. She stopped at a plain-looking parking lot and we were all really confused. She told us that Hitler's Chancellory was located at this site and the bunker where he hid and later killed himself was directly below. It was a really odd feeling to be there after I knew that. She explained that no landmark was erected on the site, because the German government didn't want it to become a shrine to Hitler. The walls of the bunker were collapsed and flooded after the war.
We then walked along a remaining part of the Berlin Wall that separated East and West Berlin during the Allied and Soviet occupation. We were literally walking on the "Death Strip" where anyone who attempted to cross would have been shot by East German soldiers. Checkpoint Charlie was also in this area
Close-by was a chocolate store that had chocolate sculptures of Berlin landmarks in the windows. My pictures don't do them justice because of the glare, because they were so cool! Next, we took a walk around the Gendarmenmarkt, a square with two cathedrals. The Französischer Dom (French Cathedral) was built by the Huguenots after they were expelled from France. The Deutscher Dom (German Cathedral) was built opposite later because the Germans wanted their own.
On Bebelplatz, a square, we got to see Humboldt University, an opera house, and a memorial to a large Nazi book burning that happened on the square. The memorial was a window set in the ground of the square with empty book shelves lining the space below. There are enough shelves to house the number of books destroyed that day, which was well over 2,000
At the end of the tour, we got to see the Berliner Dom, Museum Island, and the famous Fernsehturm Berlin. That night, Alex and I went to a section of the Berlin Wall with some really cool artwork spray painted on it. Afterwards, we ate pizza at an Italian restaurant and reveled in the low prices. It was only about 3.50 Euro for a personal pizza, versus 3.50 per slice in Amsterdam. Eating out is so expensive, that I just buy food at the grocery store. It was fantastic to get to eat out for a change.
The next day the weather was not as nice as the sunny weather we had on Sunday. It was misting all day. Alex and I checked out the Reichstag, the German parliament building. We didn't see Angela Merkel, but I figure she's a busy woman with trying to save the Eurozone and all. Next, we took a stroll through the Tiergarten, a large park to the west of the Brandenburg Gate. We then saw the Berlin Victory Column and the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, a church that was extensively bombed during World War II. The church was unfortunately under renovation and completely covered by scaffolding, so we couldn't see the exterior, but the interior was still really neat. The ceiling had a beautiful mosaic throughout the remaining part of the church. I've included pictures of what it looked like before and after the war
We passed by the Kaufhaus des Westens (Department Store of the West; Berlin's Macy's) and took a look inside. It was so big we got lost just trying to find the bathroom. Everything was really expensive. A scarf was 60 Euro! Needless to say, we didn't buy anything.
That day we finished off with a trip to Charlottenburg Palace and the old 1936 Olympic Stadium. The palace had some really elaborate gardens on the backside. The Olympic Stadium was interesting because the olympics took place after Hitler came to power, but before World War II had started. Afterwards we ate pizza again at another restaurant, because we knew it would be a long time before we would find affordable pizza again.
Tuesday morning, Alex went to a concentration camp north of the city, and I saw some last minute things before my flight out. I had to leave that day, because I have class on Wednesday. I walked around Museum Island and then walked up over 200 stairs to the top of the Französischer Dom to see some pretty impressive views of the city
After that, I took the U-Bahn (subway) and S-Bahn (train) to the airport. At Amsterdam Shiphol Airport, I got that "Ah, I'm home" feeling when I saw an Albert Heijn (Dutch Grocery Chain). I loved Germany, but it felt good to be home. I took the train to Centraal Station and on the way home, I was greeted with the sight of a big ferris wheel and carnival being put up on Dam Square. It was a great way to be welcomed back.
Berlin has such a different and complex identity than most other European cities. So much was bombed during both World Wars that it has a lot of new buildings compared to Amsterdam. You can also tell that Germans are very embarrassed by the history of the Nazis. It goes without saying that what they did was reprehesible in the strongest terms, but I do think it's rather unfortunate for the younger generation that they have to always face that national image. Couple that with the history of occupation and the great division caused by the Berlin Wall, and it's easy to see how sad it's modern history has been. But to dwell on it's dark past fails to recognize the contemporary state which has grown into unified democracy which promotes human rights. I think it's a city every person should see, if only to simply see ground zero for the atrocities of the Nazi Party and Cold War division.