Ich bin ein Berliner!

Trip Start Sep 17, 2006
Trip End Dec 23, 2006

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Thursday, December 7, 2006

Ok, so this week was BERLIN! I left on Friday morning with Meghan. I woke up late and then had to run to catch the tram to take us to the bus station. I hate running, more so at 6:30 in the morning. Anyway, we made our train, and were on our way to Berlin.

We were some of the last people to go there, so we were armed with loads of advice about Berlin. Which tours to take, which hostels to stay at, and most importantly; do a pub crawl. Meg and I are somewhat directionally challenged, and promptly got lost upon arrival. We were supposed to get off at train station Hauptbahnhof, and we instead went to Spandau. Oops! I guess this is a HUGE mistake, because getting back to Hauptbahnhof was going to take a small miracle. We walked around the cutest little Christmas market at Spandau for a while looking for the information booth that was advertised across the street. When we found it, the lady didn't speak English. There was a lot of wild gesturing on both our parts for a few minutes, when we both had said our piece, she pointed us in the direction of the train station, and we boarded another train back to town.

By the time we checked into the *fabulous* Eastener Hostel, we had been lost in a non-English speaking town outside of Berlin for an hour and a half, we were hungry because both of us got up too late for breakfast, tired from travel, and generally, all around, ready for a very exciting weekend. We went to dinner and laid out our game plan. Friday: Go to the pub crawl. Saturday: get up and do the free tour at 11 am, then go to museums. Sunday: take the "Red Berlin" tour offered by the NewBerlin tour company, then board our train home. Let me just ask all of you: how often do things go as planned for you?

So, there we are, waiting for the Pub Crawl to start, drinking our free "Welcome beer" and having a great time in the cold. We were talking to this guy named Nick (I think) and as it turned out, he worked for NewBerlin, and this is where the wrenches came flying into the gears of our plan. First he tells us that the "Red Berlin" tour is only offered on Sauturdays and Tuesdays at 1 pm. 1pm is not enough time to take the free tour at 11 am and be back in time for the Red Berlin tour. We decide to switch the tour days and do the "Red Berlin" tour on Saturday, and the free tour on Sunday, sounds logical right? After a while, we go into the first pub, and the night began to get away from us. I began with a Red Bull and Vodka, this is the greatest drink ever if you feel yourself dragging. This was closely followed by free shot number one; apple schnapps, and shot number two; vodka and o.j. The vodka/o.j. shots came from our "tour guide" who quickly explained to us that "he wasn't paid enough to care about us." And if we were "lost, or vomiting in the street" don't come crying to him, because he had already been paid for the work he was about to do. He also reccomended that we wait until the final club to get really wasted, because they won't let you in if you are too wasted. Sage advice from the professional drinker.

On our merry way, we met: Sid, the Canadian professional speed walker (he trained with the Canadian Olympic team). There was Colin, from California, a dancing MACHINE. Finally, there was James, the Scottish tour guide who *oddly* didn't work for or with NewBerlin, yet he was on their pub crawl... Strange fellow... Meg and I proceeded to get very warm and fuzzy that night. It was a keeper that is for sure. Memories! Misty water-colored MEMORIES! Of the way we were!

The next morning, we were surprisingly bright and shiny. Oh, wait, that was the other people in our room who weren't on the pub crawl the night before. Meg and I were hung over. She was surprised the hear that we had only gotten four hours of sleep. We got up anyway and went across the street to "Green Eggs and Ham" where I had breakfast hot dogs (they were advertised as sausages) and Meg had a cheese omelet. We discussed over our morning tea how our day should be spent, and re-decided on the plan we made the night before. Shop now, tour later. So, down then to Unter Den Linden we went. There were more tourist shops down that one street that I have ever seen in my life. It was incredible. There they were, cheesy shops sandwiched in between Dunkin Doughnuts, Starbucks, and Ferrari dealer ships? Yeah, that sounds normal...

Well, after much money was spent, it was time to meet up with our tour "Red Berlin." Jasoni was our guide that afternoon, and he was very informative, but not nearly hung over enough to understand why Meg and I simply couldn't answer his questions. Sorry Jasoni, it was your own tour company that did this to me. Them and their free vodka... Bastards! *Shakes fist angrily at sky*

Anyway, we went first to the Stasi Museum and learned all about the Stasi and the cool James Bond type of stuff they used, their cruel and unusual information gathering tactics, as well as their shocking statistics. This one I found particularly shocking; in a normal city, in a peaceful time, there is on average one police officer per 1000 people. In Nazi Germany, there was one Gestapo for every 200 people. In Communist East Berlin, there was 1 Stasi for every 67 people. OH MY GOD!! That is incredible, horrifying, and troubling. The Stasi had files on 5 year olds because they feared spies in the system. There were kids telling on their parents that "Mommy isn't being a very good communist." And their parent was whisked away to a life term in prison, or they simply disappeared off the face of the earth. Franz who? and Eva who? Scary stuff guys...

After the museum, we walked through town. There is a train station that people who came form the West would travel through to visit their families in the East. At this station was the "Palace of Tears" where people would say good bye (maybe for the last time) to loved ones. We walked to the Metro stop there are boarded a train to see (here it is...) THE BERLIN WALL! Yes folks, I went to Berlin, and saw the wall. Before we left the station, Jasoni explained to us that we were in a "Ghost Station." What that meant was, during the time of division in Berlin, there were some stations that were trapped in no man's land. They were between the walls, and you couldn't get out there. It became as though the station no longer existed. You see, the wall that encircled the City wasn't a perfect circle, the city had been divided up by neighborhood and district, it wasn't like they took out a calculator and found pi. The wall zigged and zagged in a seemingly random and hodgepodge way.

There were four generations of the Berlin Wall. The first was erected at 2 am on August 13, 1961. It was a barbed-wire fence that divided families in the middle of the night. There were sick children in West Berlin hospitals, husbands and wives divided, and there was no way to cross and get them back together again. In the years between 1961 and 1989, there were 10,000 escapes, over 1000 of them were boarder guards who threw down their weapons and made a break for it. Many of them survived, including a very famous person named Conrad Schumann. Conrad was captured on film for his daring escape, and lived the rest of his life in fear that the Stasi would come for him, and kidnap him back to the East where he would be tortured and probably executed for his betrayal. His family remained on the other side of the wall, and they were finally reunited in 1989 when the wall came down. His story doesn't end here though. He was tortured by fear for so long that even after the wall came down and the Stasi were disbanded, he committed suicide in 1991. Jasoni explained this by saying that even though the threat was over, it had lived inside him for so long that he simply couldn't get past it. There are many other stories of escape, but this one touched me. It was so sad to hear that even when he was safe, and he knew he was safe, with his family around him, he still couldn't feel safe. This makes me wonder about the illusion of safety, the feeling of it, and how this lesson can apply to our current situation with the "War on Terror."

Sorry for the digression folks, but I thought it was an interesting story. That was the first generation of wall. After that, they added more barbed wire and a wooden fence, and then there was a brick wall. People were made to build the walls of their own prison at gun point by boarder guards. After that, there came the wall as we know it in its fourth incarnation. It was made of huge concrete slabs and a pipe at the top to make it impossible to climb over with out a ladder. There was also a "Death Strip" added. This was a sandy no man's land between two walls, an inner and an outer. The inner wall was fairly easy to climb over, but there was barbed wire, land mines and snipers all waiting for as unlucky boarder jumper. These boarder guards and snipers we rewarded if someone made a break for it and they were killed, and if the person was only wounded or actually made it over, the guard was jailed and/or tortured and killed. That is some incentive program right?

After that, the tour was over, and Meg and I thought we would go get a quick bite to eat somewhere, take a nap, and go out again. We found an all you can eat Indian Buffet for only 5 Euros (super-cheap!) and then went back for a little nap. The nap turned into actual sleep, and we ended up staying in bed all night.

The next morning, we thought we would catch the free tour and then go to Museum Island. The tour started late, and by the time he headed out, it was about 11:30 am. It's supposed to be a 3 1/2 hour tour, and our train was supposed to leave at 5:45 pm. Sounds like there is enough time in there yeah? Wrong. However funny and charming our guide Chris was, he is a talkative guy, and the tour went well past 3 pm. The tour started in Paris Sqaure, in front of Brandenburg Gate. This is the gate where Kennedy made his famous "I am a jelly doughnut" speech. I bought a pin. It is cool. On the other side of Brandenburg, there is the German Reichstag, their Parlaiment building. In the middle of the building, there is this giant glass hamster ball that people tour and watch the German officials hard at work. It is supposed to symbolize the fact that government should be transparent, and it isn't the big wigs looking down at their constituency, it is the citizens watching over the elected officials in their work for the people. Neat building that I didn't get to go in because we ran out of time.

After that, we headed to Hitler's Bunker, and I stood on top of it. You can't go in, because that would be creepy, and it would become a Mecca for Neo-Nazis. He showed us where the shallow grave that held Hitler and Eva Braun's remains was. That was interesting in a very disturbing way. We marched on until he hit, and its really called this but I am not sure the title is clear enough, "The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe." I am still not sure who that thing was dedicated to. Anyway, it was pretty much amazing, in an ugly modern art way. It looks a little like the Jewish Graveyard here in Prague; Mezi Hrbitovy, probably because it was modeled after Mezi Hrbitovy. There is no way for me to explain this without the picture, so look in the album for it.

Then we headed to the headquarters. First, it was for the royal family. Next came the Wiemers after WWI, when Wilhelm II was ousted by the treaty of Versailles. After that, it was Nazi HQ, and when they were done in 1945 it turned over to the Soviets because it was in their part of the city. When the Soviets handed power over to the East Berlin socialists, they were given that same building! Now, it is for the German IRS! Funny fact about that building, most of Berlin was decimated by Allied bombing in WWII, but not that building. Odd... It was used for the Lufwaffe's planning/head-offices. Strange also that the Brit's R.A.F. HQ wasn't destroyed in London's bombings... hmmmm, Professional Courtesy? Accident? or... Conspiracy?!

Next, we walked to Check Point Charlie, and the Spy area of Berlin. I took a picture of the famous "Cafe Adler." Upward and onward to the sister churches of Berlin, the Catholic Church in the center of town, Humboldt University, and the site of the world's largest book burning called Babelplatz. After all this, we left the tour early because we needed to wrap up our shopping. So we went back to Unter Den Linden and back to the hostel to grab our stuff and buy some beers for the ride home. If there is one thing that I have learned, it is that booze makes the trip home tolerable, and sometimes I can actually sleep. It was because of this pit stop that we almost missed the last train out of Dodge. This wouldn't have been that bad though because we promised each other we would so the pub crawl again if we were going to stay an extra night in Berlin. We made our train though, so no pub crawl for us. It was probably for the best considering we had classes on Monday.

We arrived safely home at about midnight and crawled into our own beds. Hooray! The next day was Monday, and while everyone else was in class, I took the opportunity to check out the Christmas Market that was set up over the weekend in Old Town Square. Hello Christmas! They play all the English Christmas caroles here to. I have't heard "Good King Wenceslas though, and that seems very odd to me considering he is their patron saint...

I have been mostly bumming around town this week. Travel is hard but rewarding. I did make it to Nation to Nation however. It was good and I had fun. It was the Mexican Presentation this week, so there was mucho tequila. Everyone seemed to have a good time except Ramses, one of the Mexicans. Ramses had too much tequila and spent the second half of the night puking on his shoes. I walked around the block with him for an hour or so until he felt better and he is convinced that he would be dead with out my help. He just isn't a professional drinker like me, but he was so drunk that for a while there he forgot how to speak English. That was sort of funny. When he was able to talk again, we went to the 24 hour KFC and got him an ice cream. I was home in bed by 3 am. Not a bad night.

Yesterday, when I usually blog, I napped. It was wonderful. I leave for Amsterdam tomorrow morning. Wish me luck, I am going with 2 boys. Just me, Taylor, and John. That will probably be the longest weekend of my life. I just hope that in a good way. The NewBerlin tour company also does tours in Amsterdam. They have a pub crawl, a free tour, and the "Red Light District" tour. All of which the boys have agreed to do. There is also the Anne Frank house, and the Picasso Museum there, and they are must sees for me. Tell you all about it upon my return to civilization. By civilization, I mean when I finally sober up.
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