Trip Start Jun 10, 2007
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Germany  ,
Thursday, November 20, 2008

One week from right now we will be home! Crazy... we can't wait.
Ok Berlin. First we must discuss our epic journey getting here... sigh. We knew it was going to be a big travel day as it was to be about ten and a half hours on the train with two changes if all went well... too bad it didn't. We actually thought about taking a night train, but there were five changes and we didn't really feel like jumping from train to train all night long with no sleep. Anyway, we decided to take the city bus from Cesky Krumlov up the hill (about a 40 minute walk) to the train station. We had the bus schedule in hand and were at the bus station at 7:45am to catch the 8:00am bus to be on our train at 8:38am. The bus never showed. At about 8:15 I headed into the bus station to see if they could call us a cab as we didn't have time to wait for the next bus (if it ever came). The woman at the desk said no. So, we sprinted with all of our belongings into the town square and luckily found a cab that drove us quickly up to the station to catch our train with a few minutes to spare... thankfully. After about an hour on that train we had to transfer to catch a train back to Prague to catch our connection to Berlin. We got about half way to Prague and made a stop at some random town. I noticed that an abnormally large group of travelers were getting off there and went to investigate. I scanned the cabin and found not a soul. At that point the ticket person started screaming at me to "Change!" "Bus!" "Change!" I quickly woke Meg who was napping peacefully, gathered our things in haste (forgetting my book where I was in the last couple of chapters dammit) and sprinted to this row of buses that was beginning to pull away. We started driving not knowing if we were completing the journey by bus or what. After about ten minutes we pulled over at some dirt parking lot near some train tracks where a train was waiting for us. We all filed on this new train and headed on. We arrived in Prague about a half hour late. Luckily we had an hour and a half layover before our train left Prague for Berlin. We did have one task in Prague however. Someone (not mentioning any names but it wasn't me) managed to leave her ipod in our room in Prague before we left for Cesky Krumlov. Thankfully they found it and held it for us. So we had just enough time to head back to the hostel, pick up the ipod and head to the other train station to get on our train to Berlin. Upon arrival at Prague's railway station for crazy people (honestly it seemed that there were more people hanging around the station that were a little dodgy than not) we found out that our train was delayed 70 minutes! So we rushed around Prague getting to this station just in time to sit there for 70 minutes and hope we didn't get eaten or something. We finally got on our train for Berlin and settled in. To our surprise, we were given a form to fill out to get reimbursed for the tickets because it was so late. The German transportation network is surely unrivaled. So we rolled into Berlin about an hour and a half late and hoped on the subway to our hostel. We eventually found the place after wandering around for a few minutes in the dark, cold, and in an intense rain. So after about 15 hours of trying to get here we finally did. Of course after three months of virtually flawless travel, we were surely tested on one of the last legs of our journey. Thankfully Berlin did not disappoint.

Ok Berlin... it was our last new city on our trip (even though Meg had been here before). It is said to be one of the fastest changing cities on the planet. It certainly has quite a bit to offer. It has over 170 museums... and enough history to fill them all. It was not even 20 years ago that Berlin was divided and drastically different. After being here only for a few days and absorbing some of its history and experiencing its present, the transformation is amazing. Although many Berliners still frequent what was West Berlin, most of the action is in the vibrant East. We quickly found out that Berlin is pretty broke. The city is over 62 billion euros in debt. With very little industry and a city to rebuild, the price tag is enormous. On top of that the unemployment rate is at 17%! Despite this, Berlin is exceptionally clean, incredibly friendly, has arguably the greatest transportation system in the world, and is intensely policed. We couldn't even jaywalk without being looked at strangely by the police that seemed to be everywhere. This is also the first place on our whole trip where we were actually checked to see if we indeed had our metro ticket. The efficiency here is incredibly impressive.

We decided to go on a walking tour our first day. It was about four hours long and wonderfully informative. Our guide knew the ins and outs not only of Berlin today, but the history of just about each and every building, square, and monument in town. What was really interesting was the treatment of Hitler's bunker. We had always heard about it, but it was not nearly what we expected once we got to the site. What once had 18 rooms with 3 metre thick walls is now nothing more than a parking lot. It doesn't even appear on tourist maps or in many guidebooks. Apparently they didn't want a place for people to remember or visit to potentially pay homage to him so they purposefully gave little attention to preserving the site. Very interesting stuff. After about four hours of very intense history (and weather), we retreated to our room to warm up and ponder it all.

The next day we headed out to check out some of the things we saw on our walking tour that intrigued us. We first headed to a cool chocolate shop that made Megan drool the previous day. They even had massive models of the Brandenburg Gate, Parliament building, and even the Titanic all made out of chocolate. It was pretty impressive. After checking out the chocolate art and of course picking up a few samples, we then headed to "Checkpoint Charlie". This was the most frequently used border crossing between East and West Berlin. There is also a large portion of the Wall still intact that gives only a glimpse of what once was a 161km long barrier that surrounded West Berlin. The Checkpoint Charlie museum at the site now gives a detailed history of what life was like during the cold war. Although it is slightly disorganized, it has a ton of information. Most if it deals with depicting many of the escape attempts of people in the East trying to get to the free West. The creativity and ingenuity of the escapees is truly awesome. Tunnels, zip lines, homemade airplanes, fake gas tanks, it was amazing to see not only the documented history of these attempts but some of the actual apparatuses used were particularly interesting. From there we headed through the impressive Brandenburg Gate to the Reichstag, the German Parliament. We had hoped to climb to the glass dome rising above the centre of the building to take in the views of Berlin. Unfortunately many others had the same idea and after sightseeing for so long our tolerance for queues has all but vanished. Instead we headed through the Tiergarten into West Berlin to see the Kaiser-Wilhelm Church. It was left just as it was the day it was bombed on November 22, 1943 as an anti-war memorial. One look at its broken towers and blown out windows makes you try and fathom this destruction on a much larger scale. This church lies at the end of what once was THE place to shop in Berlin. Although it is said to have lost some of its charm with the development of the Eastern part of the city, it was still a fabulous boulevard to stroll and of course windowshop. As the days are growing shorter now, we retreated to our hostel to relax and organize our things. Although we were only here for a couple of days, we could fully imagine spending much longer to try and soak up more of the intense history and vibrant lifestyle that Berlin isn't shy about. For now we are heading back to Gryon, Switzerland for a visit with friends before we head home!
See you soon!

Megan and Kevin
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