Trip Start Jan 08, 2008
Trip End May 17, 2008

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Monday, February 11, 2008

The following blog details my 5 city tour last week to Prague, Dresden, Leipzig, Potsdam, and Berlin:

February 2

45 students from the IES Program signed up for a 5 city tour during our week break. The trip started bright and early at 8am which meant 6am for us 18th district dwellers. Our first stop was Prague. I can't say much about Prague because we were there for a total of 120 minutes, but it was enough to time to frantically run around and find a restaurant that would accept the Euro. After our lunch, we scattered about the center of the city taking pictures of buildings that we thought might be important. I'm glad Mom and Dad are taking me to Prague during my Spring Break so I can finally put a caption to these beautiful pictures.

February 3

Dresden was a wonderful little town even though it experienced massive destruction during WWII. As tragic of a history as Dresden has, it is a particularly cheerful place. They seem to hold on to their heritage as much as possible and have gone to great lengths to restore all of the historic buildings that were bombed during the air raids. One notable restoration is the Frauenkirche which is a church in the heart of Dresden that collapsed due to the bombings. Dresden was devastated but after many years, they restored the church using previous blueprints and original stone found in the rubble. They numbered all the old stones and place the originals in their exact location alongside the new stones. This gives the church its contrasting façade.

The program directors thought it would be a great idea to take 45 students to an American Sports Bar in Dresden to watch the Super bowl at midnight. Most students enjoyed it, but the thought of eating German made hamburgers and Buffalo wings and watching an uninteresting game into the wee hours of the morning made my stomach turn. Instead, my roommates and I opted for a much cozier cafe called the Wohnzimmer (The Living Room) which didn't come with 45 screaming Americans. We quietly enjoyed our night and decided to head home around 1am. (Yes, Dad, your little girl was out with friends at 1am :) ) We found the nearest train stop and discovered the next train to the hostel was in 23 minutes. This lengthy wait period was not acceptable for my roommates and me so, after studying the public transportation map we picked a suitable detour into the main train station of Dresden. "Surely, the train we need will be running at the 1am." My roommate, Katie, optimistically stated. We made it to the main station and indeed our train was there but of course, it had stopped running for the night. We ran into an American girl who noticed we were panicking and she directed us to another method of transportation and wished us good luck. It was 1:30am, our bladders were full and we could not find our new bus. We entertained the idea of going back to the bar with the Americans which would take us another 30 minutes and then, EUREKA! We found a line of taxis (*Imagine Angels Singing*) and in 10 minutes we were back at the hostel safe and sound with only about 6 Euros less in our pockets. It was a worthy use of my allowance.

February 4

Our next stop was Leipzig. This city also has a wonderful history that was tragically destroyed in WWII. I visited the church where J.S. Bach spent the latter part of his life. It was surreal to be so close to such a master. We ate at Auerbach's Keller which is depicted in several scenes of Goethe's play, Faust. Although, it was wonderful to see all the old buildings reconstructed to look the same as before the war, it was disappointing to know that they were really built in the 90's. I struggled with this false sense of antiquity throughout my entire trip.

We arrived in Berlin on Monday night and stayed at a Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy themed hostel called Heart of Gold Hostel. (The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is a really popular science fiction book among people my age for those of you that don't know) The hostel had a great reception area with pool tables, internet, and a bar. My roommates and I met some other travelers at the hostel from Canada, Spain, England, and Australia. It was a truly international experience and was the first time I got a true perspective of what others think of America. I also had to deny rumors that Texans ride horses to school and have cacti in our front yards. (I had to give them the benefit of the doubt because we had some pretty stupid ideas about kangaroos in the Australian's front yards.)

February 5

We took a 3 hour bus tour of Berlin and visited what's left of the Berlin wall. It's the first historical monument we visited that commemorates an event that happened during my life time and the wound is clearly fresh on the Berliner's mind. 2 rows of cobblestone denote where the wall used to stand. Even after 20 years, there are still many cultural differences between East and West Germans sometimes described as "mauer im Kopf" (which translates to "wall in the head").

Aside from the wall talk, I quickly decided that I LOVE Berlin! It was the first city in our tour that has masterfully balanced their history with modernity. You can find an 18th century building right next to the Sony Center or the TV tower. My favorite example of this symbiosis of old and new is the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedaechtniskirche. This church was built in the neo-romantic style but was destroyed by bombs in 1943. Only the scantily supported tower remained and became a monument to the war. The actually church still functions in the new steel and stained glass building since 1961 and the bombed tower contains a memorial of the churches history.

February 6

My friends and I decided to splurge and go up into the Fernsehtrum (TV tower). Similar to the Seattle Space Needle, you can go to the observation tower and eat in the revolving café. Sounds fun right?!?!? The café used to revolve once an hour but after its 90's renovation it revolves every 20 minutes-a true delight for someone who gets motion sick just driving to the grocery store. The kitchen remains stationary and the seating area just rotates around it. I might as well have been on a rollercoaster. I couldn't look at the kitchen because it was zooming by and I couldn't look outside because I thought we were going to rocket off the tower. They seriously needed a sign warning people with motion sickness to stay away. The evening got only marginally better when I my meal came. I had to laugh a little when I realized I spent 27 Euros to look out dirty windows, eat mediocre food and feel sick. The experience was not much better for my claustrophobic roommate who had to endure the never ending elevator ride. To sum up, don't go to the Telecafe in the Fernsehtrum in Berlin.

February 7

We visited Potsdam on Thursday which is about an hour outside of Berlin. The first palace we saw was the SansSouci Palace (meaning 'no worries') which was the summer palace for Frederick the Great, King of Prussia. It was a quaint little palace and has been beautifully maintained. We had to wear giant slippers over our shoes to protect the floors. Our tour guide was what made this palace my favorite stop in Potsdam. He enjoyed his job so thoroughly that I almost couldn't decide whether or not he knew he lived in present day. He would make hilarious off-hand remarks about disturbing the King in his bedroom and how badly the King smelled before showers were installed in the palace.

Our next stop was the Schloss Cecilienhof which was home to the Crown Prince Wilhelm Hohenzollern and later the site of the Potsdam Conference between Stalin, Churchill and Truman in 1945. Although our tour guide was anything but interesting, I did get to stand in leaders' rooms and see their desks and imagine the debates that went on a half century ago.

February 9

In the center of Pariser Platz in Berlin is the famous Hotel Adlon where Michael Jackson dangled his baby out of the balcony. During a walk to the Reichstag (German parliament) we passed a crowd of people in front of the Hotel. Being a nosey American, I stopped to see what all the fuss what about. I forced my roommates to stay with me and we peered over the tops of peoples' heads. After about 5 minutes, Hayden Panettiere walked out of the hotel. (She is in that TV series "Heroes") The Berlin Film Festival was going on the week we were there and it was exciting to see someone that famous in person. I chuckled at the fact that I was obliviously standing there with her hard core fans and I had no idea who was going to come out of the Hotel.

February 10

After a 10 hour bus ride with no real lunch break, getting motion sick, and losing my debit card, we made it back home to Vienna. It was strange to realize how homesick I was for Vienna and I am so glad to be back.

School starts on Monday so I have to snap back into reality...

And don't worry, I cancelled my debit card and no one used it. YAY!
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