Monday, February 2, 2015

Berlin for the Win!

This is me standing in front of the Berlin Wall! Actually it's me standing in front of the Berlin Wall painted on the Berlin Wall.

Well I had a great trip to Berlin this weekend! We had a little time so we took a weekend trip there to check out the city. I got to check ‘See The Berlin Wall’ off of my bucket list, and we saw a lot of other beautiful and historic places. One thing I have to say is that I honestly had no idea about the history or story of Berlin until this weekend. I didn’t realize how much chaos and turmoil has taken place there in the last one hundred and fifty years, so to be able to visit the city and learn so much of the history was incredible. I seriously learned so much!! I don’t even know where to begin.

Our trip started with a nice four hour train ride through the Czech/ German countryside. Once there, we somehow navigated the German transportation system and made it to our Airbnb. One of the best parts of the trip was that we had a bath tub!!! It was amazing. The place we stayed at was a really cool flat in the Prenzlaurberg neighborhood. Our first night we did some shopping in the Alexanderplatz district. It was really cold. Like really really cold. Like two-pairs-of-socks-all-weekend kind of cold. But we persevered and made the best of it. The only stressful moment was Friday night when we were freezing, exhausted after a long day of travel, and making our way home and we couldn’t find anything to eat because everything was in German. Fortunately, we finally found a Doner Kabab stand. I’d been wanting to try donor kebabs here in Prague but have been busy eating different Czech foods (which I love. I’m obsessed with Czech food). I heard kebabs were especially good in Berlin so we decided to try them. They are delicious! I’m really not sure exactly what kind of meat it is. It’s just a giant piece of meat on a rotisserie and they shave off the meat in front of you when you order. Then they put it all on a pita-type pocket and stuff it with veggies like lettuce, tomatoes, and onions, as well as a type of yogurt sauce. All for around 3 Euro’s. It’s completely amazing. 

Our Turkish friend slicing the meat as the rotisserie turned.

It actually tastes even better than it looks.

The outside of our favorite Doner Kebab stand.

 Anyways, we woke up Saturday morning to a winter wonderland! It had started snowing around nine o’ clock the night before. We grabbed a bite to eat a café down the street. Europe is basically café heaven. There’s at least two on every street filled with every type of delicious pastry you can imagine. I’m thoroughly enjoying trying something new almost every day. But you also can’t go wrong with just a chocolate croissant, right? We took a walking tour around the city that lasted about five hours. It was great because we not only got to see all the important buildings and historical monuments and memorials, but we got to hear the history behind all of them as well, which is what we really wanted. I feel like it would have been pointless to see all the sights without having a tour guide because I would have had no idea about the significance of what I was looking at. We really enjoyed the walk. It was just slightly freezing though. I had on - obviously two pairs of socks – leggings under my jeans, two shirts, a sweater, a thick coat, a scarf, gloves, insulated boots, and my hood up the entire time and I was still freezing. Like for real FREEZING. But it was totally worth it and I honestly forgot how cold I was half the time. Anyways, here are some pictures of a couple of the places we saw.


The pastry on the left was called a Berliner. There's some confusing story behind it about how people from Berlin aren't phased by much but on the inside they're really sweet. I didn't really get it....

Museum Island walkway

The famous Berlin Cathedral

Brandenburg Gate. The story behind the gates is actually really interesting. When Napoleon conquered Berlin he took it upon himself to march his entire army directly through the middle of the gates. Then he even took the four horses and charioteer back to France just to rub it in the faces of the Berliners. They eventually got it back. Now the French embassy resides to the right of the gates. All the windows in the building are angled towards the charioteer as a nod towards there initial victory and to take a jab at the Germans. It's kind of a longstanding joke/bitter rivalry between the two nations. Anyways later when Hitler conquered Berlin he took a card from Napoleon's book and also marched his army directly through the middle of the gates. Actually many of the famous Nazi rallies and youth marches took place right there in front of the gates. It was crazy to be standing in the same exact place where so much history took place. Obviously I then had to also march through the middle of the gates myself.

Above is the Memorial for Murdered Jews in the Holocaust. It's made out of hundreds of concrete prisms. Walking between them across the uneven ground and between the leaning slabs is meant to be quite unsettling. This memorial was one of my favorites. The sheer massivness was incredible. Also, every concrete block was coated with an anti-graffiti coating. The designers of the memorial struggled because the maker of the coating was also one of the same companies that made the pesticides used in the Holocaust to murder all the people in the gas chambers. Many people were opposed to using the same company, but as one person noted, "If you're looking for a company in Germany that has no connections with the Holocaust, you're not going to find one." Germans embodied this and instead of trying to find a different company and avoid dealing with what actually happened, they decided to face it head on and recognize everything that happened.

This is the Concert House of Berlin. Very pretty building with some of the best acoustics in the world.

After the walk we went to this famous chocolate store called Fassbender & Rausch and visited the Mall of Berlin. When it was all said and done, we had been out of the apartment for twelve hours straight. We finally headed back home and got another donor kebab on the way of course. Later that night we went to the DDR Museum which was really cool. It had tons of actual artifacts, videos, and stories from East Berlin when the wall was still up.

Replica made out of milk chocolate.

This is a trabant car, one of the famous German-made cars of the Cold war era. People were on a ten-plus year wait list to get a car. Funny, these actually had a maximum speed of around 70mph. We were able to get behind the wheel and drive the car through the virtual streets of East Berlin.

Living room from the same era that was actually really neat. You could look through the cabinets and change the TV station and learn more information about what it was like to live in East Germany. This was how an actual house was set up.

On our final day in Berlin we hit the last item on our list, the East Side Gallery. This is the longest part of the Berlin Wall that is still standing. They have actually turned it into a piece of art and had various artists paint murals along the 1.3km wall. It was really neat. Here are some of my favorite works. 

Locks on a gate in the wall. You can see the Spree River behind it. 

At this point we had pretty much done everything we wanted to do in Berlin, which was perfect because we had a train to catch!

Overall I definitely enjoyed Berlin. Haley and I had a lot of fun and it really opened my eyes learning all of the history of the city. Berlin was a lot more urban than I was expecting. Prague is a big city, but it just doesn’t feel like it. Here every street is its own masterpiece with beautiful architecture and amazing cathedrals and pieces of history on every corner. I think it’s really just hard to beat so any city I go to won’t be quite as amazing as Prague. Berlin almost reminded me of New York City at times. It wasn’t on such a grand scale necessarily, but it was a lot more modern and city-ish compared to being here in the Czech Republic. I did like the streets better there though because they weren’t just solid cobblestone so people were riding bikes everywhere which I can see as being a major plus. Also, more people spoke English so that was helpful.

I can honestly say though I was glad to get back to my city. As soon as I heard people speaking Czech I immediately felt at home again. Prague is just my happy, little corner of central Europe. I finally feel comfortable getting around without thinking about it and I can actually converse and get by trying to speak with other people. It’s crazy how comforting it was when the train pulled into Hlavni Nazdravi and I knew exactly how to get home and understood the language. The only German I knew was ‘nine’, which means ‘no’, so that didn’t exactly get me very far… In general I can say that it was definitely nice to get away for a weekend and explore a different city and learn so much more history. As amazing as Berlin was, I can honestly say it still doesn’t come close to my amazing city of Prague though.

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