The Best of Berlin
We all said good-bye to Anja and her family, thanking them repeatedly for their hospitality and headed for the bus station. The temporary nomads were set to split up for a few days with Katie and Justin going to Amsterdam to meet friends from home, while Adam and I were off to Berlin, a destination Adam had been extremely excited to see. This is the post about our Berlin adventure.
Though I had visited Berlin on a previous occasion, I was interested to go back and visit some of the sites I missed the first time around. Adam’s big draw to Berlin was the historical significance of the city, as well as the good things he had heard about their food and nightlife scene. We were both geared up and ready to go!
What We Did
Day 92 (10/22/16): We arrived in Berlin and checked into our apartment. Adam and I went to the grocery, and dinner, and walked around a bit before heading back. We spent the evening relaxing, watching movies, and planning our next day.
Day 93 (10/23/16): We awoke early to join a free walking tour of the city. On the tour we saw Angela Merkel’s apartment, Museum Island, Book Burning Memorial, Checkpoint Charlie, Berlin Wall, Neue Wache Memorial, Brandenburg Gate, Jewish Holocaust Memorial, Reichstag Building, and the Berlin Cathedral. Afterwards, we headed to the Topography of Terror, a museum built on the site of the former SS and Gestapo Headquarters, detailing their rise to power, crimes against humanity, and demise at the end of the war. We ended up staying until the museum closed. On our way back to our apartment we stopped at a burger place, where I had my first cheese stick in three months, before calling it a night.
Day 94 (10/24/16): After sleeping in, we got ready and went to lunch at an Asian tapas restaurant called Transit. It was phenomenal. Afterwards, we walked to Alexanderplatz to see the Fernsehturm, Neptune Fountain, and the Rathaus. From there we wandered around Berlin, back to Museum Island and the Berlin Cathedral before ending up in the Hofbrahaus for some beers. We stayed there for a few hours before walking back and getting some food near our apartment.
What We Learned
- The Jewish Holocaust memorial in Berlin is one of the coolest monuments in Europe. Believe me, we have been to a number of monuments over our three months in Europe, and even several devoted to Holocaust victims, but this one is the most powerful and interesting I have encountered. It consists of a large square plot of land filled with hundreds of cement blocks of varying sizes. The blocks themselves are the approximate shape of a coffin (though in vsrying heights), and are not fully symmetrical. As you walk through it, you discover that the ground changes depth and the blocks become even taller than you had pictures from standing on the outside. The blocks are also so close together that you must walk single file between them. As you move through it, the entire place feels eerie. It was designed to make you feel uncomfortable, anxious, and isolated, similar to what the Jews felt during that time. And with one turn, you can quickly become separated from your group, wandering in between the towering blocks, unsure of what lies around the next corner. I highly recommend taking some time to walk through it and to feel those emotions. It is a powerful experience.
- A lot of the buildings in Berlin, although they may appear old, are actually fairly new. Berlin was bombed heavily during World War II and suffered additional changes during the Cold War that forced the city to be raised from the ground up. However, for the most oart they decided to rebuild in a manner that blended in with the historical sights of the city. You can only really tell the difference because the newer building will be shockingly clean for how old they appear.
- Berlin does an excellent job at embracing its history, despite its dark side. They preserved many of the buildings that were not completely leveled and left the bullet holes and war damage intact. They also have many exhibits, memorials, and museums devoted to an open discussion of their history. Our tour guide told us that the German government and the German people have made a real effort to keep their dark past in the open so that it may serve as a reminder of the horrible things that can happen if they fail to stand up for what is right and can allow them to learn from their errors as a nation and move forward. I found this to be a very interesting concept, as some countries darker chapters have sometimes been swept under the rug, rather than embraced as in Berlin.
- Sitting in Hofbrahaus drinking steins of beer and talking was a great time. It was awesome to be there together reminiscing about all we had seen and done so far on the trip. It almost felt like being at home in the Hofbrahaus in Newport.
- The free walking tour in Berlin is very good and worth looking into. You get to see a ton in a short period of time. You also get to socialize with other people visiting the city which was cool.