After a five hour train ride we made it to the huge city of Berlin. One of Grace’s friends who is studying abroad in the city for the summer kindly offered for us to stay with him and his roommate in their apartment. The central station in Berlin was crazy, four stories of trains, trams and buses all at one place.
Somehow we found the right platform and took a regional train to a stop a bit outside of the city. We were super confused when we got off the station and started to walk in the direction of the apartment. We passed these village type communities full of Turkish people and Rastafarians just doing their thing. They were living in these makeshift houses that definitely weren’t legal. For some reason I was expecting Berlin to be a super sleek city and definitely edgy but I was thrown off. Anyways we found our way to the boys apartment and literally sat on their doorstep until they got out of class. Drew and Brian showed up about 20 minutes later to our relief. Even though they both go to Duke they are great guys and it was so sweet of them to let us crash with them. After getting settled in we ate dinner at this super hip burger joint which was literally under the train tracks. It was super cool and we definitely felt like true Berliners after eating there.
After dinner Drew and Brian showed us around the main part of the city. We went to the Brandenburg Gate in Pariser Platz and walked to the Reichstag building which was incredible.
It’s a monster of a building, all stone and historical but then in the center is a huge glass dome. The purpose of the design was to make a point about Germany having a transparent government- in the bottom of the dome is the parliament chambers. We headed back to Kreuzberg, walking by some super cool artwork. Berlin is a huge hub for art, especially graffiti and sub-cultures, like the villages Grace and I walked by. Drew and Brian explained how after the wall fell there was neutral territory that people claimed and it wasn’t worth the polices time to fight them so that’s how they exist. Also one of the biggest anarchist groups lived right by their apartment, in an old building and in their own village. Crazy to think how everyone, including the police know they are there but just let them be. Definitely wouldn’t fly in America.
The next morning Grace and I headed into the city to cover as much ground as possible in our limited time. After majorly struggling with the trains and trams (seriously so confusing- the German language is so foreign to me) we made it to the famous museum island. Since there was no way we could do all of them, we picked the Pergamon Museum. The whole museum is centered around Babalyon and ancient archeological structures. The collections were amazing, containing the Market Gate of Miletus as well as the Ishtar Gates.
They also had a huge exhibit on Muslim and Islamic art and culture. The whole museum was fascinating and well put together. We wanted to make a walking tour at two (they seriously are the best) We ate lunch in Potsdamer Platz, grabbing some street food. Of course I had to try the Berlin classic, Bratwurst. Surprisingly, I actually loved it! It was delicious, I liked it much better than the pork knuckles and potato ball I ate in Munich.
We found our way back to the Brandenburg Gate and started our tour. Our guide George was phenomenal, a native of the states he has lived in Berlin the past 8 years and his passion for the city and it’s history was infectious. I loved how he handle the dark history of Germany and especially Berlin; he made the point of acknowledging the evils that occurred but he also emphasized how the country has been coming to terms with their past.
After learning about the history of Pariser Platz and Brandenburg Gate (it’s basically all a jab at France) we walked to the Holocaust or Jewish memorial. Our guide explained to us throughout Berlin there are different monuments to honor all of the different people affected during the Holocaust. The memorial consisted of thousands of cement blocks, all of different shapes and sizes with no plaque to explain the meaning. He said it has been extremely controversial because it cost over €27 million to build yet people have no idea what it means. The artist has said very little besides that the memorial is meant to draw you in and give you the opportunity to decide what it means. He also made the point that it is impossible to capture everything the Holocaust was in one piece of art. It was extremely thought provoking and I enjoyed spending time walking through it, trying to wrap my head around the tragedy of WWII.
Next we went to a parking lot that was over the bunker that Hitler hid in at the end of the war and where he eventually committed suicide. It is only marked with a small informational sign, also a very eerie feeling to walk over that ground. We walked throughout various sites in the city, all related to the Nazi reign, communist influences or places where protests occurred. Of course we went to where the Berlin Wall used to stand, throughout the city it is marked by bricks in the ground. We went to Checkpoint Charlie, the place where the Americans and Soviets had a stand off for 72 hours. Our tour was phenomenal and extremely informative about the crazy history of Berlin.
(It was super cool to see this picture and compare it to where we were exactly standing in present day)
Grace and I visited the Topography of Terror Museum, essentially a museum that attempts to breakdown the Holocaust and WWII. In over an hour we only made it through about a fourth of all there was to look at and read. It was crazy to see pictures and read about so many places that we have visited throughout our trip where major events occurred or where the Nazis had a huge impact. We had to leave because we were short on time but I could have easily spent the entire day there. Definitely a somber experience but I think it’s so important to attempt to understand what happened in our past and learn from it.
We headed back through the city, stopping at the East Side Gallery. This is a huge stretch of the Berlin Wall that still stands. Both sides are covered in artwork, graffiti and messages of all kinds- most encouraging kindness, freedom of speech and against war. Seeing the wall that up close and personal was also pretty mind boggling, I can’t imagine living in such a state where one side meant total freedom and the other a guarantee of hardship and lack of rights.
For dinner we grabbed some sushi and then found a cool place to grab drinks after dinner. Berlin was an awesome city, definitely not what I expected! The art scene fascinated me as well as being able to walk on so many sites that changed the worlds course of history.