Monday, May 26, 2008

Where I was: Berlin

May 24, 2007

The train to Berlin was a really beautiful ride. Germany is like a never ending forest, and is really green. We met two funny Scottish boys on the train. They thought we were hilarious with our backpacks and American lingo. We got to the first Berlin train station and hopped off, but it was not the main station. This was when we realized that Berlin is HUGE.

I can not even begin emphasizing how massive Berlin is. We went to information to figure out where we were, book our next train and try to find a hostel. The man at the information booth was super helpful and gave us exact directions to our hostel on the subway. The subway system in Berlin is also massive considering it has to cover such a big city--makes sense.

We made it to the hostel, but they only had room for the first night. Out of tiredness we took it. We were starving by this point so we walked to Unter Den Linden--the "parade" street, which was further than we thought. Either way, we made it there and got a traditional German meal. I ate sausages, sauerkraut and potatoes and drank a syrup flavored beer which is apparently one of Berlin's specialties--I found that out later.

After dinner we got ice cream from this place Bandy Brooks where we met these American boys who were in the Glee Club at Rutgers.

After ice cream we went to a street filled with cocktail bars and lots of prostitutes--awkward. Lisa and I each got a cocktail. We would have liked to experience Berlin's famous nightlife, but we were super exhausted and had to wake up early to do the tourist stuff in Berlin since we only had one full day there. In he morning we left our bags at he hostel until we found a new one and met time who brought us to Brandenburg Gate for a tour of Berlin.

The tour was 3.5 hours long, but our tour guide Maria was super enthusiastic and a great storyteller so it was actually a really great and really informative experience.

One of the first things on the tour was the Hotel Adlon, which happens to be the hotel where Michael Jackson dangled his baby over the balcony. I was highly entertained by this. We did the Holocaust Memorial which consists of concrete slabs laid out in a field with little explanation. Walking through them was chilling, I can't even imagine what visiting a concentration camp would be like. We also saw the spot where Hitler committed suicide--but almost none of the Nazi buildings exist anymore. The spot is impossible to know unless someone points it out to you. Berlin is essentially rid of all of that history, but the tour helped to understand it all.

It was also interesting seeing the Berlin Wall. Our tour guide pointed out the irony that there is now a fence around the remains of the wall, but this is to keep away people who hack at the wall to get pieces and then sell them as souvenirs.

After the tour we went to a museum that our tour guide suggested--the Pergamon. It had the gate of Babylon, one of the seven wonders, and a temple from Pergamon which is a town in Turkey. Basically, these structures were torn down, brought to Germany and rebuilt in a museum. I love how Europeans used to think it was ok to go around pillaging places and then displaying the acquisitions in local museums.

After the museum, we got some ice cream and then started to look for a hostel. It turned into a never-ending search. We took a break from the search at an internet cafe where I realized I have .78 cents left. I also found out that I got offered an interview at the United Nations Association o Greater Boston. I am excited about the interview.

After not finding a hostel in Berlin's massive downtown we headed back to one near our original hostel. It was called Three Little Pigs and the guy said he had beds in an overflow room. We were fine with that until we got there and learned that we'd be sharing a room with a 45-year-old German man. We left and equally sketched out, we tried to find another place. Everything was booked because it was a German holiday.

Near the Three Little Pigs hostel was a strip of budget hotels and one had a room for 58 euro, which was only 11 euro more each than the sketchy man room. After an awkward situation with with the receptionist at the first hostel, we got our money back and booked the hotel. We knew it was wise to avoid that situation even if the man seemed harmless.

We were exhausted, but we carried on and went to the Reichstag, the German parliament. We went to the glass dome on top where you can look down on the government. Our guide told us that this is to remind the government that the people are always in charge so another Hitler never happens. Lisa also told me that Germany is very liberal for this reason.

At the dome we were being fools saying the few German phrases we knew--danke, bitte, enchuligan and the police up there thought it was hilarious and joined in. It was a good laugh.

After Reichstag we went to checkpoint Charlie--a re-enactment of the American army checkpoint during the Berlin wall years and we ate an unhealthy dinner consisting of pizza and fries at a little restaurant there. It was super cheap, which is important since I basically have run out of money. Dead tired we went back home and went to bed.

We woke up this morning for our train, which ended up being late making us miss our two connectors (to visit Lisa's family). We are still on the train and Lisa's relative Horst will be picking us up. We thought Germany would be smooth sailing, but even with the clean and seemingly organized train system, we have run into mayhem.

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