ich bin ein berliner

*I have pictures to go with this, but WP is being lame and not letting me upload! I’ll put them up later :)*

Berlin was fantastic!!! To be honest, I think I had so much fun because I wasn’t expecting much. When I was planning my time in Germany, I didn’t put too much of a priority on visiting Berlin because I’d heard it was such a big, international metropolis… what would make it any different from New York or anywhere like that? Luckily, I started hearing great things about Berlin from friends who went earlier in the semester, and I decided to take advantage of the long weekend and head to Germany’s capital.

I had such a great time, y’all. I left Thursday morning and finally got to my hostel after 8 long hours of travel early that evening. It was my first hostel stay, and I was a little nervous, but it really was very nice (and supa supa cheap!). My goal for the weekend was to spend each day exploring until it got dark, and then head back… I wanted to soak up as much of the city as possible, but big, dark cities can be scary places for young women traveling by themselves. Luckily, Berlin is far enough north that the sun doesn’t set till 10, so I was in for a few really long days!

My first evening in Berlin, I (kind of) followed the walking tour of East Berlin laid out by my trusty Rick Steves travel book. (*In case you somehow didn’t know, Berlin was divided in two for about 40 years after World War II, with East Berlin following a Communist Soviet model and West Berlin as a capitalist, US-influenced society.*)

I treated myself to some bratwurst and my first sauerkraut (verdict on the kraut: not bad, but I’d rather use my calories on tastier things) before exploring the Berliner Dom (Protestant Cathedral), Museum Island, the TV Tower, the sights along Unter der Linden, which was the grandest and most stately street until Hitler took over and still has a lot of really important buildings, and finally the Brandenburger Tor and Reichstag. Then, I made my way back along the Spree River to my U-Bahn stop and eventually my hostel.

Finally seeing these things I’ve learned so much about in all my years of studying German and German culture was really incredible. That’s what really swayed me about coming to Berlin… how could I spend half a year in Germany and not see the Berlin Wall remains or the capital of Germany’s government? That would be absurd! I found the buildings in Berlin to be a lot more impressive than those in Munich. Even though, as in Munich, virtually everything you see today in Berlin was destroyed in the war, it sure has bounced back… especially East Berlin! Almost every noteworthy thing in the city is in the East, and it’s so full of life that you’d never think that this was the half of the city ruled by an oppressive regime 20 years ago. (I guess it has been awhile, huh? I’m old.)

On Friday I got up nice and early (thanks to the 4:30 sunrise), ready to hit up my most-anticipated sight of my trip: Checkpoint Charlie. I don’t really know why I was so excited for this, but it ended up being pretty cool nevertheless. Checkpoint Charlie was the third (as in Alpha, Bravo, Charlie) checkpoint through which you could request entrance to East Berlin from West or vice versa. It was the site of lots of violence, given that so many East Germans wanted desperately to escape and were shot or otherwise harmed by the border guards in the process, but also a lot of heroism and ingenuity… reading the stories of the people who came up with amazing ways to smuggle their loved ones across the border was really awesome. One man somehow fit his fiancee inside two conjoined suitcases!

I also saw the Topography of Terror, which had a really cool setup: there’s a huge remaining chunk of the Wall running along the site of a lot of destroyed Nazi-era government buildings, so along the wall there’s a huge exhibit detailing the story of Germany from its unification in the late 19th century, through the economic downturn and Hitler’s rise, to the postwar annexation of Germany by the US, USSR, France, and Britain. It was awesome… but it also resulted in me getting a pretty sick sunburn on my back… whoops!

The rest of the day, I kind of bounced around the city doing things that didn’t really fit together in any kind of geographical, topical, or chronological order: the East Side Gallery, the Ritter Sport flagship store (OMG awesome), one of the Turkish neighborhoods, the Reichstag area again, and this one really cool neighborhood to the northeast that’s filled with lots of artists and young people and cool stores. I had dinner there and enjoyed looking through the stores, and then sat in a park there to plan my next day!

Saturday morning I headed to the Jewish Museum, which was surprisingly close to my hostel. It was fantastic. Now, when I first pictured the “Jewish Museum” I figured it would be mostly a send-up to the Holocaust and its victims. While the first floor, which you have to pass through to get to the permanent exhibit, is a really inventive and reflective tribute to those times–the persecution, violence, and exile of the past century–, the permanent exhibit truly tells the story of Jews in Germany… from the early days when many of them were traveling merchants, to Jewish philosophers’ and scientists’ role in the Enlightenment, to attempts at assimilation, to daily Jewish life in the 19th and 20th centuries. It was great.

(I only went to 2 museums in Berlin… the Checkpoint Charlie one and the Jewish Museum. I’d say this was a good choice… though I guess if you’re an art or Egyptian history buff, Museum Island would be interesting, and I’ve also heard the German History Museum is great but I’ve spent so much time learning that stuff anyway, I didn’t want to pay to re-learn it.)

So it turns out that I wore myself out pretty well during my first 24 hours in Berlin because after I was done in the museum, I was content to just chill out for a few hours… I sat by the Reichstag for a while, bought a pretzel, sat by the river for a while, then explored the Tiergarten for a little bit.

For the rest of the day, I got the chance to hang out and explore more of the city with Andy, a friend of mine from back in Sugar Land. He’s studying in Weimar for a few weeks this summer and just happened to be in Berlin with his program at the same time I was! Andy and I met in 7th grade after he joined the swim team I was on, we were lane mates for a good number of years and spent an ungodly amount of early mornings enduring torture together, and we went to homecoming together senior year. (High school dances are a different kind of torture.)

{You know you’re a swimmer when you and your friend, who haven’t seen each other for a year and a half, can have the following conversation at a U-Bahn station in Berlin: “Hey Annie, remember that time you put a whole bunch of Bengay on your arm after practice?” “…No.” “Oh, well you used so much that it started to burn, so then you jumped in the pool to get rid of it.” “Oh, I think I maybe remember that.” “Well, after you jumped in the pool, the chlorine made it hurt even worse… you basically freaked out.” Good times. I definitely did not remember this occasion whatsoever.}

We basically bopped around the city all afternoon, seeing a bunch of things I’d already seen (though this time I got to be in the pictures! Score!) and venturing into West Berlin for the first time of my trip. We also ate a lot of ice cream. It’s not as good in Berlin as it is in Freiburg.

Sunday morning I got up early to go to Mass at St. Hedwigs and then embarked on the long journey home… 7 hours sitting on the floor of a train. Fun times, my friends. Fun times. Someday I will have sufficient funds to travel through Europe with my own assigned train seat! Such luxury!

In summary, this was a really fantastic trip and everyone should go to Berlin because it is amazing!!!

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4 thoughts on “ich bin ein berliner

  1. Ok, I love that the church you attended was St. Hedwigs! 🙂 Berlin sounds really cool and you’ve persuaded me to want to visit it one day. Actually, all of your posts and your whole trip so far have made me want to visit Germany at some point. This is really good, because I seriously had no desire to see it at all until last year and then I only had a very small desire to see a little bit of it until you started sharing your stories and pictures.

  2. at least you didnt have to share a sleeping cabin with a german dude with the WORST b.o. on the history of man. So bad, I can still recall it almost 15 yrs later. 🙂

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