The first thing I noticed stepping off the train in Berlin was the smell. Whilst this may have been more that Holland smelled good versus Germany smelling bad I am not sure, but the city sure seemed to smell. Anyways, it turned out that the hostel that we were staying in was across the street, so we had no trouble finding it (which was good because it was raining.) We had a 4 bed room to ourselves with an ensuite. The beds were small but quite comfortable (considering the beds that I had been sleeping on.)
As we settled in, I heard a commotion outside. I looked out and saw the German army in strength, handling a crowd of civilians. The first thing I thought was that Nicole had chosen a hostel in the middle of the projects in Berlin, but it ended up being a crowd that was being dispersed after a football match. They were basically herding people into the metro and keeping the peace.
Around the time the crowd had been dispersed and the army had left the rain had abated, so we decided to wander around Zoologischer. Since it was Sunday, almost everything was closed. We did get to see a cool fountain and the famous K W Gedächtniskirche. The Church is interesting because it has two distinct parts, one old and one new. Apparently the original church was partially destroyed in the war and instead of re-building a new church or re-constructing the old one, they decided to mix the old and the new. The end result is that the new bell tower looks like a matchstick beside the old one.
The next day was chilled and wet, so we decided to go on a bus tour. One of the first things that you notice about Berlin is that almost every building is build in a “ultra-functional,” boring 1960’s design. This is the result of the majority of the city being destroyed at the end of WWII. The second thing that you notice is that there are a lot of museums. This is a remnant of the division of the city during the cold war, when each side needed their own museum for each category. Long story short, there are a lots of boring buildings (but the newer ones being build show promise) with a few exceptions. The Verkehrsmuseum was interesting because it had a bomber plane flying out of it.
The next few days kind of melded together as we wandered around exploring Berlin. Some notable places are as follows. Checkpoint Charlie was pretty bland. As a historical landmark, it is amazing, but all that there is now is a re-construction of a generic checkpoint. Worth a look, but it had a cheesy museum feel to it.
Of course no trip to Berlin is complete without talking about the wall. Most of the wall has been pulled down, but there are a few places where the wall still stands. On of the interesting things is that wherever the wall was you will find a double line of cobblestones in the ground. Subsequently, I was able to stand in West and East Berlin at the same time.
In Alexanderplatz, there is an atomic clock that allows you to tell the time (rather accurately) from all over the world. We walked around it and lo and behold Edmonton was one of the cities listed! Normally other countries end up picking a small obscure town like Faucet or Calgary when they are listing a town in Alberta, but not this time.
Of course we went to the top of Berlin’s phallic symbol, the Fernsehturm. At the top of the spike was a rotating restaurant, so we had some beer and looked out the windows. Whilst it offered great scenic views of the city, this is not that big of deal for Berlin as everything looks the same. Nevertheless, it is not a bad way to look at Berlin.
The Brandenburg gate is stunning and since it is right beside the Reichstag it is a must see part of the city. We ended up near the gate twice, once during the day and once at night. The way the gate is lit up at night is stunning to behold.
The Reichstag is a brilliant mix of the new and the old. The outer part of the building is built in classic styling and the inner dome has a modern feel to it. It is free to enter, so it is recommended that you get there early or late as the lines can be absurd. Inside the dome is breathtaking. There are great views and the interior is a work of art.
After a few days in Berlin we decided to take a train to Potsdam for the day. The town had a quaint feel to it. It also has the palace of Schloss Sanssouci. The gardens around the palace are expansive and quite impressive. In fact on of the most breathtaking views that I saw on the trip was the terraced garden directly behind the main building. Some of the smaller buildings in the gradin areas are also quite impressive (like the tea palace.)
The university in Potsdam is also quite impressive. It had some of the magnificent architecture that one would expect in Europe. Another interesting area in the town was the area with the Russian log houses. The story around this was that during some war, the Russians were captured and held prisoner. As it turned out, they had good singing voices and the king arranged to keep them as a personal choir. After a few years of good sensing, the king had log cabins built for them were they stayed. Better than a prison cell if you ask me.
I guess this is a good time to mention the food and drink in Germany. First off, the beer is great. Eli and I must have tried 20+ different kinds of pilsners and ales. Definitely a place to go if you like beer. Food wise, it was not too bad. I never did have a great wiener schnitzel nor a good bratwurst. It might have been the wrong part of Germany for that though.
The final place that we visited in Germany was the concentration camp Sachsenhausen. The site of the camp had been used for various types of incarceration well before the Nazis took it over. It also served as a political prisoner camp for the soviets after the war, so it has had its share of atrocities.
Sachsenhausen was the prototype for most of the other large camps and was shaped in an equilateral triangle formation. At one point was the main tower, where on machine gun could cover the entire camp. The camp was a sobering experience, as I walked around in areas that were the site to a lot of sorrow and death. You can read all about the concentration camps, but until you actually see one with your own eyes, it is hard to visualize the size of the camps and the scale of the operations. It was an interesting experience and I a glad that I made the journey.
Overall, the trip to Germany was very enjoyable. The people in Berlin seemed a little rude to tourist but there are few reasons why I perceived this. Fist off, I had just came from Holland where everyone is exceptionally nice and also because Berlin is not a major tourist destination, so the locals are not as acclimatized to tourists as other places in Europe. A fun and enjoyable trip!