Published: April 23rd 2009April 23rd 2009
Welcome to Berlin
It's come time for me to update this old thing about my Easter adventures, and I have lots to say and only so much desire to write so much, so no time to dilly dally, let's get the ball rolling.
On Friday, April 3rd, Libor, Jana [Slovakia], Ivan [Slovakia], and I drove to Vienna with our friend Jevgenij [born in Ukraine to Russian parents but lives in the Czech Republic], where he dropped the four of us off, and we spent the afternoon in Vienna. We went to the Schönbrunn Palace where we hung out, people watched, and enjoyed the suddenly warm weather that struck Austria. It was a beautiful day, and we took it all in, then caught the metro into the heart of the city and wandered around a little bit, before eventually finding our way to one of Vienna's train stations to catch our train north. I was very excited about the train we were riding on, it was technically headed to Warsaw [Poland's capital, where Martyna is from], but parts of it were branching off at various stops, one such branch being Moscow. Libor, Jana, and Ivan all thought I was nuts for
Das Rote Rathaus
The Red City Hall in Alexanderplatz, former main square of East Berlin, named for the color of the brick, not for communism.
being so excited to be on a train headed to Moscow [MOSCOW!], but so be it. We met our friend Mio from Japan on the train, and the 5 of us were in a compartment together. Coincidentally, a friend of ours from France who lives in another part of Austria ended up also being in our compartment, and we had no idea that she was even going to Berlin, but so the 6 of us rode north for the night. Two friends of ours, David and Sarah, who're brother and sister, were in the compartment next to us, and both are straight from Graz. The train left Vienna at about 10:30 at night, and at about 9am, we arrived in Berlin's main trainstation.
April 4th was the day we got there, and first we found the hostel, as well as met up with Martyna [Poland] and Nico [France], who had taken the train a day earlier. We set out to explore the sights, and, as we were staying in East Berlin, headed first to Alexanderplatz, which was the former main square of the East. We then just wandered around the East, saw the cathedral, went inside and wandered around
TV Tower, one of the symbols of Berlin.
there, as well as went up to the cupola where we could look out at the world's ugliest city. More on that later. However, Saturday was mostly a day just to wander the city a little and get a feel for it, and we ended up taking a 4 hour long [which turned into 5 hour long] boat tour through the rivers and canals of Berlin [which actually has more bridges than Venice, if you can believe that]. The boat tour was fun, though it quickly got a bit boring when we couldn't fully understand the guide who did not shut up for a single second of the entire tour, but we got to see some cool stuff from the water that we normally wouldnt've been able to see, as well as a long stretch of THE wall, which was cool.
Sunday we slept in a little due to not having slept so well on the train the night before, and headed out for the Charlottenberg palace. We did a tour of that which was nice, though nothing in comparison to some of the palaces in Vienna, and then grabbed lunch at an Italian restaurant, sitting outside since it
Fountain of Neptune.
was beautiful weather. It was warm while we were in Berlin, and then the heat really cranked up in the Czech Republic, but again, more on that later. I baffled the Europeans while I ate spaghetti and French fries, washed down with a coke, but so it goes. Afterwards, we headed to the Gedächtniskirche, which was a church destroyed in World War II and left as it was, though a modern church was built next to it. That was one of my personal favorite things in Berlin. We then continued to the Victory Column that everyone knows Berlin for, walking straight down the middle of the road amidst traffic in order to get the best pictures possible. As it was already starting to turn into the evening, we decided to head in the directions of the Reichstag, which houses Germany's government, and saw that lit up at night. We continued there to the Brandenburg Gate, which was really cool, and finally we all felt that we had validation for coming to Berlin, since we'd been there more than 24 hours without having seen it. We strolled down Unter den Linden, then hopped back to Alexanderplatz, and from there went back
Ivan from Slovakia with a statue of Engels
to our hostel.
Monday the 6th we went to the Reichstag in the morning to try to go up to the cupola, but the line was way too long, so we decided instead to head back to the Brandenburg Gate to see it in the day, and from there head to Checkpoint Charlie. We stayed at Checkpoint Charlie for a while, which was the border of the American sector of Berlin and exactly where the wall stood, and read a lot of stuff there about the building of the wall, escape attempts, etc. etc. By Checkpoint Charlie we were also able to go and see a section of the wall, which was really cool, as well as an area of land behind it that would've been No Man's Land. We headed to Potsdamerplatz, where we grabbed lunch in the Sony Center and were assaulted by a waitress for trying to pay with coins she didn't like. The Euro has as coins: 1Euro, 2Euro, 50 cents, 20 cents, 10 cents, 5 cents, 2 cents, and 1 cent. One of my friends total came to something like 10.05Euro. He paid with a 10Euro bill, and then tried to give the 5
One of the few pretty sections of the city.
cents as two 2 cents, and one 1 cent. After getting yelled at by the waitress that she "didn't accept the small coins since she didn't like to carry them around," as well as arguing about prices [she had told us prices that were different from the ones on the menu], we all threw some nasty German words here way and bid her adieu. We strolled once more down Unter den Linden in the day, and headed to a memorial for the Jews killed by the Germans, which has turned into something of a playground which was pretty sad to see, and then grabbed some dinner. We then saw my favorite thing in Berlin, which was a synagogue destroyed during Kristallnacht. For those of you who don't remember, Kristallnacht was the night that the Germans went out into Berlin and destroyed, burnt, etc. etc., everything belonging to the Jews. We unfortunately couldn't go inside, but it was definitely very cool to see. Since it was our last night in Berlin, we decided to go out to a little cocktail place, and hung out there for the night chatting and feeling the relief that we would soon be leaving Berlin.
Tuesday the 7th was our day for museums. We checked out of our hostel, and then headed to the Pergamonmusem, which houses an altar from Pergamon, in Greece. It was really cool to see that, and there were also lots of ancient Roman things, mostly architecture, as well as the Gates of Ishtar from Babylon [I believe, though don't quote me on that, I could be wrong]. That was very cool, and we spent a good chunk of time there. We then continued to "The Old Museum" [yes, that's actually what it's called, those Germans are just so creative, eh?], and saw various things from Egypt, including the bust of Nefertiti's head, which surely everyone has seen in every history book there ever was. Libor, Martyna, and I then grabbed a quick lunch and got once again seriously ripped off by those lovely Berliners, and then we all bid our adieu to Martyna, as she had to catch her train back to Poland. From there, we all split ways for the afternoon, and Libor and I went to the Reichstag, and, after about 40 minutes of waiting in line, headed up to the class cupola that's become one of the
images of Germany. Like everything else in Berlin, the Reichstag had been destroyed, but then it was rebuilt, and this time with a glass cupola on top that you can alctually walk up into on winding paths, and it sits right over the House of Parliament [I believe], so that the German politicians can always look up to remember who it is that they're working for, the people of Germany...even though only tourists go there. We spent about 20 minutes at the top, but then we were out of time, and we had to head to the train station to meet everyone else. After grabbing some food to take with us, as well as corrupting some Europeans [see my pictures], we piled back into the train, and left Berlin at about 5:30pm. Luckily for Libor and me, we only had to travel about 7 hours, as we weren't headed back to Vienna, but rather...Prague!
Before I talk about the Republic, though, I figure I should give my "summing up" of Berlin. I hated it. Ok, that's maybe a little bit strong, but I think that was my first and potentially last trip to Berlin. Though I've never been interested
in Germany [thus: Austria], this sort of confirmed it. Of course, I'd like to go to other cities in Germany, but I honestly have no interest in returning to Berlin. The first thing is that it's a very ugly city. Everything was obviously destroyed, so it was all rebuilt either to resemble something old, or so modern and so odd and ugly that it's just a really big turn off. There's a lot of American influence, but I can't really describe it, it's sort of like trashy America. They have McDonald's, Burger King, Dunkin Donuts, and Pizza Hut all right next to each other, and it just came off to me as a really cheap imitation of home, and just promoted a really bad image of America. The entire time there I never felt particularly comfortable, and I was literally thinking most often about 5:30pm on the 7th when we'd head out. I have also never met people who were ruder than Berliners. The only times we had good experiences in restaurants were when we had non-German waitors, otherwise, they were just flat out mean. Also, regular people were very rude. To get into our hostel, we needed a code,
Das Alte Museum
The Old Museum, which has the artifacts from Egypt.
and of course, our first night there, the code wasn't working. Martyna was punching in the numbers that we were telling her, but it wasn't working, and there was also a woman waiting with us that had to get into the building. She started saying very, very nasty things to Martyna, calling her dumb and whatnot, in German obviously, and our friend from Austria stepped in and asked her to politely back off, as we weren't from Berlin, let alone from Germany. The woman then asked where Martyna was from, which was something Martyna had been trying to avoid the entire time in Germany, what with history being as it is, and when our friend said Poland, the woman switched into English and started saying cruel things about Poland, saying that Martyna was dumb, and Poland is a backwards, poor country, how pathetic it is, this that and the other thing, to the point that it got ME mad, and, being the only one there with English as a native language, I took the reigns and answered back to this lovely woman, giving her first a piece of my mind, but also intentionally talking as fast as I could, which
Front of the cathedral.
really threw her for a loop. Overall, it was a fun trip in Berlin due to the people I was with, but I have nothing short of absolutely no interest in ever returning there.
So, back to my adventures. On Tuesday night [technically Wednesday morning], our train made a stop in Prague, and though Libor and I had tickets to Vienna, we jumped off, where we were greeted by his cousin, Anna, whom I'd met over Christmas and is fluent in German [booyah]. She lives and works in Prague, though is from the same place as Libor [obviously], but is currently inbetween apartments in Prague, so Libor and I actually stayed in her old place by ourselves. Thus, for 3 days, we were kickin' it in our own apartment in Prague, which was a blast. On Wednesday, we headed into the city, but we were careful about what we chose to see. Our instructions were to avoid the city's center, as Anna would be giving us a personal tour on Thursday. Thus, we ended up first heading to Vyšehrad, which was the original place that the kings of the Czech Republic lived, etc. It was really cool, very pretty,
Front of the cathedral.
and we had awesome views of the entire city. We stopped there and got a rohlík, which is a type of Czech bread and one of my favorites, and just sat on a bench enjoying it all. The weather was absolutely gorgeous, in the 70s the entire time, which was just fantastic seeing as I'd asked Libor about the weather and he said it'd still be pants and sweatshirt weather, so I had no shorts with me. However, that wasn't his fault, as we later heard on the radio that the week+ that he and I were in the Czech Republic was the hottest it had been in April in more than 230 years. After our rohlík, we took a stroll down the Vltava, Prague's river, where we saw the National Theatre and the Dancer House [see pictures]. We crossed the Vltava, and headed to Petrín. Unfortunately, I can't properly spell how words are in Czech with accents and whatnot, as this website doesn't accept those characters for some reason, but so it goes. Thus, we climbed up Petrín, which is like a mini Eiffel Tower, and from there also got to overlook the entire city. It was getting to
R to L: Sarah [Austria], Ivan [Slovakia], Jana [Slovakia]
be time for lunch, though, and we were in the center of the city where things are significantly more expensive, so we hopped on the metro and just rode until we felt like getting off, and ended up on the south end of the city, where we got a quick bite to eat. From there, we headed back into the city to the Jewish quarter, carefully avoiding the actual middle of the city, and wandered around for a bit. Unfortunately, we were there a bit late and so we didn't end up going into anywhere, as we had about a half an hour before the entire Quarter shut down, but that was most definitely not my last trip to Prague, so I'll get to see all that later and then you can all see my pictures, etc. We then headed up to Letenské Sady, which is a park, where we relaxed for a bit, looked out over the city, and enjoyed just being in Prague. We have a few friends here in Graz from Prague, one of whom was home for the break, so we'd called her earlier and we ended up meeting up with her for dinner, where we
Libor and Martyna
sat at a small local restaurant on the sidewalk and date gulasch with a beer, true Czech style.
On Thursday, we got up and headed across the street, to see the largest cloister in Europe [I believe], which was nice. We then headed into the city where we met Anna, and with her, we went to Prague's castle, which houses the government of the Czech Republic. We were there on the hour, so we got to see the changing of the guard ceremony, as there are guards stationed during the day at all the entrances to the castle, which was really cool. We saw the castle's cathedral, as well as where Obama had spoken roughly 48 hours previously. We then walked down to Charles' Bridge, which was naturally packed with tourists but very cool. For those of you who don't know, Charles [Karel] was basically the most important person in the history of the Czech Republic. He was a ruler in the 1300s, and is still very loved by all. He commissioned the bridge to be built so that he could get from his residence on one side of the river to Prague's castle where he would work and
Mio from Japan.
whatnot. The best thing I think about the bridge is they say that he followed astrology and numerology very closely, and thus decided to build the bridge on the 9th of July 1357, laying the first stone at 5:31am. Why, you might ask? When you line up the date, it goes: 1 3 5 7 9 7 5 3 1, thus making a bridge. Pretty cool, huh? Another legend is that they locked the stones in place using egg yolk. We got lunch at a secret little local place Anna knew in the center, and then continued on to the main square of Prague, where we saw the Orloj, aka the clock that on every hour plays and windows up with the 12 apostles and whatnot, as well as the major church of Prague, which I can't even describe, you'll just have to look at my pictures. We continued on to Wenceslas Square, which yes, is the same as the Christmas song, where we saw the Museum of National History, and roamed around a little bit. We then bid Anna adieu, and did some wandering on our own, heading back to the Orloj to see it play, as we ended
Libor, Ivan, and Sarah playing in a fountain.
up there exactly on the hour which was kind of cool. We went back to the same restaurant for dinner, as it was relatively cheap but also quite good, and hung out there for a while, before heading out into the night to see everything lit up.
On Friday, we went to Prague's castle first to try to get into the cathedral, but the line was once again way too long, but we did end up seeing the major changing of the guard that takes place everyday at noon, where they also do a flag ceremony and whatnot. We then tried to go to the Jewish cemetary, but, being Good Friday, it was unfortunately closed. One more time, we went back to the same restaurant [but hey, every time we tried something new], and then headed to the train station, where we said so long to Prague, and headed for Linhartice, Libor's village. Hillary had asked me how to pronounce it, which I suppose is a valid point, so I'll tell you now: Leenhartyeetsay with a rolled r. We got there at about dinner time, so we ate, hung out, caught up with everybody, and watched a movie on
Inside the cathedral.
tv that's near and dear to the Czechs: Slunce, Seno a Pár Facek, which was funny.
Saturday the 11th was a great day. Libor and I headed out with Josef, Libor's stepdad, to a city about an hour away from Linhartice, where we ended up at a racetrack. Josef's boss' son races little racecars, so Josef was going there to help with the engine, knowing lots about cars and whatnot. Libor and I went with him, and there we ended up doing some racing, though not with the professionals, of course, as well as riding 4-wheelers, both of which were a lot of fun. In the afternoon, we headed to Čistá, a tiny little village, where we saw Libor's brother Radim play soccer, which was also fun, though not the best soccer I've ever seen in my life. We ended up riding home with the team on the bus, which they all got a kick out of, as I was most often either the American from Austria or the Englishman from Austria, but they were fascinated that I spoke Czech. We got off in Moravska Trebova and Radim and Pavla's [Radim's wife], and then went with Radim and bowled
for the evening, which was fun. Oh right, and did I mention what I ate for lunch? Rabbit. That's right, ladies and gents, the day before Easter and I ate rabbit. Yep, I'm going to hell.
On Easter Sunday, Libor and I headed out into his village on a mission. We had to find a certain type of tree, and from it, cut down about 20 branches 10 for each of us, so that we could make our mrskačka, which is made from 8 of these branches that you then braid together, and it makes sort of like a whip. The Czech tradition is that on Easter Monday, the men go from house to house and whip the women, and then are given a painted egg or candy, and then do a shot of slivovice, which is like vodka, just more powerful. Anyways, Easter Sunday was spent making then, then hanging out for the afternoon. In the evening, we had dinner, which was over an open fire and it was indeed mackerel. That's rights, ladies and gents, on Saturday he ate rabbit, on Sunday he ate fish off the bone. Is there anything he won't do?
Monday, we were up at 7:30am, and, after a huge breakfast since Libor's mother wanted us to have lots of food in us, we headed out. First, of course, we had to use our mrskačky against his mother and his sister, and we got candy from both of them. We then went to his grandparents', where his grandmother gave us both a shot of slivovice, so, at 8:17am, it was bottoms up. Josef, Libor, and I then headed around to several different villages visiting people, a lot of whom I'd met the last time and were shocked to see me again, and I met a bunch of new people, too, who were all fascinated by me the American. Overall, it was a lot of fun, and we all got lots of candy that I'll be eating for the next few months now. Lunch was also fantastic, as Libor's mom made schnitzel, and she made something that was a lot like mashed potatoes, which was the first time I'd eaten that in who knows how long but it was very very very very good.
Tuesday the 14th I don't really have anything to say about. We basically just hung out
From the top of the cathedral, the TV Tower and Rotes Rathaus.
in Linhartice for the day, watched some tv, played outside, nothing too excited.
On the 15th, Libor and I headed into Moravska Trebova and did some errands there and wandered around a bit, and then just hung out in Linhartice, played something like homemade bocce for a bit with Lenka [Libor's sister]. We also were both roped into "agroturismus," as Libor lives in a little village and they grow a lot of their own food, and Libor and I ended up being the horse and pulled the plow while his grandfather rode behind, shouting, "hya, horses, hya!" We're pretty certain he got quite a kick out of it. Afterwards, we went out with Josef and rode on his dirtbike in the hills behind the house, though with Josef driving. Josef that taught me how to ride a regular motorcycle that he has in the street in front of their house, which was also great, though surely Lisa would have had a cow.
On the 16th, Libor and I went to Mestecko Trnavka, the village Libor grew up in, and visited with his dad for a bit. We then headed to Bouzov, the castle that we'd been at when
Not exactly the prettiest place, huh?
I was there for Christmas. We were able to do a tour this time, and there were actually ironically two other Americans there, though I didn't talk to them. The castle was really nice, and had been used for German knights, seeing as the Czech Republic was both at one point in history a part of Germany and of Austria. In the evening, we said farewell to Josef, who had to go to Austria for work, and then just hung out for the night.
Friday the 17th was the busiest day. We all woke up early, as we were going to head to Svitavy, a city about 25 minutes from Linhartice which was once the capital of Libor's region, but then borders were redrawn, etc. I ate breakfast with Lenka, and found out what I was eating was actually sardines [yum], and then we headd out. We went up to Svitavy, which was a really pretty city, and spent a little time there. Then, we came back to Moravska Trebova, where we did some errands and ended up going out to lunch. We hung out in Moravska Trebova for the most of the day, and then went to a
From the cathedral.
little village named Vranova Lhota, which is where Libor's grandmother lives, as it was her birthday. She speaks German, so that was fun chatting with her, and I also met some of Libor's cousins, as well as his aunt and uncle, all of whom were very cool. In the evening, we went back to Linhartice and hung out there for our last night, and watched a movie on tv, the second installment of Slunce, Seno a Pár Facek, the movie we'd watched on our first night there.
On the 18th, Libor, Radim, and I went into Moravska Trebova to watch Libor's soccer team play. There're various levels of professional soccer in the Czech Republic, and Libor plays in one of them, so he technically is a semi-professional goalie. By luck they had a home game, so we went to see them, and they played against Svitavy, the city we'd been in the day before. It was a great game, and lots of fun, and Moravska Trebova ended up winning 1-0, which was cool. We then went back to Linhartice, where we had a big lunch, hung out for a little, and then said our goodbyes. We caught the bus,
From the cathedral.
then the train, and then another train, and 2 1/2 hours later were standing in Brno, the city where Libor studies and where his grandfather lives. We caught the tram out to the region of the city where his grandfather lives, had dinner, then headed back into the city, where we met up with some of Libor's friends. We hung out with them for the night, which was a lot of fun, and all spoke in a combination of Czech-German-English, as they all have had to learn both German and English, and obviously have Czech as their first language.
On Sunday the 19th, Libor and I headed out to Brno's resevoir, which ended up taking an hour to get there with the tram, but it was very cool once we got there, and people everywhere. We walked around there for a bit, and he drilled me with questions about boats and water and such, as that's all foreign to him, which was interesting trying to translate a lot of stuff in German, but so be it. It was gorgeous weather, so we stayed there for a while, before heading back to Libor's grandfather's.
Monday we got up, packed
From the cathedral.
From the cathedral.
our bags, had some lunch, and then headed to the bus station. We caught the bus from Brno to Vienna, and then ended up having to wait for the train for an hour since we were 4 minutes too late. We then rode back on down to Graz, where I've unfortunately been having to get back into the swing of things with school and whatnot, which is really not going over too well.
Overall, it was a blast, I had a great time in the Republic. We spoke the entire time in Czech, I only spoke with Libor and his grandmother in German, so I improved [I hope] my Czech a bit, and it was a lot of fun to experience a new and totally different Easter. Anyways, this has been a real novel, and now I have to upload the pictures, so I'm going to stop writing, as you're probably falling asleep anyways. Talk to you soon!
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