Published: August 20th 2007August 6th 2007
The Berlin Wall
Ich Ben Ein Berliner
After a delightful couple of days in Belgium it was time to move on to our next destination. It’s funny how much harder it is to leave a place when you’ve gotten to know and hang out with people in a country. Leaving Brussels felt a bit like leaving home because of all the hospitality that we had received from Garron, Hannah and the whole gang. Thanks you guys for making our time so special!
Given the fact that we’ve been traveling for so long we felt like it was finally time to brave a night train. Kel had reserved us a sleeper car on the Brussels to Berlin line which left at just before midnight. After struggling through what seems o be the most inefficient boarding process possible, we arrived at our two and half foot by seven foot sleeper car, better known as a closet.
We spent the next 6 plus hours trying to get sleep on the incredibly hard bunk mattresses. It is actually pretty difficult to sleep in these situations because it feels a bit unnatural to be lying down as you round bends and accelerate/decelerate through the
countryside. Just when you drift off the train stops for some reason and you wake up. To make matters even more complicated, the cabin next to ours had three young guys who were having a grand time. They stayed up and joked most of the night which made sleep nearly impossible. I got a few hours of shut eye but Kel got next to none.
When we arrived in Berlin we had one plan which was get to the hotel and get some sleep. It was a pretty short trip from the Haptbahnhof to the hotel where we checked in and immediately went to sleep. Having set no alarm clock I was pretty surprised that we actually got up only three hours later and were able to get out in time for lunch.
A mall near by provided us with decent, inexpensive food before we set out to get acclimated in Germany’s biggest city. Berlin is pretty spread out compared with many European cities which are centered around an old town of some sort. Berlin is a closer relative to Paris in that monuments are scattered throughout the city, but unlike Paris, Berlin isn’t quite as beautiful.
Due to the fact that much of Berlin was destroyed during WWII and then divided into the literal embodiment of the East/West Cold War, much of the city is modern and not incredibly stylish. What does remain from the period prior to Hitler’s megalomania is well worth seeing though. Aside from old buildings, what makes Berlin so unique is its recent split personality which is evident through the remains of the Berlin Wall and the ever present line which runs through the city marking where the modern version of the Great Wall once sat.
In order to get a good feel for such a big city in as short a time as possible, one must enlist the help of some form of mechanized transportation. All these big cities offer bus trips which will give you a recorded commentary about great sights and will give you a chance to get off the bus to get closer to the sights. These big, often double decker, busses are very impersonal and pretty expensive. Instead, we opted for one of Kel’s favorite means of transportation, the Pedi-Cab.
For the same price as the big, impersonal bus we got a personalized, one hour
tour of Berlin. This method of sightseeing is much preferable to other guided tours because the cab driver often has personalized information and, since they are driving a bike instead of a bus of car, they can ride right up to major sites. There were cases, as we drove through the city, that the driver would steer right through a group of people and get us right next to famous sights. During our hour we saw Potsdamer Plotz, Checkpoint Charlie (one of the major entrances to East Berlin from West Berlin), the remains of the Berlin Wall, the symbol of Berlin (The Brandenburg Gate), Museum Island, some of the oldest churches in Berlin and many other sights. There is no way we would have covered as much ground on foot as we did in an hour.
Now that we were fully aware of what there was to see we could now focus our attention better on what we wanted to go back to while we were in town. Since we still had a couple of hours before dinner time we decided to walk down some of Berlin’s oldest and most renowned shopping avenues. The Unter den Linden, known for
its Linden trees (go figure), runs through the main part of scenic Berlin. We started by walking its tree lined grandness checking out the many foreign embassies, such as the British and American grand buildings. From Unter den Linden we turned and headed down Friedrichstrasse. This road heads directly though Checkpoint Charlie and was the main boulevard from East to West Berlin. Today it has tons of shopping which we decide to take advantage of.
Kel had worn out all of her decent clothing and was worried about our upcoming meetings with friends in Rome and Greece. So, we took an hour or more in the various H&M stores throughout Berlin in order to find Kel some stuff to wear out on the town. I also stopped and bought a few new T-shirts since a few of mine we wearing out as well.
With new clothes in hand we returned to our hotel off Potsdamer Potz and got ready for dinner. Since we were still pretty tired from our long day of activity we just got some Italian food in a nearby café and called it an evening pretty early. Checkpoint Charlie and the Berlin Wall
We had decided that we were most interested in the Cold War era of Berlin’s history, and thus decided that our first full day in town would focus of Checkpoint Charlie and the Berlin Wall. After some breakfast at a restaurant in the Sony Center right off of Potsdamer Plotz we walked to Checkpoint Charlie. The weather in Berlin was pretty sunny but relatively mild making the walk enjoyable.
When you get close to Checkpoint Charlie you first notice the large billboards that line the sidewalk on both sides of the street. For a whole block there is a free history of the Berlin Wall and the separation between the American and Russian sectors of Berlin. We spent our first half hour in the area catching up on the incredibly story of the wall’s appearance in 1961 through to its fall in 1989.
Sadly what remains of Checkpoint Charlie has become a huge tourist trap. A replica of the guard house remains on the sight as well as the sign written in four languages which tells you that you are leaving the American sector of Berlin. While this area of Freidrichstrasse is incredibly famous due to
the many near violent confrontations which occurred here between the Russians and Allied forces, the present day sight is merely kitschy. Fake guards stand there and pose for 2 Euro pictures and I’m certain that guards during the USSR era were not as attractive as these guards (female too, strange).
What is worth seeing in this area is the Checkpoint Charlie museum. Inside this huge two story building are tons of facts about the wall going up, the struggle and risk that many partook to gain freedom from the East and the progression of the “safe-guards” which “protected” the East Berlin citizens. It will always be strange to me that all of the protection that the East Berliners received was oddly pointed at them instead of their so-called enemies. Wouldn’t you point your weapons at the other side if you are trying to protect your citizens instead of pointing your weapons back at your side of the wall?
If you are interested in this sort of information and this period in world history, the Checkpoint Charlie museum is not one to be missed. And nearby is another interesting museum that documents the rise of the Gestapo in Nazi
Germany. The Topography of Terror is an outdoor museum which is free. On the sight of the old Gestapo Headquarters, which will remain forever a vacant lot as a memorial, there is a series of billboards that talk about the changes around Berlin prior to, during, and after WWII which Kel and I found really interesting. The other exhibit is about the headquarters itself but is sadly only in German.
Right in front of this exhibit is one of the largest remaining sections of the Berlin Wall within the city. Throughout the city small sections of the wall pop up here and there, but this is the only block long segment within the city center. Throughout the city a two brick wide path inlaid into the road traces the line of the wall which can be really interesting to follow. Places like Potsdamer Plotz are really interesting for tracing the wall. Potsdammer Plotz was a huge empty lot in the middle of the city when the wall existed while today it is filled with many huge modern complexes. In some cases the huge buildings rest right on top of former sections of the wall so the brick path goes
right through the building. Tracing how the city was divided is a pretty eerie pastime, we both agree that we would have loved to see the city when it was actually divided so that we could do a now versus then comparison.
While we were in the area of the Wall and the Topography of Terror Kel fell in love with the idea of a ride on the Hot-Air Balloon which was nearby. This huge tethered balloon takes people about 150 meters up to give them a good overview of Berlin. I decided to stay on the ground and continue to take pictures while Kel took her ride. She said it was fun but that I should be glad I didn’t go, she felt I would have gotten sick because of how the balloon rose and fell and blew around in the wind.
After we finished with the Topography of Terror we walked a few blocks north to take a quick look at Gendarmen Markt. This decent sized square is surrounded on both sides by nearly identical domed churches. In the middle is one of the prettier music halls in Berlin. I purely wanted to stop and get
a few pictures because I liked the look of the place. Kel was willing to oblige but was starting to get tired.
Both of us were petering out so we returned to our hotel to get some rest before dinner. Since we had checked in, Kel had wanted to check out the pool and hot-tub area on the top floor of the hotel. We both changed and spent the next hour lounging while the sun went down on Berlin, not a bad way to rest in the afternoon!
That night we did another of the top Berlin things to do, we ate at a Turkish restaurant. The largest immigrant population in Germany is Turkish which has lead to a large number of Turkish restaurants. Since Kel’s adventure to Istanbul in early 2006 she has loved Turkish food and now that I’ve had some I can understand why. Similar to Greek food but (I think) even better, Turkish food has great marinated meats and yogurt sauces which are amazing. By time we finished dinner we were both stuffed. YUM!! Final Day In Berlin Studying Germany’s Jewish History
We had been told that the Jewish History
museum was well worth checking out because of its unique architecture and hands on exhibits. So when we finished breakfast we took another of Kel’s favored Pedi-Cabs to the museum since it’s pretty far away from the hotel. We proceeded to spend the next few hours inside learning all about Jewish history in the German area for the last thousand years.
Jews have played a large part of forming German culture over the last thousand years and have had many positive as well as negative incidents during this long period. We, as modern people, tend to dwell on the negative events in Jewish history but the museum does a great job of discussing both the good and the bad. Through many periods Jews have been wrongfully blamed for bad occurrences such as the loss of wars and plagues but also Jews have been some of the most formidable philosophers, statesmen and traders in German history.
There is so much to see and read about in the museum that it is nearly impossible to get through it all. We both hit overload status about two thirds of the way through even with the hands on displays and interesting layout
of the building. This is certainly a museum that could be looked at a couple of times before fully gleaning all of the information that is offered.
We returned to our hotel in the early afternoon so that I could work on the blog. This was the day that the blog broke leading us to believe that we had lost almost three months of entries. I proceeded to spend the next 6-8 hours working on the blog while Kel did some shopping. Later in the afternoon Kel got another chance to enjoy the sun as she sat on the roof top pool area and read a good book.
We are presently on a train to Dresden and will be at our next hotel some time in the next hour. Hope everyone at home is doing great! We miss you all...by the way, today is officially nine months since we left home. Crazy!!
There are more photos below