Published: June 3rd 2012May 7th 2012
Germany's first stop was Berlin, and I was again sharing with Jared (who I was praying his snoring was a one night event), Glynn from England, Louise from NZ, and the Aussie's Seth, Reece, Liz and Tim plus two newbies. I spent the afternoon with Louise and her 3 gal pals browsing the local boutiques and looking for a cheap place to eat. 2 of the girls peeled back to the hostel for kababs and we headed to a place only 2 blocks from the salsa club I had found for later! The food was amazing and the desert even better.
The dance club was busy with a restaurant providing meals for tables on the edges of the dance floor, it was about 3 times the size of Bernadette's school back in Townsville. I hung around the edges before meetin a Russian guy who had not danced in a couple of years and was a bit sceptical about getting back out there. He was really good though and had been travelling around asia for the last 3 years and had ocassionally danced there. I then met a whole group of couch surfers who had come for fun and couldn't dance and expected me to give them lessons, it was an interesting half hour trying to teach people for the first time. All in all I danced with an Albanian, a guy from Los Angeles, a Cuban, a guy from Portugal and not a single German all night! The last guy was ittle too clingy so I excused myself to go home and somehow got lost and walked for an hour trying to find my hostel. Given it was very close to a giant light up golf ball on a stick (Berlin tv tower). I am not sure how I did it, but I got to see a lot more of Germany at night!
The next morming was the bike ride with Mike's Bikes. I had chosen not to do any heavy war tours so soon after Flanders fields which was still settling in my head. I am not a good bike rider, but I really enjoy it. Very soon Jared and Reece had realised how unsteady I was and being the typical Aussie country boys, decieded to do just a little bit of teasing. It was amusing, if a little unsteadying at the time. Some things we saw:
Bebelplatz is directly in front of the main building and library of Germany's most prestigious university, this was the site of the Nazi's infamous book-burning on May 10, 1933. The memorial is underground and can be seen through perspecs from the street level. It is a white room filled with empty white bookshelves which was made to fit the exact number of books that were burnt. It is a very moving piece of artwork. Perhaps more so as you can only see it from above, throuh the glass. Kieron said it was even erier at night when it was easier to see through the glass without reflections.
Checkpoint Charlie which is the famous border crossing between East Berlin and West Berlin for the Allied forces and foreigners. It is now an outdoor exhibit detailing the Cold War. The Berlin Wall which is now under historical protection and our guide Kieron from Ireland (a feck'n hilarious bugger) discussed why it was built and how it fell. We also saw one of the last remaining watchtowers in the Berlin Wall no-man's-land isolating West Berlin within East Germany.
Luftwaffe Ministry The massive former headquarters building of the Nazi Luftwaffe Ministry still stands and is now the main building of Germany's Finance Ministry. It was one of the few buildings not destroyed and Kieron explained that this was probably so that the allied forces had a guide building from above when they were bombing everything else.
The most moving place we visited was the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. This memorial is powerful in its silence and use of space and isolation. There are 2711 blocks of various heights that sit on undulating ground. Although they look like gravestones the artist refused to have any names or plaques on the stones. In fact there was a controversy as the company who provided the artist with the anti-graffiti paint for all of the blocks was the same company who in the war, concocted the chemicals for the gas for the gas chambers. They provided it free of charge for this instilation as a way to make ammends.
We went to Hitler's Bunker which was quite erie as there was no signs of where it really stood as for many years as no one wanted it to be a shrine for nazi extremists. You wouldn't know it was even there as there is aparments and a parking lot there now. All that marks it is a tiny sign for the tourists. The bunker has been blown up (not effectively - it was afterall a bunker) and since filled with cement. But we got to stand above Hitler's bunker as Kieron recountes the final days of the Third Reich and Hitler's bizarre demise.
One of Germany's most famous monuments, and definately one of the more beautiful structures in an otherwise concrete jungle is the Brandenburg Gate which served as a backdrop for many of Berlin's most important events: Napoleon's march into Berlin, the division of Berlin during the Cold War, famous speeches (Reagan) and concerts (Hasselhof!).
My other favorite is the Victory Column. This massive symbol of victory by the Prussian army over the Danes, Austrians, and French was relocated along the massive East-West Axis in accordance to Hitler's infamous redesign of Berln. It sits in the middle of the tier garden which was definately a beautiful place to cycle after all the war talk to balance things out.
And the most delicious part - was a break abou 2/3 of the way through the tour we stopped at a fantastic beer garden in the heart of Berlin's massive city park. Mine was so scruptious I took a photo mid way through eating, delicious!
On our way back we visited the Soviet War Memorial where we could see the first of more than 500 war memorials which the Soviets had built in former East Germany. This is the site of the first Soviet tanks to enter into Berlin in April 1945 as well as where 2500 fallen Soviet troops were buried. Topography of Terror - This was the former headquarters of the infamous Nazi 'Gestapo' and SS.
An impressive building, standing on a very big and comfotable picnic lawn is Germany's famous parliament building, the Reichstag, which stood just in front of the Wall in West Berlin. Germany moved its federal government back to Berlin in 1999.
Museum Island, and the fashion exhibition I scoped out for tomorrow's adventures was up next. This is home to five of Berlin's most famous museums, notably the Pergamon Museum and the Egyptian museum.
I was pretty exhausted after the riding so my bike Anais and I headed home...no idea why but all the bikes have individual names. I headed out for a Thai dinner with Emily, Mike and Alanna before then wandering the shops and killing time before I was heading out for another night if salsa at a different club. I bumped into Danielle, Tony, Liz and Tim and had dessert before Tony decided to tag along and learn some salsa. Unfortunately when we got there the salsa had been swapped for rockabilly swing so we followed the sound of some awesome music to a jazz bar nearby where I was delighted by the dulcit tones of Loui Armstrong and various other tunes from my favourite era. My ears and musical soul was delighted and happy. I also had a cranberry sunrise cocktail which was definately the best drink I have ever tasted. I chatted afterwards with the trumpet player and it turns out the musicians had never played together before! Incredible! I will attempt to upload a video when I get a chance.
The next morning I spent trying to locate the Post office and then communicate with hand gestures to mail a box of souvineers and a Mother's Day present home. It was enlightening how stupid I could feel not being able to communicate the simplest of requests. I had a donut afterwards to recover! Haha I then hired my own bike and did my own tour of Berlin starting with an hour in the Museum checking out the fashion exhibition which showcased dresses from the 1600-1800's.
I returned to the murdered jews of Europe memorial and began by taking photos of the history time line. There are 6 photos at the end of the timeline representing the 6 million people that died. The next part of the museum was the letters and journal entries written by familh members in the prison camps. After reading only 3 I was in tears. It was so heart wrenching and made it so real and personal. Some where pafents writing to their children, others where children writing good bye notes. There was even one from an officer decribing how death and killing had become natural. It was horrifying but very emotive. The next part of the museum was a family comparison of differnt jewish families and their life before and after the war. Mostly they weng from a family of about 15-20 to maybe 1-3 remaining members. The last room was entirely dark except for a projection on the wall of a name of a Jewish person who had been killed while a voice over played a short description of the person's life. I was there when it was a boy of 11 that had been killed. The voice over tape is played continuously from beginning to end and will take 6 and a half years to play from start to finish. It currently about 3 years in on the first playing and runs 24 hours a day. This really hit home for me the sheer number of people that have been killed.
To calm down a little I took my bike and got lost in the park again for a few hours before I returned my Eiffel tower bike and met up with the gorgeous Chantelle who I had found to be a kindred spirit. We went to an Italian place which I had scoped (and smelled) earlier, run by authentic Italians! I had the most amazing pizza and mixed desserts. Incredible. Best pizza calzone I have ever had! Amazing!