Published: June 28th 2012June 28th 2012
Getting into Prague was exciting, I had high expectations. The hostel we discover, has a great bar and funny bartenders so 3 of us (Teagan, Lee and I) decide to drink here the night instead of - shock.. horror- going out pubbing/clubbing with everyone else. There were a few others hanging around the bar from other tours and random travelers but we were the life of the party - if you could call it a party. Controlling the DJ station, we had a ball.
The next day, us 3 amigos set out for some exploring and Prague doesn't disappoint, it's so beautiful, particularly on the St Charles bridge. It has so much character as well (the bridge) sketch artists & painters, musicians, jewellwry, craft, etc. Not to mention the view up and down the river. Boy, it's so hot and steamy...
We wandered past a Thai massage parlor, which was just too tempting. For 400 Czech crown (€16) we sign up for a 30min back, shoulder, neck massage which leaves me feeling so sore and painful in my neck I'm alarmed I might wake up the next morning not being able to move. Teagan and Lee are fine, I must've got the more enthusiastic therapist of the 3. Seriously, I cannot move my neck as I walk back along the bridge to catch the tram back to the hostel. I decide to start having a bevy or two in the hope I loosen up - or at least ease the pain. Thankfully, after 4-5 days I feel normal again. Won't go back to that in a hurry.
The second night in Prague was much the same, drinks at the bar. I feel like I need a good 1-2 weeks to explore more here. I didn't really eat anything local like goulash and dumplings - it was just so hot and all I wanted was fresh fruit & veg. You can only eat carbs and meat washed down with alcohol for so long when traveling.
Next up - Germany!
I must admit after studying the country's history and culture via textbook through school I'm excited. It strangely feels so familiar as we stop by Dresden for a couple of hours. This city was mostly destroyed in the war, so everything has been rebuilt.
Berlin! Woop woop!
Again, it feels almost like a homecoming, I've imagined visiting this city for so long. It's so free-flowing - so many people are on bikes, with proper bike lanes and the same if not more rights than a vehicle (no helmet required - Oz take note). The style of dress seems so relaxed, not sloppy just really well done casual with an edge of individualism, something I don't think we do well in Vic. I think we follow trends too much.
We do a guided tour of some highlights of the city for a few hours. Rick is our guide who is American, around 30 and has done a lot of study regarding history. The tour starts at the Reichstag building which has a glass dome sitting above it and symbolizes that the people are above the government. It also represents the reunification of Germany 20 years ago. Just on that, can you believe it was only 20 years ago that there was a physical, economical, social, capitalist split between east and west Germany and east and west Berlin? That's in my lifetime.. hard to believe.
Ok so Rick explains that all the government buildings in this area are transparent. That is they have large elements of glass and transparency in their designs as a way of recognizing the government's past symbolizing that the government is open to the people and has nothing to hide (i.e. no hidden agenda like previous governments).
We head to a Jewish memorial. This is a large area, I'm not good with guessing square foot measurements but it was a good sized street block. The memorial has a number of large rectangle concrete blocks. Some of which are low to the ground and others which are a good 3-5 metres high aligned in rows. We're encouraged to wander through these rows of concrete blocks and discover what it means to us. I've never seen anything like it before. As I wander around, it feels really eerie, morbid and like a cemetery. It's gray, no colour at all. Apparently there was a lot of controversy about this design and the creator has described it as a place of no meaning because the holocaust was exactly that.
We visit the site on which April 30 1945 Hitler and his mistress Ava Brown commit suicide, with cyanide pills and a gunshot. Hitler did this to prevent torture and desecration of his body when he heard the Soviet army approaching. This plain site which is now a bunch of apartment blocks is a bit surreal I find. To think that this was the(?) most hated man in history's hiding place, suicide and then cremation site on this sunny day seems totally unfathomable. Yet true. The Germans were afraid this could become shrine for neo nazi supporters upon making this site public knowledge however this hasn't happened.
I ask Rick his opinion on how the reunification of east and west is traveling. He says that the older generation still have a 'wall' constructed in their mind. The west undertook east's debt, and a paternal approach to help them which is still evident today. He says some from the west are still bit resentful in 'taking on' the east's problems.
Rick took us to the Topography of terrors - the site where the Nazis planned how to achieve their goals. These buildings where this took place were demolished. Nothing else will ever be built here, however the site has a memorial/explanation as to how and what happened from 1933-1945. Here also lies some remains of the Berlin wall. It takes me a good hour I think to get through reading all the information on site. I lost track of time and had branched off from others in the group at this point. I definitely recommend a visit to this site. It's a lot to take in and confronting at times but so worth it and it's free!
Finally, Checkpoint Charlie isn't what I thought it would be. I imagined remains of a large gateway and wall. Instead we were confronted with a bright busy intersection swarming with traffic, tourists and guard impersonators (US army) posing for photos and stamping passports. I therefore decided to see the Checkpoint Charlie museum for €12.50 by myself. Now this was good.
I got a lot out of learning the history of this point, saw photos of how it looked back in the day, and most interestingly, I read of incredible stories of escape. People stuck in East Germany or East Berlin were desperate to flee to the West or another country as the east was under Soviet communist control. While there were many great tales, I thought it particularly clever of one man from the west, whose girlfriend was trapped in East Germany, to date and then wed another girl in the west who looked just like her. He took his new wife to the east for a visit then fled back to the west with his girlfriend stealing his new wife's identity papers for the girlfriend.
A final pub crawl night in Berlin sees me to the end of my tour with this group- most head on to Amsterdam and then London. I've booked a few more nights in Berlin to get myself sorted for the next chapter - LONDON TOWN! I've made a couple of good Aussie friends on this trip, bonus.
I must also note a couple of things in Berlin- I had the best kebab and felafel of my life. I paid €19 for a daily pass at fitness first gym (I spent 3 hrs there) just had to do it. I was disappointed every German knew such good English (by far the best European country visited) and I didn't have to try too hard to speak Deutsch. Finally, I learnt Germany's the home of techno - how could I now know that? Have I been living under a rock?! They have clubs that go for 48 hours + straight music/clubbing. Anyways.. now you know too :)
Germany, I'll be back!!!
Hope you're all well, drop me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org