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Published: September 27th 2009
I am a bit behind in journal entries, having in fact already spent several weeks in the Czech Republic and gone from there to Israel. But, before I get to all that, a few brief notes on Berlin. I went to Berlin for three days on the way from Copenhagen to Prague. (This time the trip was by an overnight bus, that left just before midnight. Quite disconcertingly, the driver woke us all at around 1:30, without any explanation that I could understand, but forced us off the bus. It took me a minute to wake up and realize that the bus had boarded a ferry, which meant we had to wait on the passenger deck before reboarding the bus. I really have to study a map more - I still don't know what water body we crossed.) Anyhow, I arrived in Berlin at around 8 a.m. and made it over to my hostel - EastSeven Berlin Hostel, a great place for anyone in the area. Because I had such a short stay in Berlin I decided not to waste any time and signed up for a 6.5 hour walking tour that started at 10. Fortunately, given that I was ready to nod off at a minute's notice, it was a great tour. Interestingly, all of the tour guides I had or heard in Berlin were non-Germans. Although I liked Berlin more than I thought I would, it is a very spread out city that is hard to navigate from a tourist perspective. For example, there are some great buildings amongst the many more modern/Soviet style construction but it would be hard to know how to find them on your own. A long walking tour was a perfect introduction to the City and full of random, and likely not particularly useful tidbits - the kind of information that won't be needed on jeopardy but is easier to remember because it is on the bizarre side. For example, I learned that several years ago the City closed a public road (for maintenance) that is commonly used by Berlin's legal prostitutes. The prostitutes union then sued the City, for lost income, and won several hundred thousand dollars. Another random bit of information, if you are walking in the City and see electric tram lines, you know you are in the former East section, as the Soviets saw that infrastructure and maintained/fixed it, while the Americans saw it and ripped it all out, deciding apparently that the Germans in the Western section should buy cars. And one for those who like irony, Berlin's largest synagogue, originally one of many in the City, was one of only a handful that survived the pogroms and other internal pressures. In fact, it stood undamaged until 1944, when it was hit by British bombs, who were aiming at Nazi buildings several blocks away, buildings that they never damaged.
On my second day in Berlin, I signed up for another walking tour, this one going an hour outside of the City, to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp. This was my first visit to a former concentration camp and I really wasn't sure what to expect. The impact of the physical site itself, as opposed to the stories and information in the exhibits, was less than I anticipated, but this may be because there is very little of the original structures left, mainly replicas. I actually felt more at the Berlin Memorial to the killed European Jews. (This memorial is a recent addition to the city, and is basically several thousand large stone slabs, of varying heights, in many rows/columns of varying widths and grades. At first glance, it did not appear impressive, but as people walked through they reported a wide range of emotions, so an interesting project. When it was built, the city wanted to ensure that there was no vandalism on the stones, despite the artists view that graffiti should be allowed so that the memorial could grow with the city. So the city coated all of the stones in an anti-graffiti covering, thus any marks can easily be washed off. The company that produces the coating is the same that produced the gas used in the Nazi gas chambers.)
The plan for my third and final day in Berlin was to visit several of the City's numerous museums. I was having difficulty choosing which museums to visit, so decided simply to head to "Museum Island," which presents several good choices. Like many other cities, Berlin has a tourist pass, which, if purchased, allows free entry to many museums, free boat and bus tours, public transportation, etc. However, as I learned in Lyon, you need to have a very full day to make such passes worthwhile. (I went to Lyon from Geneva, taking a 6 a.m. train to arrive at 8:30, it then took me an hour to find the tourist station and another hour to find the first museum, the Resistance Museum, which turned out to be closed. I crammed in three and a half more museums/cathedral tours that day plus a canal tour before catching the 7 p.m. train back to Geneva (the half is because I went through an art museum more quickly than I have ever viewed a museum in my life!) By the time the day ended I was both very hungry, not having had time to stop for food, and over-saturated with information and sites. In short, I realized that these one day passes aren't necessarily the best idea for me.) Back to Berlin, it was probably fortunate that I didn't have any museums that I desperately wanted to see as, having gotten a late start to the day, I spent almost three hours walking around the City just trying to find the Museum Island. When I finally got there, around 3 p.m., I decided I was no longer in the museum mood and just sat on the beautiful grounds and read a book. Speaking of books, I hope to write an entry about the Czech trip soon but today found two used bookstores within a 10 minute walk of my hostel in Tel Aviv . . . I've only bought four books so far, but at least I know what I'll be doing tomorrow as the country closes down for the holiday.
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