04.07.2010 - 04.10.2010
The first stop on our spring break trip was Berlin! It was amazing. The first night, we walked to a neighborhood out the city center where we were planning to meet up with our traveling companions (my roommate's good friend from home, and several of her friends who are studying in London). We ate dinner at a sidewalk cafe and watched people walk by as they went home from work or out for the evening. There was a park nearby full of children. It was adorable. I wanted to live there!
After dinner, we met up with our (soon to become) friends and went to an English reading at a bookstore. It was interesting to be around so many ex-patriates from American and the UK.
Our hostel was right next to the East Berlin TV tower - the tallest free-standing tower in Europe. The Soviets built it near the wall as a way to show the West just how good things were under Communism (not).
On our first full day in Berlin, we took a walking tour of the major sights, which was such a fantastic way to see the city. I got to see everything I wanted to see, all of the historical places. I loved it.
The photos above are of Museum Island, in the middle of the Danube. The Royal Palace used to be located here, until the Nazis destroyed it. It wasn't actually part of the walking tour, so I don't know much about it.
The first stop on the walking tour was the Brandenburg Gate! It's an iconic symbol of Berlin. It used to stand right in the middle of the two walls that comprised the Berlin Wall.
Some wildly inappropriate street performers - you could pay for a picture with them. I chose not to.
The next stop was the memorial to Jews killed in the Holocaust. It's located on a square right in the middle of the city - people drive by it everyday on their way to work. It's composed of cement blocks. The ones on the outside are flush to the ground, and as you approach the middle the blocks get higher and higher. It was really powerful. It was spooky to walk through the middle. The architect didn't give a detailed explanation of its meaning - it serves as a powerful reminder of the consequences of bigotry, just because it is such an unnerving structure. There was a museum located underneath, which we returned to the next day. I didn't take photographs in the museum, but it was very powerful as well. In one room, there was a recording playing of a woman's voice reciting the names and short biographies of Jews known to have been killed in the Holocaust. According to the citation, it would take over seven years to read all the names in that fashion. It was overwhelming to be there and listen.
The walking tour took us the street corner where Hitler's bunker was located under the street during World War II. This manhole cover marks the spot where they burned Hitler's body after he committed suicide.
A piece of the Berlin Wall, still standing in the city.
A former Communist-era police car, made of cardboard. Don't ask me how that's supposed to work.
A tourist trap set up where Checkpoint Charlie used to be.
The square where the Nazis first burned books in 1933. There's an eerie memorial plaque in the middle. I was very unsettled at this point. A glass plate shows a view of empty bookshelves in the basement of the University which used to be housed on the square. There's also a plaque engraved with a quotation from Heinrich Heine, a German philosopher from the 18th century: "Where they burn books, they ultimately burn people." The most unsettling part is that Heine died in 1856.
On our second day, we waited in line for hours and climbed to the top of the Reichstag building, where the German Parliament sits. It was free to take an elevator to the roof and then walk up to the top of the glass dome, where you get a great view of Berlin.
We spent three nights in Berlin, and on the fourth morning we had to catch an early bus to Prague. I took so many pictures that I plan on doing a separate post for each city we visited.
One final picture: this little bear is all over Berlin, painted in different ways. He represents the city, or something. He's their mascot you could say. Of course I had to have a picture.