Fifth Stop: Berlin

Berlin is the last city on our grand tour of Europe before we start are studies in Ireland. We have been to four countries and five cities in a week and a half. So without further reflections on this trip (expect another post on that), here is the story of our last stop.

Day 1: Friday, 30 August

We got into Berlin on the 29th and went straight to the hostel and crashed after a busy day in Prague and then a 4 turned 5 hour train ride. A tea kitchen at the hostel was a nice welcome for our weary bodies.

Friday started with free breakfast in the hostel (always a nice perk) and then we headed for the S-Bahn station that was right next door. We retraced our ride from the night before and found ourselves at Brandenburg Tor, or the Brandenburg Gate. It is a large classical structure that has stood for peace since its creation. Many embassies can be found nearby, including our own.

We wandered over to the Reichstag building to see it’s architecture and look through it’s unique clear dome. On the way we found the Memorial to the Roma and Senti that were killed during the Nazi’s reign. It’s a quiet memorial along a well-travelled path. Outside there is a wall that describes the history of what happened to them. Entering into the memorial there is a circular pool of black water with a triangle in the center, since they were forced to wear a black triangular badge to identify themselves. Surrounding the pool are stones and on some of these stones the camps that the Roma died at are enscribed.

When we finally made it to the Reichstag building, we discovered that you had to make a reservation ahead of time to go in (the internet had misled us again). We walked around the building enjoying the architecture of it, but if I ever return to Berlin I hope to see the inside.

Our next stop of the morning was the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. It is a block covered with deep grey stone pillars that are evenly spaced apart, but of different heights. They appear as if the Jews lined for roll call at a Concentration camp. Between the pillars there are paved paths that roll over hills, making it at times harder to walk. The memorial stones are short on the outskirts, but get taller as you get closer into the center, till you can’t see anything else. Underneath the memorial is a museum where it walks you through the history behind the tragedies. There is one room in which journal writings or letters of those that were tortured are laid out around the floor to be read. Almost everyone whose story or plea I read died. The memorial was very emotional and reflective. After walking through the memorial, I wrote the following in my notebook:

One enters a uniform grid

The walls one can see over

Walking deeper the walls rise

Blocking out everything

But the sky

Scared and lost; alone

Surrounded by grey

Walking on and on across the stones

Occasionally a glimpse

Humanity looking in

But the walls are high

The order locking you in

To the rows and rows

Standing always standing

Many different heights

Living for a few glimpses

Of humanity

The Memorial and Museum brought me to silence. Emotionally moved, we prepared to head to the Berlin Wall Memorial. What I realized today, was that Germany as I know it did not come into existence until quite recently. It was divided and torn apart in many different ways over the 20th century. The Berlin Wall Memorial is located at the one street in the city that is still split by the Berlin Wall. 300 street were divided by the Wall. There were two sections of the main wall still standing at the site and remnants from the other structures that comprised the border zone. There were the foundations of border houses from which people would try to escape from the East to the West. You don’t realize how close history is to you until you visit it. The Berlin Wall in many different iterations cut off West Berlin from the East for 28 years. And only fell 10 years before I was born.

After leaving the Berlin Wall, we thought we would visit the DDR museum, which was labeled as an interactive museum to learn about the Cold War in Berlin. As soon as we saw it, we could tell it was more of a tourist trap and wouldn’t give us the history we wanted to know. So we caught a bus (our first double-decker!) to the area by the Brandenburg Gate, where we found the Europe Experience and learned about the European Union (EU) and how it operates. We really enjoyed getting to learn about this parliamentary system that is actually quite similar to the US House of Representatives.

We finished the day by exploring a suburb near the Botanical Gardens and our hostel. We ate dinner at a local beer hall that was the true mom and pop place. No English and no English menu; it was our first time without any help in ordering. But we both liked our food and enjoyed the atmosphere. We strolled around town and were amazed to find that the suburb still felt like you were in the middle of the city.

Day 2: Saturday, 31 August

To celebrate the end of our trip we decided to spend our last day learning about the beauty of German engineering at the Deutsch Technik Museum. Originally we thought we would only spend part of the day here, but the sprawling museum enticed us to spend the entire day. The museum consisted of seven buildings with many exhibits explaining the development of technology and manufacturing processes.

There were two entire buildings that contained nothing but train engines, trams, and passenger cars. You could even walk under a few trains to see their undercarriages. The museum also boasted two floors of planes in the “new building”. I loved hearing about the development of airplanes from the German perspective. There was even a very small mention to the Wright Brothers (go Ohio!). I particularly enjoyed being able to check out the engines of many different planes and the creative designs of inaugural flight machines.

The first exhibit we went to was on the advent of computers and we learned of the German inventor, Konrad Zuse, who designed some of the first working computers in the world. James and I both equally enjoyed this exhibit. We also went through an exhibit on telecommunications, which was James’ favorite exhibit. It explained the development of radio, telegraph, the phone, and other similar devices. The most surprising exhibit to us was entirely on sugar. After delving further we were both very intrigued because it not only covered the manufacturing in history, but it’s role in history and its novel uses in material science and medicine. Did you know at one point in time most of the sugar in the world came from beets?

The final building in the museum proved to be possibly the most interesting. There were a collection of many different cars. There was also an exhibit called “The Network” which looked at how technology has effected society and globalized it. I must say parts of the exhibit made me feel like Big Brother (1984) was watching and I needed to go get my tin hat on (my dad). The exhibit raised a lot more questions than brought answers, but we enjoyed discussing the different things we saw. There was also an area called the Science Spectre that was much larger than we expected. It was an interactive science center that comprised of three floors with 5 or 6 rooms covering different topics on each floor. We tried to get through them all in the last 20 minutes before the museum closed.

We spent our final evening in the suburb of Lichterfelde, which was where our hostel was located. We grabbed dinner at a local döner and kebab joint. James got a falafel wrap and I got a döner box, which was basically a salad in a box. We grabbed groceries at Aldi’s for the train, which proved to be very economical. To end a great trip we got frozen yogurt at a local place in town before heading back to the hostel.

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