Berlin is just a cool city. Before going there, I heard that Berlin is pretty weird, and it stayed true to that word but in the best way. There were great little shops and restaurants, and everyone seemed to have a certain “worn” look to them. It was very interesting and enticing. We arrived in the late morning and made our way to the hotel via the train in order to meet Rachel there since she was joining us on this trip as well! I was looking forward to seeing her and a new city, so spirits were high.
Maggie and I sat at the little coffee shop next to our hotel (on October 30th, it was still warm enough to sit outside with a blanket!) to wait for Rachel. She finally walked up after about an hour of us sitting there, since we had no idea what time she was actually supposed to arrive. We dropped her stuff off and then hopped on the train to go see our first sight of the trip: the Berlin Wall.
The Berlin wall was put up overnight in August 1961 to cut off West Berlin from East Berlin and the rest of East Germany. The wall finally fell in 1989 to the overwhelming delight and praise of the citizens of Germany. The wall affected families and friends, essentially the entire population of Berlin. If you lived on one side of the wall, you were not allowed into the other sector of Berlin, so it often happened that grandchildren were born and had never met their grandparents or people would get married and their parents would not be able to attend the wedding.
This picture shows a stretch of what the wall would’ve looked like back in the day. There were technically two walls, and in between the walls was a kill zone. Guards would stand on the guard towers, and if they noticed a person or even movement between the walls, they would shoot.
At this Berlin Wall museum we went to, it talked all about different stories and people’s experiences with the wall and how families and friends were torn apart. It was honestly so intriguing and interesting to learn about all these stories and the history of the wall, especially of how it fell. When the government finally decided that the wall would come down, they had planned to slowly disperse the people across it in order to avoid a huge commotion and mad dash. They held a press conference to relay the news to the citizens. Günter Schabowski, the man responsible for delivering the news, had missed the previous meeting at which they discussed specifics. When asked about traveling policy at the conference, he said people were now allowed to travel, thus the wall was obsolete. When asked when this rule would go into place, he said “immediately,” unaware that this was not the government’s plan. But once the citizens heard this news, a commotion ensued, and a mad dash to the wall took place! There are still sections of the wall up as a memorial, but most of it has been torn down. All throughout the city, where the wall used to be, there is a 2-bricks-thick line on the sidewalk and roads to signify where the wall had been.
So after we learned about the Wall, it was time for dinner. We went to a classic German restaurant near our hotel, where we gorged ourselves on ribs and steak. The food was excellent, and once we were extremely full, we got a drink at the bar next door and went up to bed.
The next morning we planned to do a walking tour all around Berlin (three hours long), so we headed into the city center (one of many) called Pariser Platz.
The walking tour was excellent. I feel like I learned so much about Germany in such a short period of time, and our tour guide was so passionate about the history and her facts. I could tell she really enjoyed her job. It was nice because even though I had already traveled to a bunch of places this semester, I felt like this was the first time I had really done something geared directly toward learning about the history of a place. I liked that. After the walking tour was over, we ended up at the Holocaust Memorial, or the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. This was something that I had really wanted to see before coming here, and I was glad to have the opportunity.
The memorial is a series of about six thousand concrete boxes lined up in parallel rows and columns that get taller in the middle with an uneven ground. The architect really wanted to leave what the memorial meant open to interpretation, but our tour guide said she interpreted it as a sort of recreation of how it would feel to be far away from your family (it is easy to get lost in there). As you make your way closer to the center, the ground gets more uneven and you can see less and less of the sky. It is meant to open the minds of people who go to see it and raise awareness about what happened.
At one point, we noticed some guys were walking on the tops of the boxes, and I was upset because I thought it was disrespectful. Rachel had a great point, however, because a security guide went over to tell them to stop walking on the boxes. He was also was able to explain to them what the memorial means and what had happened. She said it was a great way to make more people aware of the memorial and its message, rather than getting mad at them. I guess that really makes sense. The memorial is not about shaming those who walk across the top of it—what good would that do?—but it’s about remembering those who died and honoring them.
Then we went to the Holocaust Museum. What an experience. It gave so much history about so many specific people and families. It was truly heartbreaking to read letters that victims wrote to their loved ones, saying how much they loved each other and that they would be reunited in heaven. It was an incredible museum. Whoever designed and put it together did an excellent job. Listening to all the stories of survivors and personal accounts of how specific individuals experienced the camps was just fascinating and horrible at the same time. This was probably the best museum I have ever been to. Just incredible and so heartbreaking.
After the museum, we needed to decompress a little bit. Rachel and I separated from Maggie and her friend Ashley and went to get crepes at this little place I had found online. It was in this really cool area of Berlin (I am unable to find the name of the neighborhood) full of shops, restaurants, bars and lots of interesting people. We were worried that we wouldn’t make it there before it closed, and I am so glad we made it. The food was excellent and the wait staff was so friendly and nice.
After crepes and wine, we made our way back to the hotel to get ready for Halloween! We had signed up to do a bar crawl with the group that put on our walking tour. We loaded on the black eye makeup. We were going as goths because we didn’t know how big Halloween costumes were in Berlin. We later figured out that everyone goes as something scary with really intense bloody costume makeup. Oh well.
The weird thing about the first bar was that it was decorated with skulls and blood and the like, but these weren’t Halloween decorations—this is how it always looks! Kind of creepy. We went to another bar after this one that was empty except for the people on the bar crawl, and we met some girls from South America. We talked to them for a while and then finally made our way to the final bar, well, club, called Matrix. It was super fun but eventually we decided to go home, as we had to wake up early for our flight in the morning. A Halloween unlike any I had ever experienced, but very fun!
In the morning, we woke up, took a cab to the airport and went through security, which took about five seconds. We had arrived for our flight an hour and a half early to be safe, but we could have gotten there 10 minutes before takeoff and been fine! I sat on the floor of the gate and watched the “Emperor’s New Groove” until it was time to go. Finally we got on the plane, I closed my eyes, and we were landing!!! The flight was only about 45 minutes, which was really nice. I got home and fell right back to sleep!
What an interesting trip. I feel like I learned so much (and spent so much money) in such a short period of time. I wish I had done a walking tour on every trip I had gone on before this one! It is so interesting to see a historical event from a different country’s point of view and to see how a German person sees the Holocaust and German history in general. It was also so good to see Rachel again since I won’t see her until we get back to school! She is going to Sweden for Christmas to stay with her old au pair (!!!), so I probably won’t see her over break.
With every city I go to, I see similarities and differences between them, but each time I feel the world getting a little bit smaller. Yes, all cities are very different, but there are aspects of each that are so similar. The world may be a huge place with so much to see and do, but I feel like in reality, a lot of places are not that different. They all have people who really love where they live, beautiful old buildings, interesting histories and delicious food. It’s like a cool connection every city has: they’re all so different but also so similar. I love looking for these similarities and differences and comparing each city I’ve been to and realizing each and every time that the world is really cool.