First of all I miss all of you terribly! When we were in Berlin we were surrounded by film culture and it made us very homesick for Boston and our film lives. But life is still good over here in the EU and I'm definitely not ready to head home. This weekend we visited Berlin! The members of our travel group shifted a little as Allison and Adam went to Rome, Steve went to Vienna (we think he made it...he isn't back yet so we don't know any details) and Laura and I joined up with our friend Alex to go to Berlin. Friday morning at o-dark-thirty (in the words of my father) we woke up and walked 15 minutes from the castle to the bus stop in town and caught the 6:03 am bus to Venlo. Once we arrived in Venlo we activated our Eurail passes and boarded the train. We switched trains twice and then ended up on an ICE (Inter City Express) train to Berlin. The trains were remarkably easy to use - I was quite pleased. The only thing was that we didn't understand which seats we could sit in so we were constantly being woken up and asked to move after every stop. We finally figured out that there is a light that appears over the seat when it is reserved and that those are seats you shouldn't sit in. (On the trip home we weren't disturbed at all because we figured out the system.) Once we arrived in Berlin we then went about finding our Hostel which was difficult seeing as the man at the train station gave us the wrong directions, we didn't have a map and, Berlin is confusing. We eventually found it though and it was quite nice for 13 euros.
Once we got settled we went around the corner to get lunch and had cheap cheeseburgers and I had Doner Kebab. Kebab is really big in Europe...I'm not sure why. It's good though, and very cheap in Berlin. Laura hadn't been feeling well so she decided to go lay down for a bit and Alex and I set off to explore the city. We went to Potsdamer Platz because we knew that is where the Berlin Film Festival was being held. We arrived there and sure enough, everything was film festival. We walked around the red carpet areas for a while and tried to see some cool celebrities, we had seen Martin Scorsese and Mick Jagger on the TV screen inside Deutsche Bank and so we knew they were about. We never saw them but we did see some Chinese movie stars at some premiere. It was cool. We couldn't get tickets to any of the screenings because they were all sold out but it didn't really matter. Side Note: Last night we bought tickets to see a film at the Jameson Irish International Film Festival in Dublin next week. Cool. Anyway - we walked around some more, found the Holocaust Memorial. My friend Rachel explained to me that as you walk into the middle you are supposed to feel more isolated and alone. Definitely felt that. We returned to the hostel and took naps for about an hour before heading out again.
When we headed out we went back to Potsdamer Platz so Laura could see the film festival. We got delicious Italian food at a really cheap self service place where they made the pasta and pizza right in front of you to order. It was so good. We then got Hagen Daaz at the store next to our restaurant and let me say that Raspberry Sorbet is so much better fresh than it is in the pint. We then decided to head back to the hostel and turn in for the night so we wouldn't be exhausted the next day.
Saturday morning our plan was to meet up with my roommate from freshman year, Jenna, who was also in Berlin. Well seeing as none of us have cell phones we missed that connection and so we left and went out exploring again. We walked through Museuminsl - Museum Island - where there were a ton of museums that were probably cool but we didn't end up visiting any of them. We walked to Hackescher Markt on the recommendation of my German friend Tessa - it was awesome. Maybe my favorite place in Berlin. It was a lot like farmers markets in Oregon. We then found lunch, and walked to Check Point Charlie and saw a part of the Berlin Wall. We also walked through an exhibit called "The Topography of Terror" which has the potential to be cool but we weren't really into reading a lot of lengthy explanations about terror so that was kind of a bust. We then went and got delicious Ice Cream again and decided that we would go to the Train station to figure out our route to get home the next day. Once we had figured out the train schedule for Sunday we watched a bit of a Chinese New Year celebration that was taking place on a stage in the front of the train station.
After watching some martial arts, we walked over to the Reichstag, the center of German Government. I waited in line forever to go inside and Alex and Laura opted out. Once I got inside and actually started climbing the spiral ramp to the top of the dome, I decided that it wasn't a good idea because it was really high up and I was starting to panic so I promptly came down and exited the building. The view that I did have was really cool though! Alex and Laura then went on the ferris wheel and I hung out in Starbucks - it was really odd, these were the first Starbucks' we'd seen since we got to Europe. We then made our way back to the Hostel, stopped at Penny Market and got some crackers and went back to the Hostel to make the free pasta they offered for dinner. Sunday morning we headed home on the 9 am train to Venlo.
Overall I liked Berlin but it wasn't an incredible city. I'm not sure that I saw all the coolest things or got the right impression but it seemed pretty vast and overwhelming. I understand that all the modern buildings came as a result of the fact that most everything was destroyed during WWI and WWII but I feel like everything was really out of place - the old buildings and then new. But hey - that's what traveling is about, discovering what places you love and what places you don't love as much.
We're currently working on planning our next big trip which begins on Thursday. Thursday evening we leave with the program to spend 5 days in London and then Laura, Allison and I will be heading off to Dublin, Edinburgh and Glasgow for 5 days on our own. I cannot wait and will be sure to update you as soon as I get a chance.