Berlin, Berlin... For 4 days it was 15 degrees, wet and windy. Just awful weather. Jeans and a jacket everyday. It put a damper on things. The city itself is awesome. It has a chill atmosphere, there is plenty of graffiti and the memory of east versus west still lingers. I was definitely excited to see what's left of the Berlin wall so that's the first thing I did. One section has been made into a memorial and there is a free museum nearby. It's shorter and thinner than I expected! I'd say it's about 7 or 8 feet tall. Basically there was the wall, a so called 'death strip' then another wall- they took extensive measures to make it difficult for people to come or go without permission (read: escape East Germany). East was Soviet, West was the 'American sector' run by the Allies. To this day there are differences in the two parts of Berlin. Most tourist sites are in East Berlin and most residential areas are in the West. Simply put, the west is nicer. Apparently people just got the hell out of East Berlin as soon as they could when the wall fell in 1989.
The memorial to "victims of communist tyranny" extends missing parts of the wall with brown rods and there are informational plaques and interactive posts with sound bites and video. There were a lot of buildings, a church and a cemetery here along Bernauer st, and so they moved graves and blew up the church.
That night at my hostel, which reminded me somewhat of the place in Budapest, there was free pasta and cheap beer & wine. So that was nice.
The next day, after getting to know a few of my hostel- mates, Holly, Stacey and I decided to go to the nearby Sachsenhausen Concentration camp. Luckily I brought an umbrella, but the other girls were not prepared. Such awful weather. We got the audio guide and it was very informative about all the buildings. They as recreated the barracks, prison, execution alley and uncovered mass graves of ashes. There is also a huge memorial in the middle of the triangular camp. The most disgusting thing I heard is that they forced female prisoners to work in the brothel that existed in the camp. Officials and camp workers used it, and they even gave 'coupons' to prisoners for use in the brothels.
When we got back to the city, we went to Tacheles, a squatter's complex. Basically there are a lot of old, bombed or simply abandoned buildings in East Berlin, so people started living and working in them. So now there exists Tacheles and Raw, a complex of clubs. Tacheles was once a department store and now hosts art galleries, jewelry and poster vendors, and bars. It's full of graffiti, smells of pot and piss, and is just all-around awesome lol. Of course the city is trying to evict them, so they held a "I support Tacheles" rally the day after I visited.
That night we went out to Raw. I was tired and totally the oldest one in the group but was really curious to see what it was like. There are about 3 or 4 clubs in the area. Some are open air, so those were empty considering the weather. When we walked down, there was graffiti everywhere, including some done by actual artists. We were following a girl in our group to the only place where we could hear music- and it happened to be Lesbian night there lol. It was called the Tempel Club. Yes, spelt like that. Or at least that's what it says on the pin i got there. It was only 6 euro cover so we all went in. I must say, a group of like 10 people dancing in a circle, getting excited over Spice Girls, Nirvana and Ace of Base sort of made us stand out. The music was so good! They even played "Saturday Night" from Dance Mix '95!!! Lol i got so excited. Such a great cd. I left after a few hours but apparently, eventually, some of the lesbians started giving the group dirty looks. Oh well.
The next day my first stop was the famous Sunday flea market called Arkonaplatz where i bought freshly- squeezed orange juice, poppy seed cake, and walked around. People sell everything from jewelry, magnets and t- shirts, to old tools, army gear and ancient cameras. It had an awesome vibe. It's just too bad I missed the guy who does impromptu karaoke from his bike.
Afterwards I wandered around Berlin. The most beautiful, European part is in Mitte near Museum island. The museums themselves are gorgeous. Unfortunately I didn't go into any of them because, frankly, I'm sick of museums. Berliner Dom is nearby- the city's huge church. It's quite new, built in the late 1800s. It's lovely, especially the dome. There are several tombs throughout the church and they are among the most beautiful that I've seen. I walked up countless stairs to the gallery, then up to the dome, which has an outside terrace. Of course it started pouring again. It had a great view of the city and the upper part of the church. Someone also drew a huge heart in a field outside the church, so I had to take a picture. Someone loves Berlin! Then I visited the crypt, which is huge and has more fancy tombs.
Afterwards I walked to Alexanderplatz, a large square. There is a church and a huge tv tower that you can see from almost anywhere in Berlin. The weather was so crappy that the top of the thing was hidden by clouds and fog almost everyday I was in Berlin.
It was then time to visit the symbol of the city, Brandenberg gate. There's like a chariot on top. Yeah.. it was cool. They also had a "room of silence" next to the gate that I went into. It's meant to be a silent space where there is no religious meaning and where all people are welcome. There was a simple wool mat on the wall. I thought it was pretty cool.
Nearby is the Reichstag parliament building. It's a beautiful building with a huge clear dome in the middle that represents a transparent German democracy. It's free to basically just go into the dome but it was booked up for weeks lol. Oh well.
There is a memorial to the murdered Jews of Europe just beyond the gate which consists of concrete blocks of different heights in rows upon rows. It's huge and quite the sight.
Then it was time to check out some more east/west stuff. Checkpoint Charlie was the entrance to the American sector from East Berlin. There is a famous picture that I saw several times of tanks from both sides meeting at the checkpoint. They've recreated the booth where the guards worked from and Germans in American uniforms charge tourists to take pictures of them there. They have some interesting information around the area, but mostly it's just a tourist trap.
After a stop there, I visited the Topography of Terror museum, a free museum that stands where Hitler's headquarters once stood. It includes extensive and detailed information about the rise of the Nazi Party and Hitler, and goes through the war, Jewish deportation, concentration camps and even the Nuremberg trials. I went to this one because hey I'm in Berlin, it's necessary. It was a very interesting museum that had some incredible photographs of Hitler and life (of prisoners and workers) in concentration camps. There was tons of information and I didn't read it all, but I ended up being there for 2 1/2 hours. There is also a segment of the Berlin wall and excavated prison cells in the courtyard.
The next day I went to the Ritter Sport store where they have a small exhibition about where chocolate comes from and the process they go through to make Ritter bars. I love Ritter. Especially the dark chocolate an marzipan... Which happens to be one of Germany's favourites too. The best part is you can make your own Ritter bar. I chose lemon and raspberry, as well as chili and cocoa, both with milk chocolate. They mix is together, put it in the square Ritter pattern and put it in the fridge for 30 minutes. The chili was good but I was expecting more of a kick.
Afterwards I explored the area, which has some lovely buildings. This is where Humboldt University is, where the likes of Einstein and Freud studied.
I love palaces, so I took the metro to West Berlin to visit Charlottenburg palace. It was commissioned by Friedrich I in the 1600s and it's made up of a couple sections. Only the new wing was open. And I had to pay 3 euros to take pictures. Laaaame. It was quite nice, with beautiful wall paper, chandeliers and furniture. Of course no one told me the audio guide was free so I have no idea about the story behind anything. It was pretty though! Lol. The gardens behind the palace were nice as well.
Then I took the metro to Tiergarten, a huge, lush park in Berlin. On the road that cuts through the park is Victory Column, a 27 meter tall monument.
It was then time for my last museum in Berlin, the Jewish museum. It's in an incredibly unique, modern building- no two surfaces are parallel and there are slits and angles in random places. From above, it zig zags. The museum has a lot of information from the beginning of Jewish history up until how modern Jews feel about the war. On the lower floor there is a 79 feet tall "holocaust tower" which is an unheated, concrete tower lit only with natural light from a slit in the roof. They also feature possessions, pictures and letters that belonged to deported and murdered Jews in the basement.
On my last full day in Berlin, I took a day trip to Potsdam, which is about 45 minutes by metro. It's really cute and chock full of palaces. I would need several days to see them all so instead I went right to Sanssouci Park, where a bunch of palaces and gardens were built under Frederick the Great in the 18th century. On the way I passed under Potsdam's Brandenburg gate and into the park. Right away is the Church of Peace where some of the royals were laid to rest. Next was the New Chambers, a guest palace. Frederick liked growing fruit so there were gardens and fruit plants outside, as well as ramps into the house. There were several beautiful rooms with art and statues, as well as some plain state rooms. Behind it was a historical windmill ... However it had to be rebuilt in 1993 so I guess it's not that historical lol. Next door was Sanssouci Palace, but wait- the next available tour wasn't for 2 hours lol. So I went to Orangery Palace first. It features some original furniture (you can tell in most cases lol), and there is a Raphael room, which is in a beautiful italian style and is filled with copies of Raphael's paintings. There were also some nice porcelain and previous stone vases.
Finally it was time for Sanssouci. It has some amazing leveled gardens and Frederick even had them build fake ruins! Hilarious. Unfortunately I didn't have time to see them up close. The palace itself had some interesting rooms including a narrow gallery, a library that was closed off, and the marble room, which was definitely the most luxurious in the palace. After visiting 3 palaces, I walked to the new palace to take a couple of pictures. It was closed for the day. It was by far the biggest. Lastly there was a Chinese House, built from 1754-57. It's beautiful, with large, gold (probably not real) statues in the back. There was a preference for this style back then- they found it fascinating.
Nope, not done yet. When I got back to town, I visited the East Side Gallery, a 1.3 km stretch of the Berlin wall painted by many international artists in 1989. As such, it's the world's largest open air gallery.
That night we went to a dingy bar that has one ping pong table, but don't worry- everyone gets to play. You rent a paddle and join the circle around the table. You walk around the table, each person gets one shot and you stay in until you miss a shot. The best is when there are 3 people left an they had to run around the table to make their shot. The final 2 actually play a full game. So I stayed up too late and never even got close to the final. Sigh.
Berlin is pretty cool. I loved the wall, the flea market and that places like Tacheles exist (for now). Berlin has tons of graffiti, great beer, a chill attitude, and a dark history. I had a great time!