Two events marked the train ride to Berlin: we ate a lot of cheese and Giana began to suffer from a respiratory illness. Likely my own illness, having retreated into Giana's lungs, was making a comeback. By the time we checked in to our hostel boat (yes, our hostel was on a boat) Giana felt very sick so we got an early dinner and went to bed.
The next day Giana decided to rest for the entire day so Maria and I hit up Berlin. We walked from our hostel boat located on the river right next to the East Side Wall Gallery and enjoyed the art mixed with graffiti. The gallery continues to be expanded upon to this day. We walked to Alexanderplatz and Museum Island and learned about the many varied museums in Berlin, choosing the best to visit when Giana recovered.
Maria and I then went to the Palace of Tears, a museum recording Berlin's experience being divided by the Berlin Wall. The museum told the story from the division of Berlin immediately after the Second World War until the wall came down in 1989. We spent two hours in the small exhibit, particularly the many video interviews of people who lived through the division and reunification and sets of newsreels comparing the East and West's coverage of various events.
The next day Giana rejoined the group and we set out to see Berlin. After darting through the streets fleeing an angry old German lady, we found a safe haven in Charlottenburg Palace. We gave into our lust for knowledge and rented an audio tour guide for each of us. Together but separated by headphones, we wound our way through the elaborate palace. Most of the rooms were faithful reconstructions of the stately original, which was nearly completely destroyed in the bombing of Berlin. The extensive porcelain collection, the majestic portraits of Prussian royalty, and the sprawling expanse of German-engineered gardens enchanted us for an afternoon's time.
Worn out from our exposure to the former lap of luxury, we boarded the tram in search of Hotel Intercontinental. Our quarry showed itself after a chilly walk through commercial Berlin. Stepping inside the hotel was like stepping into the Ritz-Carlton while dressed as wandering orphans. Everyone was dressed in suit and tie, even the women, because we were in Germany. Micah and Giana, afraid to breathe on anything, hung back while Maria asked the concierge if a family acquaintance was available. Once we learned that Mario was out for the evening, we fled back into the night.
Charmed as ever by Sandeman's walking tours, we gathered at Brandenburg Gate for our morning adventure. Our tour guide Mark was a former history teacher from London. He loved the history of Berlin, and by the end of the tour we too had caught that love. On the tour we glimpsed the sobering memorial for the murdered Jews of Europe, the most important car park in the world, a well intentioned but mostly ineffective children's playground, the most feared building in Germany, the symmetrical German and French cathedrals, Checkpoint Charlie and other pieces of the Berlin Wall, and a memorial to the book burnings.
Through it all, Mark revealed the intelligence and maturity of the German people. We saw the religious tolerance and hospitality of the German people in their cathedrals. We recognized their willingness to confront and memorialize their greatest failures in the Holocaust memorials and the book burning memorial. We saw their determination to turn their tragedies into beauty in the ongoing Berlin Wall artwork.
Still thirsting for more history, we sunk a few hours into the German history museum. Micah found 5 hours not sufficient to get through the whole museum, but he's a history major so nobody cares.
The next day we ended our Berlin trip in perfect form with currywurst, donuts, and sprinting to the train.
"Part of the ship, part of the crew"
- Giana and Micah