Berlin – a place packed full of history, intrigue and cheap food

Berlin Part 1

Berlin is one of those places that you read a lot about – its history is littered with war, persecution, division and heartache. I’ve heard people say that they’ve been going back for years and I’ve often wondered why – but now I understand – Berlin gets under your skin. Its a fascinating city, its ridiculously cheap and there is an abundance of things to see and do. I only spent 4 days there, and I really wish I’d not had a panic and booked a bus to Krakow – I could’ve stayed a week AT LEAST!

Overnight bus

The overnight bus from Rotterdam wasn’t that bad. At first I thought I was going to be the only person on it, but we picked a lone traveller up at Den Haag (The Hague) and the rest of the coach was of course filled with backpackers at Amsterdam. I’d managed to bag the back row of seats – making for comfortabke and stretched out sleeping. However at Amsterdam this rude old German couple demanded I move because he needed to sit in the middle – a blarent lie as I later discovered he just wanted to lie down across 4 seats, leaving his wife squished in the corner – the cheek! Nevertheless I still managed to have 2 seats despite the busy coach and slept relatively well across them – being small is handy sometimes!

Arrival in Berlin

We arrived earlier than expected and it was very foggy outside, a not so welcoming start to Berlin. There’s always the initial wobbly feeling when arriving somewhere new – you’re all alone and you don’t know where to go. I ambled over to a group of travellers who had been on my bus and I joined them in looking at the transport map. We eventually managed to locate a U-Bahn station (Berlin underground) and chatted away as we went on our way. The other girl (Maddy from Australia) had been travelling around Europe alone for the last 2 months – an impressive feet at only 19! – and since she was going to be staying with a German friend for the next month, and weren’t meeting until later, she needed a place to stash her enormous rucksack. She presumptiously decided to store it at my hostel – I didn’t mind though, we had a brilliant day together!

Despite feeling smelly and probably looking like tramps – having not had a chance to wash after our long coach journey – we headed out to see a few sites. Maddy had been to Berlin briefly before so she took me out to see the famous Berlin Wall at the East Side Gallery, a display of brilliant graffitti artwork, which was very moving and aweinspiring to walk along.

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On our way to Alexanderplatz we stumbled upon a flee market where people were selling old tat and collectors items. It started to feel a little uncomfortable when we realised that a huge part of it seemed to be communist or Nazi stuff – hats, guns, badges, army jackets, and even gas masks. I did buy a 100,000 Mark note for €1 though. We decided to escape when Maddy got shouted at in German for opening a knife.

Alexanderplatz is a large square in Berlin and home of the famous world clock – though I wasn’t that enamored with it. The square was presently home to a large German market – with loads of food stalls (selling lots of sausage), sweet stalls, souvenir stalls and ofcourse pride of place was the beer arena with a multitude of huts selling massive tankards of German beer. After we had enjoyed our weisswurst – which was delicious- we settled down to enjoy a tankard of beer and the dulcet tones of a German dude performing on the stage. Little sleep and food meant the beer went drastically quickly to our heads and we ended up giggling an enormous amount. Goodness knows how we managed to make it back to the hostel! After saying goodbye to Maddy, I ventured out again to see the Brandenburg Gate and Reichstag – both very important symbols to the German nation. I also went to see Charlie’s Checkpoint, which was a main border between the US and Russian sectors. Now its simply a tacky hut with a guy standing outside dressed up as a soldier so tourists can pay €2 to pose for pictures. There is however a long walkway which has a lot of information about the divide and the wall, which is worth reading.

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Berlin’s Museum Island

On my second day I decided to head to the museums on Museum Island. Only Pergamum and Neues were open today, being a Monday, but both of these were fantastic – especially Neues which is mostly dedicated to Egyptian artefacts. The building was severely damaged during the war, but its been fabulously restored in a modern style which compliments all of the murals and paintings that survived from the original building, which they’ve restored and put back in place. The original decoration had been in keeping with the artefects that the room displayed, so it was largely very Egyptian – you can see glimpses of this left and it must’ve once been absolutely amazing. The Neues Museum houses the famous bust of Nefititi which was breathtaking – its still so colourful and pretty much fully intact – phenomenal. I spent quite a few hours in Neues, I just loved it – puts the British Museum’s Egyptian collection to shame!

I visited the other 3 museumso, on on my third day – the other of note is the Bode Museum which largely exhibits Byzantine art. Some, especially the large crucifixes, simply took my breath away. Looking at all of these works of art from the Byzantine era really made me miss my theology degree and I did begin to contemplate returning to education.

Memorial Sites

Besides museums – which are plentiful in Berlin, I didn’t even scrape the surface! I also visited some of the memorial sites that are dotted throughout the city.

The Holocaust memorial is made up of over 2000 slabs of grey concrete that get higher as they go towards the middle. Its like a maze walking among these and the high grey slabs make you feel a little claustrophic aftera while – it turns into an eery experience and I guess that was the intent.

The Berlin Wall memorial is on the site which was renowned for suffering the most wall fatalities. There’s a wall with pictures of all those who died as a result of the divide – the youngest a 6 year old boy. You can see a section of the original wall complete with grafitti and lots of information about that particular site – which was built over an old cemetary.

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‘Territories of Terror’ dispays a section of the Berlin Wall as well as the ruined foundations of the underground bunkers used by the Gestapo during the war. You can still see sections of the shiny white brick walls which sends a shiver down the spine. Running in front of the ruins are informative plaques detailing the rise of Hitler and his establishment as dictator of Germany. Its the pictures that really help tell the story though. The thousands of people listening intently to him and raising their arms in salute; the politcal opponents, Jews, Gypsies, Communists and anyone else who the Nazi’s disapproved of bring publically discriminated against and multiple propognda posters of Hitler showing him to be the answer to people’s prayers. Inside the centre they had further information covering the war years up until the fall of the Berlin Wall. It was a fascinating and eye opening display of the atrocities that some people are compelled to commit. One Jewish man came over to a picture I was looking at, of Hungarian Jews arriving at a death camp, pointed at a young girl, and immediately burst into tears. I’ll leave you to ponder why…

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