E is for Eastside

It was a bit of a mission getting from Amsterdam to Berlin, and a mission that we seemed to share with what felt like far too many other tourists. Our first train went relatively smoothly, we had a seat for one hour and the next hour we had to sit on our bags but there was plenty of space and we had lollies. The second train…well it decided not to show up. So us and about 50 other travellers who had just come from Amsterdam waited for the train until we realized it was a no show and all went to find a replacement. Unfortunately the replacement was not really equipped to have so many extra people on board and it was ridiculously cramped. To the point that when we saw a snack cart everyone who was standing, sitting, crouching in the aisle way just kind of laughed. Until we realized that they were actually going to try and get through. It was terrible and unfortunately it lasted for around 5 hours. Not the best introduction to Berlin but at least we got there.

It was late by the time we got to our hotel and found something edible for dinner so the sight seeing was saved for the next day where we woke up, fuelled up on the hotel breakfast and headed straight for the Brandenburg gate. The area in front of the monument had been set up for the World Cup game that was playing in the park later on in the day, which made the photos far less pretty but the giant marble gate with the chariot on top was none the less rather impressive. We took a brief look at the Reichstag (German parliament) which is far prettier than our own in Wellington (I have yet to see any parliamentary building that is less attractive than our own).

After a short detour through the corner of Tiergaarten, a huge city park (where we spotted our first red squirrel, beautiful albeit a little shy) we came across the incredible Holocaust Memorial, a vision in concrete set against blue sky. There is no way to capture the experience in words, wandering through undulating concrete slabs, as if in a maze of industrial gravestones that weave across an apartment block. It was an experience I won’t soon forget and a highlight of the day in Berlin.

After a brief detour (caused by us getting lost) we found the Topography of Terror, a must do for any one interested in World War 2 and the events both preceding and what came after for Germany. It was a big exhibit with a lot of information to read but I felt like I learnt a lot (which is always a good thing, especially when it comes to pub quiz). It was also located alongside a section of the remaining wall, on top of what used to be an important Nazi site.

After so much war and concrete it was a relief to escape back in to the giant park, armed with a couple of sandwiches and cold drinks. We did a lot of aimless wandering, winding our way through and meeting a few animals along the way (giant crows, tiny mice and another red squirrel who was a bit friendlier and keen to accept a few crumbs). The park is beautiful and large, although be warned that in the southern section Berliners are commonly sunbathing naked. No beach needed, just a sunny spot of grass. Can be a bit of a surprise without some forewarning (consider yourself forewarned).

We left the calm oasis and stopped in at the train station to book our tickets for our train to Prague the next day (we took a while but we had finally learnt our lesson). It was too late to visit the museums on Museum Island properly but we trained there regardless to take a look at the beautiful buildings, the river and the big Berlin Cathedral that is also located on the little island. The cathedral was even more impressive on the inside, large and ornate with marble and gilding everywhere. We also accidentally started the climb to the dome, without quite realizing what an undertaking it would be. After a punishing hike up hundreds of stairs, we stepped out on to the balcony of the dome, to soak up the 360 degree views of the city around us. Well worth the climb, if only to see the magnificent roof of the Cathedral along with its sculptures up close.

Last on the “must not miss” list was a visit to the East side gallery, a 1.3Km section of wall that has been turned into a public display of art and a monument to freedom. It was another highlight of the day (okay, pretty much everything was a highlight) to wander along and adore all the incredible art works, some conceptual, some weird, some controversial and some just plain cool. The only downside was the graffiti that has become a bit of a problem over the artworks, with people feeling the need to sign the wall or write messages over the art. Unnecessary but it definitely didn’t ruin the experience.

After a pretty busy day, we went along to a local bar where the Germany vs Portugal football was on, it felt like a sin to be in Germany and not get involved. The atmosphere at the bar was perfect, not too crazy but still fun. What was slightly scary was that everytime Germany scored a goal (they scored a few) people with weird masks on would come out on to the balconies of their apartments and throw cascade bombs (or something similar) down on to the street below (where we were). It didn’t make me feel particularly safe but the people we were with seemed to just take it in their stride so we did the same.

Berlin was a surprise for me. I didn’t expect to enjoy it as much as I did, mistakenly thinking that it held no history and was too modern for my preferences. On the contrary, although the city has rebuilt to become modern, clean and efficient it still is home to the haunting memories of its troubled past. It was a great contrast to what we had seen for most of our trip and a perfect but brief introduction to Germany and its football loving Berliners.

Ready for a whole load of photos?? Berlin was a little bit photogenic so there are a few, with some captions at the bottom 🙂 x

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1. Brandenburg gate
2. The Reichstag
3. This lion statue made me really sad. I thought it should feature so you can feel sad too 😦
4. Getting lost in concrete corridors and mazes
5. The holocaust memorial, didn’t feel real when wandering through and it doesn’t look real in photos. Pretty amazing spot.
6. A tiny section of the Berlin Wall
7. The section of wall by the Topography of Terror exhibit
8. And recovering from the heavy stuff back in Tiergaarten
9. I named this little guy as we fed him…now I can’t remember his name. Something German … Maybe Gunther? I should stop naming all the animals we come across
10. An urban oasis if ever I saw one.
11. Views from the Cathedral
12, 13 & 14 East side gallery, amazing.

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