Trains, Planes and Cranes.
What an interesting city. As my first official stop in this European tour, Berlin surprised me in ways that I didn't expect. The people are just lovely. They are truly beautiful, with amazing features and striking fashion and a reserved confidence. I'm not sure why I was so surprised that they were equally as warm and friendly and helpful as my hometown counterparts. I expected the people to be a bit colder... but they weren't! We have badgered so many people for help in restaurants, trains stations and airports and we have been treated with such respect and kindness. So there's my lesson of the day. Throw away all pre-dispositions. And the food.... oh the food is shockingly good. The coffee will kick you when you wake up (I think their regular coffee has like, two shots of espresso in it, praise be to Him) and the croissants melt in your mouth. Oh, if only my dear sister Rachel could join me for a warm chocolate croissant. She would feel like she had died and gone to Heaven. Sweet girl, I wish I could bring one back for you! And the fashion here is totally you. Everyone is dressed to impress; layering pieces in a carefree way that is almost sloppy but instead is rescued by the precise tailoring and chic mix of color.
Since we only had a day, here's what we did in Berlin:
Morning Time. Painful Time Change Recognized.
We woke up in our hostel, EastSeven (which turned out to be in the super cool Prenzlauer Berg district, we know how to sniff out the hip) and had breakfast down the street at Cafe Gang Gan. Oh my God. Breakfast sandwiches (Stevie tried to pronounce everything in German and the waiter gently laughed) kaffe (I've got to find out what they put in it, IT'S SO GOOD), and shared a monumental croissant (I tried to maintain myself in a German manner as to not draw attention to the DELICIOUSNESS.) We were floored. We were fueled. We were amped for the day.
We walked down the Unter din Linden to the Eastern Mitte district, which is the old town center of Berlin. We saw the famous TV Tower (don't know why its famous?) and went inside the Marien Church, where we saw an interesting “Dance of Death” mural. Hmmm no thanks. I shall dance for life. We kept walking and crossed over the Spree River and explored around Museum Island, saw the Berlin Cathedral (stunning), toured the Pergamon Museum (Babylonian, Mesopotamian, ancient Greek and Islamic history, super fascinating) and laid out on the Lustgarten lawn in the sunshine. This green space was once swarming with the Kaiser's troops, but today is just a relaxed outdoor space. We could have laid out there all day, but alas, there was still much to see. We kept walking and saw the former site of the Hohenzollern Palace, the home of the Brandenburg and Prussian dynasty, pre-Soviet days. The palace is under construction, as the city wants to turn the run-down space into shopping, restaurants and a theater venue. (Side note: the ENTIRE city is under construction right now. We counted like 100 cranes in the historic district. Berlin is rebuilding, people.) We continued walking and reached Pariser Platz, an area that hosts the Brandenburg Gate, US Embassy, the famous DZ Bank building, the Kennedy Museum and the Hotel Adlon (where Michael Jackson dangled his baby Blanket out the window.) It was here that we visited the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe and toured the museum. We had a very sobering few hours spent rehashing the horrors of the Holocaust history, much of it devised in the very places our feet had taken us all morning long.
Pergamon Mueseum from Kristen Hale on Vimeo.
We walked around the Tiergarten, Berlin's much-larger version of Central Park, and took a look at the German Parliament building, the Reichstag (we were unable to get tickets to tour the building) and then decided it was time to the The Wall. We walked down to Potsdamer Platz, which Berlin refers to as their Times Square, with their fururistic transportation hub, big businesses and billboards. I love Rick Steves, in his book “Best of Europe” he says, “Potsdamer Platz, with its corporate logos flying high and shiny above what was the Wall – trumpets the triumph of capitalism.” Geez that man is such a doll. So we ate some crepes.
We saw the Wall. Oh my word it is so, so ugly. Who the heck ever thought this was a good idea? I mean, it is a very forlorn slab of concrete. My government tip 101: If you're going to do something bad to your people, at least do it beautifully. K I'm done.
There's a scary museum across from a part of the Wall called The Topography of Terror, which focuses on how Hitler managed to (rather seamlessly) accomplish his atrocious vision in his years of power. I was scared even to be standing so close the museum, so no, we opted out of that precious tour.
Not gonna lie, it was after that part of the day that I was somewhat losing steam (the low blood sugar and whining had ensued), but we wanted to head further East to see a part of the Wall that hundreds of artists had turned into a long mural along the water. The chick at our hostel said this area of town, Kreuzberg is much edgier and outside of the tourist zone. She said the mural was “very very beautiful”, ugh I can agree to disagree on this one. A lot of the art was dark, full of nudity and violent pictures. I know I haven't seen the great Italian works of art (yet), but this mural was just not beautiful to me. Different strokes for different folks (literally.)
We headed back to Prenzlauer and grabbed dinner at a outdoor Russian pub. It was chilly but the local beer was a satisfying way to top off quite an interesting day of tours. Then we hit the hay.
If you actually read all of this post, I applaud you. What a day. Stevie and I decided that Berlin wants to “be” again; and 10 years from now the city is going to be. Big. Bigger than it already is. It really wants to preserve and showcase its history, and it's not shying away from the gritty, dark stories of its past. I dig that and welcome the lesson.