“Berlin is cheap and sexy.”Yan the Tour Guide
Day 0: Berlin is the bomb (literally). Upon arriving in Berlin after 10 hours of sitting on a bus, we learned that someone had found a bomb from WWII near one of the squares and a bomb squad was being called to come and diffuse the bomb. They weren’t sure whether or not we would have to evacuate in case we were in radius if the bomb accidentally went off. We ended up going straight to the hotel and never heard any more updates, but I assume all went well since everyone is still alive and well.
Day 1: Hitler’s former office is now a Chinese restaurant, and his bunker is now a parking lot. If you were also wondering, Hitler had one testicle and a micropenis. All true facts, according to our lovely guide.
We took a three hour walking tour of Berlin and saw some of the most beautiful buildings, like the Berlin Cathedral (bubble picture at the top) and the Alte Nationalgalerie. We also found the line that divided East and West Berlin, Checkpoint Charlie, and the Berlin Wall! I’m not a huge history buff, so it was really cool getting to learn about history at the sites that they took place in. Our tour guide as obsessed with telling us all of the intriguing affairs, testicles, and other random but juicy details of the lives of different German leaders.
Fun fact: If you don’t remember the name of a Prussian king, it’s either Frederich or Frederich Wilhelm.
The last part of the tour, and probably the most eye-opening experience, was visiting the Holocaust memorial (bottom left of the section above). We were each given the time to walk through on our own and reflect about what we saw before our tour guide explained it to us. Walking through it was overwhelming and breathtaking all at once. You can ask me if you really want to know the true symbolism of everything, but it’s truly something that you have to see for yourself 🙂
My friends and I stopped for lunch at a random restaurant and I tried schnitzel (definitely worth the hype)!!
We ended the day with a tour of Reichstag (see first two pictures below). The Reichstag building houses the German parliament, but it also has a rooftop dome that overlooks the entire city of Berlin!!! On our way back to the hotel, we decided to treat ourselves to some dinner and drinks in the nearby mall. They had outdoor trampolines, which after the drinks, were a lot of fun to play on. We also struck up a conversation with two older German couples who didn’t speak English (and we didn’t speak German) about football (soccer), and it was a time!!
Day 2: We started off the day with a visit to Hohenschönhausen, a former Stasi prison (see below). Again, another overwhelming but truly educational experience. Something that I always forget is how recent all of the historical events surrounding WWII and the events that took place at Hohenschönhausen. Our tour guide told us that many of the other tour guides (excluding himself) were former inmates at the prison, and that telling their stories to those who visit the prison memorial help them to cope with their traumatic experiences. Just seeing and hearing about the different forms of torture, especially the psychological torture that occurred, made it unbelievable to me that people were even sane enough after leaving the prison to talk to other people and give tours. There were so many intricate details, from the design of all of the rooms to the choreographed order of prisoners and guards, that the Russians and later East Germans took into account when planning the torture of their prisoners. It was truly horrifying just to learn about it all, but also made me realize its importance; it is a part of history, even though it’s not a pretty part, and thus must be talked about and reflected upon.
Post the prison memorial tour, my friends and I tried currywurst (recommended to us by our bus driver)! Currywurst is basically like a sausage with curry-ketchup on it. It sounds weird but was SO GOOD! Will definitely have to eat again!
Museums galore! Next, we got to explore the Menschen Museum, which was essentially a big exhibit about the body and its different parts. There were full-body statues that showed all of the muscles in the body, and one exhibit with a whole digestive tract stretched out (definitely my kind of museum). We also went inside Alte Nationalgalerie (The National Art Gallery), and saw the works of Monet, Shinckel, Delville, Lepsius, Hitz, and more!
Back at the hotel, we found coupons in the bathroom for discounted entry fees into a nearby night club, but when we looked it up online, all of the reviews talked about how racist the club was (yikes!). I had never felt that way at all in Berlin, but it was interesting that some places still were that way.
Once the night time came around, we ended up going out to the Berlin Ice Bar and then to a nearby pub. The Ice Bar was definitely a tourist trap, but it was an experience with good company and that’s really all anyone needs. Our bartender at the pub looked a lot like Mac Miller, but his name was actually Marvin and he got really offended when we told him he looked like Mac Miller. He had a good time poking fun at all of the stereotypical American things that Europeans hate, and even put on an EPL game for us when we asked him too. Another solid end to a solid day/night.
Remember the night club we found coupons for? Apparently another group of students from our school went and the bouncers let everyone in except for the Asians, so I dodged a bullet and got a good night’s rest.
“It is not history we are doing, but memory work”Julian the Tour Guide
Day 3: Our last full day in Berlin 😦 As if yesterday and the day before were not filled with heavy history and tours, today sure was. We visited the memorial of the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp. By far the most engaging and heartbreaking tour I have been on (not to say that the other two tours were not absolutely fantastic). Our tour guide was incredibly thought-provoking, and gave me the feeling like I was actually in a classroom instead of on a tour (in the best way possible). He talked to us not just about everything that happened at the camp, but also asked us to think deeper about the events and the way that history is told. He would show us pictures that were taken, and talk about the propoganda and perspective behind everything we saw. The feeling that I got from the moment we walked through the gates with the words “Arbeit Macht Frei (Work sets you Free)” engrained on them is truly indescribable. From the cabins to the ovens, there was not one time where I could do anything else but just try to process my surroundings.
Like the quote at the beginning of this section says, witnessing the memorial of the concentration camp was not merely to learn history, but to remember it.
On our way back to the hotel, we stopped at the East Side Gallery and the famous Oberbaumbrücke (Oberbaum bridge). Though we only stopped by, it was still really fun to see a different side of Berlin. If I were to go back, I would 100% walk around the area more and look into the different shops that were nearby.
Taking a break from all of the heavy meat and potatoes that the German diet offers, we got pho at a place near our hotel. It was freezing outside and a nice warm bowl of pho did just the trick. We had 4 hours afterwards to continue to explore Berlin, but we ended up just taking a 4 hour nap instead 😛
For dinner & drinks, we all got to go to Hofbräu Wirtshaus, a hofbraühaus right next to our hotel. Probably the largest portions of food and beer that I have ever seen! Fun fact: the beer was cheaper than getting a glass of water. On top of the food and drinks, everyone (especially after their drinks) was singing and dancing on the main dance floor in the center of the hall. It reminded me a bit of the Gaston song from Beauty and the Beast. It was an exuberant ending to being in Berlin!!
Check out the next post coming soon to see where I ventured after Berlin!