Upon arriving in Berlin from our 3-hour train from Prague, I was greeted with chaos – hundreds of singing rugby fans, the largest train station I have ever seen, and no map. After quite the detour and getting lost until dark, Xanthy and I finally checked in to our modern hostel in Berlin. We met up with our fellow travelers who did not have any trouble finding their accommodation…the battle of the sexes continues: boys – 2, girls – 2.
We all wandered the dark city for a few hours, spotting the Berlin TV Tower, rising above the city. We ate a chic dinner at a Japanese restaurant and called it a night.
The next morning we awoke to a sunny day and a city of possibilities. I convinced Xanthy, John, and Brock to join me on a free walking tour of Berlin which would occupy us most of the day. This was one of my favorite tours yet. The history of Berlin is not only incredibly fascinating, but is also quite young – making it even more appealing. Of course the deep history of the Nazis in World War II sparked everyone’s interest first. We began at Brandenburg Gate – a staple of Berlin, and walked block after block of the German territory. Some notable things we saw were the intersection Potsdamer Platz, the main square, and a building still standing which was once a
Nazi headquarters. It was built to invoke fear and, even though it is now a normal government building, it was chilling to picture what went on there just decades ago.
We also explored the hauntingly beautiful Holocaust War Memorial
– standing in the middle of the city for all to see. The Memorial is made up of
large concrete blocks of many sizes, representing those that lost their lives in
WWII. The hundreds of blocks change in height, which makes an interesting
geometrical design when standing far away, and a never-ending maze when walking
through it. The Memorial truly put into perspective the amount of damage done
during this uncivilized time in history.
Quite opposite to the grand War Memorial, our tour ventured to Adolf Hitler’s bunker. The underground space is where Hitler hid and selfishly killed himself upon learning that invaders were on the way. Germany has gone through great lengths to be sure the war is remembered, but not in a way that sensationalizes Hitler or the Nazis. There is little evidence that the Nazis existed in Berlin, a perfect example being that there is not even a sign above Hitler’s bunker – rather it is an empty parking lot at which no one would look twice.
The recent history of Berlin is what truly struck me, especially being there and seeing it before my eyes. It was surreal to look at what is left standing of the dilapidated Berlin Wall and picture that it once confidently divided East and West Berlin for almost three decades. After WWII, the wall was
erected (in 1961) by the East Germans to remain anti-Fascist, implying the West had not been completely “de-Nazified”. Guards armed with guns prevented unauthorized crossing over the entire span of the wall, which was also equipped with booby traps to kill potential crossers. The west side of the wall became a piece of art, with colorful graffiti covering every inch.
Then, on November 9th, 1989, the East German government somewhat accidentally and spontaneously announced that all citizens could visit the West side, effective immediately. Upon hearing this mix-up, the German citizens flocked to the wall at once, armed with sledgehammers, bats, and anything they could get their hands on to defeat the oppressive structure. The masses outnumbered the guards who reluctantly retreated, giving freedom back to the people. Over the next few months, almost every inch of the wall was torn down.
Upon completion of our walking tour which lasted the entire day, we met up with Tory and Julia who had spent the day in art museums. We swapped stories and feasted on traditional German cuisine and beers at a cozy local restaurant. Without much time left, we shopped for souvenirs, (I scored a piece of the colorful Berlin Wall), packed, and headed back to London on the long journey home. Our train – bus – flight – tube combination home turned out to be a blast… us girls did not stop chatting and laughing while the boys listened to their IPods and moped.
Was it a true battle of the sexes? Probably not. But after such an amazing weekend I felt like I had won.
(For the photogallery of this album, you can click here.)