Mini-Adventure before the trip:
Let’s backtrack a little… originally booked flights and tour, Berlin to Budapest, for April 20th. Tour: cancelled = New dates: April 6th = flights: rescheduled. Everything set? Of course not. New flights : cancelled = more flight reservations booked and a fight with the airline to get refunded for the cancelled flights. Yikes.
Fast forward to April 6th: let the real adventure begin =)
April 6th – April 9th 2012
“Brawta” [braw-ta] : noun – a little extra.
I got brawta in the form of eight extra hours in Madrid. Our half hour delay leaving Miami resulted in me missing my 8AM connection and getting put on a 3:45pm flight instead. So why not take the opportunity to jump on the 24h Express bus to the city centre? I certainly wasn’t dressed for the windy outdoors, didn’t really know what I was looking at, and had no idea where I was on a map. But despite all that, the architecture was gorgeous, the streets pristine and the day went by quickly. It was just enough to whet my appetite for more, but Espana would have to wait.
Greeted by surprise German snow flurries and getting to the hotel too late to meet the group for dinner, I was definitely a little out of sorts. Enough had happened up to this point to make me feel like this trip was already different from the rest. Three days in Berlin sounded like alot at first, but as we made our way around the history-rich city I realized it really wasn’t enough time to see everything. Unlike my previous trips, I hadn’t mapped out a to-do-list. So I was a little overwhelmed with trying to pick and choose which places to go to and what things to see.
We started at the East Side Gallery. Seeing the remaining stretch of the Berlin Wall and the art work it was covered in was amazing. The blue skies and crisp air was a welcome change from the flurries, and made the perfect backdrop to see the Fernsehturm (Berlin TV Tower) at Alexanderplatz in the distance. Stopping only for a quick photo op at the Reichstag, we marvelled at the German parliament building and then took a sobering visit to the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp.
Being here was nothing like reading a history book, and I chose to walk through this one without any company. Surrounding the inner compound there were still fences lined with barbed wire, now old and rusted, and abandoned look-out towers around the perimeter. I walked through the actual buildings where prisoners were held to wash, to sleep, to eat, to be tortured and where some were even reported to have died or been killed. There were stories posted from survivors who had been here, and reading them as I stood on the ground where these horrible things took place was a little hard to swallow. In some areas there were recently placed memorials and flowers, which reminded me that what had happened here was not all that long ago. It was definitely an eye-opening way to have spent Easter Sunday.
Our walking tour the next day took us down Unter den Linden, passing the Berliner Dom on Museum Island, Humboldt University and the Hotel Adlon (pop-trivia: the hotel famous for MJ dangling Blanket from the balcony). There were museums everywhere and, though not the most aesthetically pleasing city, every building seemed to have it’s own story and bit of history attached to it which added to the overall personality and charm that drew you in. Once past the Bradenburg Gate, we could see Tiergarten a little ways away and the brick path that followed where the Berlin wall used to separate east from west right under our feet. Passing slabs of the wall that are now placed around the city, we continued to the parking lot above the Führerbunker, Hitler’s secret bunker where he spent the last months of his life before committing suicide. The Holocaust Memorial was also a sobering stop where concrete blocks were built at different height levels, resembling a grave yard, in memory of the Jewish people who died. We kept walking until we ended at Checkpoint Charlie, and by then I was ready for a brat from the shop we had passed a few blocks back.
On our own time, during the days, we went into the Deutsche Historiche Museum – all the German history you want under one roof – and the Topographie des Terror – a pretty graphic exhibit of the Nazi cruelty on the former site of the Gestapo headquarters. But Berlin wasn’t all heavy history and somber stories. There was street meat (brat and currywurst) to be had on every corner, and good meat it was. At night, we helped ourselves to pouring our own brew at one pub, successfully got through pub crawl #1 after taking part in our Eye-Spy Berlin tour another night, and I’m pretty sure my camera is still in Berlin somewhere after I left it in a cab coming home from the club. For a group of 50 people, everyone connected pretty quickly and within these first few days I knew I was with some good people. Now I’m not usually a beer drinker, but I figured what the hell – I didn’t want to be the weirdo who travelled Eastern Europe drinking wine the whole time. So I gave the beer a chance… and many chances following that :p