Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Berlin, Pt. 2

Berlin, Germany
On my fourth day in Berlin I didn't have any one to meet with so I took my cousins suggestion and did a walking tour. I know some people act all bougie and say they don't do the touristy things, and while I hate the crowds surrounding tourist areas, I think it's a shame to travel to a place and not spend a few hours checking out all those places. I booked a spot with Sandemans Free Walking Tour because they were going to hit all the spots I know I should see. I also retain information better when someone is telling me than if I had to read about it in a museum. I learned so much on this walking tour and the guide was pretty entertaining.
I had a few hours to kill before the tour so I bought some souvenirs, tried to get into a Starbucks but couldn't figure out which door actually opened to go in (my worst nightmare), and found The Russian embassy. After checking in with the guide I still had about 30 minutes so I made the mistake of sitting in the sun thinking that my pale skin would be able to handle the sun beating down on me. I was SO burnt after Berlin I thought my skin would never recover. Never again will I make the mistake that "I'm going to northern Europe for vacation. I won't need sun screen." I always need sunscreen.
The tour started at Brandenburg gate, which is an 18th century monument in the place of an older city gate. To the left of the gate is the American embassy (pictured below) and next to the embassy is the hotel Michael Jackson held Blanket out of (not pictured). Unfortunately, my trip notes ended at the morning of day four so I don't really remember what was all said and done on this walking tour, but I'll do my best. Or, better yet, just go to Berlin yourself!
We then walked to the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. This was a very sobering experience, but I did get kind of upset seeing people running on top of the blocks and people screaming inside of it. The monument was designed by New York architect Peter Eisenman and the differing sizes of the blocks are supposed to make you feel confused and uncertain while you're inside. Others who have visited have noted the cemetery feel it gives. It really does make you feel kind of claustrophobic when you're walking inside because you don't know who's around the corner and you can't see over it. You need to be careful when inside because it's known for pickpockets and vandals. However a special coating was eventually added to deflect vandalism.
Next, we headed to the spot where Hitler's bunker (the one he killed himself in) once existed. The picture below is supposedly where the entrance was located, but it was destroyed when the Soviets gained hold of Berlin. The buildings above were once home to the privileged citizens of the German Democratic Republic (the Soviet controlled part of Germany). So, it's not surprising that their homes resemble concrete slabs like those you'll find around former Soviet controlled countries.
After visiting the bunker were given about 20 minutes of a break near the Berlin wall monument near Topography of Terror. The Soviets literally built the wall overnight with barbed wires keeping West Berlin (US controlled) from getting out. While it took years for it to become with concrete slabs we recognize today, the people of East and West Berlin woke up on the morning of August 13, 1961 not knowing when they'd see their families again. It's such a strange feeling seeing something you learned about in school up close. It almost feels unreal that this wall was built the year my dad was born and torn down the day my sister was born. My parents only knew Germany as separate until that point while I only knew it was united.
Throughout the city you'll also see the double brick pattern which shows where the Berlin wall used to be. Below is the famous American checkpoint with "American" guards keeping watch. For a small price you can get your picture taken with the men, but I thought it was all just kind of weird. At the checkpoint you can also see the distinction of west and east Berlin. West Berlin is filled with all sorts of American fast food restaurants. Another cool fact is that if you went to know if your in East or West Berlin just look at crosswalk signals. Those with the guy wearing the hat are from East Berlin.
Finally we ended up at some churches and concert halls. At this point I was honestly too tired, hot, and hungry to focus. The tour last about 2 hours so you can only imagine how much I just wanted to drink water and eat. While the tour was free its recommended you tip your guide about 5-10 euros. So worth it though because they tell you such interesting information.
I spent the rest of my evening trying to track down some currywurst (literally just sausage and fries with ketchup and curry powder). Then walked back to my hostel where I realized the cut my lock and threw all my stuff in a black garbage bag because they didn't inform me that I was changing rooms. You'd think that someone who had 6 nights booked would be able keep the same room. They gave me a drink token for my troubles which I never used. Once I got to my new room I realized I had makeup ALL OVER MY FACE. So embarrassing but whatever. I was just glad to take a shower and lie my bed.
Do you have any hostel nightmare stories?

Monday, January 28, 2019

Mauerpark

Mauerpark, Gleimstra├če 55, 10437 Berlin, Germany
After we realized the roundhouse was a bust we stopped into some hole-in-the-wall place to grab a drink because we were all hot from walking in the sun. We were going to visit another abandoned place, but, after Cheryl went to check to see if we could actually still get to it, we realized it was torn down. She felt bad that nothing was working out and offered another suggestion of going to Mauerpark. It didn't bother me that we couldn't explore anything because I know the nature of abandoned places and it was cool enough just seeing the outside of the roundhouse. We said good-bye to Elizabeth, who had other plans, and headed to Mauerpark.
One of my favorite things to do is go to flea markets, and it just so happened that every Sunday there is a giant flea market. Most markets I've seen in other countries are just people sell cheap Chinese products. I was so happy to see vintage items and a lot of handmade items from local artists. It was so crowded so I didn't take pictures inside the market (except for the one above). I was able to buy some artwork from a local artist which I try to do everywhere I travel and since I hadn't seen any street artists this was the next best thing.
After walking through the market she took me to the top of a hill where there is an ever revolving art display on what used to be the "death strip," or the no man's land, that formed from the two parallel walls of the Berlin Wall. Not only can you view the street art but you can watch artists create their works. People are so talented with a can of spray paint! The best part is the work is constantly being painted over so every time you visit you'll see something new. Graffiti on the park side of the wall is completely legal as well according to the website!
If you don't like crowds I'd suggest you don't attend on Sunday because, along with the flea market, there is live karaoke. The karaoke was started by a Dubliner named Joe Hatchiban (that's a fake name by the way) when he decided to bring his stereo equipment to the stone amphitheater. He's been doing this since 2009 and, weather permitting, is there every Sunday at 3. 10 years later he's still drawing quite the crowds. The couple people we listened to were really good but there's no way I'd ever do that even for a million dollars. I wouldn't subject the crowd to such horrible singing.
We didn't stay for very long, but it was nice to experience something so quintessentially Berlin and see all the people Berlin has to offer. Cheryl and I finished our evening by grabbing tacos at a restaurant called Nenes. We watched part of the World Cup and talked for a really long time. If you ever visit Berlin make sure to check out her blog. I managed to navigate the tram and made it back to my hostel. I'm always amazed that I'm an adult capable of navigating a foreign city alone.
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