Basking in Berlin! (and many a currywurst!)

Trip Start Jan 12, 2011
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Trip End Jan 12, 2013


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Flag of Germany  ,
Sunday, December 4, 2011

After a spot of packing and roughly 3 hours sleep we were up at 3:30am this morning to set off on our winter european adventure. Sam kindly met us at clappy j after his shift to wish us well. We were lucky to get a photo of us, and only us, in London's busiest train station (17 platforms)! Quite an achievement considering we're usually shouldering our way through the thousands on an average day.

My rough sleep on the plane was rewarded when I awoke to a stunning sunrise over somewhere between London and the Netherlands. We checked in to our swanky hostel, complete with the fabulous cubby bunks that I love. Cubby bunks are essentially a normal bunk bed with an additional privacy curtain to block out any annoying/nosey roommates. Tummies grumbling, we headed out post haste in search of some german fare. I ordered myself a delicious goulash and Tom chose some rather tasty german meatballs with veg. After lunch we hired some bikes as we had heard this was the best way to see Berlin. No sooner did we pedal out of the shop on our trusty steeds than did the heavens open and the rain came down! It put an end to our cleverness as we were soon shivering with cold. We dived into a cosy cafe to wait it out and thankfully the rain didn't last too long. We hopped back on the bikes and headed off to see some sights before it got too dark. At the moment it's pretty much dark at 4:30pm so we didn't have a lot of time. We got a brief glimpse of the Berliner Dom, Brandenburg Gate and Holocaust memorial before it was time to return the bikes.

After we returned our bikes we wandered off to explore Berlin's amazing christmas markets. We chose curry wurst and bratwurst for dinner followed by this weird but delicious biscuity snowball (Schneeballen) and some mulled wine (Gluhwien) and cider (Gluhwien apfel). The christmas markets are just gorgeous and apparently some of the best in europe. Everything is set up in little wooden huts with pretty lighting and garlands. There is wurst, smoked salmon, corn on the cob, pretzels, candied nuts and gingerbread tucked among stalls selling allsorts of christmasy crafts. All that was missing was some snow!

We were in bed early the first night and had a good sleep until around 2am when our roudy Aussie roommates returned. I was about to tell them to shut it when the thud of one of them falling out of his bunk made me giggle and I dropped off back to sleep.The next morning we awoke feeling refreshed and headed down to the usual hostel breakfast... bread (and more bread) with a bit of tinned fruit and an over boiled egg.

As much as I hate tramping around europe in a tour group, it is unfortunately the best way to discover a new city in a hurry. So we decided to join a free walking tour. It turned out to be great (as they often are). We were guided around town by Sadie, our self/confessed history nerd, Londoner-turned-Berliner, tour guide. Throughout the 3 hours she successfuly explained hundreds of years of, often dark and depressing, german history in an energetic and entertaining fashion.
The fabulous thing about Berlin is the way it's government, and people, are able to acknowledge and memorialise Berlin's chequered past while simultaneously working to make it the exciting and dynamic city it is now becoming. There is a distinct and purposeful collision of old and new which works so well. 

First stop on the tour was the Bradenburg gate where we could admire Berlin's giant christmas tree complete with random person dressed as Darth Vader offering photos for a fee. Our guide also pointed out for our interest, the wanky hotel opposite the gate where the King of Pop famously hung his baby out of the window Lion King styles.The Brandenburg Gate area has played a major role in the history of the city. It is the one remaining gate of a series through which Berlin, once the Kingdom of Prussia, was entered. The quadriga (chariot) sits proudly utop the gate and the beautiful woman riding it was once called Eirene (Goddess of Peace) and represented the bringing of Peace to the people of the city. When Napoelan arrived he took quite a liking to old Eirene and had her removed and taken to France for himself! When Napolean came to an end Eirene was reclaimed by her rightful owners and reinstated to her home utop the Bradenburg Gate. She wasthus renamed Victoria, Roman goddess of Victory. Funnily enough if you follow her steely gaze it reaches right across the square and down upon... the French embassy!
During the Nazi occupation period, the gate was the army’s favourite spot for military parades and torch-lit processions. It was seriously damaged during WWII bombings and carefully restored in the 1950s. After the construction of the Berlin Wall, the Brandenburg Gate couldn’t be accessed from anywhere in the city. It soon became a symbol of the dramatic division of the capital. After the fall of the wall, thousands gathered around the gate to celebrate the beginning of the new reality. Today, it’s no longer considered to be a symbol of division, but of a whole new era in the history of a magnificent city. It’s certainly one of Berlin’s most recognisable landmarks.

We moved on to the vast Holocaust memorial officially titled, Monument to the Murdered Jews of Europe. It occupys about 19,000 square metres and is made of 2,711 concrete slabs. They bear no markings and range from ankle height to towering above as the undulate along the paths.
It was designed by an American architect who has remained famously tight lipped about what it represents, instead only offering that he hoped to create a sense of disorientation but ultimately something that would be open to individual interpretation. Our guide offered several examples of interpretations that people on her tours have come up with. I will include a video if you are interested in listening for yourself.

In the afternoon we visited some of the remains of the Berlin Wall and the Topography of Terror exhibition which documents the rise of the Nazi Regime and the SS in Berlin and beyond. We then moved on to the location of Checkpoint Charlie which remains a popular tourist destination. I will note that the signage in the photo is not original but a reconstruction. To finish off the tour we also visited a number of other important hisotrical sites including the location of the Nazi book burnings, Hilter's bunker and the magnificent Berliner Dom, Berlin's largest cathedral.

Come late afternoon the rain returned but we pushed on and returned to the Christmas markets in the evening to watch some ice skating and the icy version of bocce. We were due to head to the airport at 11 the next morning but wanted to fit in the Eastern Gallery before we left. We managed to get up early enough with plans of cycling out there on hired bikes. We decided however, that it would be quicker to take the underground. Unfortunately we've been spoilt in London and overlooked the fact that most places in the world don't have trains arriving on the minute every minute as in London! So, our clever plan was thwarted and we only made it half way to the Eastern Gallery before we had to turn back or risk missing our flight.
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