Walking by bombed out buildings

Trip Start May 23, 2006
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Trip End Aug 02, 2006


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Flag of Germany  ,
Tuesday, June 6, 2006

Wow. This city might be the most intense place I have ever been to in my life. First of all, an apology for any typeos or lack of punctuation, the keyboards here are different (y in the place of z, no apostrophe to be found). That being said, onto the exciting stuff:
I arrived in Berlin on Sunday night, and proceeded to be peer pressured into going on a pub crawl. It was mediocre at best, in part because I had been having such a good time in Amsterdam and I think I just missed Lisa, and in larger part because nightlife here doesnt start until 2 am really but for some reason they saw fit to start the pub crawl at 8, so by the time any place would get even remotely busy, we were ready for bed. I left with two sorority girls from some American college to go get snacks, and then we quit and went back to the hostel.
The following morning (was it only yesterdaz?) I went on Brewers Tour, what was meant to be an 8 hour walking tour of the city. 10 hours later, we had covered about 6 or 7 city blocks, but learned so much of the history, from our guide who had seen the wall go up, come down, and had served with the British Royal Navy. This man was a CHARACTER, like nobody Ive met before really. He was very full-on, gave me a long lecture on how I wasnt dressed warmly enough for the weather (it was rather frigid out), reminded us to clear our plates after our lunch break, and would set off across a street crawling with cars at full pace, expecting them to stop and us to follow. Rather terrifying at times, but more entertaining than anything else. He also would perpetually make comments like "German isnt a language, it is just noise", or "we didnt trust the Germans after the war. To be honest, I still dont now." The best moment though was standing in front of Brandenberg Gate, where they had put up a giant soccer ball in preparation for World Cup, at which point he loudly declared "Germans have no soul!" as he was frustrated that thez had commercialiyed his favourite landmark.
His personality (and obvious biases) aside, it was just a disturbing experience. One of our first stops was in front of the Neuve Synagoge, one of the only synagogues still functioning in the city (actually, it wasnt returned to the Jewish population of Berlin until after the fall of the wall, because it was in the Soviet sector). Outside were positioned two police officers. As we continued on our walk, the only other synagogue and a kosher cafe were both also protected by police officers. My guide informed me that it was primarily because of the threats posed by the citys large Muslim population, and less so because of fear of neoNazis, but that both were areas of concern. It was incredibly upsetting to see. We also saw what used to be a Jewish girls school before it was raided by the Nazis, and the building was basically left empty from the 1940s onwards, until last week when it was used as a gallery for a modern art show. Next to the school is the old Jewish orphanage and hospital, which backs onto the synagoge. There are two layers of bazooka-proof glass and an airlock to get into the parking lot behind the synagogue, where German language classes are taught to Russian Jews.
Once we finished with that, we looked at some older buildings (churches, museums), some bombed out buildings that the Soviets didnt restore, I saw part of the wall, Checkpoint Charlie (where tourists and Allied forces could cross from West to East Berlin), the palace of tears, where West Germans would have to say goodbye to their East German relatives once their visitors visas expired and they had to take the train back, and assorted other Cold War sites. It was fascinating to see how much the city is still suffering from WWII and the cold war... So much is new and being rebuilt, the central train station just opened on Sunday, and most of the buildings are less than 10 years old or have been subject to a great deal of restoration.
After the walking tour that never ended (believe me, what I put here is the abridged version!) a few of the other travellers and I decided to go for dinner- they got sausage, I got cheese. We all had beer. Then we went wandering to try and find a bar open till 2 am playing the Stanley Cup game- instead we ended up in this really cool bar down a graffitti covered alley drinking Becks, and then an Irish pub, and then a nargila bar run by an Egyptian guy who sells Kosher food.
All in all it has been an interesting experience here. I am certainly glad I have seen it, but I am looking forward to changing cities soon, and even more looking forward to settling down in Florence for a while, with a shower that works and roommates I know!
Thinking of you all,
Zo
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