Berlin is a city that I can't quite put my finger on. It is such a tortured city, and it was the first time I have visited a place and felt sympathy for all that it has endured politically, culturally, religiously, etc. I can't say that I loved the actual place but I really enjoyed my trip.
This was the one "free" trip that NYU sponsors for the students. At 7:30am Friday morning, we piled onto our private bus. This time, I was "alone". I say that because it was the first weekend I did not travel with my usual circle of friends. But in the end, I made a lot of new friends, which is never something to cry about!
The Czech-German border is something like non-other. Here's the deal:
Prositution is neither legal nor illegal in the Czech Republic. So, right on the border there are these towns that exist literally for the sole purpose of prositution. They visibly line the streets. The brothels are just one after the other; small shacks with neon or black lights. The women sit in the windows posed in very little clothing just waiting for costumers. It was a REALLY odd and sad sight.
Anyways! The hostel we stayed out was probably the grossest thing I have ever seen in my life (horray NYU!) but it included double rooms, breakfast, and a barn-yard of animals (no joke...I have the pictures).
We went immediately to visit the Reichtag--German Parliament. What a bizaar structure. The outside structure is from back in the day but contrary to popular belief, not where Hitler held his government because of his opposition to the sign on the front "Of the German People" or something to that extent. But in the center of this old building they have built this massive modern structure that looks like the equivalent of Star War's Death Star of Germany! Just see the pictures...it is quite strange. But hey, atleast they have a chancellor now! Yeah Merkel
Had the night free so we explored the "hopping" part of Berlin. This happened to be the Eastern center (Berlin technically has four mitte for the four "spheres of influence" created after the Potsdam agreement following WWII). Interesting. Sadly we were so desperate that we ended up at an American diner (SAD!) called "The Sixties" even though it was decorated in 50's paraphenalia and playing 50's music. hummmm But we did find a swanky bar afterwards that served as a nice place to get to know my new friends and revist a foreign concept in Czech lands--the Pina Colada. haha
So Berlin is NOT a walking city. EVERYTHING is under construction. Everything. Trying to get home that night, via walking, proved to be quite a task. Nonetheless, we found where Berlin's Goth-scene hangs out! haha It wasn't that bad, but just very annoying.
The next morning we took a bus tour of the city. Saw a lot more sights. The most interesting to me being former headquarters of the Gestapo and SS that they have excavaded and put an outdoor picture museum in its place. This backs up right into the Berlin wall which I still have mixed feelings about. This wall is such a symbol of struggle and oppression and violence and yet there are random pieces of it around the entire city. Oh, and there is graffiti everywhere.
After the bus tour, we visited the SONY center which is Berlin's newest pride and joy. The ultimate symbol of modernity, this all-in-one center was like something that should be seen in Japan. Yet it wasn't. It was sitting there across from the Wall and construction and the old church that was bombed during the war but they don't want to touch and the construction and cranes...sorry about the run-ons! I am just trying to get a grasp on it all. We walked along this random stretch of field to find the world's largest teitur-totter, which was closed! So we explored a random flea market instead.
Headed over to the newest Jewish memorial they have built just 2 years ago. It is this vast field of concrete grave-like structures. Didn't really move me much but then we went to the underground museum which was one of the most moving holocaust/jewish museums I have ever seen. It was so well done and the stories were those I have never heard. Incredible. It still amazes me that we learn about this stuff in 4th grade. 4th grade...I am 20 and I feel like I can't even begin to comprehend the complexity, depth, and horrifying terror of such an event. But I am trying.
Then, we went to another Jewish museum. This one was slightly different in nature. The building was designed by Leibiskind (the same guy doing the WTC). The exhibit wasn't that impressive but the building itself was a masterpiece. It is built to make you feel the emotions of the exhibit using lines, structural contortions, physical artwork, and intense symbolism. The 2 main highlights I will mention. First, you enter this cold dark room with concrete walls that stretch for meters above you. It is very angular but at the top there is a small slit where a bit of sun shines in and you are able to hear some traffic. There is a ladder on the wall that is just out of reach and a few lightbulbs that don't light. That's it. The isolation. The idea of hope being just out of reach. So much emotion in such simplicity. Very moving. The second moving part was this room with these pieces of metal that were carved into faces and scattered on the floor. You are meant to walk on top of these faces and when you do, they naturally make this aweful screaching noise of metal against metal against concrete. Really eerie.
That night, had some REALLY good pasta in a creme sauce (OOOhhhh I miss creme sauce!).
Visited Checkpoint Charlie on Sunday. Felt like it was this Bermuda Triangle of hope. This was the one point where you could cross between East and West Berlin. The museum was just the opposite of the Jewish one; the building was aweful but the exhibit was fabulous. Some of the most incredible photos and stories of ways people tried to get across the wall. It is such a foreign concept to me but I basically think of it like this; you live in West Berlin, you go out eastward visiting friends one night and stay over. You wake up the next morning and you can't go home for 20-something years. Unbelievable. The initial stages of the wall were literally set up overnight.
Stopped in Potsdam on the way back to Praha. Interesting palace grounds and the place clearly famous for the Potsdam conference (as I explained before).
I must admit it, German's have the most fascinating history. I can't even imagine what it really means to be "German" in the full context; German reunification, industrializing country, ravaged by the depression, WWI, reparations, fascism, the holocaust, WWII, defeat, communist rise to power, Berlin wall, re-unification again....incredible. And a lot in such a short period of time. And those are just the "highlight". It was definitely worth visiting Berlin. But it might take me a while until I can't formulate a final opinion on such a tortured yet vibrant and growing city.