12.10.2008 - 16.10.2008 10 °C
Sunday is our first real day in Berlin. You could easily spend a couple weeks here because of all the history, museums, and nightlife, but we don't have long and Ruaridh is still far under the weather. Before going into the details, I have to say Berlin is the most unique city I've seen- it's hard to describe what it feels like there, a city that has risen so incredibly, considering how recently the Berlin Wall was torn down. The Nazis, the leveling of the city, the Wall- historically speaking, it was yesterday- you can still feel it. But the city is making sure that it is all in the past, almost over-compensating by taking down almost anything remnant of their messy history. The exceptions, though, are incredible- a church, with half the dome destroyed, was left untouched as a memorial of sorts. Annette will show us much more (I'll get to that.)
Anyway, after arriving back into the airport-like Berlin Hauptbahnhof (main station), we walk out and see the Reichstag, then down to the Brandenburg Gate, a symbol of Germany unity but also a point that East and West Germany were separated by. I get my passport stamped as a little souvenir at one of the marking points. We walk through the Holocaust memorial to Potsdamerplatz, the mammoth ultra-modern commercial and business center of Berlin. I didn't expect almost *everything* in Berlin to be brand new, but it is. We see parts of the wall erected here and there in the city, and a double line of cobblestone snaking its way through the city marks where the wall once stood. We go to the Topography of Terror, not yet a full exhibit but close, which recounts the terrors of the world wars, the Nazi regime and the construction of the wall. Lining is is a large part of the wall, and Ruaridh finally finds "Glasgow Rangers" spray-painted in blue on one of the panels. His dad offered him $100 if he got a picture with it. That night we meet with Annette, a high-strung German grad student who gives us tour plans for Germany that she had worked on for a long time. She showed us what remained of historic Germany, like this large old house converted into a club/bar/cinema that the government wanted to tear down, but the German youth protested and ended up keeping it. It was pretty crazy- definitely a symbol of the Berlin sub-culture. Next, we saw the last building in Berlin that still had shrapnel and bullet marks in it, which was quite haunting. Afterwards we saw an art exhibit and a Jewish memorial, then started walking back. Annette points out that all Jewish buildings, like the temple, still have cops out in front. She leaves us with a pile of print-outs and itineraries, and grateful, though overwhelmed, we thank her and leave.
Monday morning, and Ruaridh is all the sicker. We had plans to meet a woman named Kersten for lunch, but ended up missing her from our adventure at the post office and getting lost in the campus near her work. After getting some good chinese food, we head back to the hauptbahnhof and pick up Eurail passes for the second half of our trip, which will cover the rest of our major journeys. At almost 400 euro apiece, they're one trip away from paying for themselves (one week later.) Ruaridh is about to keel over so we head back to Potsdam and settle hostel arrangements for our last 2 days in Berlin, since Kusi is having guests the next night.
Tuesday morning we pack our things and head out for Wombat's, our Berlin hostel, and lunch with Kersten. After another go at the post office we finally come out victorious and ship some of the things we no longer need home (finished books, souvenirs etc.) we meet Kersten for our rescheduled lunch, and she is incredibly nice. Afterward we go out for coffee, and she tells us the history of the buildings we pass on the way, and talks about what being educated in East Berlin in the 80s was like- doesn't sound fun. After thanking her and getting our stuff, we head over to Wombat's, our hostel, also very nice, by Alexanderplatz. I didn't realize East Berlin would be so hoppin'- we are surrounded by hostels and bars and clubs. I guess they are really trying to draw in a young crowd here, and they succeeded. Unpacking in our room, I reflect on all my previous assumptions about east Berlin, and how wrong they are- before I see a swastika carved into our coffee table. Ok, so maybe not everything has changed, and maybe East Berlin isn't exactly 'scenic,' but it's certainly fun. We don't partake in the nightlife this time- Ruaridh collapses on the bed, occasionally running to the bathroom, not looking very pleased. We walk down the street to a restaurant called Marrakesh for dinner, and it was really excellent and inexpensive, even though our waiter was a tool. It's already late, and we call it a night, not making any definite plans since Ruaridh doesn't look like he's going anywhere too quickly.
Wednesday morning, and Ruaridh is forcing himself to come out with me- he's starting to feel guilty about everything we've been missing, even though I keep telling him I pulled the same thing in London when I got food poisoning. We walk down to the Museuminsel (museum island i think) with the goal of seeing the Pergamon museum, which turns out to be closed for the 4 or 5 days we are in Berlin. We walk around a bit more in Unter den Linden, the wide street on the east side of the Brandenburg gate that has souvenir shops and huge foreign embassies and some upscale shops. We head back to Alexanderplatz and Ruaridh is starting to feel better, so he eats almost an entire pizza, and we head back to Marrakesh. The same waiter, but much nicer this time for some reason. We get some drinks, and see a few middle-aged woman come in and share a hookah. That was funny. Tomorrow we leave for the Rhine Valley.