So….what happens when you can’t sleep because there’s an on-again, off-again thunderstorm going on outside? Well, I guess in my case you….write another blog post because you don’t want to do more homework. 🙂
So anyone who’s read my previous entries may (or may not) remember that my friend Bridget and I took a trip to Budapest through WSA (Weekend Students Adventures). Well, during that trip we became friends with a girl who was studying in Limerick, Ireland at the time. We kept in touch with her afterwards and she invited us to join her and a few of her friends on the Berlin leg of their week-long break toward the end of the semester. So of course we said yes! Really, it’s not as sketchy as it might sound. We managed to get on the same flight as them and book beds in the same hostel so we were set to go! We all met up at the gate in Dublin to catch the flight to Berlin.
The flight to Berlin was fine; we spent the time before and after the flight (our seats weren’t together) getting to know the other girls on the trip. The real fun started once we landed and had to figure out how to get from the airport into town. None of us knew German so figuring out where to go was fun. We may or may not have gotten lost in the airport train station for an hour or so….and by may or may not have, I mean we for sure did. Once we finally decided to try getting on a train, deciphering the train map was an experience in itself. We finally narrowed it down to what we thought was the right train and hopped on. A few stops and maybe twenty minutes later we’re pretty sure that we did manage to pick the right train line however, we picked the train going in the opposite direction than what we wanted so we were traveling further away from the Berlin city center. Instead of riding the train to the last stop and then switching (because we assumed the last stop would be a decent sized town), two of the girls insisted we should just get off at the next stop, cross over to the opposite side of the tracks and just catch the next train going in the correct direction. So we did and ended up getting off in the middle of nowhere. Well, okay, there was a restaurant and a small covered waiting area separated from the road by a fence. But that was about it. Oh, well, and the group of four or five guys who were hanging out under the awning of the waiting area which was where we needed to go…but it was fine! We crossed the tracks, our group of five or six American girls, and they didn’t bother us. Once we figure out what our game plan is for the next train, we just continue talking and laughing as we had been at this entire adventure so far and getting to know each other in the process.
And of course, it starts to sprinkle while we wait the half hour or however long for the train to come. The guys had mostly left at this point though there was a burnt orange sports car of some sort that drove by three or four times while we waited. That was a little creepy. But even that and the rain didn’t bring down our mood or keep us from arguing over Harry Potter or the best character from New Girl. But we finally did make it to Berlin!…..four or five hours after we landed but we made it! After that, finding our hostel was a walk in the park even though it was a bit of a walk from the train station and the downtown/city center area.
Our first full day in Berlin went much better. After a nice breakfast at a diner near the hostel, we set off to conquer as much of the city as we could. The hostel was near Checkpoint Charlie so of course we had to stop there first for pictures! From there we moved on to the Topography of Terror which was like a sunken outdoor series of picture panels that gave a timeline and some detail to the Third Reich and the SS. It was both cool and sad. After that we ducked into an art museum that was down the street to have a quick look around–we were mainly curious as to what the place was because we thought the building looked like it was important with columns and big stone animals on the steps. We spent a good portion of the day after this just walking aimlessly around Berlin. We explored Alexanderplatz and various gardens.
The only other museum that we went into was the Judisches Museum Berlin, which was a holocaust museum. That was an interesting place to go through, not only because of what was inside but also because the architecture of the building seemed pretty modern from the outside. There were a few little kid areas and interactive areas but the rest were various artifacts on display. There was a section with postcards and letters from different people. Another area had a Torah and other religious items. There was also a roll of fabric with the Star of David printed over and over. That was really weird to see, for me at least. I guess I’d never thought about how those patches were made that the Jews had to wear, we just learned in school that they had to wear them. I suppose I just thought it was something that they had to make themselves to wear or bought in the shop; I didn’t imagine it being similar to a roll of fabric that you could just go in and buy in a store like you would if you needed 3 yards of Thomas the Tank patterned cotton fabric or something.
A unique feature of the museum is the three Axes and the Garden of Exile. The three Axes are: Axis of Continuity, Axis of Emigration, and Axis of Holocaust. The Axis of Continuity connects the old building with the new building and also connects to the stairs that lead up to the exhibitions. The Axis of Emigration is a hallway that gradually narrows and the ground gradually become more uneven before leading to the Garden of Exile. To enter the Garden of Exile, you have to open a giant, heavy metal door (and trust me, it’s heavy!). The Garden of Exile is a group of concrete square columns laid out in a gradient with plants growing out of the top of them. According to the website, the artist’s aim was to “completely disorient the visitor and represent a shipwreck of history.” The last axis, the Axis of Holocaust, ends in a dead end. The pathway becomes narrower and narrower before ending in a point. Along the way, inset in the walls are display cases showing documents or personal items of holocaust victims. The pathway also get darker and darker the farther along you walk until finally, you are standing in a dark and narrow area looking straight up at high concrete walls. Everyone was really quiet by the time that we reached the end of this pathway.
We walked by a bunch of museums and churches (we even saw a couple who’d just gotten married taking pictures on the steps of one church!) and saw the outside of Legoland. We were going to go inside but it was closed when we got there. Maybe the coolest and most random thing that we came across while wandering Berlin was a street carnival. There were rides and stands selling milkshakes and cotton candy. It was cool.
Now I’m sure you guys are probably wondering when or if I’m going to talk about the Berlin Wall because you can’t go to Berlin and not talk about the Berlin Wall. Well, that time is now. As I think everyone probably knows, the Berlin Wall, used to separate East and West Berlin, was taken down at the end of the Cold War. Demolition of the wall started in 1990 and was completed two years later in 1992. Today, there are a few panels of the concrete wall scattered around town–mostly covered in graffiti–and there is also a memorial where the longest remaining stretch of the wall remains. Walking around town, you will most likely notice these colored pipes running along streets and crossing intersections. These colored pipes are a physical representation meant to show visitors and residents alike where the wall used to run.
Overall it was a good trip and full of laughs between the five or six of us despite having only met a day or two beforehand. The only not so fun part of the trip for me was the fact that I somehow messed up my knee on our first full day. We came back to the hostel after a long day of walking around and I discovered that my knee was not happy at all about having to walk up (or down, as I later found out) stairs. I still have no idea what I did to it but it’s sorted now. So yeah, overall great weekend trip. Fun was had by all despite the rainy weather and we all said our goodbyes at the memorial on the second day as Bridget and I had to catch an afternoon flight back to Ireland while the others were staying another night before heading to London.
And to think, this whole trip only happened because Bridget and I just happened to befriend a random girl that we met on our WSA trip in Budapest. Crazy and wonderful things can happen when you travel.