Thursday, April 25, 2013

Berlin: Big City, Big Inferiority Complex

            The last time I was in Berlin was when I was a freshman in high school and journeying there as a part of a Holocaust trip with my Rabbi and confirmation class. In my eyes this harsh, industrial city could only be seen as the extermination of millions of people. This time though, I was determined to see the city in a different light. Today Germany is a world leader, has one of the biggest Green Parties in the world, and has a rich history that is more than just WWII. I arrived Thursday night and took the train to stay with a friend from Clark, Stef, who has been studying abroad there for the semester. She gave me my first new taste of Berlin by going to a few of Berlin’s clubs. The first one we went to was in an area called the Raw Temple which is a bombed out section now covered in graffiti and hidden dance venues and bars. Since the trains don’t start running again until 4am we had some time to kill exploring Berlin by night and of course enjoying some fantastic falafel.
            The next day I was on my own, which I am normally quite good at when I travel, but for some reason Berlin made me terribly uneasy. I was overwhelmed by the vastness of the city and had pangs of discomfort walking by the enormous Holocaust memorial again. Nonetheless, it wasn’t long before I met up with my friend Josh at our couchsurfing host’s apartment on Karl-Marx-Allee (the street is known for its Stalinist era housing once used as tenements, but are now quite nice). Our host Sebastian was quite busy, so after briefly getting acquainted he gave us his bedroom to use for the weekend and key to the apartment! Josh and I headed out for an awesome Indian dinner and an alternative pub crawl. The pub crawl took us to places we would probably never go including a 60s/70s themed bar (well maybe I would go there), a gothic/dominatrix bar, an absinthe bar, an 80s themed club, and finally a club underneath a furniture store! Unfortunately, the furniture store club was not very busy so we joined an Irish couple to another club with techno music and hipsters galore. What a night!
Berlin has so many construction projects there are colorful pipes everywhere transporting gas and pumping out water

Holocaust Memorial
Holocaust Memorial for Homosexuals (inside the small window are clips of gay couples kissing)
             The next day we took a free walking tour to see all the main sites of Berlin starting at the Brandenburg Gate, to a parking lot sealing off the site of Hitler’s bunker where he married Ava and committed suicide, the old Nazi Airforce headquarters (now the German tax office), Checkpoint Charlie (the checkpoint between the American and Soviet sides of Berlin), past 2 very impressive cathedrals (now museums), Frederick the Great’s impressive cultural square, and Museum Isle. Afterwards, Josh and I walked around and grabbed Vietnamese food (another cheap and delicious food found all over the city). Tired from walking all day and the night before, Josh’s “half hour nap” turned into a 12-hour sleep so we stayed in that night.
Brandenburg Gate  
Parking lot over Hitler's bunker 
Checkpoint Charlie (American soldier looking at Soviet side) 
Checkpoint Charlie (Soviet soldier looking at American side)
Controversial Memorial with an unnamed Nazi soldier and unnamed concentration victim buried next to eachother
Our tour guide in fron the world's largest granite bowl
            Sunday we got off to an early start for breakfast and took Berlin’s alternative tour (if you ever go to Berlin, this is my number one recommendation!) Our guide (very alternative), took us through Berlin’s walls of notable graffiti, explained their significance and the notable artists that did them. Considering that the graffiti can change over night, he did an excellent job pointing all of it out. We concluded the tour at a beach venue on the River Spree called Yam that has been fighting to keep their location since investors have been trying to buy up the land along the water for businesses and apartment complexes—and also re-tearing down the Berlin Wall (the East Side Gallery). The East Side Gallery is the longest strip of the wall still standing and covered with artist’s work. After strolling along the wall, Josh headed to the Jewish Museum (I had been on my first trip) and I headed to a massive flea market at Mauer Park (once again, hipster central). I fell in love and spent quite a few hours there, before Josh and I re-met and he left for his bus back to Copenhagen.

The future of Berlin?

Berlin Graffiti

Alternative tour guide in front of a tree house built next to the  Berlin Wall when it was still standing

East Side Gallery

East Side Gallery

Mauer Park Flea Market- AWESOME
            The next day I got an early start and rented a bike as per usual for me. Starting in the East I biked to the end of Treptower Park and explored an abandoned amusement park and saw the WWII Soviet Memorial, which was huge and absolutely over the top, but a common thing to do for Stalin. Then I continued on and explored Kreuzberg, Berlin’s new trendy area and new reason to hike up the rent. From there I got lost for quite some time and finally made it to the Reichstag (Germany’s main government building) and biked all the way to the west through Tiergarten park to see their victory tower and finally Charlottenburg Palace.
Abandoned amusement park

I went exploring...

Soviet memorial 


Victory Tower
Exhausted, I took the metro back East to meet my final host Dave (originally from England, but has been in Berlin for the past few years). Since I had seen Berlin east to west, Dave took me south to Neukolln, an area resembling what Berlin used to look like when it was comprised of small villages and now predominantly populated by Turks. After a delicious Italian dinner, (German food never really happened since their main delicacy is curry wurst), we headed north to meet some of his friends. One of them was from Iraq and told me how much he approved of the war we started there—in fact, if he met George Bush, he would even shake his hand. Although I was surprised, it made a lot more sense once I learned he was a Kurd from northern Iraq (which he told me is beautiful and he’d be happy to host me there!) Since we were all having an awesome time hanging out, after a while it didn’t make sense to sleep before I had to catch my flight at 7am so we stayed out until one of his friends kindly drove me to the airport and gave me a small architectural tour of the center of the city.
Like I said, curry wurst is a big deal here
Berliners love their city and so do the tons of other people that have fallen in love with this raw and still growing city. Although Berlin definitely grew on me by the end of my trip, I’m not sure I will be rushing back any time soon. The city lacks the ornate and lavish air of other European cities and despite Germany being a world leader they are very much so debt. As their mayor stated, “Berlin is poor, but sexy.” 


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