Some of you ISA kids may be laughing at the fact that I am just now putting up my Berlin blog post. Yes, this was the ISA sponsored trip on St. Patricks Day and yes, this is two months later after our program has officially ended. I guess the reason for this delay has been a combination of good ole’ procrastination and a few major setbacks, several expected, one not so much. But more on that later. Its Berlin time now.
We started with a very early wakeup call at around 5 or 6 am, followed by a four hour bus ride where I was asleep for the vast majority of the time. It used to be a challenge for me to fall asleep while in a bus or car, but now I seem to have trouble staying awake. Also, I’ve developed the habit of falling asleep on the person next to me, whether I know them or not. So if you find yourself beside me on either a road trip or a flight, be prepared.
Once we arrived in Berlin, our bus driver drove around to see some of the major sites in the city before dropping us off at the Brandenburg Gate, which stood between formerly communist East Berlin and democratic West Berlin. Nearby was the hotel where Michael Jackson famously hung Blanket from the balcony. I was desperate to find out where this hotel was, and little did I know I had walked right past within my first half hour in the city.
Also near the gate were plenty of men dressed as American, British, and Soviet soldiers, all willing to pose in pictures for a small fee. We moved on to see several museums and ancient looking buildings, combined with a Soviet era tower that resembled a spaceship. Unlike Prague, Berlin was badly damaged during the war, so much of the city had to be rebuilt from the ashes. Although scars from the past are still visible, whats even more visible is that this is a thriving modern metropolis which deserves its place as the political and cultural capital of Germany.
Next on our itinerary was the most famous of all Berlin sites, the Berlin Wall, which is now completely covered in paintings ranging from a pagoda to a picture of two male politicians making out. We spent about twenty minutes posing by the wall and admiring its history (but mostly posing in pictures), before heading to where we planned to spend the night. Our ISA coordinators, Lucie and Daniela, had told us we’d be staying in a place called Motel 1. Expecting some rundown, roadside dump, I was pleasantly surprised when we finally got there. I mean, this place was nice! Clean, modern, trendy, and with very comfortable beds, the people at Motel 1 should seriously consider renaming their establishment.
After the group settled in the hotel and went their separate ways, my friends Emma, Jorge, and I decided to see the city by bike. With only one major complaint (the worst pasta in my life, as described in the Budapest blog post) biking was a great way to see the city and really take in all the sites such as the Berlinerdome and many old historical buildings. Emma had heard that “The Hunger Games” was premiering that night at a square called Potsdamer Platz, which was luckily right on our route home. We arrived to see the bright lights, crowds, and red carpet of the premiere, but unfortunately none of the actors and actresses were out yet. Although I wasn’t a hunger games fan at the time I definitely am now, although I still need to read the third book in the series, so please nobody spoil it for me. Seriously, I’ll be pissed if you do.
The bike ride was followed by a night out at an Italian restaurant, which must have been pretty unremarkable because I can’t remember a thing about it. Once back at the hotel, I got ready to go out on the town. I had heard Berlin’s nightlife can be pretty crazy, so I was excited for a wild night clubbing. As I lay in bed waiting to go out, I started watching “Empire Strikes Back” on tv in German. The next thing I remember it was nine in the morning and time for breakfast. So basically, my crazy night in Berlin consisted of falling asleep at ten while watching “Star Wars.” I almost wish I was editing out some details of my crazy antics, but that is honestly all that happened.
On the upside, I felt well rested and less hungover than about ninety percent of my group, so I was definitely ready to soak up some serious German culture. Lucie and Daniela then dropped us off at the German Historical Museum, which showcased German culture and history from ancient times to the modern era. Although the medieval section was certainly interesting, my favorite part was the World War II exhibit, which exhibited the darkest chapter of Germany’s history as honestly as possible. It struck me then that I was in the former capital of the Third Reich and only a few decades earlier I would have been deep in the heart of enemy territory.
After the museum we didn’t have enough time to see anything else before our departure, so we sat in the grass near the Berlinerdome eating currywurst and pretzels. We were right next to Museum Island, and if I only had more time I would have visited the Pergamon Museum, which I hear is one of the coolest museums in Europe.
Well it was time to head back to Prague, so we slowly made our way back to the bus. Just when I began thinking about how far Germany had come, I saw a very ugly site lying nearby. Someone had placed dozens of beer bottles in the grass in the shape of a swastika. I hope that this was only the work of some lone idiot, and I know this doesn’t show the attitude of the vast majority of Germans, but still, it was unfortunate to see, especially considering where we were and the destruction that had been caused in the not so distant past. Nevertheless, I returned to Prague with a very positive opinion of the city and I only wish I had more time to spend in Berlin.