Monday, March 14, 2011


Our second 10 day break we decided to travel throughout Eastern Europe.  Our three locations were Berlin, Prague, and Budapest - the capitals of Germany, the Czech Republic, and Hungary.

First stop March 5... Berlin!

We got there Friday night around dinner time, grabbed some kebobs/falafels and then played flip cup in our hostel bar all night.

Saturday morning we got a relatively early start and headed to the Pariser Platz to begin our 4 hour walking tour.  Luckily, there was a Starbuck's in the square... heaven!  Also in the square was Hotel Adlon, the hotel where Michael Jackson precariously dangled his baby out the window in 2002.

The first building we saw on our tour was the Brandenburg Gate, which was the former city gate and one of the main symbols of Berlin and Germany.  It is the only remaining gate of a series through which Berlin was once entered.  We walked past the Reichstag buildling, historical edifice constructed to house the Reichstag parliament of the German Empire, and then went to see the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe.  It was a very different memorial, designed by an architect and engineer, Peter Eisenman and Buro Happold.  It consisted of 4.7 acres of 2,711 concrete slabs arranged in a grid pattern on a sloping field.  The slabs all vary in height, designed to produce an uneasy, confusing atmosphere - representing the ordered system that has lost touch with human reason.  This was one theory our tour guide told us regarding the reason behind the design, but Eisenman stated that his memorial represents a radical approach to the traditional concept of a memorial, by not including any symbolism.  Below the memorial is an Information Center that holds the names of all the known Jewish Holocaust victims, obtained from the Israeli museum Yad Vashem.

We saw the site of Hitler's Former Bunker, and walked down the street where he once lived... creepy.  The Famous Berlin Wall was next.  It was a dirty graffiti filled never ending concrete slab with chunks breaking off and internal metal rods showing through.  It's crazy how new the history is in this city - the wall began being constructed in 1961 and fell in 1989, just one year before I was born.

We saw the former SS Headquarters, Checkpoint Charlie (the name given by the Western Allies to the best known Berlin Wall crossing point between East Berlin and West Berlin during the Cold War), the gorgeous Gendarmenmarkt square where the French and German Cathedrals lie, and the Bebelplatz - site of the infamous Nazi book burning ceremony in 1933 where around 20,000 books, including works by Thomas Mann, Erich Maria Remarque, Geinrich Heine, Karl Mark and many other authors, were cremated.  Today, there is a memorial consisting of a glass window set into the cobblestone ground, giving a view of underground empty bookcases, commemorating the event.  Engraved into the ground in front of it says "Dort, wo man Bucher verbrennt, verbrennt man am Ende auch Menschen,"- "Where they burn books, they ultimately burn people."

We continued on to visit the Old Royal Boulevard, Neue Wache memorial, the TV Tower, and ended at Museum Island, named because of the five internationally renowned museums that occupy the island.  After a very informative tour through the cold, I ate a delicious bratwurst, and walked through the market where vendors were selling various types of artwork, clothing, hats, pictures, paintings, and sculptures.

Later in the evening we went to the coolest club called White Trash.  When you walked down the second set of stairs into the basement there was a dark underground smoky cave that had a DJ playing at the back and bright colored lights flashing everywhere.  The bartenders were behind a cage, and the place was packed.  Definitely one of my favorite nights abroad thus far.

Sunday morning a small group of us went to revisit the "cool" part of the Berlin Wall and see all of the artwork painted recently on top of it.  Our next stop was the Berlin Zoo, another one of my favorite stops so far.  They had every animal!  It was fun to see a German version of an American childhood favorite.  We walked next door to the Aquarium after and saw some legit underwater critters.

Other than the cold, Berlin was a great place to tour, visit, and go out.  Rich with so much relevant history that I could relate to, having occurred within my parents and grandparents generations.  I had a blast and would definitely go back.

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