The Whirlwind That Was Berlin

Originally posted August 15, 2011.

Thinking back on Berlin, I’m amazed at how much we did.  We left Amsterdam super early in the morning (like, before the sun was up) and flew to Berlin.  By the next day, we were packing up to fly to Munich.  And yet in that little space of time, we saw a lot of the city and it’s many historical sites.

Berlin had a much different feel than Amsterdam.  It didn’t feel immediately welcoming to tourists, at least not American tourists, and this left us with a cold taste in our mouths for the majority of the trip. Of course, it didn’t help that I was absolutely exhausted the first day. One of our first activities was to take one of those hop-on, hop-off tour buses around the city.  My parents love taking those to get their bearings.  Usually I enjoy them too because I’m a sucker for learning the history about every monument we pass, but instead, I fell asleep … Despite this unfortunate occurrence, I still learned a little about Berlin.  Did you know it’s a huge film city?  In Potsdam (a little outside of the city), they have the movie studio where they shot Metropolis,Nosferatu, and many of the Nazis propaganda films (made for horrible purposes, but undeniably powerful filmmaking).  I was super disappointed that we didn’t have the time to go out there, but I’m going to find a way to go back and visit at some point.

I think Berlin also felt cold because it is a city still scarred by its volatile past.  First, there’s WWII history.  In the middle of the city, they have constructed a huge monument to all the Jews who died in the Holocaust.  It’s an eerie site.  There are grey grave stiles of varying heights set up to cover an entire city block.  You can walk through them, but even the ground has been altered to dip and swell so eventually you find yourself surrounded by the grey stones, which now tower above you.  Underground is the real memorial.  They try to tell the stories of as many Jewish people as possible, to keep their memories alive.  In one room they have collected the last letters of some of the Jews sent to concentration camps.  Unlike most places we visited, this memorial was completely silent.  No loud crowds, no jostling or even hushed talking.  My entire family felt really heavy when we left.

And Berlin’s violent history doesn’t end with the tumult of WWII, but continues with the division of East Germany and West Germany: the Berlin Wall.  Our hotel was located nearby Checkpoint Charlie, so we walked past the signs and the American soldiers that still stand by the old checkpoint between the two sides of the city.  I did have fun getting my passport stamped with the old stamps for East Germany, West Germany, the Soviet Union, the French Sector, the American Sector, and the British Sector, but when I learned about the many crazy ways people tried to escape in the Checkpoint Charlie Museum, it wasn’t quite as funny as before.  The Soviets didn’t just ruin the economy of East Germany, but they separated families, they threw young boys and girls into inhumane, unsanitary prisons.  They felt so threatened by the West that they built a wall in the middle of the night and strictly guarded that boundary.  I’m so glad that they have turned part of the wall into a gallery.  Artists have painted sections of the wall to both commemorate that time, and to celebrate how Berlin is moving into a united, peaceful future.  The East Gallery is definitely a must-see in Berlin.

Even though parts of Berlin were depressing, we did find time for fun. We visited the Pergamon Museum which holds a reconstruction of the Pergamon Altar (Greco-Roman times) and the Ishtar Gate (Babylon).  I remember learning about these pieces in Art History in high school and that always makes my happy.  I love seeing things that I’ve learned about in school; I love knowing that everything I learn does connect to the real world.  Plus, these structures are so big.  Usually, you go to a museum and see little paintings hung up on the wall, or maybe some decent sized statues, but in this museum, they specialized in reconstructing architecture from the ancient civilizations so entire hallways would be filled from floor to ceiling with the walls of an old palace.  So cool.  I should’ve taken way more pictures.  Besides the museum, we also ate some great food.  First of all, Berlin is home to the currywurst.  It is literally what is sounds like: a sausage cooked, chopped up, with ketchup and curry powder on top.  My family was dubious, but when I heard it was a local food, I had to try it.  And they all loved it, including the picky eater.  Ha ha!  We also had a fancy dinner for our one night in Berlin to celebrate my sister’s birthday.  Not only great food (I had duck and also tried the wiener schnitzel), bu the waiter was hilarious.  He sneered at you if you tried to order something he didn’t like.

Oh, and I can’t forget one of my favorite details in Berlin: the walk/don’t walk signs in East Berlin.  The little men have helmets on. Thanks for the tip off, Olivia.  I smiled every time I saw one and annoyed my family by pointing them out each time, too.

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About austinausten88

Playwright in love with Classic films, afternoon tea, and Noel Coward. She recently graduated from Rice University. In the fall, she will be exchanging her English major undergraduate status for that of Theatre & Performance Studies graduate student.
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