Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Berlin in 3 days and 3 nights

Wilkommen in Berlin!

Berlin seems to be that one city in Germany that everyone is longing to go to. The hipsters, the house music fanatics, the underground scene lovers, the history buffs, the culture appreciaters… they all want to go to Berlin. And then there's me. Berlin is still my least favorite city in Europe. Yes, Yes, I know you can't even right now, but hear me out. I am not saying that Berlin isn't interesting or beautiful, because it is. It really is. It's just not my favorite. And I have my reasons. I'd like to indulge you, if you care to know.

1. Berlin is still struggling to have an identity. Explore the city and you will literally feel the uncertainty lurking around. Is Berlin modern, a struggling post-1989-era city, historical, the not-so-hidden party-goer and music lover's hidden gem, little Turkey? I don't know and I honestly don't think that Berlin has the answer yet either.
I know you can easily say well it's all of those things and in a way yes, it is. But it has not yet established its identity and that bothered me.

2. It is pretentious, in a SF-hipster-oh-we're-so-anti-LA-because-it's-pretentious-but-we're-not way. It is basically on the other far end of the pretentious spectrum, which ironically ends up being very pretentious. In Berlin, you are not considered cool if you are dressed up. Hip grunge is the look and what not, and to be honest I'm not a fan of any place where you have to look a certain way to be considered socially hip whether it be LA or Berlin. - I will explain this point later. 

3. But I think ultimately the real reason why Berlin felt the way it did was because it was just too sad for me. To think of the number of lives that were ruined because of this crazy prejudice, and to literally be able to see the remnants of all these destroyed lives and broken families was too much for me. Although it helped me learn and grow so much from all the hands-on knowledge I gained here, it really did leave me feeling helpless and sad inside because of all that has happened and how I felt like I couldn't do anything to make it better.

However, now that we have been over my reasons why Berlin is not my favorite city in Europe thus far, lets talk about why it is such an amazing city because it truly is! And here starts your guide to Berlin in 3 days and 3 nights:

1. Arrive at your hostel/accommodation and without wasting a minute inside, head to Brandenburger Tor for a Free Walking Tour. Or actually, ask your hostel's front desk for recommendations and tour times, and grab a few pamphlets before you head out. But then head out and do one of those free walking tours. Berlin has a lot to offer in terms of history and sights to see so tackling it by yourself can prove to be very difficult at least on your first hour of your first day there. Plus these tours as I've talked about them before in other posts, never ever disappoint. They're always fun and humorous and are led by mostly young people that are passionate about that particular place's history and have completely relocated there just so they can do this and enjoy showing the place they love to others. My tour guide, Leo, was so good that I practically gave the exact same tour to my friends who arrived in Berlin the next day and I knew everything. 

Some things you will see and learn about on your general tour are:

1a. Brandenburger Tor and its history - The gate stood between East and West Germany and is a symbol of German unification now. The statue on top of the gate is said to be of the goddess of peace butttt in a more controversial theory- Napoleon took the statue with him after his victory over Germans. The quadriga was later returned to the gate. Nowadays, the French embassy is located next to the gate and it is said that after Germans got the quadriga back that they turned the head of the goddess (who is also thought to be the goddess of victory) to face the French embassy as a constant reminder that Germans have their eyes on them, forever!

1b. Hotel Adlon - This gorgeous luxury historic hotel is also located in Pariser Platz across from Brandenburg gate. Although it has a lot of history behind it, it is mainly known now for the hotel in which Michael Jackson famously dangled his baby out the balcony.

1c. Holocaust Memorial - One of the most touching memorials I have ever had the honor of interacting with. This memorial was built in the honor of all the Jews that were murdered during the Nazi times. 
Take a moment to walk through and pay your respects in any way you see fit. 
You will also see this

And this
1d. Hitler's Bunkers - Hitler's secret underground home that he had built for himself, his wife (they got married in there), and their dog. When the Nazis were losing the war, he gave pills to all 3 of them, committing suicide. This was the first time I noticed something that I think to be so strange in Germany. Many people live around places like this one although they are aware of the awful history of the places. 

This grassy area is where his bunkers used to be, way way under ground. As you can see people live in those apartments, facing as their view his bunkers. There are also people living literally right across the street from the concentration camps with the window of their homes facing the camps!!! I just don't get it, but you live and you learn. 

1e. Remnants of the wall and the Topography of Terror museum - The first time you will see pieces of the wall. Although as I will later explain, you can take another tour or go by yourself to see the longest remaining piece of the wall somewhere else. The museum is the former site of the SS and Gestapo headquarters. You won't have time to go see the inside on this tour, but I highly recommend you do it later when you get the chance. The entrance is free. 
The wall and the museum in the back
It is said that at the time, 1 in 5 Germans were employed and utilized by the Gestapo!!! This meant that your neighbor, friend, spouse, parents, or child could be a member and was spying on you the whole time. A lot of people accepted this out of fear of death, but the result was that after the Gestapo were gone that a lot of families were broken up. Imagine finding out that the ones you love were spying on you the whole time! Yet another sad effect of those times…

Building remnants - Museum's outdoor exhibition
1f. The former Ministry of Aviation building (Reichsluftfahrtministerium) - Another surprise for me is the use of old Nazi buildings for practical purposes in modern days. I love the fact that Germans can do this, but I really don't understand how you can go to a building everyday and spend hours working in there, in which you know too many horrible things happened not too long ago. The building is now used as the building for the German Finance Minsitry. 

1g. St. Hedwig's Cathedral - This cathedral is an important place to see for a few reasons. It is currently the seat of the archbishop of Berlin. It is also the first Catholic church in Prussia after the Protestant reformation. King Frederick II wanted to make sure that the Catholic immigrants that were seeking refuge in Berlin had a place to worship in an almost fully Protestant Berlin.
St. Hedwig's Cathedral located in Bebelplatz
1h. Humboldt University - One of Berlin's oldest universities with an impressive faculty of law, and a magical library. Depending on what kind of thing rocks your boat, this can be a really cool place to see for some of you.
Humboldt University also located in Bebelplatz
1i. The Nazi Book Burning Memorial - Bebelplatz was the scene of the May 10, 1933 book burning by the Nazis. They burned around 20,000 books that day including the works of Heinrich Heine, Albert Einstein, Karl Marx, and others. Micha Ullman has built a very powerful memorial dedicated to this horrific act of ignorance. 
The glass plate set in the cobble stone gives a view of an empty bookcase that could fit 20,000 books in it. 
The plate set below the memorial reads from a line from one of Heinrich Heine's plays: "That was only a prelude. Where they burn books, they will in the end also burn people. " And how sad that that became a true prediction. 
1j. Gendarmenmarkt: Kozerthaus, French Cathedral, and the German Cathedral - Known to be one of the most beautiful squares in Berlin. The beautiful concert hall in the centre with the statute of German poet Friedrich Schiller stands between the nearly identical German and French cathedrals on either side. 

Leo, our tour guide, whose stories were told with great sense of humor, explained that the French cathedral was built first. The Germans felt jealous and wanted one that looked just as nice. So the German Cathedral was built. One is said to be slightly taller than the other and that is the only difference. How accurate this story is, I don't know, but it is certainly more fun to think of it this way :)
1k. Museuminsel: Museum Island - For you museum lovers out there, this one is sure to be a museum paradise. Home of 5 amazing museums, Museuminsel is sure to offer something for any art and history enthusiast. 
Altes Museum (Old Museum)
1l. Berliner Dom or Berlin Cathedral - Another symbol of Berlin, the cathedral is also located in Museuminsel. It is said that King Frederick II actually decided to design it himself by mixing a variety of architectural techniques from various eras. Although at the time it was considered an architectural failure, it is certainly beautiful and truly captures the pleasant oddness of Berlin. This is also the last part of your free walking tour and is where Leo hilariously told us the story of how the wall fell in 1989. Please do not forget to tip your tour guides! This is how they make money. I really don't understand the people that take these amazing tours and fail to give a tip!! No matter how tight your budget is, there is no reason why you can't give a few euros to your guide after they give you some of the best tours of your life! Come on people! 
For more pictures of the Dom checkout my instagram @travelwithava
By the way, I was freezing here as it got really cold as the day went by. Sheer workout top and leggings, not a good idea for cold Berlin nights!  
2. Go out to one of the many clubs in Berlin. Or tell your hostel roomies that you definitely want to go out and will only take a 2 hour nap, and then fall asleep from extreme exhaustion caused by non-stop traveling like someone here! But in all seriousness you all know that Berlin is known for its underground clubs and house scene. You will have no problem at all seeking these places out. From clubs that let you in on Friday and out on Monday (yep, you can sleep and party in the club), to clubs with no sign at the door that will take you over an hour to find, especially when you have had a few to drink, Berlin has it all! That's all I'm gonna say on this topic, it's honestly not hard at all for you to find places by yourself.

I will, however, tell you a funny story! So my last night in Berlin, I had to go out and finally experience the infamous nightlife! *I kept falling asleep every other night so going out never happened before the last night although I really wanted to. One of my roomies and I decided to go to the hostel bar and then to a local bar for only two hours till 12 am as I had a train to catch at 6 a.m. Long story short, I started speaking Italian to our hostel bartenders from Italy, they responded with strong drinks, we ended up having one too many jaeger bombs, kept on walking past the entrance to this underground club that had no sign, finally found it, kept on dancing, and I realized it was 4:30 a.m.! I ran outside, but then became friends with the bouncer, to whom I continued talking for another 45 mins! It was fun as he let me scan the cards of everyone that walked in and pretend like I wasn't going to let them in. But then I looked at his watch and realized it was 5:15 and I hadn't even packed my stuff or checked out of the hostel yet!!! So I ran to the metro, ran to the hostel, couldn't find my locker keys, ran out to ask the concierge to let me break the locks, woke up all the girls in my room (I'm so sorry girls :(( ), checked out, ran back to the metro, took the first train to Hauptbahnhof while honestly having trouble even keeping my eyes open, running inside to the other end of the station where the information booth was located (at which time it was 2 minutes to 6!), managed to take the elevator up where my train was. The doors opened, I saw the plaque that said 6 am to Karlsruhe, showed my ticket to the train attendant who confirmed this was my train, jumped on the train, and the doors closed!!!!! Literally the doors closed as soon as I walked on the train at 6:01 a.m. (Deutsche Bahn and your punctuality!) I proceeded to make an immense fool of myself on the train for the remainder of the time, fell asleep, woke up to the guy next to me desperately trying to push my head away from his shoulders (sigh :/), fell back asleep, and woke up 30 mins away from Karlsruhe! Moral of the story is kids, don't plan your crazy Berlin outing for the last 5 hours of your trip! To this day I'm still not sure how I made it on that train on time but I know that by some miracle I did and I made it to my next destination! Ok, on to the next…

3. Take the Red Berlin tourOr any other tour, such as the Alternative city tour, with the New Berlin tours. We decided to go with the Red Berlin tour as my friend Steven was also very interested to learn about this. I must admit that I learned so much through this tour and although I wouldn't describe it as a fun and light afternoon, I will definitely recommend it to anyone interested in learning more about the history of the wall, and how it affected people's lives forever.

Things you will see on your tour:

3a. Bernauer Strasse - The station that stops at Bernauer Street has been kept in the condition it was back in the time when the wall was erected. Bernauer Strasse is famous for the street where the Berlin wall was erected in back in 1961. The station here has such an eery feeling as it has this inherent sadness lurking around and looks like a ghost station.

3b. The Memorial Park and the preserved sections - It is crazy to witness what a bunch of people with crazy ideals managed to do to the lives of people living here. The part of the wall of Berlin that we all see and hear of today was the outermost part of the wall. Behind this section was the no man's land - where the soldiers stationed at the wall were instructed to shoot and kill anyone that was trying to run away and was in this area! - and behind that the fences that ran parallel to the concrete wall.
The only part of the wall that is preserved exactly as it was back then. You can see the vast area in the middle known as no-man's land, the wall, the fences, and the guard tower. 
When the wall was built, a lot of people's houses were located in the middle of the wall. As a result, the East Germany government used their home as part of the wall! They blocked in those who could by building over their windows. A lot of the people that were stuck in their apartments on the border, risked losing their lives by jumping out of the windows and running towards freedom. A lot of people died during these attempts! 

The most touching story to me was that of a mother and a father that were stuck in the second floor of their apartment and their daughter was getting married on the West side. There is a picture that shows them crying and sending down flowers from their window to their daughter without being able to participate in her wedding. 
The memorial park is home to this and many other pieces as a tribute to those that lost their lives, were divided and torn apart from their loved ones, and lost everything in the course of these vicious acts. There is also a church there that is home to an old bomb that is kept under ground and will not be moved as it might go off! 

An iconic photograph of the soldier who ran. This guy was an East German tower guard. He is pictured here being able to run away from his post into West Germany. But there is a really sad twist to this story. As he was pictured, the East Germany government was able to identify him. When the wall came down and he was able to return to his family who he had to abandon on the East side, he learned that his family was tortured severely throughout the years due to his action. His family refused to talk to him and he was so depressed that he committed suicide. You see now why I can't love Berlin. It is crazy how much sad stuff happened here!

3c. Palace of Tears or Tränenpalast - Arguably the most interesting attraction of Berlin for me. This free exhibition is located inside the Friedrichstrasse station, which was the border crossing and checkpoint between East and West Germany, once the West Germans were finally allowed to visit friends and family in the East. It is where a lot of tearful goodbyes took place (hence the name) and where a lot of brave East German families attempted to leave everything behind and cross to the West German side for freedom and a normal life. It is now home to one of the most interesting exhibits I have ever seen. It includes audios of stories told by people that tried to flee as well as their belongings and many other pieces from back then. Below are suitcases of people that were actually successful in crossing the border to West Germany with what they could take with them, without of course arising the suspicion of the border inspectors. They had to take so little and most of them chose to only take a birth certificate and a few memories. 

There are videos of those people telling their stories. It is such an astonishing exhibit and I highly highly recommend it to everyone that visits Berlin to take the time and interact with the pieces here and listen to these fascinating stories.

3d. The longest remaining piece of the Berlin Wall - This needs no explanation. You need to see it by yourself. The entire 1.5 kilometers is covered with graffiti from various artists. It was located down the street from my hostel and so I was able to spend extra time walking alongside it and examine it.

My favorite art on the walls. This is what a typical checkpoint looked like. There is also the drawing of the famous soldier who ran discussed above. Also lampoon that soviet artist, Vrubel, did of the former Soviet leader kissing East Germany's former party leader on the mouth. 

A quote I like from the wall
4. Definitely have Turkish food in Berlin!!! If you have ever been to Turkey or have lived there, you know that Turkish food and desserts are simply amazing! If you haven't been, you probably have heard tales of the deliciousness of the food there. Germany has the largest population of Turks living outside of Turkey, with Berlin having the highest concentration of Germans living in it. When I tell you that I got by around Berlin and the rest of Germany almost entirely dependent on speaking Turkish, I am not exaggerating! Although I devoured my famous Turkish noms all around Europe, including Copenhagen and Amsterdam which also have a lot of Turks living there, the little Turkey area in Berlin knocks all of them out the park! I cannot recommend eating at Hasir more to everyone that is in Berlin! I had THE most authentic and amazing Turkish food there and their Ayran and Künefe was soooooo on point! 
Also, here's another link that breaks down all the yummy Turkish places in Berlin: 
Kunefe at Hasir restaurant in Berlin

5. I hesitantly recommend seeing the former Sachsenhausen concentration camp. Although I think I am glad that I gave myself the chance to learn about something this important in history, I will never ever subject myself to so much sadness again. To get here you will have to grab the train. We walked from the station to the sight, but you can also take the bus. Honestly this city felt so dead. There were no birds chirping, no sound, no children playing, no one out on the streets. There was just the sound of the wind and even that stopped when we walked on the grounds of the camp. There is so much negative energy towering over this place. The sky and the air feels heavy and I couldn't escape feeling dead inside the whole time I was there. We did rent the audio tours but I could not listen to them anymore after an hour and so had passed. I asked my friend Steven if we could leave after 2 hours as I really couldn't take it anymore. I felt so many different feelings but I think I mostly felt really really angry inside, I was in disbelief, and I felt extremely helpless. It makes you wish you could prevent all of this from ever happening. So I will definitely not recommend visiting this sight to anyone that is as sensitive as me although I know that it is the best way to bring awareness to people. But as much as I am grateful for the awareness, I can't subject myself to something like this again as it affected me too much. I also really couldn't grasp how people were living in this town, let alone across the street from the camp! There is something really haunting about this place. Please visit with the utmost respect, spread the awareness you achieve through visiting this place, and hopefully make a positive difference somewhere with the knowledge you have gained.

So that is all concluding the end of my guide for Berlin in 3 days and 3 nights! I will leave you with this really cool picture that sparked a feeling of familiarity within me. This is an actual picture from the Nazi times of a man that refused to hail. It is said that he was later found and tortured but I love that he stood his ground and made a stance.

Probably not coming back anytime soon, but until next time, Tchüss Berlin!!!
I know this was a slightly heavy post and it might've left you feeling a bit down. I do apologize but I felt it important to bring awareness to what happened here. If you go to Berlin, make it a point to also learn about its history and what it has been through. Thank you for reading. As always, I am here to answer all questions so leave me a comment below. ☟


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