When we last left off I was leaving Copenhagen on a bus to Berlin. I made this decision for financial reasons, but it was actually probably the best actual traveling between two points part of my trip. First of all, for various reasons I’m not the biggest fan of flying. I used to love it, but the older I get the more it seems to make me anxious. In fact, on the flight between Geneva and London one of the guys from our program actually ended up holding my hand during the entire ascent. Once we get in the air I’m fine, but I hate take off. Hate it so much. But that’s neither here nor there.
The bus company I booked with didn’t speak any English which made for an interesting adventure. I probably should have been clued in by the fact that there was 0 English on my ticket – I even screwed up finding my seat because I couldn’t read it. Whoops! Thankfully I made friends with my seat mate and she was happy to play interpreter for me during the trip and there was wifi on the bus so I was able to keep myself entertained. The trip itself was actually really relaxing. As much as I like the people I was travelling with it was nice to have some extended time just to myself. I wish I had appreciated it for what it was at the time because I would be almost constantly with the others for approximately the next 2 weeks.
View from the top of the Berliner Dom
I had a couple hours to myself once I got to Berlin and I spent a lot more time than I am proud to admit wandering around the Berlin Hauptbahnhof where my bus left me. First it turned out that my suitcase has broken so I needed to find a new one so I was poking around shops with my broken suitcase, but then I just could not for the life of me figure out how to use the transit system. Once I got it under control though, the German S-Bahn and U-Bahn systems became something I actually really enjoyed.
I ended up taking the S-Bahn to Alexanderplatz and was pleased when I left the building. The area around Alexanderplatz was beautiful, but the first thing I did was buy a new suitcase. That was a relief. After wandering around for a while I went to find the hostel myself and the person I planned accommodations with had booked. If I had been smart I would have been the one to book the hostel so that I could check in when I got there, but instead I dragged my suitcase around until that night when the rest of them got in and we all met up at their AirBnB. Hindsight is 20/20.
The hostel itself was cute though and only a 5 minute walk from their AirBnB. Proximity to the others was a priority when we were booking things and for the most part we aced it.
Personification of Germany
We were very fortunate that one of our group spoke German and had been to Berlin before. He made for a wonderful tour guide. And it was this part of the trip – the part where there was 6 of us – that I did not realize would come to be some of the best part of our trip. 6 is a good number because it meant that even when we were wandering places we could walk in pairs of two and all have someone to talk to. Considering the group was made up of a couple and two people who were really good friends it was nice for me to have someone to chat and laugh with. I did not appreciate it as much as I should have.
The first thing we did on our first full day in Berlin was (surprise, surprise) take a walk to the old Berlin wall. The place where we were staying was in the old East Berlin and frankly, I suspect we would have gotten completely lost without our faithful guide, but we did not.
Europe in general is full of history. Coming from a country as new as Canada is (although not actually new because of the First Nations peoples who were here far before colonization) just wandering down street in Europe was an experience. And to someone who spent a lot of time in high school loving her history classes that focused on mostly 20th century European history being in Germany was particularly thrilling.
We wandered along the wall for a while making our way towards the museum district of Berlin. Originally we were heading towards Museum Island, but we ended up getting sidetracked by the Deutsches Historisches Museum. How could we not go in? Little did we know how long it was going to take us (spoiler alert we were there for over 4 hours and we ended up rushing the last part because we knew there was still a lot of stuff to see).
We did make it to Museum Island where we split into two groups. The group I was in went to the Pergamon. It was not the museum we thought we were going to, but I actually preferred it to where we had intended to go. The other group went to the Alte Nationalgalerie. By the time we saw that though we were pretty much museum-ed out. I love museums, but even I was ready to not be in more museums. So instead we went to the Berliner Dom.
It was beautiful. I thought my legs were going to die by the time we got to the top, but the view was fantastic and I did indeed live to tell the tale.
Fortunately for all of us, the plans for the next day did not include any museums. Instead that day was a day mostly of monuments and buildings.
The Brandenburg Gate!
Unfortunately for us it seemed like the poor weather followed us from Copenhagen. For the most part it was a beautiful day, but it definitely started pouring at one point and this was the day when we were outside basically the entire day.
Getting to see the Reichstag was AMAZING. The only disappointment is that we were not able to book ourselves on a tour to go inside. Our friend who had been to Berlin before showed us his pictures and told us it was not that impressive inside, but it was still disappointing. It’s just such a piece of history. It would have been so amazing to have gone inside. But it was not to be and we still had a lot of things to see and little time to see it. However, this is when it began pouring rain and we were trying our best to stay out of it. Fortunately for us it did not last all that long. The sun came out quickly and we were able to make our way to the Holocaust Memorial (aka the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe).
This picture was actually incredibly difficult to get. I’m not actually sure what I expected the memorial to be like, but the giant concrete blocks was an unexpected encounter. We spent quite a while wandering among the blocks and somehow managing not to lose each other.
We also discussed what the meaning behind the design could have been but none of us were really able to come up with anything insightful, but it is something I am appreciate that I was able to experience. There was some sort of associated museum apparently underneath the thing, but it was temporarily closed. Maybe that would have been able to give us some insight into the design, but despite not necessarily ‘getting’ the art I still felt like it was an experience that really impacted me. Despite the somber tone that visiting the memorial put over our group we still headed out for ice cream afterwards.
Continuing on our outdoor day of history we headed over to the site of the famous Checkpoint Charlie. While of course the stuff sitting there now is reconstruction and I’m guessing the people in uniforms are actors it was still a cool place to see. There was a museum nearby dedicated to the checkpoint where apparently the original signs and such still sit, but it was super expensive. Far beyond what we were willing to pay.
Interestingly, over the museum there was hanging a giant Ukraine flag with a message on it.
It was an interesting choice of place to display the message. Apt because of the focus on unity in a place that is a memorial to a time when not only a country, but this particular city was split into two parts. I mean, that was the point obviously, but I have to commend them on smart placement.
The other big thing in Berlin for us was the Ampelmann. What is the Ampelmann you ask? Well, he is the little guy on the walk/don’t walk signals in the former East Germany. I’m not really sure why we all liked him so much, but we really did. And it seems like Berlin is pretty fond of him too because you can find him on everything. There are even Ampelmann shops!
The Ampelmann Shop!
I ate my fair share of Ampelmann gummies and one of us even bought an Amelmann cookie cutter. Part me of almost wishes I had gotten an Ampelmann cookie cutter, but I don’t really make those types of cookies so it seemed like a bit of a waste of my money. Even though I don’t understand the Ampelmann obsession, I still miss that little guy. Clearly they’ve done something right.
Berlin was a whole lot of fun. I don’t feel like I need to go back, but I certainly want to. The next day it was onto Munich. Once again I went separately from the others. They flew and I took the train (specifically the ICE – Inter-City Express train). This time they arrived before me, but it was only by about an hour and a half. But this post has gotten long and Munich is a story for next time.