At this point in my trip, I was on my way back to Paris to see my mom, but I had about a day extra and it’s an eleven hour train ride from Prague to Paris, which I really didn’t want to do, so I factored in an evening in Berlin to break up the trip. We got in a bit later than we were supposed to, but I still had enough time to do a walking tour in the evening, which I enjoyed especially because I had been sitting on a train since 10:30 in the morning!
I loved Berlin! It’s not as beautiful, so to speak, as the other cities I had been to, but it makes up for this by being historically rich, which was perfect for me. What’s interesting about Berlin is how it’s embraced its rather unfortunate 20th century history. They can’t escape from the horrors of the Nazis and communism, so they’ve turned the city into a living memorial for all of the victims of this period. I saw the Reichstag first, which is the home to the lower house of the German parliament, the Bundestag ( I was having [nightmares] flashbacks of my European Politics class the whole time). From the picture, you can almost see a glass cupola in the back, which is there to literally filter out stale air and bring in fresh air. If you reserve a place ahead of time, you can even walk to the top which I think would be fun to do at night. Right next to the Reichstag is a memorial to the politicians who opposed Hitler and it looks like a row of flat stones, but they also have the names of the 96 members of the Bundestag in the Weimar Republic who didn’t agree with Hitler and were murdered. Definitely one of the more interesting monuments I had seen on this trip: simple, yet powerful.
On that note, I then had perhaps my favourite experience in Berlin, which was walking through the Brandenberg Gate, which was a major part of the Berlin Wall. I think I liked it so much because if this had been 30 years ago, I never would have been able to do this. Communism isn't as far in our rearview mirror as we'd like to think. In fact, my mom was even telling me about when she was studying abroad and travelling, Berlin was still divided. I can't believe it's only a generation behind us!
Also, the American embassy is just beyond the gate on Unter den Linden, so I had a glimpse of home, as well, though the security guards outside didn't look too pleased when I snapped a picture.... I walked away as quickly as I could. #expatproblems
Parts of the wall remain in Berlin, but for the places where it’s been taken away for practical reasons like traffic, they’ve put a double line of cobblestones on the street so you can see where the Wall once stood.
Another surreal moment was on Bebelplatz near Humboldt University. This is also the site of the former state library, and in the square, there’s a small framed pane of glass on the ground, where you can look through to see a room of empty bookshelves below you. This is a memorial to the 1933 Nazi book burning and it’s eerie standing above it.
Oh, and if you’re wondering what this little green man is, it’s Ampelmann. In East Berlin, he was the symbol on the pedestrian lights, and it took a 10-year court battle to keep him on the traffic lights after the unification. He’s so popular that there are stores with all kinds of Ampfelmann memorabilia. I mean, can you blame everyone? He's adorable!
Once I had finished my tour, I met my friend Michael and his friend for drinks since they were in the city the same time I was. My train wasn’t supposed to leave until about midnight so I had time on my hands. It was great to see him and catch up about our trips in a fun and very classy Van Gogh-themed bar on the river.
Travelling got a little dicey at that point since the train was delayed by almost an hour, and I was only going to have a half hour layover in Cologne before my train to Paris. We lost even more time overnight so we were running about an hour and a half behind schedule by the time we finally got in around 7:45. Luckily, there was another direct train at 8:45 and after a mocha and freshening up, I was ready to head out again! Oh, and in case you are curious about the post I put on Facebook about almost being robbed in Cologne, I also had a very fun run-in with a would-be thief who tried to take my purse (with my wallet, iPad, phone, passport, and tickets — can you say disaster??) while the train was still on the platform, but I recovered it almost immediately and spent the rest of the trip using it as a pillow out of sheer anxiety. Let’s just say I was relieved when I finally got to Paris and the hotel where my mom was staying, at which point I was not completely on my own. :)
Stay tuned for more of the Katherinspired European Adventure, coming soon!
Inspired to be,