Inspired by...Berlin!

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,

Katherine 

Inspired by...Munich! (Muenchen)

My train to Munich left at 8 am so it wasn’t as early of a wakeup as a few days before.  It was also a much shorter trip.  By the way, Munich is called “Muenchen” in German which is just so much more fun to say :)

I was meeting my friend from high school (the one studying in Florence) for this part of the trip and it was nice to have a familiar face after solo travelling for the past few days.  We were starving but nothing was quite open for lunch yet so we took a walk along the river a little ways north of the city centre.  We came back and had lunch at a lovely healthy cafe near the city centre and started a walking tour of the city from my book.  Like my first day in Salzburg, it rained and poured during the tour, but we didn’t mind too much.  What’s interesting about Munich is that it was completely devastated by the bombing campaigns during the war, but they chose to rebuild exactly the way it was, unlike Berlin which started from scratch and modernised.  My favourite was easily the New Town Hall in Marienplatz which also has a famous glockenspiel.  This one has more movement than the one in Salzburg since it reenacts a wedding scene between a duke and duchess from the 16th century, so it’s fun to watch.  From there, we moved on to St. Peter’s church and climbed 306 steps up to the top which was completely worth the hamstring workout because check out these views!

After climbing up all those steps, we went to the Viktualienmarket where we got a German specialty: giant pretzels!  Nothing makes you feel German like a giant soft pretzel, right? :)  The rest of the walking tour was mostly churches and a huge synagogue, which were gorgeous, and a very strange monument to Michael Jackson.  When Michael Jackson would visit Munich, he would stay at Hotel Bayerischer Hof, and after he died in 2009, some of his fanatics started putting pictures of him and candles below a statue of the composer Orlando di Lasso.  They still maintain it, actually, but Hannah and I thought it was a little weird...

We finished off the day by going to the Hofbrauhaus which is one of the most famous beer halls in Germany.  It seats about 5,000 people and you have to seat yourself, so on a Saturday night before Easter, this was a little tricky.  We eventually found seats and ordered a German classic: Hofbrau beer served a litre-size mug.  WOW, right?  Hannah somehow managed to finish hers and another pretzel, but I couldn’t quite finish my mug — I was already feeling lightheaded haha.  

The next day, we took a day trip out to Bavaria so we could see Neuschwanstein Castle!  This is the castle that inspired the Disney one, as well as the castle from the Chitty Chitty Bang Bang movie (we were both in the musical our junior year so it was a must).  It was a long trip — about 2.5 hours by train — but it was absolutely breathtaking and it was snowing!  Once we got to the site of the castle, we had to walk uphill through the snowy woods for a bit, but it felt quite festive.  We didn’t go inside because we had seen quite a few castles and didn’t feel like paying 12 euro to get in, but we had just as much fun taking pictures on the outside.  We finished off the day with apple strudel and coffee at a nice cafe near the train.

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Hannah left the following morning, so I took a shorter day trip out to see the Dachau concentration camp.  It was a short ride on the S-Bahn and then a 15 minute bus ride.  I didn’t take any pictures since I just couldn’t a) out of respect and b) a picture wouldn’t capture it anyway.  Not only can you walk around the grounds of the camp, but there’s also a very powerful museum that talks about the history of the Third Reich and the people held in the camps.  Dachau was one of the first camps of the Nazi regime and this is what makes it interesting because it served as a model for all of the other camps.  It was mostly a camp for political prisoners, Gypsies/Roma, communists, and a small number of Jews, which I hadn’t known.  There’s memorials from the Jewish, Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox faith traditions on the grounds, as well, and it was both peaceful and eerie.  Pretty heavy stuff for my last day, but I’m glad I went.

It was Easter Monday which is actually a big day and not just a Catholic school thing like I had thought, so almost nothing in Munich was open.  I walked around some more and saw the churches again before I headed back to the hostel to get ready to leave.  I had an evening train to Prague and I wanted to be ready!

Inspired to be,

Katherine