Thursday, November 10, 2011

brrrrrlin.


I went to Berlin this past weekend and it was cold. Everywhere I went I felt like I had a constant brain freeze. However, despite the cold Berlin turned out to one of my best trips yet. It was a 5 day, 4 night trip to one of the best countries on Earth-- by myself.

Thursday night I had made the unfortunate decision to stay up all night to catch my 6am train to Dublin for my noon flight. Mark said that I was welcome to sit with him at his place and he would accompany me to the train station in the morning. Needless to say, this was the worst decision making we had ever had, together and separately. I managed to make my train, but I was so tired. I got to the airport, feeling like death, to board my plane to Berlin. I knew my exhaustion had hit an all-time high when I don't remember take-off because I was already passed out. Exciting, right?

I landed in Berlin and I was required to take the S-Bahn and the U-Bahn (the train system in Berlin) to get to my hostel. Let me tell you that the travel was worth it. My hostel was wonderful. The staff was so friendly, the beds were comfy, and my 8 bed mixed dorm did not smell like sweaty balls. I'm pretty certain that this was heaven. I ended up staying in for the night, reading. It was too late for me to go anywhere by myself and besides, I was still exhausted. I needed all my energy for the weekend ahead of me.

Inside the Berliner Dom
Saturday morning I decided to check out a list of museums my friend Sarah had recommended me. She had studied in Berlin previously and therefore compiled a list of must-sees in the city. My first stop was the Berliner Dom, a beautiful cathedral on Museum Island. It hosts some beautiful views of the city from its gallery after you've climbed the 267 steps to the top. On the way up, I checked out the cathedral's service area and there was a church service going on. Now, I'm not a religious person, but I do have a soft spot for organ music. The acoustics in the Berliner Dom were beautiful. I managed to get a short video of it, but it's not nearly as impressive as actually being there.

After the Berliner Dom, I went over to the Deutsches Historisches Museum (German History Museum). It had soooo much interesting stuff in there. I can't even go into detail about it. The Museum essentially outlined all of German history from something like the 8th Century to the early 1990s. It's an incredibly collection of artifacts and information. Long story short, I took too many pictures and looked at too many things.

Holocaust Memorial
I wandered for a little bit before coming upon the Brandenburg Tor, the historic landmark gracing the back of German Euro cents. Down the street was the Holocaust Memorial and the Homosexuality Monument. The Holocaust Memorial was a block of sidewalk that upon reaching it, it's just some low-raised black stone boxes, but as you walk past it further, you discover that some of them are at least 15 feet tall. It goes deep into the ground and only raises a little bit above level, a strong metaphor of how the Holocaust affected Germans and Berliners alike. The Homosexuality Monument was dedicated to those who fought for their right to love who they wanted during and after WWII. It was a beautiful monument. There was only a small window to look in and inside the monument was a short film of two men kissing gently. It definitely shows the progressiveness of German society to have something like this not only in the public sphere, but have signs directing to it in a very busy area. (It's literally across the street from the Holocaust Memorial.)

Me at the Berlin Wall
A bit further down the street was Potsdamer Platz where sections of the Berlin Wall still remained. There was a plaque on the ground showing the years the wall was up and which side you would have been on where you were currently standing. Even the ground was tinted differently as to where the wall was. On the Platz itself was an Austrian Christmas festival with food houses and a giant snow-tubing slide. It was quiant with a fun atmosphere. Sadly, I only got to grab something to eat before it got dark and I had to head back to the hostel for the night.

The next day, I woke up early to head over to Alexanderplatz to meet a tour for Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp. Unfortunately, the tour guides never showed up, so being my pro-active self, I went by myself. They gave instructions to go by yourself on the brochure. It was only an hour train ride to Oranienburg up north and a short walk from the train station, so why not?

Washroom in Bunk 38
I have a particular fascination with concentration camps. I saw the bunks where the prisoners slept, the potato peeling room, and the infirmary. At Sachsenhausen, they created 'work shops' where they kept prisoners with specific skills that would benefit the Nazis. For example, there was a forgery work shop where 24 prisoners were kept to forge British money to invalidate and ruin the British system. Some say that this forgery was beyond perfect craftsmanship. It's unbelievable to imagine all the things the Nazis used their prisoners for besides punching bags. They experimented on the prisoners; many of the doctors in the infirmary practiced their techniques and tried new theories on the prisoners. What the Nazis did was unforgivable, but there's something that's troublingly admirable about their efficiency, organization, and ideas.

Sachsenhausen Memorial inside the crematorium walls
Two parts that disturbed me the most at Sachsenhausen were two aspects I never saw on my first concentration camp visit to Dachau: the mortuary and the crematorium. When I stepped inside the mortuary, I felt as though I was in an episode of "Ghost Hunters", but a place that was definitely haunted. My heart rate increased significantly and the air felt heavy. For just a minute, I was down there by myself. Never again. The second, the crematorium, held the biggest physical reaction I had. At Sachsenhausen, in order to preserve the foundations of the crematorium, the memorial society built a protective, temperature controlled white building around it. This means, you cannot see the crematorium foundations unless you go inside and around the memorial monument. Instantly upon seeing the crematorium, I felt like I was going to sob. Heart-wrenching, chest-collapsing sobs. The intense feeling subsided to being a dull, terrified ache as I read the information for the crematorium and what they did to the prisoners here. It was difficult, but I managed to read all of it and take a few pictures. Like Dachau, I left with a serious weight in my heart that lifted once I got to the train. It hurts to visit concentration camp. If you ever have a chance to go to one, do it. It really grounds you and makes you truly think about where we've come from.

After Sachsenhausen, I made it back to the city with a little time to be able to get over to the Neues National Galerie for some modern art. Sadly, the permanent exhibit was closed, so I instead walked over to the Topographie des Terrors, a free museum dedicated to the Nazi occupation of Berlin. I didn't stay long since my brain had had enough of the Nazis for the day (not to mention I was starving). Checkpoint Charlie wasn't too far away, so I went over there to take a look at what Sarah deemed an overrated tourist spot. It was, but that was okay. The history behind it is really interesting, so make sure you look it up. I grabbed some disappointing gnocchi for dinner and went back to the hostel for the night.

From the TV Tower
I slept in Monday and awoke to next to zero plans. Of course, I took the U-Bahn down to Alexanderplatz to figure out what I wanted to do from there. Day one I had seen the TV Tower and it wasn't until day two that I realized you could take a tour of it. Naturally, I seized the opportunity and paid the 11 Euros to get a 360 degree view of Berlin. It was gorgeous up there! You could see all around (obviously) and there were some amazing views. I wasn't up there long, but it was still super cool.

My second planned destination of the day was a comic book shop I had seen an advertisement for at an U-Bahn station. It had some German comic books that I had read before and loved, so naturally, I bought them and added them to my souvenirs' bags from earlier that day.

From the East Side Gallery
I didn't want to be carrying my bags around all day and I was a little tired, so I went back to the hostel and rested for a little bit before trekking out to the East Side Gallery, a long strip of the Berlin wall that was painted in remembrance of the separated nation. There were so many wonderful paintings and I took a lot of pictures of them. Many of them spoke of peace and unity, some of them reflected the moments that happened during the fall of the Wall, and some didn't make any sense to me. There were a few that I wished I could have talked to the artist to understand where they were coming from in the painting and what they wanted to have represented. I guess I'll never know, though.

That night, I ate a free dinner made at my hostel and met a few American students who were studying in England. We hung out for the night and I gave them information for their next few days in Berlin. It was nice to have some people to talk to after three days of near-solitude.

At the train station
and incredibly disgruntled.
Traveling home was a nightmare. I got to the airport with plenty of time to spare, only to discover that my flight had been delayed due to "unknown circumstances". Great. An hour later, we took off and I was forced to listen to a small Polish child in front of me squealing about everything. I wanted to reach over the seat and squish his head like a grapefruit. Then, due to my delayed flight, I missed my 7pm train back to Cork by five minutes. I was devastated, tired, and hungry. The next train wasn't until 9pm, so I sat and waited. Once I boarded the train and got comfortable, a woman and her rambunctious child sit down at my table. You have to be kidding me, at this point. I was so fed up an hour into the three hour journey, that I took my belongings and moved cars. It was necessary. I got back to Cork only to discover that it was raining. Thankfully, Mark was there to walk me home otherwise I think I would have broke down sobbing. The whole traveling ordeal, from leaving my hostel to getting to Cork took 12 hours. I wanted to die. It was a terrible end to a great weekend.

This weekend I'm hanging out in Cork and spending some time with Mark. Currently, I'm doing loads #3 & #4 of laundry that desperately needed to be done. Oh boy.

In the works:

  • planning a trip to Edinburgh with Lynda
  • planning our week-long excursion to Eastern Europe with Gabby
School's been going okay. I'm not looking forward to writing essays, but it'll all be over soon. Thank god.

Well, kmagz over and out.

1 comment:

  1. I'm glad you had such an awesome time and I could help out with the advice!!
    I felt the same way about Sachsenhausen and concentration camps...eesh...

    ReplyDelete