The early morning train from Prague to Berlin was smooth, quiet, and uneventful. Well, it was quiet due to some girls leaving our car once they realized it was a reserved car. I was thankful for this because we were starting to hit the wall, we were on our last week of a month long Europe trip, and frankly we were exhausted.
We splurged when we arrived in Berlin and took a cab to the hotel. We rested a little then looked at some maps. We were very close to Checkpoint Charlie, the Checkpoint Charlie Museum and the Jewish Museum — three must see items on our list. We set out on foot and were there in no time. Checkpoint Charlie is strange. Surrounded by the best in capitalism on both sides (McDonalds has a huge store right next to it), the dividing point of two economic systems is now fully capitalist. Men dressed up as Army soldiers will do their best to make sure you take a picture with them for a small fee, of course.
The Checkpoint Museum is right next to Checkpoint Charlie obviously. The museum is designed a little haphazardly but that works in its favor. There are cars and other devices that were used to smuggle people from the east to the west. Plenty of pictures and stories of escapes, both successful and not, line the walls. It was a great history lesson. Of course, you exit through the gift shop where we purchased our own little piece of the wall.
We then walked to the Jewish Museum. Way more organized than the Berlin Wall Museum, this museum does its best to be a history of the Jews in Germany. Of course, you can’t talk about Jews in Germany without talking about the Holocaust. While there were traditionally museum exhibits detailing the history of the Holocaust, there were three living exhibits that never really leave you once you have done them. The first was a dark room. You close the door and you are enveloped in blackness until, after a few seconds, you realize you aren’t. There is a slight sliver of light coming from the roof. The next was a room made up of metal faces. Basically scrap metal with a place for eyes, mouths, and noses removed. There were 10,000 of these faces. You then walked on them and they made that horrible screech noise that metal on metal makes. Finally, there was a third room (technically a courtyard), that had forty-eight towers with olive branches at the top of each one. The symbolism of this didn’t come to me right away since it’s always been fifty in my lifetime. However, the courtyard wasn’t smooth. It looked flat but it wasn’t. All the towers looked straight, but alas they weren’t either. It was hard to gain a foothold on this new ground. The symbolism of that came to me later as well.
One of the two nights we were in Berlin, I’m not sure which anymore, we went back to Checkpoint Charlie. Not for the history, however. We went for the World Cup. There was a beach volleyball court, a huge one, that was converted to a public watching station for the World Cup. All types of sausage were being roasted while Italy and Slovakia were playing. I ordered some wurst and a beer. When I asked which one, I replied which one you like. I was given a Bitburger. Perfect choice. When I went sit back down, Cristina found a seat between some Italians and a Slovakian. Cristina, half Italian, was not having the best World Cup since Italy really wasn’t playing well. However, down a couple of goals Italy started to mount a comeback. One goal was so nice the Slovakian (he was draped in their flag), could only respond with “Bella.” Unfortunately for Cristina and her Italian brothers and sisters, the Slovakians were the ones leaving happy.
We also broke one of our rules in Berlin. We promised that we were not going to go anywhere we could go to here. However, when you are hot, tired, and starting to get homesick, Starbucks is a nice option. Free AC and Wifi will make us break the rules; not the coffee.
The Topography of Terrors was a block from our hotel. This used to be the Gestapo headquarters which now hosts a free museum that educates people on exactly how brutal the worst of the Nazis were. While not as moving as the Jewish Museum, it is extremely educational and focuses on that fact that the Holocaust did happen and that monsters do really exist. Right outside of the museum is a long stretch of the Berlin Wall — one of the few stretches that still stands. The Berlin Wall is still marked by a set of bricks and nameplates running along the road and sidewalks showing where it still exists.
After,we walked to Brandenburg Gate. It was beautiful out. We booked a bus tour today, one of those hop on hop off tours. On a nice day, its a beautiful day to see Berlin. Cristina, however, was too slow on the draw to take pictures of the people in the nude park and for that I do apologize to the ladies since they were all men.
After went eat a late lunch at a German steak chain right across from the Russian Embassy. We then walked to the giant TV tower called the Fernsehturm. When the East Germans were building the tower, they were purging the country of all symbols of Christianity. All crosses were ordered to be removed in the now atheist state. Then the TV tower was finished. When the sun shines on it, it makes a cross. Sometimes, you just can’t win. The tower is now a observation deck and restaurant. You do get some breathtaking views of the city. At least, that’s what Cristina tells me. My fear of heights was kicking in big time.
We then walked the Unter den Linden until we had to turn back to the hotel. We only had four days left to spend in Europe, specifically in Amsterdam and Brussels.