Monday, April 29, 2013

Europe Day 6 and 7: Berlin

Stepping off the plane at the Berlin-Tegel (TXL) airport took me back to my childhood. Back to the days when you walked down steps to the tarmac instead of walking through the jetway. It was unexpected, and a little weird. In fact, it was just the perfect level of strangeness and confusion to start off what was a rather puzzling travel experience.

Berlin confused me. The airport was so old fashioned - not only do you walk on the tarmac, but you pick up baggage immediately upon entering the terminal. Despite the old feel of TXL, the city didn't look very old. It just looked stark and unfriendly. Then there was the language barrier. Supposedly people spoke English in Berlin, but the bus driver (among others) refused to verbally respond to my question, and instead pointed to indicate how much I owed him. At the U-Bahn station, there were no barriers to go through, and no one checking for valid tickets. What was with this place? Eventually, it all made sense, but not until my second (and last) day in the city.

Luckily, I have a friend who lives in Berlin, and Mr. N. met me around lunchtime at the Hackeshr Markt Starbucks so he could show me around a bit. We walked around Museum Island, and visited the Pergamon Museum. This museum is home to large pieces of reconstructed history such as the Pergamon Altar and the Ishtar Gate of Babylon. It was pretty unreal to see something that was originally constructed in about 575 B.C.

The Pergamon Altar (reconstructed)

My second day in Berlin was spent almost entirely outdoors on a walking tour. I have never been so cold in my life. It was probably only about 20 degrees Fahrenheit, and I never managed to get warm because we never walked at a brisk enough pace for an extended period of time. Despite the cold, I was glad I experience the Insider Tour's Famous Insider Walk. We did not see the Memorial Church (at I least I don't remember it), but we did see the Berliner Dome, Checkpoint Charlie, part of what's left of the Berlin Wall, the Memorial for the Murdered Jews of Europe, the Brandenburg Gate, among other sites. I'm not quite sure how I feel about the Insider Tour...the website feels a little misleading to me in the sense that we did not exactly walk by all the places named as "key features," yet it is so highly ranked on Trip Advisor.

Brandenburg Gate

At any rate, I got to take cool pictures on the tour, and I finally realized why Berlin looked both so new and yet so grim. The city had been devastated by bombing during World War II, so a large part of it had to be rebuilt, and then there was the Cold War. I have no idea why I forgot this. Berlin as a whole started to make more sense. It's still changing, and I think it's still trying to find its identity. There is a ton of construction going on, including the rebuilding of a palace the Russians razed.

Part of what remains of the Berlin Wall

The Memorial for the Murdered Jews of Europe

I didn't make any new friends in Berlin, but it was nice to catch-up with Mr. N. He showed me a part of Mitte tourists don't really visit, and I got to see some remnants of East Germany (run-down looking buildings), as well as The Kennedys Museum. He also took me to eat Turkish food in a neighborhood I never would have gone to on my own.

A courtyard in Mitte

This city also gave me the opportunity to gain some confidence as a first-time solo traveler. The chance came when I had to get from TXL to my hotel, the Novotel Berlin Mitte. From TXL, I rushed onto a bus which read "S+U Berlin" but neglected to check the line number. Oops. Getting on the right line number would have allowed me to follow the directions I had researched. Getting on the incorrect number forced me into reading the map on the bus and figuring out my own way. Which, ultimately turned out to be a great learning experience and the trip only cost me 2.40 (one way). Which was by far, the cheapest transportation (of course, other than being picked up by Ms. R. in Copenhagen) from airport to hotel on my entire trip.

I can't say that I want to go back to Berlin, but it will be interesting to see other parts of Germany in the [hopefully] near future.

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