Monday, January 7, 2008

Berlin (and a little London)

Hello Again! Well, it has certainly been a long time since I last updated, I’m sorry to keep you all in suspense about what’s been going on in my life, but the dial-up internet connection in London just wasn’t cutting it. Since this entry is mostly about my time in Berlin, I don’t want to spend too much time discussing what I did in London, but I’ll just give a quick overview of my 11 days in London. My mom and I traveled from Amsterdam to London on Saturday December 22nd, where my friend Wendy met us and stayed with us until after Christmas. We proceeded to spend the next few days seeing various family and friends in London. We spent Christmas day with our cousins, and my cousin Rachel cooked a huge feast for us and Wendy as well. Rachel (not my cousin) and her family came to London on the 28th and we all had lunch. By the 31st my mom had left and Rachel, Yitka, Wendy, and her boyfriend Alex had joined me. We all spent New Years Eve together at my grandpas flat. On New Years Day we went on the London Eye, then Rachel left on the 2nd, and the rest of us cleared out of England on the 3rd. Wendy and Alex headed off to Amsterdam and Yitka and I hopped on a plane to Berlin. And so finally, I will tell you about the time I have spent in Berlin.

We arrived in Berlin at 9:30pm on January 3rd after a long day of traveling. We had to leave the flat at about 2pm in order to make sure we were able to get on a bus to Stansted in time for our 6:45pm flight. It seems like a lot of time, but the tube ride to the bus station was about 40 minutes followed by the actual bus ride to the airport, which was at least an hour. Before getting on the bus we had to wait in a line where it felt like we really weren’t going to get seats on the bus we wanted, but luckily we were given the LAST two seats on the bus, lucky us! After that all travel went smoothly. RyanAir treated us well (definitely worth the 20 pounds we paid for those tickets!) and we arrived in Berlin on time. For those of you that don’t know, we’ve been staying with my old au pair (spelling? I’m not so good with the French) from when I was 2-3 years old. She picked us up from the airport along with her son Joschi (short for Joshua, pronounced Yoshi). I don’t really remember Stefanie all that well from when I was a toddler, but the whole time I’ve been here she has been telling me all these wonderful stories about her memories of me and Lindsay when we were babies. She also showed me her four photo albums/scrap books from the year that she was in America and they include tons of pictures of me and Lindsay as 2/4 year olds as well as a bunch of pictures of my house before all the remodeling that we’ve done over the years. It was really fun to look through the pictures and hear stories about what Stefanie remembers from that time in 1989. It sort of felt like I was getting an outsiders perspective on my childhood and my family, and I really appreciated it. On top of all that, Stefanie and her boyfriend Thomas have also been amazing hosts. They’ve fed us breakfast every morning and taken us on walks around Berlin and they even treated us to dinner at a delicious Vietnamese restaurant on Saturday night.

Anyway, on to our activities in Berlin. We had two days of tourist activities, so I’ll just go day by day.


After a wonderful breakfast with Stefanie and Joschi we made our way via the S-Bahn and the U-Bahn (Berlin public transport) to the Checkpoint Charlie Museum. Checkpoint Charlie was one of the main border checkpoints along the Berlin Wall between 1962 and 1989 when the wall was in place. On one side of the Wall at Checkpoint Charlie was Communist East Berlin and on the other side was the American Sector of West Berlin. Outside the museum they have left the Army checkpoint station standing and there is also a replica of the old sign that alerted people to the fact that they were entering or leaving the American Sector. The museum itself was entirely overwhelming. It is dedicated to those people that lost their lives trying to flee East Berlin, but there was just sooooo much stuff inside. There were hundreds of pictures and newspaper articles and models of different methods people had used to try and escape, but there was no cohesive story to tie everything together. I’m obviously glad I went because I think it was good to be able to see all these things, but I wished that there had been a more cohesive story that flowed throughout the entire museum instead of just a slew of hundreds of random artifacts thrown randomly into the museum.

With that said about my opinions of the museum, here’s a small world story for all of you. Just as we were leaving the exhibition a girl grabbed my arm and asked me frantically if I went to Oberlin (I was wearing my sweatshirt of course). We started talking and it turns out that she also went to Oberlin, AND, she was in the museum with 2 of her friends that ALSO went to Oberlin. We ended up knowing the other two girls as acquaintances and so we stood around in the Checkpoint Charlie gift shop and talked about our European travel plans for a while before parting ways. It was just really cool to run in to Oberlin people in Germany! Small world eh?

That evening we met up with Stefanie and after utterly freezing ourselves walking around the city for an hour or so (it was about -8°C), we finally stopped in an Indian restaurant and had a yummy dinner.


For our second day in Berlin we tried to start the day early, but even though we had set our alarm for 9am we didn’t actually get out of bed until after 10am. Again we were greeted with a lovely German breakfast of bread, cheese, and various meats. After eating we headed into the city on the train prepared for a long day of touring. The first place we went was the Brandenburg Tor (Gate) which, to the best of my knowledge was an old entrance to the city. After wandering around in the area we came across the Jewish Memorial for those that lost their lives during the Holocaust. The memorial consists of a series of big stone boxes which at first don’t really look like much but when you start to walk through them you soon find yourself completely immersed and surrounded by these stone structures. When you look around you can only see the narrow paths that are created by all of the stones. I’m sure there is some profound meaning to why the memorial is set up in this way, but I haven’t yet taken the time to look it up.

After exploring the Jewish Memorial we made our way two blocks over to the Reichstag where you can enter and go up to the Dome at the top of the building for free, just so long as you’re willing to wait in a long line out in the cold. Since it was free we chose to wait not knowing that we would be standing outside in the below freezing air for over an hour. Despite the long, cold wait, it was pretty cool to get inside and have a view of the city and also to see the photo essay history of the building that was presented in the Dome.

Our next stop of the day was the German Historical Museum. This museum was also extremely overwhelming because it attempted to tell the story of German history from around 500BC to the present day. With that being said, it was definitely a lot more organized and easy to follow than the Checkpoint Charlie museum as the story was actually told in a cohesive manner that was easy to follow and interesting to read.

As an end to our time in Berlin, Stefanie and her boyfriend Thomas took us out for a lovely Vietnamese dinner, but not before taking us on an hour long walk across the newly ice slicked streets of Berlin. The walk was very treacherous and all four of us had some pretty close calls to falling right on our butts, but luckily we made it to the restaurant all in one piece.

This morning we caught a train to Prague and that is where I am right now. The train ride was 5 hours, but it passed by rather quickly. After a nap, some reading, and a good deal of time spent staring out the window at the snowy white countryside we found ourselves in Praha (where the snow had finally stopped falling). We’ll be here for three nights and then we head to Budapest. So that’s all for now, and in a few days time I’ll update again with some stories of our time in the Czech Republic.

I won't be uploading photos to my blog this month, but I'll keep facebook as up to date as possible. Here is a combined album of mine and Yitkas' photos from our last few days in London and our time in Berlin:

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