As much as I was sad to leave the city of Leipzig, we were all extremely excited to reach the final destination on our trip- Berlin. In the morning on Monday, we took the train there and checked in at the second Motel One of our trip.
Again, the accommodations were fantastic and I noticed that the prices for the hotel were very affordable (starting at only 69 Euros!) considering we were staying in the middle of the largest city in the country. Berlin is the capitol of Germany and also its largest city. Home to roughly 3.5 million people, it is one of the most populated cities in all of Europe. Berlin is a major tourist destination as its prices are considered very reasonable compared to other European destinations. The Motel One we were staying at was in Alexanderplatz, a neighborhood located in central Berlin.
After checking into our hotel, Eric, Shaw, Lauren, Christine and I were starving, so we went outside to eat at the Alexanderplatz Market near our hotel. Alexanderplatz market was a bustling area full of street vendors selling jewelry, clothes, and cuisine ranging from local to exotic. Though we spent the first few minutes getting acclimated to the scene, eventually everyone made their food choice: Shaw and Lauren went for crepes, Christine and I grabbed a Turkish kabob sandwich, and Eric ordered Burger King- I wish I was kidding.
As we sat and enjoyed our meals, a bird let loose on Lauren, and while we all laughed at her expense, she really took things in stride.
Soon however we returned to the hotel to take a bus tour of the city. Along the way we encountered landmarks and monuments from both east and west Germany. Two of my favorites are below:
I didn’t realize how much of the wall was still standing, or how massive it was until we were in front of it at the East Side Gallery. As we were in a hurry, we were given only ten minutes to check it out and were encouraged to go as a group, but instead Eric and I took 15 and went in our own direction for better photo opportunities.
The wall today is an amazing piece of art. Different artists from around the world have used inspiration from Berlin’s painful, divisive past to make beautiful works of art on each section of the wall. In some places the wall was removed, providing opportunities to take in the beautiful view of the river as well. It was incredible walking along the wall and seeing just how unique each section was and beautiful in its own right.
Berlin Wall Exhibit
After we ran back to the bus and were lectured by our guide, Nushi- we drove to an exhibit that preserved a portion of the wall in its original condition.
The Berlin Wall to my surprise was actually two separate walls, an inner and outer layer separated by roughly 50 yards. Similar to the exhibit we observed at Point Alpha, the area between the walls was also filled with mines, killer dogs, explosives and trained Guards in towers aiming to eliminate anyone who attempted to escape. The ground of the area in between the walls was layered with carefully tilled gravel, so that if someone were to make it through, the guard assigned to that section could be easily identified and punished for failing at their duties. Guards were assigned here from other parts of the country, so there would be less connection between the people in case they had to shoot or detain an escapee. A particularly sad tale of an attempted escape was described by our guide Yorg about a section nearby. Certain sections of the Berlin Wall stood close to the Spree River, a natural dividing line between East and West Germany. One desperate East German citizen managed to make it past the wall at a section near the river by vaulting himself over the wall into the water. Unfortunately, either the current or his own injuries getting that far prevented him from swimming to the other side. In the end, he drowned because the River was considered East German territory, so the West would not help him, and soldiers from the East were ordered not to help when it was clear he would not survive.
Again I was reminded of the importance of freedom in my own life to choose what I want to do and where I want to live, and the risks these desperate people made when they felt they had no other choice.
Throughout the city beautiful monuments exist reminding people of their once-divided past. It was incredible seeing the different unique ways the artists acknowledged the once-standing wall and its impact on the people today.
After our bus tour of the city we stopped at our last touring destination of the night, the Reichstag, the modern meeting place for German parliament. The building was beautiful, but a few interesting features caught my eye as we toured the complex.
One area we stopped in was a religious room where Parliament members could reflect, meditate and pray before going to make a major voting decision. Throughout our trip it was interesting that instead of separating church and state, Germans have embraced all religions today, and try to include space for everyone, even in their government buildings.
After leaving the prayer room, we stopped in the hallway outside of the meeting hall for Parliament. At the end of World War II when the Russians conquered Berlin, the soldiers stormed the Reichstag and afterwards the soldiers celebrated their victory at the Germans’ expense. Looking around the hall, we saw walls were riddled with bullet holes and offensive graffiti insulting the German people. When the Reichstag was later restored, members of Parliament voted to preserve the walls exactly as they were. Rather than covering up their past, they keep this monument as a reminder to every member of Parliament who passes through each day.
I found it interesting that they are willing to remember all of their scars no matter how deep the wound might have once been.
On the way to dinner, we stopped by a particularly tragic memorial titled “Trains to Life, Trains to Death”. More than 2 million children lost their lives between 1933-1945 under Nazi leadership. Began by a stockbroker in London named Nicholas Winton, sympathizers managed to organize rescue missions to bring Jewish children to London where they found safety. The creator of this piece was sculptor Frank Meisler, who was one of the children brought to Britain by the rescue trains.
For our group dinner for the evening, we went to the 12 Apostel pizzeria- known for a particularly gigantic pizza on its menu. While most of us opted for a smaller (and safer) choice- Rob, Jake, and Jan were three brave souls who attempted to eat it themselves. Though they did eventually champion the cause, they probably lived to regret the decision later in the evening…
Our first day in Berlin was a wonderful experience. Everywhere we went I could feel a real energy pulsing throughout the streets. It was also incredible to view the many landmarks they have throughout the city remembering their complicated past. How they were able to take these painful lessons and use them to direct their future was inspirational, and as we headed to bed for the evening, I couldn’t wait for the adventures to come.