Here are some of the photos from my time in Berlin and Paris. I’m not sure when I’ll get a chance to label all of them so for now I hope you enjoy them out of context.
First a note on the Hostel I was staying at. I can wholeheartedly recommend the Citystay Berlin Mitte. It is very reasonably priced, has a great central location, friendly staff, and clean facilities. The prices in the 23hr bar/lounge attached are pretty good and they play hip music. By “hip music” of course I mean the music I listen to. The only drawback is that while they have a wonderful courtyard, they fail to enforce the 10pm quiet-time and you occasionally get drunken French girls grunting out classical music until 2am. (name this tune: blah, blah, blah, blah, blah blah-blah-blah blah) Still, I’ll be staying here when I come back through Berlin.
A note on prices in Berlin. I’ve been comfortably getting by on 5 euro a day for food and drinks if I choose not to have a beer. That will blow the budget. For about 5 Euro you can stop by a grocery store get some fruit and yogurt and a bottle of water for breakfast (1.5eur), stop at a food stand for some kind of “wurst” – try the Currywurst – (1-2eur) for lunch and then find a hearty Doner Kebap (2.5eur) for dinner. There is no reason anyone should go broke or hungry while you’re here. Of course, you can spend as much as you’d like on food and drinks. I’ve chosen the budget route which allows me to spend some money on the sights.
I’ve chosen to skip some of the major ones. The TV tower just a few blocks away is 8.5eur for a ride to the top. That, in my opinion, is too much for an elevator ride. I’m sure the view is great but I’ll check a postcard for that. The museums on Museuminsel (Museum Island) just down the street are well worth the money if you are interested in Greek or Egyptian antiquity. Although I have no capacity to remember the names or dates of the major figures in any civilization I do enjoy seeing the progression of art and skill through the ages. They have an English audio tour available, which is helpful since nearly all the placards are only in German. However this does mean that you are subject to the artistic interpretation of the narrator. I found her descriptions of some of the sculptures to be way over the top. Such as “you’ll find this figure with her attentive eyes and regal posture absolutely straining against her robes as if poised for action!” Maybe I punched in the wrong number, but the sculpture I saw was a figure, sitting, hands over closed robe, open eyed, and calm. It was an excellent piece, but I was under no impression it was about to hop up and order a pyramid built.
With its great art and antiques Berlin also has its past to consider. It does so tastefully and with humility. I visited the “Topography of Terror” memorial which chronicles the Nazi reign of atrocities from 1933 when Hitler sized power to the eventual prosecution or execution of their many officers. There are many lessons here for citizens of any country. Get the audio tour and listen to the whole thing.
Like I’d mentioned in the last post the wall is down but not forgotten. There are several memorials: Checkpoint Charlie (the American checkpoint in West Berlin), A section of wall near the Brandenburg Gate, another section of the wall at Potzdamer Platz, and finally all the concrete, asphalt, brickwork, etc. that the wall used to live on has been replaced with memorial markers so that as you’re walking you know where it stood for those 28 years.
There are many more exhibits, memorials, museums, and attractions that I had neither time nor money to see. Plan to spend at least a week there to appreciate it.
I’m off to Paris now and will actually (hopefully) be there at the time of this post. My friend Thibault has offered me a place to stay and is willing to show me a French time. I seriously doubt that my high school French will do me any good. I’ve got the basics, but anything more advanced than “may I use the bathroom” will get me in trouble. There’s universal sign language for that anyway (enter: “the pee-pee dance”). So it will be great to have a guide.
Update on the Paris journey: I went to the ticket office in Berlin’s main station to get my reservations for the trains to Paris. Yes, you need reservations and they cost money. During the journey from Essen to Berlin I was playing a bit of musical chairs as people with actual assigned seats showed up at the different stops. I only had to move twice but I was always waiting for someone to tap me. Like when you “upgrade” your own seats at a concert, hoping the people that actually paid for those front row seats aren’t just stuck in traffic.
Anyway, so the ticket lady gives me a reservation for the first train Berlin to Koln (pronounced like cologne) and tells me that she can’t make me a reservation on the Koln to Paris leg. “Just talk to the conductor” she says. “OK, I’ll do that” and everything is great. Nice train, first class, little monitors, and food service. When I get to Koln I find the ticket director and show him my Eurail pass and tell him what I was told. “This pass is only valid with reservation, and this train is full, go talk to the ticket center” he says. “OK, I’ll do that”
I got the last reservation in the class for my pass… I’m still going to Paris today I’ll just arrive a little later.
“Ich bin ein Berliner” [I am a citizen of Berlin] was said by John F. Kennedy in 1963 as a moral boost to the West Berliners and as an affront to the Soviets who had just constructed the Berlin wall. Separating East from West.
From his speech:
“Two thousand years ago the proudest boast was civis romanus sum [I am a Roman citizen]. Today, in the world of freedom, the proudest boast is ‘Ich bin ein Berliner’…All free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Berlin, and, therefore, as a free man, I take pride in the words ‘Ich bin ein Berliner!’”
Then after September 11th, 2001 the French newspaper “Le Monde” echoed that sentiment. Their headline on September 12th read “Nous sommes tous Américains” [We are all Americans].
I’ve made my way from Essen to Berlin to find an amazing city. With a population of roughly 4 Million people and who knows how many tourists it never feels crowded here. I’d read reports of rudeness like you’d find in New York, and have seen none. Absolutely everyone I’ve dealt with here has been helpful and, at the very least, pleasant. From the DMV-like attendants at the Die Bahn information stations to the little old lady that picked up the jacket I dropped while walking through a park in Potsdam. I believe she was telling me I would be very cold soon if I didn’t have that jacket, or something else. It went on for a little while. I just waited for the pause and said “danke schon” smiling back.
After arriving at my hotel and venturing out on a walk the next day I realized I was staying in East Berlin. I had no idea. I just followed the instructions to get to my hostel and didn’t give it a second thought. Other than a line in every bit of pavement that used to be home to the wall and some other memorials there is no sign that this city was divided for 28 years.
There is bustling commerce everywhere, U-bahn and S-bahn to everywhere, tourists, everywhere…
I noted those two quotes at the beginning of this post for a reason. While I found no Berlin wall, I found another wall.
I lost my passport at the Love Parade a few days back. Don’t freak out, I’ve got a backup. I know this about myself, I lose things. So I do my best to have a backup plan or an idea of what would be involved in replacing them. There are many reasons for having a second passport: having a real passport in your pocket when a Hostel asks to hold one during your stay, visiting Israel and being able to then visit Syria, or, you know, dropping it somewhere amidst a mass of people.
I waited to deal with it until I got to Berlin because I knew we had a full embassy here. So I went to visit my embassy and found giant concrete barricades blocking all the streets approaching it. I walked up to the guard booth and when I attempted to open the door the guard made a signal as if he wanted me to show him a pass. Eventually another guard came to the door and asked what I wanted. “American Citizen, lost passport” I said. To which he responded by handing me a small white piece of paper with an address and an underground stop on it. It was the address for the US Consulate somewhere else in Berlin. I thanked him and walked away. I walked past the walls blocking anything bigger than a pedestrian or a bicycle from approaching and made my way to the train station.
I’m pointing out the barricades because I’ve passed a number of other embassies during my walks. They don’t have them and I really don’t like that my country needs them.
To summarize… I found the consulate about 12:30 and they were closed (8:30am-12pm) so I had to come back this morning. This time I knew the way and was happy to have another cold-fried-egg-with-ham-on-baguette thingy at the stop for the consulate. I entered, filled out paperwork, took pictures, paid money, and will have my passport in about 10 days. I just have to be back here in Berlin to pick it up at some point. Not a problem, it’s centrally located. Now I’m working on what to do with the time in between.
What do you get when you combine 1.2million people crowding a city of 500,000 to dance and party? Well in Germany it’s called the Love Parade and it is truly something to behold.
I woke around 9:30 am to get some breakfast and noticed that another of the bunks in the 5-bed dorm I was staying in was filled. Sometime after breakfast we introduced ourselves, his name was Juan Jose (Juan-Jo for short) and he had come in from Madrid for the Parade with a couple of friends. Later he invited me to join the three of them and get some lunch before heading down to the parade. They wore matching red shirts with a white bull on the front, representing the part of Spain they were from, and all three were incredibly nice guys.
We drank a little before heading down to the parade. Some whiskey and coke and a Corona with a Doner Kebab. We didn’t see throngs of people heading for the stations so we thought maybe it was slow to start. This is the first year the Love Parade has been anywhere outside of Berlin since it began in the 90′s.
After boarding the U-bahn towards BerlinerPlatz we discovered that we were just further out than the rest of the party goers. The next stop on the line opened to the cheers of people packed into the terminal and 30seconds later the train was overflowing. Two stops further and the cheering crowd poured out of the train and we followed. Exiting the station we could hear the music and the horizon was full of people as far as you could see.
We wandered about, taking in the spectacle and then dived in to the center. I started taking pictures and people started jumping in front of the camera and grabbing their friends. What’s funny is almost always after they asked for a card showing where they could see the picture. It’s funny because a few years back I ran a nightlife website for Portland clubs (R.I.P. PDXCLUBPIX) and that’s exactly what we’d do. Snap a picture and hand out a card. I had cards printed up for an easy way to point people to this site before I left so I handed some of those out. To those of you that thought I was shooting for a magazine or online publication, sorry, I’m just a traveler, but like I promised you can see your pictures by clicking HERE.
Everyone I talked to that day was friendly and happy to be there. We stayed and danced and drank until the wee hours and then headed back to the hostel for some short sleep before our respective departures the next morning. Thanks again to my new Spanish friends for letting a goofy American tag along!