Berlin

Alright, since I have time right now to write that I know I won’t have later on in the week, I’m going to take it to write about my trip this weekend to Berlin.

My favorite city in the world and one of the most action-packed trips I’ve taken so far.

So on Thursday evening, right after our RD meeting, we flew from Salzburg Airport to Berlin. There were 9 of us – Andrés, his siblings (Ximena and Luke) Max, Ruby, Carly, Maya, Gaby, and myself. Ruby had lived in Berlin for about 9 months while her mother was on a Fulbright and she had lived there 2/3 years ago for a few months as well, so she was excited to get back, and I loved Berlin last time I visited it, so I was excited to get back as well.

Thursday evening was pretty uneventful – we went to grab some food because we were starving, got lost looking for our Airbnb, and then promptly fell asleep.

But Friday was a whole different story.

We woke up early to get to the Reichstag for a tour. I hadn’t gotten the chance to visit the Reichstag last time I was in Berlin, but as a poli sci major, I figured I had to do it. It was really interesting to learn about the history of it, but moreso to see it in person. I knew a lot of the history of it because we learned about it in my German class last year, but seeing the bullet holes and the graffiti from Russian soldiers hunkered down in the Reichstag in the Battle for Berlin in 1945 was fascinating. One of the women in our tour group could speak Russian, but no one else could, and apparently there were quite a few insults to the German soldiers.

We also got to see Angela Merkel’s office (she wasn’t in the building), well the outside at least, but it was still pretty cool. I learned that, despite being the Chancellor of Germany, she is also still a parliament member, with a constituency and a district that she represents, which I thought was pretty interesting. How weird would it be to have, for example, a state senator as President while still acting in a senatorial position?

Anyways. The Reichstag was beautifully designed and the architecture was gorgeous. We got to see the chamber of the Reichstag, which was a lot smaller than it looks on television.

We also got to go into the basement of the Reichstag, where we saw the tunnel that was used to break in and burn it down in 1933, which may or may not have been by Hitler’s helpers but was blamed communist, which led to Hitler being able to take more power in government when an emergency decree suspending civil liberties was passed.

The tunnel was blocked off in the Cold War era because the Reichstag was on the western side but the building connected by the tunnel was on the eastern side of the wall, so Soviet soldiers patrolled it to make sure no-one could escape through it.

After the tour, we went to the top of the Reichstag, to the Reichstag dome. The dome has a lot of environmental properties – it cuts down on electricity and cooling during the summer due to the “wind vacuum” it creates (sucking out the hot air and bringing in cold) and the natural light it brings in.

The pictures past Andrés’ stare are credit to him! He got a new camera!

After the dome, we went to a little rooftop café on the Reichstag, then proceeded to head out to a memorial to the Roma and Sinti that were killed during the Holocaust – a largely forgotten victim of the Holocaust. From there, we headed to Brandenburg Gate, the iconic Berlin landmark, where we took some pictures.

After the Reichstag, we stopped by a Jewish memorial (a famous one, with blocks in the ground covering an entire block, which turn into a sort of maze, and then we stopped by Checkpoint Charlie. I had already been (last summer), but it was still pretty cool to see it again. They had an outside exhibition on the wall, and a lot had changed in the year since I’d been there.

Next, we went to the Jewish Museum. It wasn’t really anything like I was expecting – it was very modern-art feeling. I’ve never really been a fan of modern art – at all (in fact, I pretty much hate it) – but the museum was really well done – the modern art had reasoning behind everything, which really made the viewer think about what the reason was. Some of the art was very meaningful, such as a gallery in which the person walks over 10,000 metal faces (each individually created, so no two are the same), but they clatter and clink in a room otherwise fully silent. The meaning had something to do with the Jewish community during the Holocaust being vibrant but other people stepping on them, while outside viewers (or bystanders who refused to help) stood by in silence. Unfortunately, I didn’t bring in my camera, but Andrés did. These are all his photos! A huge thank-you to Andrés to letting me use these photos!

The Jewish Museum also had an exhibit on Palestinian-Israeli relations. I knew a lot about the situation from classes I’ve had on it and poli-sci classes, but it was interesting to see just how much it seeps into every day life. It was a little unfortunate, because in the Holocaust memorial part there were letters written (it was a “letter string” thing where visitors write well-wishes or their thoughts on the exhibit and they hang them up themselves), but some people wrote things such as “Why does it give all the Jews such pleasure to massacre Palestinians?” and things like this. I felt like it wasn’t the appropriate place to express their views (as it was a Holocaust memorial), personally, and I also felt like it unfairly clumped all Jews together. Anyways.

From the Jewish Museum, we headed to the supermarket to make dinner. There were two separate groups of cooking going on – one group wanted burritos, while the other wanted bratwurst (Ruby wanted a Berlin bratwurst since it’s a cultural thing and she had planned the whole trip, and she had been looking forward to getting back to Berlin for 3 years, so some of us cooked them with her). The dinner ended up being fantastic – it was absolutely hilarious and so, so much fun. I laughed more during this dinner than I have in a long time. It’s hard to explain just what made it so good of a night – good company, food, and a fantastic day coming to a close, probably all of the above. I think part of the fun was just seeing how well the Giesemann siblings got along – I think it kinda brought all of us into an even better mood because of the fact that they were all together, in Europe, travelling with us. It was so nice to get to hang out with Luke and Ximena and their senses of humor are much at par with our group’s, which made it super enjoyable. This night was probably one of the best nights I’ve had so far during study abroad – it was just a wholesome, jolly (for lack of better words) environment and it was one of those “grateful to be alive” kind of nights, where it feels like nothing can kill the mood. Just absolutely wonderful.

Thanks to Andrés for this picture!

We got a picture of all of the group together, which I’ll include when it’s added to our group-shared Google Photos album.

Anyways, the next morning, we woke up early again to head out to Potsdam. While everyone went to Potsdam, I headed instead to Wannsee, because I really wanted to see the Haus der Wannsee Konferenz, where the Final Solution (which ordered the killings of Jews in the Holocaust) was devised and planned. I was the only one in the museum – I got there even before the workers did, and I got in for free – which made it somewhat eerie. It was a fascinating museum though – it went through various aspects, such as the propaganda, the history of antisemitism, how policies were enacted in different areas (such as the Sudetenland or in the Balkans), and how the Nazis changed the law to make it “legal.” It’s a little scary how “legality” can be so relative – by German laws (since the Nazis changed the law), everything that they did was legal, which was a big point that they tried to make when they were planning it.

On a side note, walking around Wannsee made me really miss solo travelling. It was nice to go at my own pace and be able to relax and check out what I’m interested in. I really enjoyed the alone time, as much as I love being with my friends.

After Wannsee, I headed back to the train station to head out to Potsdam to meet up with the rest of the group that went there. When I got there, they were a 50 minute walk from me, so I took the bus to their nearest bus stop, and I saw them as the bus came in, so I joined them up at a windmill (a royal windmill? – it was part of a palace complex) thing they were heading to. We toured the mill and took some pictures and videos, and Gaby bought some bread from it, and it was probably the best tasting bread I’ve ever had – I know that sounds weird but trust me, it was fantastic.

From the mill, we went down to some abandoned ruins. They were a part of the complex but had been abandoned years ago, and they were pretty cool just to look around and see.

After the ruins, we walked around for a little while and saw a “whispering bench.” I had no clue what they were, but apparently they’re somewhat common on the east coast, because Carly knew what it was as soon as she spotted it. I thought she was BSing us and making up stuff but the way it works is that, if someone is on one side of the bench and someone is on the other, if they whisper into the bench – like really whisper, as if it was just into someone’s ear and you didn’t want ANYONE to hear (that quiet!), the other person across the bench can hear it (and they’re around 15/20 feet away. It’s really cool to see how the acoustics work – it’s such a simple design but it’s pretty cool to see that even if someone is standing right next to one of them, that person can’t hear it, but the other person on the whispering bench, all the way across, can.

After this, we went to the “main palace” and the Universität Potsdam. It was like Versailles in its sheer brilliance. The garden was HUGE – it was probably on-par with Versailles, if not bigger. It was beautiful, not well-known, and just incredibly awe-inspiring. Since it was off-season, not many people were there either, so we had some time to wander around. The palace part that you can see in the pictures is only ONE of the palaces, and there are 5 or more if I remember correctly.

After that, we headed to the train station to head back to Berlin Hbf. Andrés hadn’t seen it and I had hyped it up – there are multiple layers of trains, and it feels like a big futuristic shopping center with trains running through it. We got dinner/late lunch in the train station and filmed some videos as well, and just sorta explored it for a little while.

From there, we headed to go meet up with Christian Goiny, a CDU Parliament member, and Frank Becker, who works for Internal Affairs and a big union in Berlin. Unfortunately, our bus was delayed, but we RAN so we only made it 2 minutes late. There was a mis-translation on my part – when I messaged Christian about meeting up for food or drinks, I meant to say “a few of my friends” but I accidentally said “a couple of my friends,” so the table wasn’t big enough to fit the 8 other people I had with me. Thankfully though, since Christian knows the owners and chefs, they accommodated for us and all worked out! It was a fantastic dinner – good company, good food, and a good atmosphere. It was so nice to catch up with Christian and Frank, and I learned a lot from our conversation, and I also got some good book and movie recommendations! It was a really, thoroughly enjoyable night, and Christian and Frank were phenomenally generous to allow so many of my friends to come meet them for dinner, especially because they’re both very busy, and there was a meeting taking place after our dinner at the same restaurant, so we were all very grateful that they managed to squeeze some time in to meet up with us all.

A huge thank you to Christian (r, next to me) and Frank (l, next to Andrés)!

Afterwards, we went to a bar that Christian and Frank recommended for us, called Solar. Andrés and Ximena went home early because they wanted to get to sleep since we were waking up early for our flight, and Gaby went out to explore Alexanderplatz (it’s a really cool area of East Berlin where you can definitely still see Soviet influence). Meanwhile, the rest of us went to Solar.

We didn’t really know what to expect – we heard it was a hole-in-the-wall bar, where you had to go through an alleyway to get to.

And let me tell you, it was so worth it.

We were seriously under-dressed, but it was alright because there was no entrance fee or anything, so I didn’t feel as bad about not being all dressed up. We went through a coat-check and I think it all dawned on us exactly what we were getting into – we were going to an 18th floor sky bar that overlooks all of Berlin.

It was a really nice atmosphere – just people basically talking. There were swings and this big pyramid chair thing that we sat on. It was easily the fanciest thing I think I’ve ever done, and it was a little shocking to take a step back and think about what had just happened. We had a long day of adventuring around Berlin and its suburbs, had dinner with a Parliament member and a member of the Interior Ministry, and now we were 18 floors up, in a luxurious sky bar overlooking all of Berlin. It was a day that really just made me grateful for where I’m at in life. I had the realization that I won’t be staying in Europe forever (at least for now), so the fact that we were able to do so many things that others often don’t get the chance to do was definitely interesting to say the least. It made me really glad to be in Berlin, but in Europe more generally – I felt so full of life and just very rejuvenated, and I felt like I had accomplished a lot in such a short time in Berlin. Talk about making the most of our time there, jeez.

Anyways, after a little while at Solar, we headed back to the Airbnb, and promptly fell asleep, since we had an early flight the next morning.

Sunday morning, we headed back to Salzburg early in the morning and got some much-needed rest and relaxation, and then I ended up watching “The Heat” and “Black Mirror” with some friends.

Overall, this was one of the best weekends I’ve had this entire study abroad experience. It was nice to travel with a new group and their humor is much on the same level as mine. It was so thoroughly enjoyable – I got to see everything I wanted to minus the Siegessäule (or the Victory Column), but that gives me an excuse to head back to Berlin while I’m backpacking in May.

This trip definitely reminded me why Berlin is my favorite city in the world. There’s so much to do and see and so much culture. It’s just a city unlike any other that I can think of – and it’s cheap. I spent 40 Euros this weekend. Museums are free or incredibly cheap for students, and food is delicious and also not incredibly expensive. Day train tickets are only around 6 euros and that gets you to all of downtown Berlin, as well as the suburbs an hour away, as well as any public transportation (bus, S-Bahn, or U-Bahn) in any of those regions. It gives you all you need for a full Berlin experience.

So that’s about it for this trip. In short, my favorite city, amazing friends, and an all-around fantastic experience.

So what’s planned for the near future? Well, I think I’m going out to Vienna this coming weekend with some friends, so that’ll be fun, plus I’ll get to meet up with Christina/Flo/Lukas hopefully! And there’s a 2 story ice-skating rink there! Anyways, the next weekend, I may(?) be travelling to Mallorca, Spain, but I’m not sure about that one yet.

Well that’s all for now. I made two videos, one of a music video for a song called “Conscious Club,” by Vulfpeck:

And here’s the one I did myself. The song is “Escalator,” by Good Morning. I didn’t have a lot of footage other than Conscious Club footage but oh well:

Mit Liebe aus Berlin (meine Lieblingsstadt!)/With love from Berlin (my favorite city!),

Cal

PHRASES:

Einige = “a few” (not ein paar!)

Song: “Killing Tree” by A.A Bondy. Great song.

One thought on “Berlin

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