Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Enjoying Danish holidays (in Berlin).

What's this?  Another blog post less than a week after the last one?

Well, I'm not sure I can keep up this posting frequency (my days aren't all that exciting, and I can't seem to convince David to write a post of his own yet), but I did say that I would write about the second half of our Easter holiday in Berlin.  And I didn't want to get too far behind because there will be other things to write about soon (like maybe a new apartment...maybe...I hope).


Berlin was really cool!  Now that I've actually been there, I'm surprised that I hadn't visited the city during any earlier trips to Europe.  I was definitely missing out.  Remnants of the Berlin wall overlook an exhibit on the Gestapo that's next door to a building that formerly housed the Prussian parliament, and it's all next to a conveniently located currywurst stand.  There is so much in this city.  Just during my lifetime, some world-changing things have happened here.  I don't really consider myself a big history nerd/buff/enthusiast/whatever, but walking through these sites of major historical significance
was fascinating.

However, even with all it's historical places, it struck me that Berlin didn't look very "old".  The city was basically destroyed during World War 2 so extensive re-building was required, but the Cold War hampered that to some degree with the restoration of many areas being completed only in the past 20 years.  And the building continues with construction cranes appearing in every photo I took overlooking Berlin.

As we explored, it was interesting to see how the city has chosen to mark/remember the different places and events, especially the ones where really horrible things were happening.  For instance, the site of Hitler's bunker where he committed suicide right before the end of the war is now a parking lot with a sign that explains the significance of what happened there 70 years ago.  This seems appropriate.  It doesn't deserve a museum, but it is important to remember.  The remnants of the Berlin wall that remain around the city are interesting too.  I'm sure some people wanted to destroy all traces of the wall in the city, but enough people recognized that it would be important to remember this part of their history.  So an area that was formerly the "death strip" between the two sections of the wall is now a park with a memorial to the people that died trying to cross that death strip to escape to West Berlin, and a huge section of the remaining wall is now the East Side Gallery where artists from all over the world were invited to paint murals on the wall.

Berlin Wall Memorial

East Side Gallery

One of the most thought-provoking and well put together exhibits was on the site of the former Gestapo headquarters.  The building itself has been demolished, but on top of the rubble, there is an exhibit describing the political, economic, and cultural atmosphere in which Hitler and the Nazis came to power, the atrocities that were committed against various people groups by that regime, and the German society in which all this took place.  David and I planned a quick visit to this site before having lunch one day but ended up staying for 3 hours.  (Because we stayed so long, I ended up buying a delicious butter-filled pretzel from the on-site cafe.  Not a bad decision.)

I was also very impressed with the way that the different museums and memorials sought to go beyond just the numbers and statistics and tell the stories of actual people.  The Holocaust Memorial (or its official title "Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe") is a 5 acre site honoring the 6 million Jews murdered during the Holocaust.  Underneath the memorial, the information center has collected an impressive number of cards, letters, photos, and other items from which they've been able to tell the stories of victims and their families.  We can read about the sheer numbers of people killed during the Holocaust (numbers so big that they're hard to comprehend), but hearing some of their stories gives a much better perspective.

In addition to all the historical places, we spent a lot of
time just walking around some of Berlin's different neighborhoods: Mitte, Prenslauer Berg, Schoneburg, Tiergarten, Potsdamer Platz, etc.  Each neighborhood seemed to have a unique vibe, and in between the history lessons, we relaxed in the neighborhood cafes, gelato shops, and parks.  (You can't beat 1 euro for a scoop of gelato in waffle cone!)

We also found a fun place to go dancing (but unfortunately missed swing dance night).  Clärchens Ballhaus is a 100 year old dance hall, and on the Saturday night that we were there, it featured a live German cover band and was packed with people from 20 to 80 years old (no kidding).  It was here that I realized just how pervasive American pop culture can be.  Almost every song the band played was in English, and the audience was singing right along with them.

On Easter Sunday, we even found a church to go to.  The Berliner Dom is a huge cathedral in central Berlin, and we celebrated the resurrection (in German!) with the amazing choir and organ.  After the Easter service, we climbed the 270 steps to the top of the dome (ya know because we hadn't done enough walking already).

One of my favorite parts about Berlin was the food.  There were so many different types of food, and compared to Denmark, it was all SO cheap!  (It's really impractical to eat out in Aalborg.)  We had German food, Chinese food, Korean food, burritos, gelato, fries, doner kebabs, and of course, the ubiquitous currywurst.  Basically, anytime we passed a place that looked good, we stopped to get a snack.  (Such a great way to spend a vacation.)

After 4 days in this city, Berlin is a place I would definitely go back to.  There are still more neighborhoods to explore, a couple palaces to visit, a whole island full of museums that we didn't see, and of course, more food to eat.  Throughout this post, I've linked to the places that I'd recommend if you're planning a visit to Berlin anytime soon.  And if you are, let us know!  We'll totally meet you there!

First taste of currywurst
Hanging out with the Ampelmännchen

1 comment:

  1. Great post!
    I haven't been to Berlin myself yet. Now I'll know where to go :-)
    Can't wait for you guys to visit Copenhagen. And no worries - here swing night is every night ;-)
    Ttyl, Louise