Saturday, January 17, 2015

Netherlands Adventures!: Visiting Berlin


A few days after Jack and Matt arrived in the Netherlands, we all took off for Berlin where we would stay until 4 January.  As soon as we took off, I burst into tears as I watched Amsterdam get farther and farther away.  I had to remind myself that I would see Amsterdam again.  It didn't help that when we flew over Berlin and the surrounding area, I saw snow covering everything and it was at least twenty degrees (Fahrenheit) colder than it was in Amsterdam.  I should have been excited about going back to Germany (I went to Munich, Germany in November), but I was just sad.  

The first day we didn't do too much.  We arrived at the apartment where we were staying and stayed for a while.  Naps were had and then Matt and I went out into Berlin (Jack was too tired and stayed behind the first night).  Since Matt is now my future father-in-law, I thought it would be a good time to get to know him better and also it was a good time to go out and see Berlin for the first time.  In retrospect, I think Berlin is more beautiful at night than it is during the day.


Our first full day in Berlin, we ventured out of the apartment late, but we still ventured out.  We started at the Sony Center which was basically a big mall, technically outside, but it was covered so it had that indoor feel as well.

There really wasn't a place we wanted to visit inside, so we walked around the outside of the Sony Center.  There, we found a giant LEGO giraffe.  I made a friend.

Jack made some friends too :)
After finding lunch and exploring this area more, we went down to the train station to catch a train to go back to our apartment.  In the train station, they have these long tubes protruding from the ceiling.  It's basically an extending skylight.  I thought it was really neat.
We went back to the apartment to rest up a bit before going back out into Berlin to ring in the New Year.  When we did go back out, we decided that we would go to Brandenburg Gate because there was going to be a bunch of live music playing and fireworks.

It was actually a little terrifying to be out at night in Berlin on New Year's Eve.  There didn't seem to be any rules about where you can set off your own fireworks or how big they can be.  People were setting off fireworks that I can see at the Fourth of July displays at home on the side of the road in a public place.  A couple of times, we got dangerously close, not intentionally, but we were in the wrong place at the wrong time.  If the fireworks weren't being set off near us, they were exploding not too far from us.  It's terrible.  The only thing I can think to compare it with is a war zone and that's not a fair comparison at all (especially since I've, thank goodness, never been in an actual war zone).  

As we got closer to Brandenburg Gate, you can imagine that it got a lot more crowded.  We had to go through two security checkpoints so get anywhere near the monument.  It was a lot of sensory overload.  Too many people, so much music playing at once, lots of smells, and on top of that, trying to maneuver everything while holding a cup of Gluhwein and a pretzel.  Dinner of champions.  Gluhwein was actually decent.  I really don't like red wine, but I discovered that it's not bad when it's hot and has things like cinnamon and small fruit (raisins, usually) in it.  I drank it faster than I should have though.  I was really tipsy afterwards and that didn't help my overwhelmed cause.

We stayed for a while, but didn't stay until midnight.  It was too cold and being introverts, all three of us, it was exhausting to be there, stuck in the middle of a crowd.  It was fun to see and we can say that we were there, but I was relieved when we left.  We rang in the New Year in our apartment, which was perfect.  It was quiet and the person who owns the apartment/hotel place left a bottle of champagne for us, so that was nice.  I was able to go right to bed afterwards.  It was glorious.


The next morning when we left the apartment, we bore witness to all the wreckage left in the street.  Hundreds of euros worth of fireworks sitting used up in the street.  I couldn't help but wonder who would come to clean it up and I was surprised that the people who were shooting them off didn't clean them up themselves.

We ventured our way back to Brandenburg Gate, where we were last night.  I had found a self-guided walking tour on TripAdvisor that would take us to see Third Reich sites around Berlin.  We picked and chose and edited our route before and throughout the day.  The forecast said that it was going to be some of the nicest weather of our trip (it turned out to be just one nice day out of an unexpected few nice days), so we spent the day outside as per my request.

A large timeline of the rise and fall of the Third Reich, near Brandenburg Gate.

Brandenburg Gate
Reichstag, which is the seat of government.  It's a very beautiful building.
A memorial to the government officials who resisted Nazi rule.

We walked through the park nearby.  There was a lot of construction because the structures used for New Years the night before were being dismantled.  We found a monument to musicians such as Beethoven and Mozart.  You can still see bullet holes left from World War II.
One of the stops on the self-guided tour was this former site of a euthanasia hospital used during World War II.  Another scary part of that war...
A relic of the former East Germany.
There is also an entire street where there are markers for where the Nazi leaders once had their offices.  Hitler's bunker (where he ultimately committed suicide) used to be in this area, but it was filled in and is now a parking lot.
Our last stop of the day, since it was getting dark out, was the Holocaust Memorial.  This was a very surreal memorial.  It looks like there are just blocks of cement that you walk between, and that's true, but there's no visual cue that the ground angles downward so suddenly you're standing between these blocks of cement that are three or four times your height (or at least, that's how it feels).  Since we were walking through this at night, it was especially scary, which seems appropriate, given what those who suffered through the Holocaust, whether they were Jews or another enemy of the Nazi party, suffered through.


Friday we headed over to the area near the Berlin wall that separates the former East Germany from the former West Germany.  In this area, there was a lot of street art.  Actually, street art is pretty ubiquitous around Berlin.

Our ultimate goal by being in this area was to go to the museum of technology.  This was on Jack's list to see.  We didn't realize before going just how vast this museum is.  If I remember correctly, there are four floors (possibly five) filled with things to look at, everything from airplanes to parts of ships and entire smaller boats, and train engines and some cars.  There were also smaller things like cameras and video equipment.

Jack is very into computers (one of his minors is in computer science... smarty).
An entire computer.  Thank goodness they don't come this big any more, am I right?
I like using computers, but I don't care to know the complete history and evolution of computers.  So Jack left me in the area and I built this.
This bike is not my size... I'm too short.
We moved on to trains and it was strange, but I found this part really interesting.  I've never really taken a huge interest in trains before, but this part of the museum was cool for me.

I thought it looked like the Hogwarts Express from Harry Potter :)
Nazi train :(
This was rather surprising for me to find, but they had one of the train cars there that used to transport Jews to concentration camps.  Jack insisted that I be part of the picture, but it didn't feel appropriate to stand in this car and smile, because I'm sure that those who were cramped in this car before me were not smiling.  They were more likely to be scared, whether they knew what was going to happen or not.
We moved on to flying objects after.  Jack likes flying objects much better than trains or boats.

Omnomnomnom.... yummy plane.
After the museum, we headed over to another, smaller, museum called Topography of Terror.  It outlines how the National Socialist German Worker's party took hold and what they did to perpetuate fear everywhere.  Before we went inside though, there were a couple interesting things just outside.  First of all, there was an expanse of the Berlin wall that was mostly intact.  Below, there was the ruins of the Gestapo.


"Astrid, maybe someday we will be together."
Former Gestapo headquarters
As we were trying to find Checkpoint Charlie, we came across this mural.

We went on a bit of a walk afterwards because I wanted to see the memorial to the book burning that happened in Berlin.  It was in front of one of the Humboldt University buildings.  I thought that the memorial would be a little more obvious, but it's mainly underground.  It's a stark white room filled with empty bookshelves.  No books, no libraries.  No knowledge.  It was a very moving memorial.


One of the things that I wanted to do while in Berlin was go to see a concentration camp.  I hoped that I would get to see Bergen-Belsen where Anne Frank and her sister Margot died an untimely death just a short amount of time before the camp was liberated.  But when I looked up directions on how to get there, it was a three and a half hour train ride away.  So it seemed that this hope of mine was dead, at least for this trip.  Not only is Bergen-Belsen very far away from Berlin, but I seemed to be the only one out of the three of us that wanted to go.  Then Jack chimed in and said that just the two of us would go.  But we didn't go to Bergen-Belsen, because it didn't get any closer to Berlin.  Instead, we went to a former camp called Sachsenhausen.  It was only about an hour and a half away from Berlin, in Oranienburg.  

The train ride wasn't so bad.  We got to Oranienburg station and then we had to walk a ways to get to the former camp itself.  It was strange walking through this residential area and then having it end in this camp.  And I know that this camp at one point had "ovens," so I wonder, how much did people living here at the time actually see?  Did they know what was happening behind the walls of the camp?

Those who were imprisoned in this camp were subject to a death march.

This prisoners of this camp were a mixture of Jewish people and Soviet prisoners of war.  Most of the camp has been bombed by now, leaving only a handful of buildings to give you an idea of what life was like here.  The "infirmary" was still standing and I think a barracks (although we didn't go in) and then some houses of the people who acted as wardens (I can't remember the title that went with them, and really, does it matter?).

Shattered stove in a broken kitchen.

A map of what the camp used to look like when it was intact.
After a while, we realized that it was getting late and we still had some things that we wanted to see in Berlin.  Besides, when visiting a concentration camp, it's not a light-hearted experience.  We're just fortunate that we get to leave whenever we please.

We took the train back to Berlin and walked to the base of the TV Tower, one of Berlin's icons.

I'm so nice... what an attractive picture.  Those pretzels were totally delicious though.  Completely worth it.
A trashcan that says "Thank you for the hot dogs."  I actually laughed out loud, this was so adorable :)
After taking in the TV tower and finishing our pretzels and a croissant that we shared, we walked ove to the DDR museum, which is a museum that is very interactive and gives you an idea of what it was like to live in East Germany when it was its own country.  Some of their ideas were good, but other ideas were just scary to me...

How a typical East German home was set up.
Children were essentially trained for war from a young age.

Really heavy helmet that was part of the East German army!

There was a simulation where you could try driving an East German car on the roads.  It's a very touchy car... one guy before us somehow managed to flip the car over and got stuck... I don't get it.


Sunday was the day we were to fly back to Amsterdam from Berlin, but we had a little time in the morning.  Jack's dad heard about this car place where people store their fancy cars and come to work on them whenever they want.  So it's kind of like a free fancy car museum.

How creepy...

I definitely touched most of the cars I looked at... one guy even left the doors of the car unlocked.  How silly of him!  He was just asking for his car to be touched!

Any way, we hopped on the train to get back to the airport and we flew back to Amsterdam for our last night in Europe.  I was happy to leave Berlin, but I knew that once I got back to Amsterdam, that was basically it.  That was hard for me to handle.  I wasn't ready to leave Europe yet.  I'm sitting at home in Minneapolis as I write this and I'm still not done with Europe.  I'm especially not done with the Netherlands.

I guess with this last post, this is it for my study abroad adventures.  I still hope to keep writing about this life-changing experience that I've had, but those posts won't be the same as the posts I've been posting with tons of pictures and a recap of what I did and such.  The things I write about my study abroad experience from here on out will mostly be thoughts, I think.  I might have to physically be back in the U.S., but my mind can keep going back as much as it wants.

With that, a final Tot Ziens!  Thanks for Reading!  We'll see where this blog goes after this...


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