Berlin was what happened when I had a few days between two cities this Easter Break. I went on from Rome, unfortunately without my mum in tow, to explore a bit of my ancestral homeland. I had more time in Berlin, which now I realize has its benefits in comparison to my three day stays elsewhere. The hostel was rough around the edges, but it was also the best I’ve had because of its atmosphere and other backpackers. I had planned for a day of sleep, but cooking led to socializing and I ended up meeting some really great travelers that I’d end up seeing the city with. I did a free walking tour the following morning, which I find ideal to ease into any foreign city. Berlin’s rich history led us to focus on the wall, the war and the proceeding growth. I spent the afternoon atop the Berlin Cathedral and eating local favourites like curry wurst and Turkish kofta.
Friday morning rained on us as we passed the gates reading “Arbeit Macht Frei” (translation: work means freedom) at Sachsenhausen, a labor camp just outside of Berlin. 36,000 prisoners would die here from 1936-1945. The country destroyed much of the camp in the 1960’s, though the barack’s are demarcated by rocks and a few buildings have been salvaged. The camp didn’t have the effect we were expecting, but without proper buildings or the torturous gas chambers, it’s hard to really imagine the conditions so many suffered. I spent that afternoon at the museum underneath the Memorial for Murdered Jews. The exhibit is done really well and I really appreciate the monument in the plaza. The artist has never described the intention of the supposedly arbitrary 2,711 concrete blocks, which allows each visitor to understand the memorial for themselves.
I thought I had escaped allergy season, but I found myself attempting to locate and purchase an antihistamine on Easter Sunday in Germany, while having locals translate the directions and warning labels. The medicine is helping, though it’s not the prescription steroid I typically require for the season. Regardless of the pollen stained sidewalks, I walked a few kilometers to Ai Weiwei’s large exhibition at Martin Gropius Bau. His motives make him a very powerful artist and I’m happy I spent the morning among his ideas. I also made it to the Bauhaus Archive which showcases much of the school’s outcomes, from furniture to architecture to paintings. The collection is quite nice and it was a good supplement to my design degree. I spent some time in the largely forested Tiergarten (another stupid, yet not ignorant, choice to be among the pollen. When else in my life will I get to see this?) and at a little Easter carnival before exploring the Templehof Airport Park with the hostel mates in the evening. There’s something about sitting in the middle of an abandoned runway, it feels quite empowering.
I ate my favourite meal this week. Twice, really. I don’t know exactly what the menu said, but I would very very very highly recommend the Schwarma vom Huhn at Maroush. I could eat that pita for the rest of my life and never think twice of it. The other meals of doner kebabs and sausages also made for a few good meals (when visited between trips to Maroush).
I had a grand time reminiscing about creamy jalapeño dip with a fellow Austinite and learning about the killer animals that inhabit Australia in the hostel. Or how Illinois engineered sweet corn. There is something sweet about a group of people from around the world getting together and trading stories. It may be why I enjoyed my time in Berlin so greatly, but it really reminded me why I’m doing what I’m doing. Berlin was also great because I could actually fit in with my blond hair and blue eyes. I wasn’t immediately disregarded as a human being like in other countries (ahem, France and Italy) where I look like the standard foreigner (or worse, the American, gasp!) who can only attempt to speak the language. Berlin was so welcoming, though. I felt right at home.
I’m on to the next city and not quite ready to slow down just yet.