Thursday, June 11, 2015

Leben in Berlin // Life in Berlin


Our next few days were spent alternating between historical sites and daily life exploration. Having only 3/5 of our original group made it easier to agree on what to do, and we decided our best plan was to have a very loose plan to allow for spontaneity. We spent Saturday morning wandering around the neighbourhoods of Kreuzberg, stopping once at a vintage store with a 1€ sale and again at Shakespeare & Sons, a bookstore with fantastic bagels. My willpower was, as always, weakened at the sight of full bookshelves, and I couldn't help but purchase a gorgeous copy of Edgar Allan Poe short stories. 



In the afternoon we hit up some of the historical sites in the city center. We first located the Brandenburg Gate, squished in between some nondescript offices and the American Embassy, then walked to the Holocaust Memorial, my personal favourite of the monuments we saw. Modelled after the Jewish Cemetery in Prague, the blank concrete blocks are of varying heights and the ground undulates in waves, giving visitors a sense of isolation as they walk through. We returned later to visit the museum under the memorial, in particular a room where a single name of a Holocaust victim is projected onto the blank walls for a few minutes at a time and an overhead voice recalls all the known facts about each person. It was heartbreaking standing there and listening to the names; some of those named were as young as seven and were killed in horrendous ways.



Photo credit: Shannon
We saw a number of equally tragic memorials on the city tour we joined, though we got bored at the midway point and escaped to the nearest U-bahn station, eager to continue on with our weekend. We stopped at Dunkin a number of times, happy to continuously see signs of American home life, and later on a Mexican restaurant - the first Mexican food we'd had since coming to Germany. Berlin is nothing if not a multicultural food paradise.



On Sunday we rode the U-bahn to the Flohmarkt im Mauerpark, a giant flea market held in Berlin's Prenzlauer Berg district every Sunday. The market was far, far larger than I had initially anticipated and there were so many incredible stands and unique buys that we went through it twice - once to look and once to buy. Rows of food vendors ran down the middle of the area and towards the end of our visit we bought waffles from a little stand, where Shannon was refused a fork because she bought a waffle with nutella, not ice cream (Germans and their rules).


We spent our final morning in the hostel drinking coffee made by one of the staff and talking to some of the Canadians who were also staying at the hostel. We eventually wandered into town, loaded down with all our bags, to do some final shopping in Alexanderplatz before going back to Mannheim. Our plan was to ride the U-bahn from Alexanderplatz to the closest station by the bus station, but we quickly realised that we didn't have enough time to ride the rails after counting stopover times and the walk from the stop to the station, so we opted for a cab instead.

Our driver sped through the city and we were down to the last second as to whether we would make it or not. We reached the station with three minutes to spare, only to realise that the company we were riding with had fifteen buses leaving at the same time and we had a mad scramble around the platforms trying to find the correct vehicle. Thankfully my driver had stepped away from the bus to chat with another driver and I gained a few extra minutes to locate the bus and settle myself into an empty row. 

Of all the cities I've visited during my time in Europe, Berlin was my favourite in Germany and was the one with which I most identified. During our visit I kept imagining what it would be like to live there and I've started hoping that one day it will happen. Though Berlin is a bustling city full of millions of residents and tens of millions of visitors every year, it still felt small and personable to me in a way that I haven't felt since I visited Budapest. Three and a half days was not nearly sufficient time to see everything Berlin has to offer and I'm already looking forward to the next time I can visit this amazing city.


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