Saturday, 15 July 2017

5 (1/2) Days in Berlin

From Thursday last week to the Monday of this week, I spent a few days exploring the historical sights of Berlin with my college (technically Tuesday as well but we shun that day). It was such an incredible trip and I have made (and furthered) some truly amazing friendships that I hope I will cherish for a long time to come.

creds to my friend Eilish for being an incredible candid photographer

Thursday


Sleepy-eyed and pajama clad, the group met at college at about 2 am and set off for Gatwick a little while later – the only sound on the motorway in the dead of night. A smooth check-in and flight and we had landed in Berlin! We made our way to the hostel, where we stored our bags through a game of real-life Tetris in a storage cupboard, then headed out into the city!

From there, we got went to Hacksher Markt, where we had a lovely lunch and got to know each other a bit better over pizza and pasta!


We took the tram and tube to the Palace of Tears – the main train station through which those in the East could travel to the West and vice versa. The guided tour we had was fascinating, particularly as it was about such recent history and such a modern repressive regime, and it really impressed upon us the oppression faced by the people of the East and those of the West through them. It was just such a shame that we couldn’t necessarily take in all of the information as we were so tired from our journey!


After that, we returned back to the hostel, where we ate and spent some time together up in our rooms. The girls went down to the Aldi near to the hostel to find snacks and drinks (German alcohol, may I just say, ridiculously cheap. Ridiculous as in 99 cents for a bottle of Rosé), then returned to have a girls' night I hope we can emulate many times in the future!

Friday


Thursday night I was ill (not alcohol related, I can assure you, turns out that something in a particular type of German bread doesn’t agree with me), so my Friday didn’t get off to a good start. However, I had a great rest of the day (until I ate more bread in the evening but we can forget about that). After breakfast, we all gathered in the hostel lobby and were taken on a tour around the historical sights of Berlin by a hilarious guide called Bernd. To be fair, we couldn’t hear what he was saying a lot of the time due to the noise of surrounding tourists and traffic, but what we did hear was either informative or comedy gold (the latter probably because it was taken out of context). We went around what felt like the whole city, although in reality, it was nowhere near that much.

We saw sights such as the Brandenburg Gate, the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe and Hitler’s Bunker and the Topography of Terror. It was so enjoyable (not the best word to describe the Topography of Terror, but it was so interesting I wish we could have stayed there longer, but unfortunately we couldn’t).





A group of us went to a nearby Italian restaurant (the second of the trip), then we visited Checkpoint Charlie and its accompanying museum. I felt that the museum really impressed upon us the realities of those who were desperate to escape East Germany and the lengths that people went to achieve freedom from their own state.

That evening, we were supposed to go to the East Side Gallery, however, as unpredictable as the Berlin weather is, we experienced a whole year’s worth of weather in one day: rain, sun, cloud and a thunderstorm. You can guess which one occurred when we were wanting to go out. Because of that, we had another night in – of course, I didn’t mind that!

Saturday


Saturday was the day of museums. First off was the Stasi Prison Museum. We ventured out to the old prison used by the Soviet and then East German secret police, often known as the Stasi. We went through the first section of the prison, which was used by the Soviets when they occupied East Germany and was mostly underground.


The darkness came from seemingly everywhere and the damp was obvious from every angle. We were showed around each type of cell: the group cells (which could house up to around 20 people each), the solitary confinement cells and the ‘standing cells.’ The first two types had wooden benches that acted as beds, and none of the prisoners were allowed to sit down during the day so the guards could watch them 24/7 – although the day was dependent on how a guard interpreted it, so prisoners could be standing for potentially days on end. The standing cells left a prisoner with no choice but to stand as they were so small, often for around 3 days.

This horrific form of more physical than psychological torture was practically eradicated in the second part of the prison we visited – the newer section used by the East Government. The physical torture was replaced entirely by psychological torture due to the increasing pressures from external bodies such as the UN to uphold human rights, and these left no marks that could prove human rights violations, despite the long lasting effects of their methods.

From there, we went to the Stasi Museum. Continuing the same trend, this time, instead of the prison, it was now the staff headquarters that now operated as a museum. It was so interesting and felt like it was quite busy. The layout was left almost exactly as it would have been, obvious in the fact that the décor was so undeniably 80s, it felt like we had gone back in time.


We went back to Checkpoint Charlie, where we stopped only have a quick lunch. This time, we had currywurst, which seemed to be a major food staple across Berlin as we saw it being sold everywhere. Right next to the place we ate at, they had the Currywurst Museum. It was hilarious and I love the fact that it existed. It was so brilliant, I love it.

After lunch, we went to the Jewish Museum, which was a short walk away from the area Checkpoint Charlie is in. It was such an artistic and well thought out building, in such a way that it completely immersed its visitors in the experiences and lives of the Jews of the past. That, I think, is how all museums should be.



Can I also say, shout out to our amazing guide Sasha! She was such a lovely woman and I genuinely want to be friends with her. Sasha, if you’re reading this, hit me up!

That evening, we fulfilled our trip to the East Side Gallery, previously planned for the night before. The Gallery is the largest section of the Berlin Wall still standing, at about 1km, and is home to an incredible array of graffiti on the side facing the East. The perfect place to find a great Instagram (but also please take in and appreciate the history as well as making your feed look banging, okay, thank you, bye).






Sunday


Sunday was perhaps one of the most memorable days for me due to the fact that we visited Sachsenhausen, a concentration camp about 25km outside of Berlin. It was a work camp and therefore no purposeful deaths took place there in the same way they did in places like Auschwitz, however I have never been to a place so eerie and with such negative energy (my visit to this camp and the Stasi prison confirmed my belief in energies and vibes, and I know that sounds very hippy dippy but I don’t care). Here, we discovered the experiments, sterilisations, castrations and physical torture (the latter carried out through forced labour and difficult living conditions) the Nazis carried out on a range of people including the mentally ill, Jewish and LGBTQ people along with political prisoners. It was such a difficult experience, but I would recommend visiting a concentration camp to anybody as it really opened my eyes of the realities of the camps and was a major reminder of my own privilege.


We made our way back to Berlin, heading to the 1936 Olympic Stadium, which was purposefully built by Hitler to demonstrate his own power and might – showing off to the international stage. The building was very impressive, especially due to the blending of the old with the new over the years since it served its original purpose. It was fascinating seeing the old Nazi relics, including the original Olympic bell that hung in the tower until recently. The evidence of the Nazis has been mostly destroyed, but what remains serves the modern visitor well. We walked through the VIP area, all of which Hitler named after himself (including the Fuhrerstairs), to where he would have sat in the box. There, the extra area on the balcony where Hitler sat apart from everyone else, all that is left of the Fuhrer’s seat is a small piece of stone jutting out – a small reminder of what can happen when extremism rises.





In the evening, we visited the Reichstag, which is the central building for the German government. It has a beautiful glass dome at the top. It was lovely to look out onto the city glowing from sun-hugs. It felt so peaceful and joyful, particularly when spending it with people I could now count as close friends.

We miss you EU. Please take us back.


Monday


This was our official last day, or at least, our only last day for all we knew that morning. We headed out across the city to the Kaiser Wilhelm II Memorial Church. The first building had the original architecture and acted as a museum and memorial to the second Kaiser Wilhelm.


The new church that is now used for services was also beautiful, although I know that the Christians on the trip felt a little uncomfortable or uneasy in there due to the fact that it felt like it was built more for the purpose of looking pretty and attractive, rather than that of worshipping.

From there, we all headed over to the Ka De We or, as our leader kept calling it, the German equivalent of Harrod’s. As soon as we walked in I think it’s safe to say our jaws dropped. Every kind of makeup you could ever want seemed to be there, and that was just the first floor. All sorts of food, clothing, alcohol... I swear you could live in that place. We went straight up to the restaurant, but when we saw the prices were a little too much for our student budgets, we found food at an amazing Mexican place called Dolores – a must-eat for anyone, but especially good for veggies/vegans. The burritos were incredible!

With our tummies filled to the brim, we dove into the Ka De We ready to spend what was left of our holiday money. I bought a pink Urban Decay eyeliner (of which I’m sure I will mention later on at some point on here) and some little bits of food for my family (pretzels for my brother and a small pack of truffles for my parents). We had a lovely time exploring the shop and speaking to the assistants and sales people, all of whom were very helpful and glad to have a chat even if we obviously weren’t going to buy anything (Perfume Man, I’m talking to you, you made my day!). On our way back to the meeting point we stopped off at Pull and Bear where I picked up the most gorgeous striped jumpsuit. I am actually obsessed with it and I’m sure I’ll feature it properly in an OOTD post a little down the line.

Back at the hotel, collected our suitcases from storage and made our way to the airport and through customs. We waited for hours to get told that instead of leaving a few hours behind its original take-off time of 9:35, our plane would now leave the next day at 7...pm. Naturally, we all went into a panic mode a bit (understatement of the century) and the next few hours went by in a busy and confused haze. However, by 1:30 we were mostly all settled in beds in a hotel that was better than the one we had been staying in for the past few days for free and were awaiting our flight the next day.

Tuesday


So, Tuesday. The unexpected day. After the debacle of the previous night, we slept in a bit more than we had done on nights before (about 9:30ish, which was a dream). The hotel had a great breakfast selection, meaning that I was able to have a freshly made waffle and 4 different toppings – everything a girl could want at that point! Having checked out for 11, we hung around the hotel for a few hours then went to a nearby shopping mall for extra supplies and food (also an unexpected run-in with some boisterous German girls who thought it necessary to comment on the appearances of the girls because we didn’t dress in a way that seemed appropriate to them. Screw you all, we will dress in a way that makes us feel comfortable and expresses us as we see fit, thank you very much), then returned to the hotel where we didn’t wait long for a taxi to the airport. There, our flight was delayed by another hour at least, however, this time we knew we would be going home and wouldn’t have to pay for any of the food we bought in the long run, which made the experience easier.

I eventually got home at about 1:30 am on Wednesday morning after a very long and stressful 30 or so hours, and I’m glad to say that I slept well that night.



I had such a fun time and got to know some incredible people. Thank you all for making me feel so comfortable and I can’t wait for our next girls’ night. It was so worth getting frisked twice to now count you all as friends.




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