Berlin Discoveries

With one tap of the screen, I just managed to delete my entire post, which was huge and completed and lovely and just waiting for a few pictures to wrap it up…stupid me. Well, not quite sure I have it in me to re-do it all, but I shall try to give it a good Girl Scout’s effort here…after I sit for a few minutes and let the shock wear off….
I’m on a train from Berlin to Prague, and I’m pretty sure its not one of those Euro hi-speed ones we all think we know about as it’s just kind of meandering through the countryside, which is fine by me – I love trains and these little villages with their little brick old train stations are just my thing.
So, yesterday, I opted for the 6+ hour walking tour, which, upon, first thought, sounds like just WAY too long, but after seeing, hearing and experiencing everything I did, I don’t really know how you could do it all in any less. It was super interesting – our guide was named Espin (his real name, he informed us, as he wouldn’t make up anything so silly). He was young and you would be hard put to ask him anything about Berlin and it’s history that he doesn’t know.
We started off in the Jewish quarter and viewed the beautiful synagogue. The current Jewish Berlin population is about 11,500 down from 150,000 WWII times. The synagogue was saved during the Kristallnacht by one of the few sane German policemen left who fired his gun in the air and forced the mobs aways. A fire had already been started along one of the walls, though, but he called his fireman friend who came over and put the fire out. Two more heroes to add to my list. Along one street there are two building side by side: one was a Jewish girls’ school. As very few people actually believed that Hitler would rise to power or carry out his philosophies, the school remained open. One morning, it was unexpectedly raided and every single last girl and teacher were boarded into trains, most bound for the camps and death. There was, however, one teacher who just happened to have stepped out to the pharmacy for medicine and when she came back, the entire building was empty. I can only imagine the horror. The building next to the school was an orphanage. The woman overseeing the place had the foresight to see what was coming, and in 1939 evacuated all her children to Palestine where they all survived.
The most meaningful part of the day was the Memorial to the Murdered Jews. It is new and I remember just reading about it. It has intentionally been placed in a high profile part of the city and is an abstract memorial meant for each to interpret in one’s own way. I found it very moving, wandering through the blocks, each a different height and a slightly different angle. Through the blocks, one can only walk alone but can always see a way out – through straight lines. Significant and symbolic I think.
Only a few blocks from this site, is the place where Hitler died. Purposefully left a “non-memorial” site, it is nothing more than a parking lot with a small sign with history facts on it. The Germans take this dark segment of their history very seriously and are erecting 21 memorial sites throughout the city to the many groups of people discriminated against and murdered by the Nazi party.
I learned so much in such a short period of time! this is definitely the way to learn history! I think if I have kids, this will be one way I will teach them – it’s so fascinating to actually SEE and FEEL what and where real events happened. Did you know that Berliners were free to come and go from the East to the West till suddenly one morning at one o’clock, soldiers began digging a trench and laying barbed wire to separate the city?! By 4 o’clock, it was done – effectively and without warning, dividing the city and separating families. I loved the story of the East Berlin soldier laying barbed wire, who, at the encouragement of the Western side, threw down this weapon and made a run for it – all documented on film, making him the most famous Berlin Wall escapee!
Glory of glories…we walked past this famous chocolate shop where all these statues were made of the deliciousness. I talked our guide into letting us go in “for just TWOOOO minutes, please?” (Well, someone had to ask, right?)
We saw many more landmarks and government buildings – there is a whole island of museums right in the heart of the city. I also loved the story of the famous globe tower erected for the communists. Not till it was up, did anyone know that the mirrors would,by virtue of the shape of the building, reflect the sun in an unequivocal shape of a cross. The communists tried everything they could think of, including painting the mirrors, to change this reflection, but nothing has worked so far, so there it is – a large cross of light reflecting the sun, viewable over the whole of Berlin. Awesome. This is commonly known now as “The Pope’s Revenge”
I enjoyed a beer and good conversation back at the hostel with a few young British soldiers, on “holiday” for a couple weeks, and then decided to do a bit more wandering in the city (mostly before dark for the benefit of my half dozen moms out there;). Among other little interests, I discovered a cemetery, which I was really hoping to be able to go back to this AM – and in case that sounded creepy, it really was more like a beautiful walled-in garden. After having a famous Berlin “curry-wurst” sausage at a little river-side restaurant, I wandered home to the hostel which now resembled more a laid-back nightclub: people eerily lit up, hunched over ipads and computers, loud music playing – lovely. So, being quite weary, I went up to my dorm style room, which was, um, occupied….yeah, shared/mixed quarters…enough said, so I grabbed my stuff and headed back downstairs to kill a bit of time.
I think my body is still adjusting to the time difference, so at 0100, I finally caved in and took sleeping medicine…OUT like a rock. Gone are the days of not touching pills. no point in that.
And, so while it may seem criminal, only giving Berlin a day, I am eager to press on and continue my adventuring. I booked a room at a little place called St Toby’s outside Prague – highly recommended by one of girls I met yesterday.
This morning I had breakfast with a girl from Melbourne. She had just finished touring with the Nat’l Youth Orchestra and was taking a couple weeks and exploring just like me. We talked about hiking, and music, and Haiti experience and life and she said this trip was really changing her perspective on life. And I really think that’s what traveling should do. So, till next time, Auf Wiedersehen! I’ll not deny it is a bit lonely traveling by oneself – I do enjoy sharing my experiences with someone – I know my family and friends would love all this…maybe next time we can do this together! ….and here’s to this draft actually saving and perhaps being even better than the first…though I don’t think it really is. Sigh and grimace.
Addenda: i really can’t help myself…As I travel south, the countryside is getting more and more beautiful. My heart is almost doing flip flops…colorful and quaint villages nestled in valleys and alongside cliffs…an old gentleman just settles himself across the aisle from me and carefully sets his bottle of wine on the table, pulls a Swiss Army knife out and eats his crispy bread and cheese…this IS the quintessential Europe I’ve always dreamed about. I’m so tempted to get off this train and wander. (ironically the bottle of wine is from California…the only un-European thing about the whole picture. haha)
Addenda II: i’ve now made it to Prague and am in love – the hostel is SO wonderful and such a welcome change from yesterday and the city is so delightful. Just sitting down for a Czech meal of veal and potatoes with a glass of white wine – all recommended by the waiter. It’s best to trust them if you don’t read Czech, I think;)









5 thoughts on “Berlin Discoveries

  1. Cate S.

    Hey, Sis!!

    What a grand synopsis–awesome! Your perfectly sprinkled details took me there–thanks for the effort after Horrible loss of that first blog….

    Love you! Keep safe and keep writing!

    -Eldest Stearns-Child

  2. Beverley Hjermstad

    Hi Helen, feel like I have been there with you. Thanks for the visuals that your account brings forth. I can’t say that I have ever
    traveled alone, but my son, Erik, did when he was in college…went from hostel to hostel and had a blast. He hit Prague in the
    dead of winter so wasn’t as charmed as you with that city….he was there for some months and never did understand the language.
    Keep having a profoundly wonderful time. You’re in my prayers. With much love, Bev


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