Our last day in Berlin had a theme of scary dark gloom. I think this was the world’s way of making it seem less of a tragedy that our vacation was coming to an end, since it allowed us to look on the bright side– literally– and anticipate the warmth & sunshine of AZ, and the US’s relatively calm history.
We woke up to clouds. Rain. Wind. And sub-zero temperatures. (Okay, not literally freezing, but very low 40’s.) While the weather had been cloudy & drizzle-y the past four days of the trip, this day’s weather was by far the worse. It was a constant downpour, which when combined with the 15mph+ winds and the already freezing temperatures, left my mom and I looking like drowned rats fighting their way through a foreign city. We each layered on every piece of warm clothing we could find in our small carry-on suitcases, and then headed out for a merry day gallivanting across Berlin!
First stop: the Berlin Wall. While we had seen the smaller Berlin Wall Memorial the day prior, I really wanted to see the famous “East Side Gallery,” or the part of the Berlin Wall that is still intact with thousands of artists’ renderings. (I also wanted to get there for pictures before I looked like a total drowned rat.) We made it there in no time at all, added our names to the wall, and then headed off to the other side of town to see the official Berlin Wall Museum. (There are parts of the wall & small memorials all across the city still, but the two main attractions are the East Side Gallery & the Museum.)
Thank goodness the Museum was indoors! We watched a very informative movie, with a detailed timeline of the construction of the wall and the events leading up to it; biographies of important key players & infamous escapees or failed escapees; a deep look into the contrasting lives in each side of the wall; and concluded with the destruction of the physical & figurative Communist barrier. After viewing the movie, we walked through the outdoor part of the museum, which had an additional section of the Berlin Wall. This section of the wall, when built, passed right through an important cemetery. The construction crews took no care to ensure that those laid to rest were not disturbed and instead plowed right through them. It was very sad.
We headed next toward the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, an iconic Berlin site. The church was bombed during WWII and was in the middle of the downtown city, a glorious memorial to Germany’s Kaiser Wilhelm. Following the bombing, all that remained was its lonely standing bell tower. Despite this, just a month or so after the bombing, the church held Christmas Mass as normal. Worshippers stood beneath the bell tower, completely open to the surrounding city. I believe the memorial today stands as a symbol of Berlin’s terrible past, but everlasting resilience and bright future.
Currently, they are creating a brand new church attached to the old, bombed-out bell tower remains. Still, you can walk into the base of the old bell tower and see the incredible detail.
After a somber morning between the Berlin Wall’s Cold War reminders and the church’s WWII reminders, Mom and I were ready for some shopping! We headed to KaDe We– Europe’s largest department store!!
(Side note: on the way to the memorial site, my mom and I took a historic metro route that started in West Berlin & ended in West Berlin, but ran through East Berlin during the Cold War. The metro train would speed up through the East Berlin stops during the War, but for everyday commuters living in West Berlin, they literally passed through East Berlin but had no access! Along with the speeding trains, the stops themselves were heavily guarded and enforced with deterrents to entry, to prevent the metro routes from being escape routes for East Berliners. Can you imagine that reality? Living in West Berlin and pretending that nothing is abnormal about having half of your city living so drastically different than you, when you pass through it each day?!)
Throughout our Europe trip, I had been keeping an eye out for a baby present for my coworker, Jasmine, who was expecting her first baby, a little girl, July 4th. (Jasmine is who trained me when I first started at Intel, and I have been waiting for her to have a baby for FOREVER!) However, I really, really wanted to get it in Germany because Jasmine and her husband met during an study abroad program in Germany! So I was on a mission. I had been searching high and low ever since we had arrived, but had had no such luck. When I again found no luck in KaDeWe’s baby department, I almost lost hope! I mean, I am in the largest department store on the continent and nothing suites my tastes?! Maybe I should just open up my own baby present company? Discouraged, I moved on to meet my mom up on the 4th floor. Just as the escalator descended, I saw the PERFECT present: a little purple piggy bank, with “Shoe Fund” in German on the side. Get it– baby’s first shoe fund!? I was SO thrilled! It was cute and perfect and reminded me of one of my own favorite childhood knick-knacks: a piggy bank with glasses! I was slightly concerned about how I would get something so big & breakable home to the US, but I knew I had no other choice 🙂 The piggy bank was just too cute!
(Annnnd I just realized I haven’t uploaded pics of the bank so I will have to do that later :))
After getting the baby her present, my mom and I strolled the incredible top floor, where all of the food stalls were! This part reminded me a lot of Harrods in London. We sampled far too many free cookies and loved them so much that we bought a bunch of boxes to bring home for friends!
Next, having filled up on cookies, we decided to forgo lunch a bit longer and shop some more! Berlin is supposed to be famous for shopping, but my mom and I were a bit disappointed. Granted, we were on the main shopping street so we shouldn’t have been expecting much, but “edgy” Berlin offered the same exact things at the same exact prices as everywhere else! (Only Nice & Lucerne seemed to offer unique stuff!) We still managed to pick up some cute new items for our wardrobe though, don’t you worry! At one store, my mom and I bought a whole mannequin– she got the top and I bought the skirt that the mannequin in the front window was wearing! 🙂
Finally stopping for lunch, we headed to Wittenbergplatz to find an all-natural bratwurst restaurant we had read about. I figured that if I was still forced to eat sausages on the last day, I might as well try and have a healthier one, right? We walked around in circles in Wittenbergplatz before giving up and heading back down to the metro. Just as we started down the stairs though, we looked left and realized that the all-natural sausage “restaurant”….was actually a food cart! So we got our brats and ate them in the forever falling rain! It was delicious. Success!
Now that my mom and I were fueled up and smiling, I decided that we needed to add one last gloomy stop to our gloomy, war-driven tourist day: Berlin’s Topography of Terror Museum. Sounds fun, right?
My mom and I took the metro to Checkpoint Charlie, then trudged four blocks through the hardest downfall of the day before finally finding the joint. (Considering how sprawling the place is, you wouldn’t think it is hard to miss, but when your eyes lack windshield wipers, it’s hard to see more than ten feet in front of you!) The museum sits on top of the old headquarters of German’s Third Reich.
Freezing, literally, and having evolved into dead ringers for drowned rats, my mom and I were stoked to find that along with the extensive outdoor portion, there was a huge interior.
Did I mention that by now– 19 or so days in of 12+ hours of walking per day– our legs were about to give out? While my mom sat down and viewed some of the multimedia presentations, I walked through the museum, which laid out an extensive play-by-play of Germany’s history, through the end of WWII. The information was so detailed and inclusive that I could have stayed there for probably an entire day, reading the anecdotes & interviews; viewing the printed propaganda & photos; understanding the lives of those involved; etc. I think we stayed only about two hours though, as the sun was setting and the museum was closing.
Preparing for an early morning, we left the museum and headed straight back toward Alexanderplatz to grab dinner at Zum Nuzbaum, a historic pub. I had potato soup again! Of course. We had peeled off our many layers when we arrived, with hopes that they would dry while we were eating…. but, nope. Instead, they were still soaping wet– I’m talking, you could wring water out of them!– when we left for the half mile walk back to the hotel.
At the end of the end of the day– starting with the Berlin Wall & ending with the terror-filled explanation of WWII–, I was left with one thought: There are likely Jewish citizens of Berlin who barely survived WWII, driven only by inner perseverance, hope, & light….only to end up living the second half of their life in East Berlin. Did these people ever experience happiness? Or did they spend their entire lives filled with dread, dragging their feet through each day, never allowing themselves to dream?
Overall Berlin was nice, but much different than I expected! Everyone I know who has previously visited Berlin has generally raved about it. Given the warm, quaint communities we had been traveling through, Berlin was a stark contrast. It was spread out and industrial, with gaping wholes of destruction. The city has a sad, dark history and is filled with gaping holes of destruction. I don’t think its current political & economic position in the developed world will match its physical facade for many, many years to come. Obvious efforts are underway to speed up this process– hence all of the cranes– but with only just over two decades of peace in the country, much more time is needed fill the holes and present Berlin’s physical facade in a way that matches its present identify. I would enjoy going back another twenty years from now, to compare what has changed.
So with that glimpse into the dark history of the world, my mom and I ended our Tour de Europe! The next morning, we hoped on a flight from Berlin to Newark, which went incredibly fast thanks to our individual TV’s. I spent my nine hours watching four movies & a TV show. Then we had Mexican food at the airport (Woohooo!!!! The first Mexican food we’d seen in weeks!!) before catching our flight to Phoenix at about 7PM. By 10:30PM, we were back in AZ. By 11:30PM, I was already back in my apartment and fully unpacked, with the first load of laundry already in the washer 🙂
I’ll post another blog maybe with the after-thoughts, but for now I am just SO happy to be done blogging about the trip! I’m glad I did, so I can look back on it, but the process of doing so has been immensely time consuming. I feel so free now to blog about whatever I want, whenever I want!