Last month, I was incredibly lucky to have a Canadian visitor!! W flew all the way from Alberta for a two week visit, and I could not be more grateful. There is something about seeing people from back home that is so comforting, and makes this experience seem much more real. After exploring Stockholm for one week, L's mother and I travelled to Berlin, Germany for five days of exploring.
After hearing recommendations from my German friends, and listening to other foreign students gush about their time in Berlin, I traveled to the city with some pretty high expectations. I am happy to say, Berlin did not disappoint.
Checkpoint CharlieThe history in Berlin is absolutely incredible, over-pouring over onto every street corner. As one travel brochure describes, "no other city in the world physically conveys the dramas of the 20th Century like Berlin." Even if you somehow manage to avoid the numerous museums, (there is literally an entire island of museums), the scars of Communist neglect are visible. Apartment buildings covered in WWII bullet hole marks are not uncommon.
Standing in what looked like any old parking lot, I was surprised to learn we were actually standing over the bunker where Hitler died. As people passed on by, parking their cars, carrying on with their day to day tasks, I felt the urge to scream "did you guys not hear that, this is the spot he died!!!" But Berliners are not phased. Such is the scale of Berlin's visible history, the entire city is filled to the brim with remarkable sites, making it impossible to visit everything, and for Berliners, just a part of day-to-day life.
Architects and artists have collaborated to design monuments and memorials with incredible creativity, like the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, pictured above.
The trip was made even more memorable given the fact that we were visiting the city just days before the 22nd anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Scattered around the city you can still find parts of the wall, a graffiti-adorned tribute to West & East unity. I don't remember where I was on Nov 9, 22 years ago, but most people here do: many secluded from their family and friends on either side of the wall.
Our city tour guide described Gunter Schabowski as a schmuck of a politician, essentially responsible for triggering the events that unfolded November 9, 1989. I laughed and nearly cried as our guide gave a fantastic overview of the fall of the wall. Around 7pm, Schabowski, the spokesman of the central committee of the ruling East German party, committed a major political blunder, incorrectly announcing during a live press conference that the country's travel restrictions were to be lifted, Visas to be freely granted to those wishing to travel outside of East Germany. When an Italian journalist questioned, "as of when," Schabowski hesitated, glanced at the minutes from a meeting held earlier that day, and improvised, "as far as I know... as of now." The media understandably exploded with the news, proclaiming "the wall has fallen!" and thousands of East Berliners streamed to checkpoints along the wall, eager to cross over to loved ones.
As we now know, Schabowski was very mistaken, incorrectly announcing a proposal which was had only been discussed earlier that day and did not actually involve any legitimate opening of the border. Regardless, after failing to receive decisive instructions from their supervisors, East German border guards eventually gave up their posts allowing the crowds of East Berliners to pass through the border . I cannot begin to imagine how it felt to cross over the barrier, family members greeting each other with open arms and celebratory champagne.
When we weren't consumed with the City's history, our days were spent exploring, hopping in and out of restaurants based both on previous recommendations and the size of the crowd. We felt adventurous and tried everything from pork knuckle, currywurst, and mug after mug of glühwein. Needless to say, we did not go to bed hungry!
Walking the streets of Berlin is far from boring. There are things to look and interesting people to watch every direction you look. Case in point: the building above had the the most interesting privacy shades.
Like most European countries, Sunday means all stores are closed. Lucky for us, Berlin is home to a number of outdoor markets and we gladly spent our Sunday exploring Mauerpark, a fleamarket with an incredible range of products. When we grew tired of searching for treasures, we were happy to find stands selling glühwein, and joined locals taking in live music.
Well, thats embarrassing. A five day excursion, and a "heavy bag." Whoops. Thank you so much to W for making the long trip down to visit and for organizing such an amazing trip! I am so grateful.
As an added bonus, my Ugg boots arrived from Canada with perfect timing. Stockholm just became a snow covered winter wonderland - time to go explore the forest!