Ok, so the first weekend after arriving in the Czech Republic, we all decided to go to Berlin. It came about as haphazardly and shoddily as you can possibly imagine. Basically the night before, we were all like, LET'S GO TO BERLIN! And the next day (Friday), Racine went to one place (train station) and I went to another (bus station) and we scrambled for the easiest, fastest way out. After an extended conversation with the ticket agent comparing prices, we secured a way there and back in time for Monday classes - then ran home to tell our housemates we bought bus tickets for them, assemble them, get them to pack, and - Oh yeah, sleeping! Beds! We need that! - find decent lodgings.
Thus began our mini-trip...
Reader, if you're ever pressed for a cheap night's stay that is clean and comfortable and more like a hotel than a hostel, we recommend Meninger. Actually I don't know whether it's actually a hotel or a hostel, but it doesn't matter. I slept like a wee babe in what was kind of like a prison cell designed by Ikea, but my god, was it cheap. The Meninger in Vienna (more on that in another post) was much more like a hotel, with huge rooms, so your mileage varies, but it was modern and clean and comfortable.
The bus ride there was stunning. We watched the sun set over little towns along the highway in the Czech Republic and they were bathed in this happy glow I can't even describe. This random castle came into our view and I barely managed to snap a photo before we passed it completely:
The ride was nice in some respects (we all sat with friends, and experienced one amazingly desolate checkpoint where the border agents were eye-flirting with all of us, or just intrigued by our passports) and vaguely disgusting at other points (I didn't know that the huge chunk of wall in the middle of the bus was the bathroom...until I realized I was sitting next to it), but we made it to Berlin very late at night. We had to wrangle a cab that would be able to fit all of us. The bus station was next to an Ibis hotel so we managed it alright, but while we were waiting, a hugemongous wasted German man walked in to the lobby, saw us, and exclaimed "OHHH, WOOWW!" and then "HELLO". In retrospect this is hilarious to me, but while it was happening we all had mixed reactions that either went "What do you even say to that?" or "Too f***ing tired to even respond right now."
NO PICTURES! KEEP WALKING!
We got to the hotel and the next morning had to figure out More Things - like where the hell is Brandenburger Tor! What is a Brandenburger Tor? Why are there so many bridges near our hotel? Can there be Starbucks or coffee? (Yes.) We found it alright. We were supposed to go on a free walking tour by 9 am, and we left at 8:51 to me basically being The Mom and The Navigator tromping through Tiergarten and passing by the Bundestag yelling classic phrases of encouragement such as "No pictures!" "We're late!" "THEY WILL WALK AWAY WITHOUT US". I got lucky in that Google maps overestimated how long it would take to walk to the meeting point by ten minutes, and we basically creeped up to the tour around 9:04 as the guide was explaining all of German history up until the 20th century.
Reader, it rained a ferocious amount. Relentlessly. But we were chipper and giggly and (yes) took copious photos. Our tour guide, or as we fondly referred to him, our Berlin Boyfriend, was a great sport. He responded to our bizarre jokes and flirtations with aplomb and we kept progressively saying sillier things just to see what he would do.
"I bet you'll never forget this tour," he said, barely audible over the sound of rain.
"Oh yeah, I'll never forget the day I was wet for Berlin."
"Oh yeah, I'll never forget the day I was wet for Berlin."
We saw a lot of gorgeous things on the walking tour. I'm glad it rained. I love that I'll be able to remember the city with the heightened sensations that only rain provides. The color saturation, the smell, the slick shine to the concrete, the blissful satisfaction of knowing that the expensive water-resistant sneakers I bought were worth the money. You know. That stuff.
The monuments in Berlin are so poignant and visually captivating. Berlin will simultaneously haunt you and make you feel backwards and forwards in time. What has survived, what has remained, glows with a special aura. The city knows things; that it has history and classical elegance on its side, and that what has been built and renovated shines with fierce modernity in the face of challenge. I would certainly be proud to be part of a city like Berlin, but I don't know if it's the city for me. I felt like it was also a little bit...wide, perhaps. Like I should pull an Inception and squish it together a little more so it's more conveniently compacted. The metro system was aces, though, so I don't know.
Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe
I see Berlin as a somewhat lonely city. I don't mean loneliness quite in the sense of misery and isolation, though there are echoes of that of course, but that it is a city that easily forces you to take a path alone in order to better find yourself. So many things in life require solitude and reflection, things that Berlin can provide in droves. But hey, it was a rainy day.
Our tour, as stated, was hilarious and wet and you can see more silly pictures of me and my friends on Facebook if you want. I loved seeing the University and its Library (insert appropriate envy here). The tour ended near the museum strip, where we grilled our tour guide in order to find the best possible place to go for lunch (and possibly if he could please join us? I don't remember). We definitely then asked him where he was going that night, though. We aren't really what you could call subtle. But he told us! He circled it on the map! So we thanked him, and I thought I was very casually slipping him a tip for his troubles (aka our unending harassment , but apparently slipping money in someone's hand and closing it can be really flirtatious? Because he looked at me and said "That was very sensual." Dude, I'm soaking wet and grody and probably look worse than the green oxidized roofs of the Berlin Cathedral. I don't need to flirt with you. But I just smiled, because he was cute about it. ~*Berlin Boyfriend We Will Never 4Get U~*
The restaurant/pub he recommended was aces, people. Aces. I do apologize if you're a vegetarian and this image isn't up your alley, but I had the best steak of my adult life. Maybe it was just the best steak of my adult life because I had literally been walking for miles and even when we got to the pub I couldn't even sit down for 5 minutes because Shahdi suddenly asked "Hey, where's Racine?" (the question NOBODY on a group vacation wants to hear, let me tell you) and I then had to run up and down the street like some mad idiot looking for her. We were all walking to the restaurant at a different pace, and she had been walking ahead in order to find a bathroom and apparently walked farther than the restaurant, went through some ungodly time loop designed by Satan, and walked backwards down the other side of the street for 30 minutes. Even though I couldn't find her, I'm about as resourceful as Satan is evil, and I realized that the pub was situated next to another branch of Meninger hotel. So I showed the girls working behind the counter a photo of Racine, told them we were at the restaurant next door, and then went back to my searching. When I walked back to the pub after the upteenth walk up the street, there Racine was! After going into the Meninger to seek help like I thought! So, like I said, I earned my right to feast on this insane peppered thing, and the apfelstrudel that came after.
That afternoon we went to Alexanderplatz and went to some of its major stores, then basically just walked around the streets getting a taste for what Berlin was like when it wasn't raining insidiously. Shahdi and Chandana ran into Abe, another boy in our program, which is pretty ridiculous considering you're already taking a mini vacation in a foreign country after coming from another foreign country and don't expect anything like that to happen. But that's the magic of shopping centers. You see people you know there and it doesn't even matter where the hell you are. I bought some things from H&M (because I had been suffering from wardrobe malfunction after a very inappropriate button fell off my shirt -- and you can imagine how much better it was that I was running around the street looking for Racine this way, eh?). We got back to the hotel and relaxed for a while, then decided to head back out. Our biggest concern was whether or not we'd actually stalk the tour guide. Ha. I actually looked the place up where he said he'd be, and it seemed insanely ~hardcore~ in the sense that it probably wouldn't be busiest until 3 am, and we weren't really having that. So we didn't go -- or I should say, most of us didn't go. Racine actually made it out there, but didn't feel like waiting on the line. Where we did go was a place called Die Berliner Republik - equal parts friendly, kitschy, and raucous. There is a vast mural on the ceiling of historical and pop culture figures, they have a beer menu with a price list that changes based on popularity at any given moment, and throughout the night we heard the sound of glass breaking more times than I can remember. The only thing I remember about the food is that Yuan-Hui ordered a giant pig knuckle that was bigger than her entire head.
Yep. Also RIP my purple hair.
The next day our group split in two; most people wanted to go to a concentration camp outside the city, but I wasn't really keen on that. What I was keen on was going to the amazing looking museum we had passed the day before, the Pergamon. It basically made all my ancient-artifact-loving dreams come true. I'm not gonna post all my pictures of weird artifacts here, because I can just look at them myself when I want to. But the Pergamon gets so many things right - especially that feeling of grandeur that history gives you where you feel as though you are a part of something magnificent and greater than time. I mean, the Ishtar Gate! That thing is just too bloody much! I can't describe what standing there feels like, besides humbling. And the statues and Islamic art section were top too - though I'd say the Met's new Islamic Art wing can definitely take on the Pergamon now that it is complete. I digress. We took pictures, then hightailed it back to the stop by our hotel. To do so, we had to figure out the public transport system, which was a doozy because even after we figured out how to get where we were going, we had to validate our tickets (which the girls didn't want to do since the train was leaving that very second, but I kept yelling at them to do because what if, and I'm pretty sure the train conductor heard my yelling because he/she waited until we got on the train to close the doors! Thank you mysterious omniscient train operator!). We also had to figure out how in the world we were going to find the rest of our group and get all our stuff out of the hotel and take the train back to where the bus depot was in time to catch the bus out at just the right time. But of COURSE, because these things, they happen to me, as soon as we stepped off the metro line at our station, we watched as all the rest of our party stepped off too! We were reunited effortlessly. Which is not to say we weren't in fact stressed out since we still had to schlep our things to the bus station via metro again in order to make the bus in time. We barely made it, but we did. We zoned out completely on the bus, I wrote the previous entry you read if you read this thing at all, and I was treated to a rather glorious spectacle of scenery to end my trip to Berlin:
Current Mood: accomplished