And so we have made it. My final weekend trip of study abroad. It didn’t feel so final while I was there, probably because I was so eager to go home in two weeks, and I was missing Thanksgiving to be in Germany, but looking back on it, there was something final about it.
So Thanksgiving morning we woke up early and walked outside to go to our fat tire bike tour. Now we knew Germany would be cold, but we were in for a surprise that day. It was in the thirties all day, and if you’re from Texas that’s a little miserable, especially if you’re going on a bike tour. But we were determined to enjoy it, so we headed over to our meeting place and hopped on our bikes, following our British tour guide to our first stop: the Prussian Academy of Sciences. What is this you ask? Just a little school where some famous people studied. Among them are the Brothers Grimm and, more recently, Albert Einstein. It has a very proud heritage, but also a very dark one as a mere few years after Einstein left Germany, his books were burned in the square in front of the school along with 20,000 other books. Ironically, it was Germany’s refusal to use Einstein’s theorems for creating atomic bombs that probably played a key role in them losing the war.
After experiencing this tragedy we rode our bikes over to some apartments that were built during the East Berlin’s Communist era. Why did we stop there? It wasn’t for the apartments. Right underneath the Communist apartments was the bunker Hitler spent his final days in. You can’t visit it, when the apartments were being built the Communists tried very hard to destroy it and it’s a safety hazard (though not completely destroyed – Hitler was very careful), but the whole place kind of makes an ironic statement. Hitler hated Communists, and just a little beyond where we were standing there was a gay sauna. All that was missing was a synagogue.
Speaking of synagogues, our next stop on the tour was the Jewish Holocaust Memorial. It looks mostly like a mass of big grey blocks, but when asked what they meant, the artist said, “Whatever you want it to.” People have speculated that it looks like a tombstones or a graveyard. I don’t know, but I do know that while I was walking through it I felt very solemn
Coming out of the World War II era, our next stop was the Berlin wall. It’s mostly gone now of course, but we stopped at the third longest remaining part. Our guide even pointed out to us the brick line that runs along all of Berlin where the wall formerly stood. While we were there we got to see Checkpoint Charlie, the most famous crossing point between former East and West Berlin before all communication was shut down. Then, after biking a short way, we got to see a Watchtower that was set up in the no man’s land between East and West Berlin. The tower doesn’t look like much, but if you managed to get past one side of the wall there was basically nothing between it and the other side, so the tiny, barely two-story tower could see a pretty long way and would fire one warning shot, maybe, before killing you. Oh, and if a guard did get to shoot someone, they were given a huge promotion and lots of money. So even though no one probably wanted to shoot people, they didn’t have a lot of reason not to.
Our last stop was the German government buildings. They are beautiful to look at, and very open to avoid problems of past, um, failures.
After seeing all of this, we biked back over to the bike tour office, cutting through a beautiful park and past the Berlin Zoo, feeling the cold night wind on our faces (the sun had set at about 3:30). Finishing the bike tour we decided to end out the day by going to one of the museums we’d heard about on the tour, and then shopping at a Christmas Market. The former idea was quickly abandoned, however as soon as we laid eyes on a Christmas Market and saw all the merchandise, smelled all the food, and felt the Christmas love. The museums could wait until tomorrow.
And wait they did while we shopped, slept in, shopped at another Christmas market (we couldn’t stay away!) and the remembered we wanted to go to the Ritter Sport Chocolate store! If you haven’t heard of Ritter Sport, I’m sorry. It is literally the best chocolate in the world, and you can even MAKE YOUR OWN CHOCOLATE. Whaaaaaaaaaattttttttt??? Yeah, so I did that and drank some coffee while we waited for them to be made, and then headed over to our first museum, The Jewish Holocaust Memorial Museum.
If you’re picturing a very sad, solemn, and moving museum, you’re close to the mixture of emotions we felt. The museum starts with a timeline, then the biography of a few randomly selected Jews who went through the Holocaust. After that, you move into a room full of journal entries, and letters sent from various Concentration Camps. I read about 4 before it was too overwhelming and I had to leave the room. Our group made our way through the rest of the museum, then met back at the front to go to another WWII museum. This one was behind the portion of the Berlin Wall we had visited the day before. The had discovered rooms under it the SS (Hitler’s army/police force) had used for prisons and torture spaces, so that museum was dedicated to how the SS had come to power and the abuse they had done whilst ruling the government.
After feeling thoroughly depressed for the day, we headed back through Berlin’s most popular Christmas Market to cheer us up. It costs a Euro to walk through and was overly crowded, but it had some neat performances and a HUGE Christmas tree.
Overall, Berlin was great. I went with some of the greatest people ever, and got to experience the Christmas Spirit in another country. I wasn’t home for Thanksgiving, but I guess if anywhere in the world could be a close second to that happiness, Berlin sure comes close 🙂