I woke up to the terrible and heart-breaking news that the legend, Leonard Cohen, had passed away. I was raised on his music. He was the aged Jewish grandfather I never had. And he will be missed. I played his song, First We Take Manhatten on repeat as I walked to meet my friends, Sam and Meghan, for the bus to Bristol… on our way to “take Berlin.”
The flight was easy. Two episodes of This American Life and a chocolate bar later, we landed in Germany. On the tram into the city, I met an older couple from Winnipeg. I realized that these were the very first Canadians I had met since arriving in Europe two months ago (outside of my friends and family from home). When they compared Fernsehturm building to the CN Tower, my heart did a little bit of a flutter. Where are all the Canadians hiding?
We finally arrived at our home for the weekend, the Circus Hostel in the heart of the city. This was only my second hostel experience, and I was absolutely thrilled with it! Very Ace Hotel. There was even a microbrewery and a David Hasselhoff shrine in the basement. I was in a room with seven strangers, but I didn’t mind. In fact, I liked it. I met people from around the world and although I was later told there may have been some fornication in the room while I was sleeping, I didn’t mind- I was sleeping! To each their own…?
We began Saturday with a beautiful breakfast at a Russian-Communist café across from the hostel. It included dumplings, salmon, fruits, meats, cheeses, bread, eggs, chutney, and some homemade jams. Unfortunately, I was feeling slightly under the weather and couldn’t stuff my face to the extent that I would have liked to, but the communists can sure cook up a mean breakfast.
We walked to the impressive Museum für Naturkunde (Natural History Museum). Living in the UK, I’ve become spoilt with free museums, but this was definitely worth the €5 entry fee. I’ve been turned off natural history museums since walking through a room of decapitated owls in London, but Berlin’s is phenomenal. Instead of rooms with case after case of vintage taxidermy, there is a large focus on interactive exhibits. In the dinosaur room, visitors can “look” through a viewing station where a program adds the layers to the dinosaur bones, giving us a new way to see the past. In the astronomy room, an area was set up for visitors to lay back and watch a video about the formation of the universe on a descending screen. As someone very interested in how the public interacts with museums, I loved these ideas! And as someone who was at one point very obsessed with the Rosetta Mission, I was unbelievably happy to find out that they had an entire exhibit on the ESA’s mission to 67P! Now say Churyumov–Gerasimenko 10 times very fast.
After the museum, we went to the big sites. Saw the Reichstag Building. It was impressive and grand- but I’m less into “site-seeing” per-say and would have liked to take more time to actually explore it. Oh well. Too much to see, too little time. We walked through a park and did some people watching; a clown waited for people to put money in his hat to blow bubbles; a couple in midst of a large fight; and a lonely bear waiting for a photo-op. I was the weird one taking pictures of these people.
This city is so full of life. A hub for music, art, and wonder; one can sometimes, if only momentarily, forget what incredibly tragic history it holds. As we turned the corner and came to the Memorial for the Murdered Jews of Europe, we were quickly reminded of this. The memorial aims to “produce an uneasy, confusing atmosphere, and the whole sculpture aims to represent a supposedly ordered system that has lost touch with human reason.” And that it does. Unlabelled blocks of cement stelae are confusing and eerie. They also serve as a tragic reminder of what can happen when an evil man governs the world- something on the forefront of all of our minds.
We made our way out of the maze and went to Check Point Charlie. A bit unsettling, the historic checkpoint is now a set for a photo-op for tourists to take photos with “armed” USA soldiers and pay to have their passport stamped. I’m not so sure how I feel about this. We also had currywurst. I’m not so sure how I felt about that either.
On our way to our next destination, we ran across group of young women holding
“pussy grabs back” signs- so we had to inquire. They were on their way to an anti-Trump protest at Brandenburg Gate and invited us to follow. Was it the best-organized rally I’ve ever been to? No. Was it close? No. But it was inspiring and amazing to be out again, yelling for justice and meeting some very fun people. Protesting at Brandenburg Gate at sunset. Something I never imagined I would do, and something I will never forget.
On Sunday, we started the day with the best brunch buffet of all time. It was affordable, abundant, gourmet, and best of all… Yuri Gargarin Cosmonaut Themed! (Hint hint, to please Sophie all you need is good food and outer space!)
We made our way to the East Side Gallery- a mile long strip of the Berlin Wall. Most of the wall’s art is protected, though there are some areas where new “art” is allowed.
Still full and unable to move from our beautifully giant brunch, we decided it was time for some exercise. We took the train (Berlin has an amazing public transit system by the way) to an outdoor skating rink. I was wearing very fuzzy socks and my skates were about three sizes too small but it was fun and I didn’t fall and bring shame to Canada so it was a win for me!
Because my class schedule is condensed to mid-week, Meghan and I were able to stay until Monday, but we had to say goodbye to Sam and parted after prowling the very-empty-Alexanderplatz, because, as we later found out, stores are prohibited from opening on a Sunday.
Later that night, Meghan and I met up with my activism-idol, Sadie! It was so nice to see someone from home, especially when it was such a surprise. We had some delicious Persian food and caught up. She is doing a very interesting undergraduate program with Minerva Schools where she takes each semester in a different country. If I thought adjusting to UK life was hard… Well, I’ve got no idea.
On our last day in the German capital, Meghan and I found one more great café for breakfast. Unfortunately, they did not take card and I was out of euros, so I found myself frantically running around looking for an ATM that took VISA (because none of them did!) until I returned probably a half an hour and a half a bucket of sweat later, notes in hand, begging for forgiveness. We wandered around and found… get this… a cuckoo clock store! It very much fulfilled my Bavarian fantasies. I’m in Germany! With cuckoo clocks! Yes!!!!!!!
How could this day get any better? Ask any foodie-sci-fi-fan-girl-archaeology-museum-obsessed-weirdo like myself, and you will hear one answer; two words: 1. Museum, 2. Island.
That’s right. Berlin has conveniently put many of their museums on a little island and guess who bought a day pass? Me. And oh my goddess incarnate! How very very much worth the €9 it was! The Neues Museum may be one of my favourite museums in the world. It houses some very special artifacts from my favourite period in Egypt, the Amarna period, including the famous Bust of Nefrititi. If you have a minute, please read up on Akhenaten (here). He was just the craziest dude and I love him so much. Like, so much…
I was also very intrigued by the management of the museum. Every single display case had monitors for temperature and rH, and they were all at a very good level. The Berliners sure know how to care for their artifacts… it’s so nice to see.
Meghan left to go bouldering and I went on to explore the Pergamon Museum. This museum was focused on the Near East, and housed part of the real Ishtar Gate! Just the thought of walking through the same frame as Nebuchadnezzar gave me shivers of delight and awe. It was a truly wonderful day at the museums. It really solidified my decision to have a career in museums. I’ve got the fire burning on full now.
I slowly walked back to our hostel and did some window shopping. For the very first time in my life, I didn’t buy anything during a vacation. Although I found a lot of very nice quirky jewelry and fun clothes (and cuckoo clocks), I was completely content just spending money on experiences and delicious food. This might seem normal for some of you reading this, but understand that I am a compulsive shopper and that this is quite new for me. Sophie Kinsella based Shopaholic off of me I swear. I’m proud of myself really.
I did however, buy one last macchiato at a cafe that reminded me a lot of Matchsticks. Fun fact: in Berlin, a macchiato is a latté. I read my book and waited to meet Meghan. We grabbed a quick dinner and headed for the airport. On the way, our train shut down and we had no idea what was going on because the messages were in German, but we finally made it. We took the plane to Bristol, and then bussed to Cardiff. I got home at 1:35am, went to bed, got up, and went to class. I have a few more crazy weekend trips ahead of me and I’m very lucky. But now it’s time to buckle down and get some school work done… that is technically why I’m here right?