“Many small people, who in many small places do many small things, can alter the face of the world.” - East Side Gallery. Berlin, Germany with Trainwreck Written By: Trey
We are free for a long weekend! Cash is at home with Katheryn and we are heading back on a plane from Berlin reminiscing on a great weekend with our longtime friends from the United States, Rick and Troy aka Trainwreck. They live in Germany in a small town near Berlin and frequently visit the city of Berlin because of the creative, colorful, and uncharacteristic infusion of cultures that doesn't exist as much in the rest of Germany. It is said to be different because the city was completely rebuilt later in time after being destroyed that gave it the opportunity to be a different German city.
When we landed we found our way through the small airport and to Rick and Troy who were waiting for us to take us to our apartment we were sharing for the weekend. We took the bus to the metro and marveled and laughed at Rick and Troy showing off their German. We were really glad they were with us because without them we would be lost and not able to communicate. Our Spanish doesn't work in Germany.
Once we got settled in and had our Czech aperitif, The Prague Smash Becherovka, we were off to check out the local neighborhood Peruvian restaurant. Rick is from Columbia so is fluent in Spanish and we got to show off our language as well talking and ordering with the camanera in our best Spanish. Rick got us a delicious Peruvian drink, Pisco Sour, and we got our table filled with a variety of Peruvian foods. After getting our fill we went back to the apartment to get ready for bed because Berlin awaits and we needed our rest to be ready for the adventure!
We took the later showers so we could get a few more minutes of shuteye. Trainwreck were up and dressed when I made the way to the shower, the morning starting with, "Guten Morgen, Guten Morgen to you", a song they were singing and dancing to as I walked through the hallway. Guten Morgen to you too, a smile on my face, and so our first day in Berlin began. We started off at a local bakery to get our coffee and pastries. Spain knows their bread and Germany knows it's pastries. Anything with apple in it, sweet, colorful, different shapes and sizes for whatever your sweet tooth desires. We all get a coffee to get the caffeine buzz started and off we go to the city.
We take the metro into the city to see the Berlin Wall, bundled up in our warmest of clothes because it is cold as you would expect it to be in Germany in January. When we arrive at the wall we instantly begin to wonder what life was like when this was a working divide of a city. How did the people feel about the divide? How persecution and the splitting of a city can destroy morale and make the cold of winter seem even more depressing? How many families were split? How much bribery and corruption occurred to allow exit for some? What happened if you got caught crossing without proper authority? You had to get your passport stamped like six times every time you wanted to go between the wall. It is long and tall and they have kept sections of it intact. The creatives of Berlin are allowed to use them as a canvas to create their own scenes of inspiration, hope, history, persecution, globalization, freedom, love, and many other themes. While we are on the subject of such outward symbolism of the dictatorship, persecution, and divide of the people of a country Berlin stands as a symbol of divide. It was constructed by the German Democratic Republic of East Germany. In 1961 the Berlin Wall cutoff East and West Germany. The wall was
built to protect the socialist state from the West German Facists, but in reality was built to keep the East Germans in. Before the construction of the wall in 1961 it is reported that as many as 3.5 million East Germans fled out to West Germany and to other Western European countries. During the 29 years of the wall's enforcement as many as 5,000 East Germans attempted to escape and 5,000 or more were killed. In 1990 the socialist state was dissolved and the German reunification occurred and most of the wall was taken down. We walked the wall, snapped pictures, and played street games but this wasn't your average tourist attraction. Even with the wall decorated it still felt chilling to be around a place where so much persecution and death occured within this century. At the end of our wall walk Rick pointed out a hot wine stand and so we were introduced to Glühwein (German mulled wine). This became a great pick me up to warm us and keep us going through the trip through Berlin!
We then moved to an attraction more fun and much older.
Lunch time and my favorite European lunch, the Doner Kebab! I talk about this sandwich all the time because while on my exchange in Austria for five months after college I lived off them. Since we have been in Spain we have had failed attempts of having a good one. Here in Germany though they know how to make Kebabs and my faith has been restored that are in fact as good as I remember. Chelsea has apologized in the past if you were present for one of my reminisces about the Kebab but she does now admit it is a really good sandwich!
With full bellies what best to do but shopping with Trainwreck! They knew a really cool vintage store where we found many amazing pieces. We had Chelsea a dressing room full of options but in the end only her vintage hat fit just right! With shopping out of our system it was time for a drink break before heading on so we found a trendy coffee shop and warmed up with a nice cup of hot tea while Trainwreck went for some champagne. After warming up and taking in the ambiance of a trendy Berlin coffee shop we were off to the monument arc to take some photos like tourists do.
We got to the monument arc while the sun was starting to set and took some good photographs and had some laughs with all the other tourists. We enjoyed the moment, warm happy and taking in the wonderful winter sunset colors. We then walked through a white blanketed park to get to our next tourist destination, The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, and as the sun set so did our excitement quickly change to quite contemplation.
The Holocaust Memorial is a sleek and clean arrangement of concrete slabs arranged in a grid pattern in a sloping field. The slabs vary in height covering an attached underground "Place of Information" that holds the names of approximately 3 million Jewish Holocaust victims. We walked through the memorial thinking about the genocide of millions of European Jews and how it must feel to have been a European Jew in that time. Living in an established and well off community to then not be allowed to work, be stripped of the rights to purchase food, have curfews enforced, and have limitations on rations of food available to you and your family. Then to have possessions removed from you for the war effort, not be allowed to go certain places in the city. Then made to wear a yellow star to show your religion, have communities setup that you were not allowed to exit, then transported to concentration camps like Dachau and Auschwitz where you and your family were killed after being forced to live in horrible conditions. Still some were instead deported where they were scattered through other European countries and typically lived in ghettos or forced labor camps until they died or were murdered. The memorial is a clean and large. It is built to not upset a rebuilt city but it is big enough so that the citizens and tourists of Berlin will never forget what happened between 1939-1945. The youth of Berlin are very vocal about what happened as they do not want this to ever happen again. It is good that these acts not be pushed out of memory because to do so would only allow something similar to happen again.
Whew, after a day of sightseeing and ups and downs like a roller coaster it was time to head home. We had quite a walk to the metro so split up the trip to warm up in a neat bike shop where we sat and enjoyed a nice beer before getting on to the apartment. Talking about the day and catching up in this cool bike shop was a perfect way to wind down before getting home. Once home we rested for an hour and then made our way to the local German Restaurant to get our first taste of authentic German food in Berlin. The food was amazing. I had steak and gravy dish with potatoes, sauerkraut and cabbage that was hearty, filling, and tasty. Washing it down with a German beer recommended by Rick and great conversation with Trainwreck and Chelsea the dinner was a great ending to our first full day in Berlin. We were tired and in need of good rest, after all Berlin still had more to show us as we passed through.
If you haven't been able to tell yet Trainwreck enjoys food as much as we do so we got up and we're ready for another German breakfast at a local pastry shop. I got my fill of bread and a sandwich, another coffee that I must say isn't as good as Spain's cafe but had the caffeine necessary to get us going for our final full day exploring Berlin. With our German friends leading the way Day 2 begins!
We go to the Pergamonmuseum, located in the museum district of Berlin. With a light snowfall and the cold temperatures the area looked and felt European. As we entered the museum I still was not aware of what we were about to experience. After getting our coats checked we immediately walked into a huge room containing The Ishtar Gate, the eighth gate to the inner city of Babylon, constructed in about 575 BC. This was by far the oldest thing I have ever seen face to face. Even though it is a reconstruction rebuilt and painted on original brick it is extraordinary. Babylon being a major city of ancient Mesopotamia in the fertile plain between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers it is said that Babylon was the largest city in the world between 1170-1670 BC and again between 612-320 BC and was the first city to reach a population of over 200,000 people. The remains of the city are 85km south of Baghdad and I am really glad we didn't have to travel there to get a taste of Babylonian culture. Instead we were able to take in the gate and streets leading to it inside The Pergamonmuseum. This was only the first gem we were to experience. On the opposite wall of The Ishtar Gate was an example of Roman Architecure, the large marble monument The Market Gate of Miletus built around 100 AD. It was destroyed in an earthquake but has been reassembled at the Pergamonmuseum. Those were two of the highlights based on the vast size of the monuments and them being reconstructed and housed inside of a museum. It felt like we were stepping back in time and this duo was an excellent way to begin. But there was much more to see as there are 500,000 artifacts held in this museum and three distinct sections. According to the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, "The Antikensammlung is one of the most important collections of Greek and Roman art worldwide. The Vorderasiatisches Museum presents artifacts from ancient Near Eastern cultural history from over 6 millennia, primarily from Mesopotamia, Syria and Anatolia. The Museum Fur Islamische Kunst is one of the world's largest and most significant museums of it's type. It unities masterpieces of Muslim societies from the 7th to the 19th century."
I had a blast taking all of these amazing collections in and took some time to take some great pictures with our Sony Rx10. We have some of the pictures up on the blog but if you are interested in going deeper we have a large catalogue of pictures from this museum I would be glad to share.
After all that intellectual, historic, architectural, geographic, and cultural artifact stimulation we were hungry! Time to find some authentic German near the museum district and that wasn't hard to do. We strolled down a strip until we found the oldest and coolest looking place we could find. The chalkboard menu having our specialty hot wine drink of the trip enticing us in didn't hurt! We got all our warm weather gear off again and settled in for another German culinary feast. The consensus between everyone was to try the Currywurst which should not be missed. I was a bit on the adventurous side and wanted to try the pig knuckle. Wow, a pig's knuckle is huge! It took up almost the entire plate with sauerkraut, red cabbage, potatoes, and mustard taking up the rest of the plate. I found my inner hollow leg and filled it up. Man what a feast! With another round of hot wine to finish off the meal a nap would have been welcomed but with a full tank we needed to keep moving as there was still more to see.
One more sight on our list was Checkpoint Charlie. We arrived and it was cold and the place was crowded. Of all the places we had been so far this was the most touristy of all the places. We took our picture at the checkpoint and hopped on the next metro. Enough tourist time, if we are to properly go out to Gay Clubs for the night we need our rest. So home for a nap before going to experience the rainbow Berlin has to offer.
We get off the metro in the Gay district and have us a nice Thai meal. It is warm cozy and the food is excellent. We all get something different and share and also have John, one of Rick's coworkers, joining us for this experience. We enjoy our meal and then get moving. The first club we go to is too packed so we keep walking. There are leather shops everywhere and I wonder how in the world to get some of these outfits on and off and then decide just not to worry about it. There are antique stores that Chelsea drools over, restaurants galore, bath houses Troy tells me never to go into, and lots of fun bars. We settle on one that is conservative and quite. We post up and order some rounds. I look behind me and the latest edition of Boner magazine is sitting behind me. Taking it all in I see Troy and Rick both get propositioned for sex, I have one man absolutely amazed by Chelsea's beauty, and I was awkwardly hit on in German, so I just continuously shook my head no. Once the Rent Boys, young male prostitutes, came in and were shooting pool Trainwreck said it was time for us to move on. So move on we did and we had no problem finding another bar that was right up Chelsea's alley. A 1920's prohibition themed bar where we enjoyed real martinis and let more hours slip by with great conversation, laughs and friendship before calling it a night. The temperature had dropped even more and it was snowing so we hailed a taxi and got home to our warm apartment quickly. Another fantastic evening and we were off to bed. Our last leg of this adventure required Chelsea and I to navigate the metro and bus systems to get to the airport by 6 AM for our flight.
After a quick power nap we are up again to pack and put ourselves together to make it to the airport. We make it with no problem because we have learned to travel pretty well now. Four hours on horrible plane seats that make your whole body hurt being forced to listen to sales pitches for perfume, furniture, and liquor and we finally get back to Madrid at 10:30 in the morning. So we metro it back to the apartment to catch up with the Cashman and have some time with Kathryn who was nice enough to look after Cash and our apartment for us. We were so pleasantly surprised to have a chicken and a vegetable curry waiting for us on the stove. Exactly what we needed to nourish ourselves before we hibernated, or so that was the plan. A job opportunity that started the following day awaited me. I showered and put on my suit and found the bus route to my new employer for an interview. What a difference a day makes, now I have more work that I want and it couldn't have come at a better time after enjoying the Holiday break with friends and family.
Another chapter begins as another ends. I begin my work as an English academy professor. Watch out Spain, this southern guy is about to teach you some more English!