Friday, 23 January 2015

Favourite Cities: Berlin Edition

Back in December, just before Christmas, I was given the opportunity to visit Berlin with my college on a history trip, and obviously jumped at the chance. It was billed as a trip to allow us to get to grips with more German history and help us with our A2 coursework, though of course we all saw it as a chance to eat tonnes of bratwurst, drink far too much beer, visit some amazing markets, and maybe do a little bit of history!

The Reichstag - where the German parliament meets. We got to tour here on the last evening and it was incredible.

I had the most incredible time in Berlin. It wasn't as cold as I thought it would be, which was nice in some ways but I was somewhat hoping for snow! Alas, we got a small bit on the last day, but that was our lot. Lack of snow aside, we managed to cram so much into the four days that we were there for that we were all utterly exhausted when we got home on the Sunday. I love trips like this, exploring new cities and meeting new people. All the people on the trip attended college and did history, but I knew only two of them. But by the end of the trip I'd made the most magical group of amazing friends and I love love love them all. Our room slept eight, and we all bonded over the lack of boundaries! I was my usual majestic clumsy self, and frequently left the shower door open for people to walk in on me! Smooth as f, I know.

Moving swiftly past the embarrassing moments, the city itself is amazing. We stayed in the east, and visited so many places steeped in history, but I wish we'd stayed longer, there was still so much more to see.

The Brandenburg Gate

Highlights of the trip included:

Walking tour around the city: on our very first day, running on about 30 hours of no sleep after working early the day before and travelling through the night, the leader of the trip lovingly decided to take us on a tour of some of the sights, and of course we got lost! It was a great introduction to the city though, and we saw the Reichstag, the Brandenburg Gate, Angela Merkel's offices, the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, the place where Hitler's bunker was and where he shot himself in the last days of the Third Reich, the book burning memorial in Bebelplatz, several Christmas markets, Potsdamer Platz and then we came back to the hostel and all I saw for a few hours was the inside of my eyelids!

Alexanderplatz: this was the place where we came to go to the big Christmas markets! I am a massive lover of a good market, and Christmas markets are my all time fave because you can wrap up against the cold and it's all magical and festive and ooo I just love them. And of course, no one does a Christmas market like the Germans do! We ate plenty of bratwurst (sausage in a roll), drank strong, spicy mulled wine, ooohed and aaaahed over all the pretty things, ate crepes and waffles and other delightful things, and just had a really splendid time. Much recommended.

Museums: Yes, I know museums are meant to be dreadfully boring and dull, but these museums broke the stereotype! We visited two in one day. The first was the DDR museum, or the museum that showcased what life was like post 1949 in Soviet controlled East Germany, which was actually much cooler than it sounds because it was an interactive museum, with plenty of things to touch and fiddle with and loads of original artifacts to look at and play around with. Did a thoroughly good job of keeping a bunch of rowdy teenagers occupied. In the afternoon we visited the German Resistance museum, which was very interesting. There wasn't much of a German resistance, but learning about the little that there was was very interesting. For example, I didn't know how close two people came to assassinating Hitler before he came into power, but they very nearly succeeded.

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

Sachsenhausen concentration camp: I believe Sachsenhausen was one of the first concentration camps set up, just outside Berlin in Oranienburg, primarily used for political prisoners. There's not much I can say about this, other than it was one of the most overwhelming, sobering experiences of my life, and reduced nearly everyone in the group to tears by the time we'd reached the foundations of the gas chambers and cremation ovens. It's one thing to learn about the holocaust, and another to go to a place where the horrors took place. There's a feeling in the place that will never leave, and it should never be forgotten. 

Berlin Wall Memorial: most people know about the Berlin wall, I imagine, and it was pretty amazing to see the parts that are still standing, marking the border between East and West. On one part there is some incredible artwork that we saw from the bus, and I didn't get a picture of.

1936 Olympic Stadium: I've never been to any Olympic stadium, so that in itself was pretty cool, and seeing the names of the victors engraved on the stone of the stadium was somewhat weird, but really amazing. The whole place has a rather somber feel about it, and it's hard to imagine what it would have been like there during the games, at the beginning of Hitler's reign of terror. We also got snow whilst we were here, and like the children we are immediately started to play in it! Great fun.

The site of Hitlers bunker. There's nothing there save a sign to tell you what it is, it's just mud, grass, and a small car park

Hofbrauhaus: in other words, a German beer hall! No trip to Germany would be complete without a trip to a beer hall, and we had such an amazing evening here! The service was impeccable, and I had the most amazing potato soup. The beer was cracking, the oompah band were amazing, and the whole group was up dancing, much to the entertainment of the Germans. If you're ever in Germany I highly recommend going to a beer hall, it's a completely different experience to one of our beloved English pubs but totally, totally amazing.

Reichstag: on our last evening, we went to a pizza restaurant (good old fashioned German cuisine?) and then on to a tour of the Reichstag. This is where the German parliament still meets, and we were led around the buildings to see some of the offices, the great hall where the parties meet, the northern corridor where some of the Red Army graffiti has been preserved from 1945 and then on to the massive dome at the top, which gave us the most incredible views across the city, and I feel in love.

Quiz night!: Of course, no trip would be complete without the good old fashioned pub quiz. There were 39 of us on the trip, and we all met in the rooftop bar of the hostel, split into teams, grabbed yet more beer and enjoyed several rounds of a quiz. Quiz's are made at least 500 times better with the addition of beer, and thanks to the varied knowledge in my group, we won! A fantastic way to round off our trip.

The book burning memorial, to commemorate the night around 20,000 books were burnt during Hitler's regime

Stalin's tower: basically a big middle finger to the west

A building covered in the scars and bulletholes of WWII

Waffle sticks!

So much beer consumed.

Inside the 1936 Olympic Stadium

Please excuse the rather crappy picture quality, the only camera I had with me was my phone!


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