“Ich bin ein Berliner”*

Alexanderplatz had some great outdoor markets

* Apparently, this does NOT actually mean “I am a jelly donut,” despite the urban legend that JFK messed up his grammar and compared himself to a pastry.

When most people think of spring break, they think of warm weather and sun, beaches and bathing suits. However, living in the south of Spain, where the temperature is almost always at least 20 degrees Celsius, we get plenty of warmth and sun. And beaches aren’t really my thing, at least not for an entire week, so when I was thinking about what to do during Semana Santa, there was no place to go but up. Up north, that is. Last Friday, my friend Stephanie and I flew to from Sevilla to Barcelona to Germany to begin our spring break trip in Berlin. If we were looking for a contrast to Sevilla’s warm and sunny weather, we found it; the weather in Berlin was cold and rainy two out of the three days we were there, and there was even some thunder and hail! But that didn’t stop us. We met up with Steph’s roommate from her university back home (she’s studying in Paris) and we were on our way.

There were many street performers by the Brandenburg Gate

Going to Germany was an adventure, particularly because of the language barrier. While most Germans we talked to spoke at least a little bit of English, here’s the extent of my German skills: guten Tag (good day), auf wiedersehen (goodbye), bitte (please), danke (thanks), eins, zwei, drei (that’s right, I can’t even count to five). I quickly learned another important phrase, “sprechen sie Englisch?” (do you speak English?) but even so, that’s hardly enough to communicate, let alone have a conversation. I’ve been to places where I don’t speak any of the language before (Paris, Copenhagen) but after two months of being able to communicate fairly well in Spanish, it was definitely jarring. Luckily, almost everyone we met was happy to help—we tried to imagine a Spanish waiter sitting down with some hapless tourists and explaining everything on the menu as one German waitress did with us, and realized that definitely wouldn’t happen.

“The Wall” on the Wall

Anyway, onto Berlin itself. I have rarely been to a city in which history was so unavoidable. I’m going to make another post later in the week specifically about the relationship to history in the cities I visited, but there’s not really any way to talk about Berlin without talking about World War II or the Cold War, at least a little bit. The first place we went after checking into our hostel was the East Side Gallery, the longest remaining stretch of the Berlin Wall. The 1.3km length has been turned into an open air galley, with images painted by dozens of artists (and hundreds of graffiti artists). Then we took the metro to the Brandenburg Gate (Berlin’s public transportation system is excellent). After that, it was a loop down past Potsdamer Platz and through Checkpoint Charlie, then back to the hostel—we didn’t arrive until the afternoon, so it was already 8pm. Dinner and a few bars later, we were exhausted.

Outside the Reichstag building

The next morning we bundled up (the weather was awful) and headed out to see more of the city! It was a whirlwind day—four memorials, two museums, and countless other landmarks. The most interesting, which I’ll talk more about in a separate post, were the memorials to the Murdered Jews of Europe and Memorial to Homosexuals Persecuted under Nazism, and the Topographies of Terror exhibit on the former site of the S.S. headquarters. Other places we visited were the Altes Museum and the Lustgarten, the Jewish Museum, the Reichstag, and Hackescher Markt. We also had the good fortune of meeting a fellow English-speaker on the metro who informed us that the “big B” (ß) is pronounced as “ss” (So Straße” is “Strasse”) and not as a B, saving us from potential embarrassment.

Runners in the Tiergarten

On Sunday, the weather was nicer, which was perfect because we planned to spend our last morning in Berlin walking through the Tiergarten. It was the day of the Berlin half-marathon, and apparently many other races as well because we saw a huge number of runners, rollerbladers, wheelchair racers, and plenty of people cheering them on. Finally, in the afternoon, we headed back to the Hauptbanhof and then it was on to Prague!

Tomorrow: Prague, Czech Republic

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