Thursday, September 17, 2009

Prague-Berlin-London: Three Countries in One Day

September 15

Left Prague at 6:30am. Arrived in Berlin around 11:30am. Tour at 1:30pm. Train at 5 or 6pm. That was our itinerary for the day. We had a long tiring day, but it was worth it for all that was packed in. We were given the opportunity to go to another free tour which we were super excited about because we had such an amazing tour in Prague. We had the same expectations for this one. We were wrong. Everything started out fine. We saw the Brandenburg Gate and some beautiful statues the Hotel where Michael Jackson dangled the baby out the window and a museum of the Kennedys. You know an average day. Ok so the Michael Jackson thing... I did not know that the hotel was in Germany! In Berlin! Right across from the Brandenburg Gate! Isn't that so crazy?!
Anyway back to the tour so the tour guide was interesting. He was like Bulgarian/American/something else... He seemed to waste a lot of time doing unneccessary things like make fun of this poor Swedish guy that was in our group. And he was hard for me to follow because he did not have a very upbeat voice and I get very distracted easily. I kept wandering off physically and mentally. A lot of what he was saying was very interesting, but the way he presented the information was hard for me to follow. The amazing thing about Berlin is that so much happened there... when we were standing by the Brandenburg Gate, the tour guide pointed out holes in the walls where Soviet bullets had pierced through. So much of the damage from so many years ago still can be seen.
He also led us to the place where Hitler's bunker was! It is under the ground and there is no memorial for it. We walked over to this patch of grass and he explained about the plain, ugly concrete buildings. They were the apartments built during communist times. Under the patch of grass was the bunker where Hitler stayed and no one has any desire of remembering him. While we were standing in that area, a man walked by walking his dog and brought his dog over to pee on the grass. The tour guide said it happens all the time, people purposefully bring their pets to pee or poop, or drunk people will come to throw up on the place Hitler used to reside.
My favorite part of the entire tour was the part when we went to the Holocaust memorial. It was almost an entire block of a memorial in the middle of town. The place was chosen so that no one would be able to avoid remembering what happened. The memorial is based off the grave we saw in Prague, the artist based it off of the way that the Jewish gravestones were. However the memorial is supposed to be about how each individual experiences it. It is built with lines of cement blocks of different heights making rows up and down. The ground that it is built on looks like it is rolling, very little of it is straight. It goes up and down from every which way. There is enough space to walk between all the different rows, and it is something I have never felt before.

When I was walking through, I walked slow and tried to imagine what it was like during the Holocaust time. When I was in the middle of the memorial, the cement blocks were the tallest. So as you are going in they get taller and taller and as you are going out they begin to get shorter. Imagining the time period and what the artist was trying to portray. I felt like a little Jewish child walking in at first amongst a lot of other children my same size ( the cement blocks that were the same height) and looking around no one really knew what was going on. As I kept walking and the flow seemed to spin, it was erie. The Jews in the Holocaust had no clue what was going on in the beginning because they had to reason to be there. In the middle, there was really no way out. I mean the cement blocks were so tall and I felt so small and insignificant. I walked blindly through the lines as the Jews must have done when they were led into ghettos, trains, bunkers, cafeterias, everywhere...

Going into the memorial was depressing and it broke my heart. However it did not end there. We were not left in the middle of the cement blocks and neither were the Jews! The days of liberation came and the Jews that survived the concentration camp held on to some sort of hope. That is what I felt walking out of the memorial, the blocks got smaller and there were still no answers, but the blocks began to even out and I realized even though the Jews and so many others endured so much pain at least they had each other. And even more than that they had God. It is amazing how much you learn through experience. I recommend everyone to go to Berlin and experience that memorial. My interpretation is simply what I got out of it and definently not the solution to the puzzle. See for yourself, it will change you.

One of the last stops for our journey was the Berlin Wall. It is not what I expected. It is a long thin cement slab with graffiti all over it. There is not much left therefore nto much to see. We had to head out after this part of the tour in order to head out for our train. The tour guide stood awkwardly by us for a long period of time when we told him we had to leave. It was horribly unprofessional. See because they run on tips only and we did not tip him because it was a FREE TOUR. There was no obligation to tip him and it was so dumb because he acted all rude and he was not that great of a tour guide so I do not know what he expected. He kept saying "So what something wrong with the tour" and then when we told him that there was not, but we had to leave to catch a train....he just stood them. Ug it was so annoying. He was like begging for a tip!

Well we left all annoyed by the tour guide man and that could have given us a sore feeling about Berlin, but luckily it was redeemed. After we left and headed toward the train station, we had quite a bit of time left over. We had come back to the area where the tour had started because there was a Starbucks there and the girls wanted to use the bathroom. The area around the Gate was all blocked off and there were police everywhere, it seemed as if there was so sort of parade. I stood around taking pictures of everything just in case we found out later that something exciting had happend. Then in the middle of everyone, there were a bunch of men in suits. I assume men in suits are always important so I took pictures of them... Finally after all my guessing, I asked a guy who was watching the everything as well and he told me that it was the Mayor of Berlin! He had come out to greet everyone after having a lunch meeting with the President of Macedonia! The President of Macedonia we saw get into his car and then the Mayor of Berlin began to come toward the crowd and shake hands with people. So a bunch of us got up clsoe and stuck our hands out....and wouldn't you know, he didn't just shake our hands, but took a picture with us too?! We were completely star-struck leaving Berlin. All we could talk about was meeting the Mayor of Berlin. It was such a wonderful was to end our time in Berlin.

We headed from Berlin to Hamburg to catch a flight to London. Everything seemed to go quite smoothly. We met a sweet English couple in the airport waiting for our plane to London. The gave us many tips on how to live inexpensively in London as well as what to see. They were a lot of fun to talk to and made the time fly by (no pun intended).

We arrived in London at about 11:45pm and after much debate ended up taking a cab to our guest house. It was very reasonable and it was our only option at that hour. The guest house was lovely and it was just nice to have a place to lay our heads. It was a long day, but we were back in London at last!

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