While I walked through the tiny countryside town of Geisa, World War II didn’t cross my mind at all. The entire town seemed relatively unaffected by it. While I walked down the streets of Berlin and saw decades-old bullet holes in some of the buildings? That is a different story.
Berlin’s history is extremely rich but also extremely sad. There’s still evidence of the devastation of World War II, and the Cold War still scars much of the cityscape as well. I feel like we scratched the surface of this during this afternoon, and we will have much more to learn in the upcoming days.
We rode the train from Leipzig to Berlin this morning, and I ended up sitting by a college swimmer from North Dakota. She was pretty cool, and we compared notes about the fabulousness of our respective Eurotrips before she had to get off the train at Wittenberg. The teachers and I rode all the way to Berlin. Once we arrived and got checked in, we had a few hours before our first tour. Some of my friends and I decided to check out the Alexanderplatz, a market square near our hotel.
All of us wanted to eat something, so we went to the various food vendors around the square trying to decide what we wanted. Alan and I watched some Mediterranean looking guy make delicious meat/veggie/garlic sauce pita things, and we decided we wanted some. Alan walked up to the man and asked, “Sprechen Sie Englisch?” The man said yes. Then Alan proceeded to say, “We’d like to order…um….okay actually I don’t even know the English word for that. We want that thing,” and then he pointed to it. Apparently a common language didn’t even matter – we were still too culturally dumb to order. Oops! We ended up with the food, though, and it was delicious. While we were eating, a bird pooped on Lauren’s finger. This was a bummer, but at least it didn’t cause lasting injury like the ridiculous bee sting that has been destroying Rob’s arm for the past three days.
After lunch, we went on a bus tour of the city of Berlin (on our own private bus, of course…remember – I’m a spoiled brat now). We stopped and saw the longest standing piece of the Berlin wall, and we also saw some of the watch towers and other fences/devices used to divide this city during the Cold War. It was a bit haunting.
The tour ended at the Reichstag building (the German parliament). We got a tour of this building, which was a lot of fun because we’ve spent time on this trip learning how the German federal government works. It was fun to see where it all takes place. One interesting piece in the building was a work of modern art – the artist put a bunch of hollow metal boxes together as bricks to form a long hallway, and on each of the boxes was a name of someone who served in the German parliament. No matter how long they served, they each got the same size box. This was to signify that everyone who served in parliament left their mark on Germany. Each member from 1919-1999 has a box in that hall. There is a black box to signify 1933-1951 when there was no democracy. Adolph Hitler does have a box in the group, as he did serve in parliament, but his is the only box that isn’t hollow. The artist filled it with cement because he got sick of replacing that box when so many people kept kicking it and denting it and destroying it. Even now, it was clear that people have tried to scratch off his name.
The top of the parliamentary building looks like a beehive to me, and it looks like a beehive inside too because people are scurrying about to the top and bottom to try to get the best views. I went up to the top – it was pretty fun, but it was also a bit rainy. After the Reichstag building, we stopped at a memorial for the Roma people (gypsies) who were killed in concentration camps during World War II. It was sobering, and it made me think that I’m probably going to be very, very sad when we visit a concentration camp on Thursday.
On a lighter note, we went for dinner at a pizza place called “The Twelve Apostles.” They sold twelve specialty pizzas each named after one of the twelve apostles, which seemed kind of sacrilegious to me. Apparently no one else thought so. The best part was when Jan, Rob, and Jake ordered the biggest pizza on the menu – it took up an entire table. We couldn’t believe that they actually finished the whole thing, and they all sort of waddled back to the hotel.
All in all, a good first day in Berlin. I’m excited to finally be in the same hotel for a few nights in a row. I unpacked my clothes into the shelves and hung some dresses up – I’m feeling permanently moved in. I also texted my room number to Rex, as I was nervous I would forget it (this happened at the last hotel). This is the ninth hotel room I’ve stayed in during the past month. I’m starting to lose track…too many room numbers. What a first world problem (spoiled, remember?).