Guten Tag, can you please pass the Weinerschnitzel?
So, I spent another day in Prague after I last wrote. If I can encourage ya´ll to go to one place in Eastern Europe, I would say go to Prague! It is certainly one of the most beautiful cities I have ever seen, and all the buildings are older than America…it´s all for real, right there for your gawking pleasure. Take the trip, you won’t regret it. No one paid me to say that.
So on to my current whereabouts…..I am in Berlin! Yet another city I never thought I would make it to on this trip, but you know how life has a funny way of taking you places you never would have expected. Elyse decided to extend her stay with me by one week, so we had some additional time to kill somewhere between Prague and Amsterdam, and we decided to go to Berlin! I mean, it is a pretty historically significant city and stuff, so I am glad that I made it up here.
We hopped on the train in Prague and six hours later we arrived back in Germany….and let me say a word or two about some of the trains here. The whole operation is RETARDED! We sat in first class, as our rail passes entitled us to do, and discovered that the smoking section and the non-smoking section are in the same freaking car! I mean, one row is smoking and the next row is non-smoking, and there are no dividers separating the two sections! So, the smoke floats right on over. How stupid. I asked the conductor who spoke a little English, “Uhh, why are the smoking and non-smoking sections in the same car?” He gave me some cock and bull story about how the air conditioning somehow keeps the smoke from circulating. I said, “That´s a bullshitta. Why then, do I see and smell smoke?” He then smiled blankly as if he did not understand, and moved along. And another thing…we had to move seats three times, because it turns out they were reserved by people who got on at different stops along the way….no one told us we were in reserved seats! Ugh!!!
OK, on to Berlin…I know you are all dying to hear about this place. We arrived in the early evening, before dark, and set out yet again on the arduous quest of finding a place to stay. This is something I am getting very sick of, and as we get more into the high season, it is becoming very difficult to just show up and find a place. So, we called each hotel listed in Let’s Go, but all of them were booked.
We were getting very worried that we would not be able to find a place…but finally we were referred to one hotel that had a room available, so we jumped on it. We had to take the train to the area, which turned out to be in the most extreme east section of Berlin, and as we got closer and closer, the area looked incrementally more sketchy….so when we arrived at the station, which looked like it was in post war Berlin, we said a fond “screw this” and got back on the train in the opposite direction, determined to find a place in west Berlin.
We headed for an area called Charlottenburg, which was supposed to have a lot of pensions. We called all the ones listed in the book in the area, but all were booked. What to do? Finally, we got lucky and found a decent place, but the woman who runs it is a nosey, blabbermouth who noticed my middle name was “Moshe” on my passport, obviously Jewish, and began asking a lot of probing questions about whether we eat pork or not, and then made a comment on how she is sure we will be wanting to find a CHEAP restaurant (cuz Jews are cheap, of course)….we ignored her as best we could and went to bed.
By the way, this is the second version of this update, because the first one was lost when the piece of CRAP computer in this overpriced Internet cafe CRASHED just as I attempted to send it. What a tragedy…really….I was crushed. Well, I will try to recreate as best I can.
OK, so a little bit about Berlin. As many of you may know, Berlin was once a divided city, East and West. After World War II, when the Soviets occupied East Germany, they divided Berlin and set up the infamous Berlin Wall. So, after the war, the city really became two separate cities, with two different centers. Now, after the fall of the Berlin wall, and the reunification of the city, there are efforts underway to create a more cohesive metropolis, but at the moment this place is rather chaotic.
First of all, the city is eight times the size of Paris, and nothing is in walking distance of anything else. You have to make use of the trains quite a bit. Second of all, I feel like the city is still under construction. There are cranes everywhere, littering the skyline, particularly in East Berlin. So as we walked around, I felt like I was walking around one giant construction site. The fact that there is so much building going on sort of takes away from any serenity factor that may have once existed, and provides a disorienting, chaotic feeling to the visitor.
As far as architectural beauty, there really isn’t that much happening here. I mean, there are several historical landmarks, and older buildings predating the war, but this city was, for the most part, destroyed by allied bombing. So 95% of the buildings here were constructed after the war, and while they are nice, they are not particularly interesting. The buildings in East Berlin are ugly-ass communist square block looking structures….I don’t know what they were thinking. I guess that’s what all the construction is about…to beautify and modernize the city in a unified way.
So, on our first full day in Berlin, we set out to explore as best we could. We decided to start in the West and make our way East. The western portion of the city is centered around a region called the Tiergarten, a giant, long park in the middle of the city, containing a zoo. I guess it´s the Central Park of Berlin, in a way.
We began at the western section and walked down the main boulevard cutting through the park. In the center is a structure called the Victory Tower, erected in the late 1800s as a memorial of Germany’s humiliating defeat of France. It´s about half the size of the Statue of Liberty (I have to draw some comparisons for you New Yorkers) and has a golden angelic figure perched on top. We decided to make the climb to its tower and check out the panoramic view of Berlin.
We made our way up the narrow spiral staircase, amidst a wave of BO infested tourists. It was quite hot and the inside of the tower was graffitied all the way with stupid things like, “I love the Back street Boys”. Coming out on top, we entered a crowded platform and could barely move around. From what I could see of the city, it wasn’t very impressive at all. There are some notable buildings, but I mostly saw the park and cranes all over the place. Like I said, it feels like it´s still under construction.
We left the tower and continued through the Tiergarten to the east end, where the Brandenburg Gate it located. This structure was symbol of division between the east and west for a very long time, because the Wall ran along its eastern edge. In 1989, when the wall came down, East and West Berliners danced together on top of this gate. Now, it´s surrounded by construction sites and cars passing through it without reservation.
In 1987, President Ronald Reagan stood in front of this gate and in a speech to the crowd, addressed Gorbechev and said, “Mr. Gorbechev, open this gate”. Two years later, the people themselves tore the wall down and embraced each other. OK, so I read the sign at the gate and that´s how I know all this. I am giving you a little history here! The Brandenburg Gate can be likened as the Arc De Triumph of Berlin, standing at the end of the long boulevard through the Tiergarten, where Nazi marchers once took place. It is made of Roman looking columns with a big statue on top….
Next we went to the Reichstag, very near the gate. The Reichstag is the former parliamentary building used by the early German governments and served at the seat of the Nazi Reich. In front of the Reichstag, there is a plaza, currently full of cranes and feverish building, but once served as the place for Nazi rallies. Eerie. The Reichstag is a mammoth building of Roman type with ornamental facades on all sides, home to statues of soldiers in their glory. It´s an impressive building outright, but compared too much of what I have seen on this trip, it isn’t very notable. It’s the history of the building that is more impressive….to know that it is where Hitler ran the war from, and all his evil doings were conceived of there.
There was a surprising lack of stores and street vendors near these very important sites…and that was too bad for us, because we were very hungry but couldn’t find a place to eat! You would think they’d want to cash in on all the tourist flow at these places, but nooooo. Where is the McDonald’s when ya need one?
We walked around the old Jewish quarter after that and visited a rebuilt synagogue which was wrecked by the Nazis. We walked all around the same streets that notable Jews, such as Albert Einstein and Menachem Schneerson, once walked. There were 160,000 Jews in Berlin before the war, and only 7,000 afterward. Horrible to know that they were all sent to the camps.
The evening was spent in the Ku´damm, the main boulevard going through west Berlin with all kinds of shops and restaurants…sort of the Park Avenue of Berlin….another comparison for you New Yorkers. We spent some time calling Amsterdam and trying to reserve a hotel. Good thing we called ahead, because most things were already booked! We found a place, but for $80 a night! Guess you have to pay premium prices to pah-tay legally…..but me, I am just interested in the canals….ahem.
Thanks for reading….any questions, fire them my way. I’d like to hear from all of you, so please send me email! On to Amsterdam tomorrow!