I was coming into Berlin from Amsterdam and had decided to stay in a hostel. I was going through a tough time with my monies and had to be smart if I had to finish what I had planned. Now I know when I’d say to some Indians that I stayed in a mixed dorm in Berlin, they would be gob-smacked, but the truth is; they are absolutely safe cause you have like so many more people always in the room! Unlike a hotel room where anyone can come knocking at your door and create trouble! So here I was with similar hesitations and yet complete confidence that I could handle any situation.
It was a small room with 3 bunk beds and when I entered; most of my room-mates were sleeping and I had the lower bunk. I silently pushed my luggage around and sneaked back down to the reception for a quick bite and to pick up information. The place was buzzing with people of all ages.. well budget travellers like me to be precise. The lounge was just simple, unpretentious and everything was affordable! The receptionists were nice and gave me a total download on everything I needed to know and the best ways to see the most of Berlin without splurging!
The Walking Tour
Berlin is one of the few places where one can experience every possible emotion in one single day!
This was my first tour that I had booked myself for, and the reason will kill you! Yes! It was a FREE walking tour of Berlin.. all I needed was my walking shoes and a good night’s rest! When I’m trying something new anywhere I intentionally don’t keep any expectations, that way it’s easy for me to be pleased and also it’s incredible how the smallest thing can over joy me! Thankfully the tour was to start right outside my hostel and like a good girl I was on time.
In a few minutes many people had come together and this young man with shabby hair, cargo shorts and a perfect English accent was hollering out to all of us. Aaron Birchenough had landed up in Berlin for love and decided to stay. A historian and archaeologist by profession, he now lead free walking tours and believed in being happy in life! He loved his job and he loved Berlin!
The Dark History
We started from Alexanderplatz, easily identified by the Fernsehturm (the TV tower), the 2nd tallest structure of European Union and the iconic World Time Clock. This places had been redeveloped several times and now is the busiest shopping area. A ten minute walk took us to the next spot, the St. Mary’s Church. Possibly built in the 13th century, it has a striking statue of Martin Luther outside and a beautiful Neptune fountain. I was the only solo traveller in the group and oh so busy taking notes. What can I say I’m a writer and I don’t like forgetting (haha)! Next stop was the Berlin Cathedral with its magnificent dome. Yes it was amazing, but its location is why I remember it so well… it was right next to.. ahem.. the LUST GARDEN… infront of the Altes Museum (Old Museum). Nope! It’s a public garden now and no funny business was happening and yet the name!!??
But it was the next place that reminded me of the suffering this little city had both caused and endured. The Neue Wache, a simple small structure with nothing spectacular from the outside, had the most intense sculpture of the “Mother and her Son”. The mother’s head hangs lowly as the body of her son lies curled up at her feet under the Oculus (a circular opening in domes) exposed to the sun, rain and snow… depicting the suffering of all civilians in the war. It was deafeningly quiet inside and yet my head was pounding with the vibe of the place. It felt like the souls of the innocent were all trapped in those walls.
Next stop was Bebelplatz, known for the Nazi book burning. In 1933, they burnt close to 20000 books that day, and now a memorial under the glass plate in the cobbles showcases empty bookshelves which could have held those 20000 books. Then we walked to the famous Checkpoint Charlie, which was the crossing point between East and West Berlin during the Cold War. I mean can you imagine your whole city split in two overnight… by a WALL? It really did happen… people and neighbourhoods were simply divided by a wall. The Berlin Wall… While I stood there, I couldn’t help but imagine how helpless the people must have been. zakłady online bet With absolutely no control on their lives. Aaron shared stories of how some people tried to jump the wall and it just gave me goose bumps!
The next stop was the Fuhrerbunker. Now this was the underground air raid bunker, where Hitler married Eva Braun and also committed suicide with her and killed his only dog Blondi. Ofcourse its not open to public and we just stood over the area where many feet below out feet… he had died. Aaron informed us in a very hush voice that some extremists still have meetings around this area apparently. You know there was nothing there… zaklady bukmacherskie fortuna oferta just plain grass and some very dull buildings where people live now.. but I was just so full of hate that I found myself cringing.. Hitler.. the man responsible for so so so many tragedies had breathed the air in the same area I was standing in years ago… Such an uneasy thought!
But what came next.. knocked me into lulled silence and a very very heavy heart! The Memorial to the Murdered Jews. The name itself is grim and the place… although it’s just a cluster of asymmetrically pieces of grey rectangles.. almost like graves.. 2711 concrete slabs.. all of it is just so cold in colour and vibe that it… the sadness and dullness of it could give you a shiver down the spine. You can walk all along and it’s been designed in such a way that you can only walk alone. Much like our lives.. no matter how many people are around us.. we all are alone. And this place was like… the designer wanted us to walk alone with our thoughts of what this country had seen and lost.
We also came across a couple of cool things specific to East Berlin, like the Ampleman, the man in a hat in the traffic light and the Trabi (Trabant) Car.
The last stop was the Brandenburg Gate, finally a good note to end on… ofcourse it had seen its share of wounds considering its location but the air felt more cheerful.. thanks to the tourists! All of us in the group had become friendly and said our byes to each other. I stayed back with Aaron for a bit for my list of questions.. Yes! I’m a history buff! I asked him how I could use the rest of my day best and he gave his suggestions and highly recommended the Pub Crawl.
Aaron and Me at Brandenburg Gate
The Berlin Pub Crawl – The Lively Present
So initially.. I had my share of a million hesitations but a chat with Aaron had relaxed me and given me the courage to give it a try. In this journey of 45 days and 13 countries.. this was one of my many firsts and wasn’t going to be the last for sure!
Now a Pub Crawl; as the name suggests is much like the walking tour except they make you hop from one pub to another offering free drinks everywhere for a fixed price paid at the staring point. Anybody can join and you can quit anytime.
My leg was paining with the over 4 hour long walk and I had started limping so decided to go back to my hostel and rest up to gain energy for the Pub Crawl. I think I was also emotionally drained with all the information and sadness. When I reached the hostel, some of my room-mates were up and we said our hellos. A couple from Canada, a very cute girl and Spanish speaking guy. We chatted up and exchanged plans for the night and moment I said I was planning to go for the Pub Crawl, the cute girl Thais Farias, popped her head out and asked if she could join me.. OFCOURSE! I was over-joyed actually and Rafael decided to join in too.
We all slept for a bit and then Thais and I got up and started getting ready like 2 girlfriends who knew each other since years.. discussing what to wear and how to do our hair and make-up. We three went down to the lobby together and it a little while our hostel lobby was full of youngsters and travellers from almost every part of the world. Big groups of girls and boys and friends and couples. Oh I can’t possibly describe the energy but it was electric! Soon the organiser was there leading all of us to the closest tube station. Yup, you got that right! It started with a trip in the tube.. and I discovered that Irish are the most fun people as Sean came and introduced himself with his absolute boyish charms. Soon we were hopping from 1 pub to the next across Berlin and making friends and cheering to the sojourns of us travellers. We spoke of our stories and places we had been to and what our plans were. Conversations were flowing easy and friends were easy to find.
Berlin was one of the friendliest cities so far with an array of emotions to explore. It was a testimonial of what I believe so firmly in… Don’t let your past decide who you are today!