Europe Germany Study Abroad

Berlin: Five Days of Museums and Christmas Markets

For those of you who read this blog with any regularity, you may have caught that I said Berlin wasn’t going to be “exactly as planned.”  Initially, this trip was supposed to be with my friend from school Andrew, before he caught what appears to be the Italian superflu and was stuck in bed for a week.  So, Berlin ended up being my first real solo trip.

The amount of history that happened in Berlin is crazy.  There are memorials and museums everywhere.  I feel like I went to so many museums, and in reality I barely scratched the surface.  It’s also fascinating to be in a city that is actively rebuilding.  As I went back through my pictures of the cityscape, most of them had a minimum of two cranes in the background.  It’s incredible to think of how recent the fall of the Berlin wall was, and how big of a difference those 25 years can make.

I arrived Sunday, and spent the afternoon walking around near my hostel.  I went to the DDR museum, which is interactive and shows the realities of life in East Germany, with spying, housing lotteries, and keeping up the appearance of the good communist.  I would definitely not have wanted to live there.

Monday I started with the more iconic aspects of the city: the Brandenburg Gate, the Reichstag (which I sadly did not climb), and the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe.  I also went into the Tiergarten and checked out the memorials for homosexuals and Roma/Sinti murdered during the Holocaust as well.  I appreciated that my trip to Poland happened before this one.  I think seeing Auschwitz and discussing how to best memorialize the victims gave me a deeper understanding of the different perspectives that must be considered.  Looking at how Polish guides present the Holocaust also differs from the way that it is framed by the museums with a Jewish focus, and so on.

Continuing on the theme of touristy Monday, I went to the Topography of Terror next, which is a very cool partially outdoor museum that has both a chunk of the Berlin wall and some ruins from the headquarters of the SS and the Gestapo.  The museum itself is fantastic, with a lot of pictures and detail on the rise and fall of the Nazi regime, their policies, and documents that I couldn’t fully appreciate due to my lack of German skills.  From there, I walked to Checkpoint Charlie and went to a museum near there.  Since the information was in English, French, German, and Russian, there was a massive amount of text, which got a bit overwhelming.  The stories about both successful and failed escapes, however, were totally worth it.  After the museum, I went to my first German Christmas market, which lived up to the hype.  I went to Christmas markets a total of four days, and I love the lights and decorations and ice skating.  Also, if you are related to me, there is an extraordinarily high chance that your gift will come from those markets.

Tuesday, I started the day at the longest piece of the wall, the East Side Gallery.  The paintings are incredible, with amazing quotes and images related to the struggle for a free Berlin.  Although I was freezing by the end of the walk, I highly recommend going to see it if you’re in Berlin!

I went back to the hostel to warm up, and met the newest roommate in my hostel, an Australian who was going to be studying in Hamburg starting in January.  She invited me to come to the Jewish museum with some of her friends, and after that we went to another Christmas market and had spiked hot chocolate and glühwein (which is German mulled wine) and enjoyed the atmosphere.  We ended up stopping for more glühwein on the way back to the hostel, where we met an older German couple and ended up having a lengthy discussion on our three countries.  It felt very hyggeligt! (even though it feels weird to apply that word outside of Denmark)  Plus, I learned a lot about Australia and their slang, so that was cool.

Wednesday I did a bike tour, which was…. really cold.  It started sleeting on us in the morning, and then turned to snow.  Nevertheless, I’m glad I got a real guided tour because I did learn a lot.  Biking is a really cool way to see a city.  Something to look for next time I travel in Europe, I think.  The tour took most of the day, so afterwards I went to… yet another Christmas market!

Thursday I decided to hit a couple more museum exhibits that I wanted to see, and I also did last minute Christmas shopping at… you guessed it, another Christmas market.  I went to the museum at the Memorial for the Murdered Jews of Europe, since it’s closed on Monday and so I hadn’t been.  Then, I went to the German History Museum because they had an exhibit on the RAF!

A bit of background for this: I spontaneously took a German History class freshman year, which turned out to be political extremisms in Germany since WW2, and we spent almost half a quarter on the RAF and the left wing movement.  I found it fascinating.  We watched a film on it, The Baader-Meinhof Complex, and when I went to the exhibit I could see the images of the crimes they committed playing in my head.  I got to see the motorcycle where they shot someone’s bodyguards before kidnapping him, the sketch of them in the courtroom, and even the wanted posters where the police X’d out their pictures when they were captured or killed.  It was so amazing to see history that I’d learned about so in depth come alive.

I apologize that this is turning into the world’s longest blog post.  Basically, Berlin was awesome.  I definitely want to go back, because I feel like there’s still so much to do and see there.  (And Andrew, if you read my blog, I wish you could have come too and I’m glad you’re finally starting to feel better)

I have two more full days in Europe, so it’s going to be a whirlwind of packing and saying goodbyes and seeing anything else I need to see in Copenhagen before I go.  Tomorrow I’m doing a half day trip to Sweden with my lovely friends Courtney and Joey and Amy, who are featured in some of my Russia pictures.  And on that note, I should go to bed so I can be awake and functioning for our foray into a different country.

Vi ses, hej hej!

or as the Germans say, tschüss!

Europe Germany Study Abroad

Bavaria: The Family I Never Knew I Had

After Romania, I traveled to Munich (via Copenhagen) to meet up with my German family!  Quick background: shortly after WW2, a portion of my family moved to the US (I think somehow as refugees but it’s a bit unclear), and so the part of the family I met is my dad’s father’s family.  I believe I met my second cousin once removed, but since my United States family is so tiny I really don’t know the terms very well.

Regardless of our technical relation, Gerhard and Marina were so welcoming to me!  The first night we stayed in Passau, which is right near the Austrian border.  I was exhausted from the hiking trip, so I went to bed early the first night and tried to get up reasonably early for the next day.  We went into Austria for an hour, where I ordered a pastry without knowing what was in it that luckily turned out to be pretty delicious.  Then we went to a different part of the Austrian border and did a little hiking around at an area that used to be an old castle.  For the rest of the day, we walked around Passau, and they took me to a concert with the world’s largest cathedral organ.  Then we drove to Weißenhorn that night, and Gerhard and Marina even put me up in a hotel since the apartment was too small to have my room.

The next morning, we went to Neuschwanstein!  Seeing this castle was pretty much on my all time bucket list.  The inside was pretty strange though, which is how it goes when you have an insane king I would imagine.  One room was pretty much entirely swan motifs, and there was an artificial cave that he had added because he really liked an opera!

When we got back to Weißenhorn, we had dinner with the whole family.  It was basically me and eleven Germans, with only four speaking English.  Thus it was definitely the most acutely I’ve felt the whole language barrier thing.  But despite my confusion, being at a family dinner was so lovely.  It’s a much nicer atmosphere than sitting in my dorm.  If it’s appropriate to apply a Danish word to an interaction between Germans and an American, I would describe it as hyggeligt.  After dinner, we went to Ulm and walked around for a while.  We also tried to get ice cream before realizing that 9pm on a Saturday in late October is not a particularly popular time for this craving, but we did find some at an owl themed café back in Weißenhorn!

On Sunday, we went back to Ulm so that Gerhard and I could climb the world’s highest church tower, the Münster.  Sadly, it was pretty foggy, so the views weren’t as cool… apparently on clear days you can see the Alps from the top!  We spent the rest of the day walking around Munich before my flight.  I got a beer and a pretzel in the Hofbrauhaus, which feels like pretty much the epitome of German stereotypes.

The whole weekend was incredible.  The German side of my family was so welcoming, and I had so much fun wandering around Bavaria with them.  I’m so glad that we managed to reconnect, and look forward to staying in contact with them.  I would love to try to come back and visit again!

I leave for Helsinki in two days, so look for those pictures next week.  Vi ses!