Thursday, 14 May 2015

The Candy Cane Tour Part Four: Plains, Trains and Automo-buses

So, we're past the halfway point of the Candy Cane Tour. In my last post I mentioned a potential travel concern getting to my fourth (and most anticipated) stop - Berlin. The morning of my departure from Prague, I arrived at the train station earlier than I would have usually planned, just to sort out the details of this trip. And, well, nothing was resolved. But, I met up with a really awesome family from Illinois who were also travelling on the same train to Berlin - and they weren't even made aware of the Berlin strike! Basically what happened, was that we could only take the train as far as Dresden and from there we'd be put on a bus, which would take us to Berlin. No biggie...I had a cool new fam to pass the time, and we shared many, MANY laughs along the way!

But, the travel stress did not end there... Nope. I decided to give AirBnB another shot, and booked accommodations for both of my German destinations since hotels were pretty pricy. Well, I still hadn't heard anything from my host about my arrival time, so I booked it to the address she had posted. When I arrived no one was there. Then, after waiting and trying to phone her, I received a text saying that she was running late, and that she'd be another 45 minutes. This annoyed me, but fine, no big deal, I thought, I'll just wait it out. Two minutes before the revised meeting time, I received yet another text, saying that she'd need at least another 20 minutes... At this point, it had started to rain fairly hard, and in my attempt to escape from the rain caught my leg on a bench (yeah, I know... such a graceful one!), which not only ripped through my jeans, but also a fairly decent sized gash in my leg! So, needless to say, I wasn't overly welcoming of this news...but what other choice did I have? Then, about 15 minutes later, her brother showed up, speaking very little English. He let me into the flat, but informed me that the room was not ready, and asked that I "get lost for 20 minutes or so." This second attempt was failing epically. And unfortunately, I think it really set the tone for this leg of the trip! To summarize in one swift little sentence, I have concluded that Berlin is the worst...ever. Possible even over Atlanta...because at least Atlanta gave me a Santa Claus Convention! But, I feel that someday, I will enjoy many laughs at this entire kerfuffle!

Excuse my pasty and hair leg...but note the pretty sweet bruising happening' there!
Summer 2013 - legit Santa Claus Convention, Atlanta, Georgia
Being as my plan was to lay low on the day of my arrival, I didn't really do much, other than grab a bite to eat and stroll through the park near my accommodations. I wandered a few streets, as well, while I was 'getting lost'...

Shots from within Tiergarten
Tree with many faces or a velociraptor?
Composers Memorial, including Haydn...

Classic Emily: Goes to big city, finds trees, takes pictures of nature,
which pretty much look like images from anywhere back home!
The Global Stone Project... I wondered if this might be connected somehow
 to the display in the Peace Pavillon in Dartmouth. Does anyone know?
Day Two followed a fairly good night's sleep, so I felt rested and ready to give Berlin a second chance. I had a really good cup of coffee at the café near where I was staying and then made my way to adventure around the city. I started at the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, which happened to be pretty much across the street from my flat. It's quite disorienting, and even comes with a warning before you enter. The Information Centre wasn't yet opened, so I carried on, with the plan of returning later in the day.

The warning!
The Memorial

First I looked at Brandenburg Gate. Then, I walked in Tiergarten on the opposite side of the street from where I was the day before. As I walked, I checked out a few of the memorials and such along the way.

Brandedburg Gate
Soviet War Memorial

Have you ever seen so many flowers?! 
Berlin Victory Column
On my way back, a Turkish boy somehow ended up joining me... I actually don't really know when exactly he appeared, but what do you do? I'll tell you! You go to the Reichstag Building, snap some photos, and hope that somewhere along the way you lose him...

Reichstag Building (Parliament) 

This took longer than I'd hoped, but my interest in the German Historical Museum did the trick! To be fair, it lost my interest too...and pretty much solidified my deep hatred for the city. For, it was here that I began to realize that everyone I had been encountering were really angry! Seriously, what's up with that?! Anyway, the Museum itself was pretty decent, but truth be told, I really only went in to ditch the young chap and use the bathroom. Perhaps the best €4 I ever spent!

From here I made my way to the Berlin Cathedral, which was stunning from the outside, but was too long of a line up to go in. Still, it was really nice to walk around.

Berlin Cathedral

Since I didn't do the Cathedral, I thought I'd take my chances on Berliner Fernsehtrum (TV Tower), which boasted excellent views of the city. Now, I've done a few of these sorts of tower tours, but this one seemed to be really pricy. I especially felt this way once I got to the top and realized it was fully enclosed (well, doesn't someone sound like a spoiled world traveller!!). There were also a lot of people up there and that made it difficult to actually have a chance to really take a look. There wasn't any concern for anyone else from the other participants, and this once again backed my growing dislike for this city. Of course, it probably didn't help that while waiting for my number to go up, I went for lunch at a nearby deli. Apparently I didn't speak loud enough when I placed my order, and the lady working yelled at me and told me to speak louder or leave... it's freakin' harsh for a shy little Canadian.

Views from the top! Here you can see the Cathedral.

In the centre is the much under construction, Museum Island
Anyway, on to bigger and better things, and there were still 2.5 things left on my "must do" list for Berlin. The first was a visit to the Checkpoint Charlie and Berlin Wall Museum. My friend that I stayed with in Budapest told me he really liked it, but had heard form others that it wasn't overly well done. I will say this: there's a lot going on in that museum. BUT, it was really well done, and I felt it did a god job of providing a good context of the situation from the creation of the wall to its fall. I thought it was really interesting, and I think I learned a lot about a situation I didn't feel I knew a great deal about (or that I'd forgotten from many, many years ago!). I did however, find it amusing how many people were gathered (and willing to pay) to have their picture taken with two "US Soldiers" at the checkpoint.

Not sure what this is, but saw it on my walk to the Berlin Wall Museum
Who wouldn't want to cross over to the American Sector?
Based on this photograph, it appears they had the first ever McCafé!

My next stop was the Topography of Terror Museum, where I semi-shamefully must admit to one of the most inappropriate acts on my part. The Topography of Terror is a museum which shows all of the areas where the Holocaust took place in Berlin (and other areas, but mostly Berlin). Again, it was really well done. But, one of the displays was on the topic of the administration of Euthanasia during Hitler's reign, directed towards the physically and mentally ill. And here's that moment that I regretfully carried out... You see, seeing the word "euthanasia" reminded me of a certain story about the time my sweet, innocent mother learned about this term...which of course led me to burst out in the most inappropriate and uncontrollable fit of laughter. Not my best moment, but I think she would have appreciated it. To fill you in, my Mom couldn't figure out why any one would want to kill the 'youth in Asia.' And that my friends, is the story of the time I humiliated myself in the most ill-suited instance, quite possibly ever. NEXT!

Topography of Terror Museum
A slightly concerning sight to find almost across the street from this museum...
The last remaining bit of the Berlin Wall

I think the Wall is trying to tell us something...
Well, I was quite tired by this point, and my knees and feet were in much need of a rest. So, I made my way back to were I was staying and relaxed for a little bit. When I felt recharged, I made my way across the street and returned to the Memorial of the Murdered Jews of Europe, as the information centre was now opened. As you enter (underneath the massive columns I'd walked through earlier in the day), you are warned of noise and photography. In other words no talking, and be mindful when taking pictures. I'm not really sure why I opted to bring my camera in the first place, as I don't usually tend to take pictures in museums, but I didn't touch it once. Nor did I feel it was appropriate to use it once I started going through.

This museum was by far the best I'd seen in Berlin. The instruction of silence creates a semi eerie atmosphere, which builds on the overall experience, I think. It starts with a 'prelude' which gives a very detailed account of the Holocaust. Given the experience from a few days before, it was tough to read it all. But, I found it interesting, as everyone took turns and was patient waiting to read the next section. No one spoke. It was still. Next is the Room of Dimensions which features segments of letters written during the genocide, by its victims. For me, this made the entire visit. Never have I been in such a public place and experienced so many people openly weeping as they moved from one side of the room to the next. People of all ages, men and women, completely overcome with emotion. It was actually quite beautiful in a very sad sort of way. It was almost as if we were all in it together, no one cared, or made judgement, because we were all experiencing the same thing...except for that one lady who just kept looking at everyone as if to say why's everyone so worked up?! Anyway, as the centre continues, you are introduced to several families whose fate's varied, you hear tales of victims, and learn about the many sites where these horrific events took place. If you do one thing in Berlin, I would suggest that this be it!

But, two things struck me about it. First, there was no mention of Anne Frank, which as a North American, appears to be the basis of the education unit on the Holocaust. This kind of impressed me, actually. I thought it was great/refreshing/insightful/interesting (all of these words seem wrong) to learn about others...yet unfortunate that there were so many others to learn about. The second thing that caught my attention was the language and tone of the wording throughout. 'Murder' and 'genocide' were not widely used in any of the curriculum during my years in public school, or at least that I can remember. In an extremely naïve way, I felt it was quite harsh at first, until I really thought about it for a moment, and realized how strange it is that we teach it in such a 'lighthearted' way. I didn't feel as though the language or the tone were used as an intentional shock-factor, but more so just as a direct-and-to-the-point manner of delivery.

Afterwords, I ate a quiet meal, and returned to my room. The next morning I packed up, ate a quick breakfast at that same café and made my way to the train station for my final stop...

-the Orange Canadian

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