Move over Barcelona – Berlin has taken over as my new favourite city.
I’m a history student. I should have seen it coming. Everywhere you look, there’s history. I walked through a park – there’s an old watchtower. I crossed the road – a neat line of bricks indicates where the Wall once stood. I stood in a carpark – and was told that underneath me was Hitler’s bunker.
It was all a bit overwhelming. But the best part of it is that the city’s history is still being created. The city was still in two during my lifetime – the united capital is younger than Amy.
So. Where do I start. Cologne, I suppose – this introduced me to Germany, and Germans. Contrary to everything I’ve heard, Germans (or at least all the ones I’ve come into contact with so far) are the friendliest Europeans so far. Even a beggar asked me (in English) whether I needed directions. Even the language is growing on me.
Cologne was blessed with good weather, excellent infrastructure, yummy inexpensive food and plenty of sights. Even before I visited the famous Cologne Cathedral I checked out the German Sport and Olympic Museum – actually, that’s a lie. I got my hair cut, finally. No more scary hair.
The museum was great – I learnt a heap more there about 20th century history than at the United Nations. They worked in general history with the history of sport effortlessly, as well as focusing on the Olympics of 1936 and 1972 for obvious reasons. It also traced the breakdown of organised sporting competition in the Weimar Republic, the way it was used to further the Nazis’ aims and ideology and the new problems that presented themselves during the Cold War. The only thing that was missing was drugs in sport – I was looking forward to better understanding the formation of the East German swim team. But nothing.
I did check out the cathedral, and the outside was pretty amazing. The inside really looked the same as the long list of cathedrals I’ve visited over the last couple of months, and only later I realised that behind the altar supposedly lies the remains of the Three Wise Men. I had just glanced at the altar and moved on.
So now to Berlin. I got in late yesterday afternoon, put down my bags at my hostel and left again, determined to squeeze as much as possible into my four days here. On my way back to the station I discovered one of the most bizarre things so far on this trip – I still don’t really know what it was, a sort of a cross between the Laverton Market, the Royal Melbourne Show, Luna Park and the Caulder Raceway. Forget about the people working the rides, selling the bratwurst and flogging ten pairs of socks for a euro – the patrons themselves looked like show people. It was truly bizarre.
I made my way then to Brandenburg Gate and the Reichstag, the centre of reunified Berlin. The Reichstag was great – the best views since the Eiffel Tower, and the best part was that when standing in the glass dome you looked straight down on the Parliamentary chamber – very fitting.
This morning I went on a walking tour, which gave me goosebumps. Four hours of chocka-block history – I was in heaven. The tour was free, and I’m going to sign up for another one – the only question is, do I want to find out more about ‘Red Berlin’ or ‘Nazi Berlin’? Oh, it’s too difficult!
I spent the evening at the Checkpoint Charlie Museum – and I mean the entire evening. I didn’t know the museum had been there since 1962 – everything was written as if the Wall was still standing. It was fantastic, like being inside ‘Goodbye Lenin’.
Oh yeah, and I am such a tourist (and loser). I bought myself my first souvenir for a while: a piece of the Wall.