berlin (friday, 29/6)

When visiting a new city, my strategy is pretty basic – see the landmark sites as early as possible. This may not work for everyone, but tourist-strategy and I get along just fine. I would have a very hard time relaxing on the beach in Barcelona if I hadn’t marveled at Casa Batlló and tried to put my name on the waiting list to move in.

Oh, come on! I can’t be the only one who’s tried that.

Friday morning I hit the ground running. Ha! Okay, I strolled along Unter den Linden in my pink suede flats, cappuccino in hand. My destination – Brandenburg Tor, the Brandenburg Gate.

A neoclassic triumphal arch and former entrance into the city, this is one of the most recognized landmarks in Berlin. It became a symbol of freedom and unification during the Revolution of 1989 and subsequent fall of the Berlin Wall. It’s still a site for witnessing historical events. This is where, only 10 hours earlier, many Germans watched their national team fall to Italy 2-1 in the Euro 2012 semi finals. Shit happens here.

See what I mean? It was incredibly hot that Friday, and I was anxious to get out of the open square and onto a tree-lined street. So, I started on my walk to Checkpoint Charlie.

During my walk I started to realize how much of Berlin’s history is incorporated into its city culture. Statues. Bullet holes. Plaques revealing which buildings have since been demolished and what/who said buildings previously housed. Berlin is a city with stories to tell.

I came across the Topography of Terror and took some time to walk around. This was the first time I saw the Berlin Wall. Imagine knowing your daily movements were so blatantly limited, that you could only go so far. I stared at it for a while, trying to envision what it must have been like facing the wall every single day. I wondered if I could jump it.

The Topography of Terror is an outdoor museum located where, during the Nazi Regime from 1993-1945, the Gestapo and SS were headquartered. After the war, the grounds were completely leveled and used as a commercial space. In 1987, during Berlin’s 750th anniversary, the historical site was recovered and made into an open air exhibition. Following the fall of the wall on November 9, 1989 and Germany’s unification on October 3, 1990, the part of the wall on site joined the Topography of Terror.

In the background is the Martin-Gropius-Bau, initially the Museum of Applied Arts and now one of Europe’s major international exhibition and event venues. I love the color of the building.

Across from Martin-Gropius-Bau on Niederkirchnerstraße is the Abgeordnetenhaus of Berlin, Berlin’s parliament.

In case you’re wondering, I did make it to Checkpoint Charlie.Eventually.

The option to have one’s passport stamped with a replication of the historic entry stamp is offered here… and to be honest, I did come back a few days later, passport in crossbody bag. Then I read enough horror stories online about people whose passports had been stamped with this souvenir and were now frowned upon or invalidated. I decided to continue on collecting my passport stamps the old fashioned way.

Dinner Friday was light – a breaded mash of lentils and cheese (does that sound gross? it was pretty good) – and should have been heated in the oven, but a few singed arm hairs later, I was manning the cast iron pan like a pro. It’s surprisingly easy to find vegetarian fare in Berlin, a city many assume is solely for carnivores, and there are heaps of biomarkts, organic markets, to be found.

After dinner, my friend and I rushed to the CineStar movie theater in Postademer Platz. It seems we’re both pretty good at consistently running 10 minutes behind. Now, I’ll be honest – I don’t love going to the movies. I don’t particularly enjoy paying $12.50 for something I’m not sure I’ll like and without any opportunity for a bathroom break or hope for comfortable seating. Every once in a while, I’ll go, but otherwise, I’m generally content to wait for the film to be On Demand so I can watch from the comfort of my own couch without anyone staring at me for not wearing pants. Because I’m in my pajamas. Come on now, this is a family friendly blog.

Going to the movies in Berlin was a much different experience than I anticipated. I should have realized this would be the case earlier on, but it only dawned on me when we were buying tickets and a seating chart was presented. That’s right – a seating chart. Sporting event? Sure. Concert? Absolutely. The Amazing Spider-Man (3D)? Come again? I guess it’s convenient to skip the part where you ask everyone and their mother if that seat’s taken, but it’s also convenient to know if you’ve picked the seat behind Paul Bunyan. We settled into our plush seats with enormous bags of popcorn (I’m assured it was the smallest size) and waited for the curtains draw.

Oh, that’s right, there were curtains. Your move, Metropolitan Opera. The movie was decent enough, and just as I started to wonder whether Gwen Stacy would be able to thwart the Lizard’s dastardly plan – the lights came on. Take 5 everyone, this is your intermission. I watched my fellow moviegoers chatting idly, some getting up, others taking the opportunity for a quick make out session (I didn’t really watch that last one). Hey, you paid for the movie, better not miss it because you felt like a sneaky kiss-kiss. I see the usefulness of an intermission, but most times, I’d rather not have to detach myself from the story until it’s completely over.

When the film had ended and New York was safe once again, my friend and I decided to walk to the Memorial to the Murdered Jews in Europe, more commonly known as Berlin’s Holocaust Memorial.

I would struggle for ages to find the words to convey how I felt when we arrived. It had rained earlier that evening, and there was a faint glow in the air that my photograph couldn’t capture. A lightening storm was coming. The air was cool. As we entered, we were the only two there, and the silence was deafening. The magnitude of pain this memorial represents is overwhelming. Gentle slopes, sharp corners, blocks cool to touch – and I kept waiting for my friend to jump out and scare the living bejeezus out of me. The design is, on the surface, very simple, but as I started to walk through, I realized I was holding my breath. After this experience, it only made sense to keep walking through Tiergarten. If I could give you all only one tip from my time in Berlin, this would be it – go to the Memorial at night. See the sites at unconventional times of the day. Berlin is an unconventional and adaptable city. It will show you what you’re looking for.

the Siegessaeule (Victory Column) in Großer Stern – Tiergarten

Haus der Kulturen der Welt (House of the Cultures of the World)

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