I’ve spent my first week outside of Italy. Last week I visited my host family in Torino and watched the Cavs win the championship with them in the middle of the night. Then on Monday, I boarded a flight for Berlin, the capital city of Germany.
I’ve spent five days here and I’m leaving tomorrow for Munich. I’m still adjusting to being outside Italy and still trying to figure out what I want to do for the next two months, as I come home in September. There’s a long list of destinations but I’m not sure how quickly I want to go. I enjoyed going through Italy very slowly and really learning a lot about Italy and meeting lots of Italians. Going through Germany in a quick week and a half feels very fast in comparison and as I sit here today, I almost feel it’s too early to leave Berlin. I can always come back though, so I’m just going to head to Munich, as planned.
I’ve seen most of the main tourist sites and lots of the museums (there are many) of Berlin. I don’t really think there are many places on the planet that can compare with Berlin for a history buff.
Berlin is a place that’s been to hell and back, starting with the World War I. After the war, the Treaty of Versailles punished Germany extremely harshly and their economy never really got going. Then the Great Depression came which hit Germany extra hard. The resulting desperation of the German people resulted in the rise of Hitler and the Nazis. Then came another war. Berlin was totally destroyed by allied bombings. As if decades of poverty and war weren’t enough, the Berlin Wall was constructed through the middle of the city, splitting it into two parts, communist and capitalist. Families and friends found themselves on the other side of the wall. Berlin was the front line of the Cold War.
Then in 1989, the wall fell and Germany reunified in the early 1990s. Today roughly 25 years later, Germany and Berlin are doing quite well and that’s very inspiring to me. The stories of people escaping over the wall and the stories of the wall coming down make me tear up. I have enjoyed over the past few days visiting many museums and monuments tracing that history through.
Today, Berlin is a hot spot of Europe. Due to its tumultuous past, it’s still rebuilding and finding its identity. It is nowhere near as expensive here as it is in other large cities in Europe (or in the USA for that matter). The inexpensive costs here have created a very young, entrepreneurial and artistic culture and an international vibe. There aren’t as many old, historic buildings as there are elsewhere in Europe, because of the bombings, so the building are newer and to me it feels more like an American city. (Granted, I’ve only been to Italy so far so maybe lots of places in Europe are like this.) I enjoyed spending time here and learning about the Berlin of old and today’s Berlin. I took a walking tour the first day and the tour guide said there is a saying “Paris will always be Paris, but Berlin is becoming Berlin.”
Some of the highlights of sightseeing were:
The Brandenburg Gate. At one time the wall passed right through the area where this gate stood. The surrounding square, Pariserplatz, was completely deserted no-mans land. IT was famous in the US due to visits by Presidents Kennedy and Reagan. Today it’s once again a center of Berlin, home to the American and French embassies, hotels, and restaurants.
The Reichstag Building. This was the home of German Parliament 100 years ago but it was empty for most of the 20th century as the West German government moved to Bonn. When Germany reunited, they moved their Parliament here back here in 1999 to much fanfare. Today there is a dome on the top where the public can visit. You can see the city from up above, as well as look down on the hall of Parliament. The symbolism is that the people can look down at the politicians and keep their eyes on them and what they are doing.
Many museums. Museums about World War II, memorials to the murdered Jews and other groups of the Holocaust, as well as museums about life under communism and the fall of the wall. There is also a small museum about JFK and his visit to Berlin in 1963 shortly before his assassination. He reassured the people of West Berlin that the US stood with them. “Ich bin ein Berliner…”
Another interesting thing about Berlin is comparing it to Italy. Since Italy was my first country abroad I visited, I assumed everywhere would be as different from home as Italy. But to me, Berlin seems to be more similar to the USA than Italy was, in a few ways. First of all, the food. In Berlin, there are Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts and Subways and McDonald’s all over like in the states. In Italy they exist but nowhere at the level I’ve seen here. They also have international style restaurants on every block (Thai, Italian, etc) like we have in the USA. Italy many have the occasional Asian place or whatever, but overall, they really do their own thing.
I have tried some German food and it’s been very good albeit simple. Sausages, schnitzel, etc.
For some reason, the WiFi in the hostel I’m staying in currently isn’t allowing me to upload my photos. Due to some technical difficulty I’m going to go ahead and post without pictures which is a shame. Hopefully I can get them added at a later date.