Monday, April 10, 2017

Adventures in Berlin

At the end of March, we spent several days in Berlin! We were there for the annual European Fulbright conference with about 550 others. The conference ran from Sunday evening to Thursday morning, but there were a few breaks where we could run out and explore bits of the city or go to dinner with friends. All in all, I'd say we really enjoyed our time in Berlin! There are terrific restaurants, lots of things to see and do, and we had perfect weather for most of the trip (it got drizzly as we were leaving the hotel).

We took the train from Muenster to Berlin early on a Sunday morning. The time change in Germany happened that night/morning so we were exhausted from lack of sleep, but the trip itself was around three hours which wasn't bad at all. Our IC train went directly to the Berlin Hauptbahnhof and from there we took an U-Bahn to Wittenbergplatz near our hotel.

On our first afternoon there, we checked into the conference and the hotel, Hotel Motel One Tiergarten. Despite the name including the word "Motel", which made me think it was going to be a little gross, we were impressed by this hotel. It was large, quiet, and nice, and we'd definitely check out the chain again. We stayed on the 8th floor with many of our American friends and despite everyone's excitement in being reunited, it was almost TOO quiet in our room! This hotel had the convenience too of being directly across from where the conference was held at the Urania, so getting to conference events was nice and easy.

After checking in, we ran out with friends for burgers, which were delicious. Following that, we boarded buses to take a tour of the city, organized by the Fulbright Commission. We drove past important things while our awesome guide gave us some of the city's history. 

As mentioned before, we were in Berlin for a conference! There were over 500 Fulbrighters from all over Europe in attendance. Germany had the most Fulbrighters in attendance, predictably, with ETA Fulbrighters and researchers. There was a decent representation from Spain, with smaller contingencies from other European countries (people from outside Germany had to pay their own way) and even a group of about 200 Germans who are going to the United States next year to begin their Fulbrights at universities across the nation. Nearly everyone was unfamiliar, but it was nice to see our Marburg friends! 

There was an opening ceremony the first night, followed by a buffet dinner (we stood in line for an hour!). The second day was full of sessions, which I did not attend. Carson had a session in the morning but not the afternoon, so we were able to explore then. That night, there was a formal opening ceremony at a nearby concert hall, where we experienced some music and speaking before dinner. The third day was a half day at the Bundestag, with free time in the afternoon which we spent by ourselves for the most part until we met up with friends for dinner (everyone else went to Indian food but Jaime joined Carson and I for Mexican food next door and it was GOOD! Thanks for redeeming German Mexican food, Berlin!). On Wednesday, there was an event in the morning and then project presentations in the afternoon. Four of our friends from Marburg had submitted projects to be presented, so those were fun to watch! That evening there was a formal dinner at Alte Pumpe, followed by dancing which I halfheartedly joined for like three seconds. On Thursday morning, we had breakfast at the hotel while the ETA Fulbrights had a meeting at the Urania and then we checked out and headed to the airport!

Melanie and Julianne presented in the same panel.

Found Sound Orchestra was one of the research projects presented by our friend Sarah. She was part of Carson's language class and is doing research on music and sculpture. Not being an artist I don't totally understand this, but she composed a piece of music using 14 Fulbrighters who created music simply based on their own research. Carson flipped pages of a book and dropped a book depending on what was called for. It was really really interesting and I think I was most impressed with Sarah's ability to create music out of things that are not typically instruments. 

Now that we've got conference stuff out of the way, here are pictures from the city! We had terrific weather while we were there, which I saw on my weather app, but was still surprised by - it felt like spring! We took a bus tour the first day, so some pictures are from that, but instead of showing you what we did chronologically, I'll just lump pictures of similar spots together. 

This is in the area by Checkpoint Charlie:

Checkpoint Charlie is the most well-known crossing point between East Germany and West Germany, designated for Allied forces and foreigners. I didn't know this, but there were also a Checkpoint Alpha and a Checkpoint Bravo - this one is the most well-known crossing point though! There is a museum there, and the checkpoint remains, but it is clearly a tourist destination.

East Side Gallery is a long section of the Berlin Wall along the river Spree that has been repurposed as a memorial for freedom following the fall of the Berlin Wall. Painted by artists, it has over 100 paintings that point to a free and better world.

The bus stopped at the Brandenburg Gate so we could get out and take pictures, which of course we did. 

Picture snagged from Jordyn

Also snagged from Jordyn

Reichstag Building
This impressive building was built in the late 19th century and was partially destroyed in 1933 due to a fire. It has been rebuilt and is the seat of the German Parliament. Visitors CAN go up in the dome and it's free, but you need to reserve a spot ahead of time, and we just didn't know about that before we went. The next spot didn't open until the day we left, so we missed out on the view from this building and just saw it from the outside. We'd hoped to catch a glimpse of Chancellor Angela Markel, but no such luck. Maybe we'll be back!

The Tiergarten (literal translation: animal garden). It's a massive park with a zoo inside (it's larger than Central Park in New York!). The Victory Column and Schloss Bellevue can be seen in the park, and at the other end is the Reichstag and Brandenburg Gate. 

Carson went for several runs through this park while we were in Berlin, as it wasn't far from our hotel. On our second day in Berlin, Carson and I were walking past, enjoying the sunshine ourselves, and spotted some nude sunbathers in an open part of the park. Despite how weird that sounds to our American sensibilities, it's not uncommon for Europeans to strip down and enjoy the sunshine in public. We witnessed some people doing just that in Heidelberg last summer as well, and although those sunburns don't sound like they'd be fun to us, I guess they're just soaking up every last drop of Vitamin D! And no worries, I didn't take pictures of them... you can scroll in peace.

Schloss Bellevue, official residence of the German President. It was originally built as an 18th century Prussian palace and was bombed in WWII, but rebuilt in the 1950s. 

Victory Column (Siegessäule)
The Victory Column was built to commemorate Prussian military victories after the Unification Wars in the late 19th century, and still stands today in the middle of the Tiergarten. There is a viewing platform that several friends visited and were rewarded with a great view of the city. We didn't go up, but it's pretty inexpensive - 3 Euro or 2,50 reduced. 

Not far from that, we walked past the Soviet War Memorial at the Tiergarten, erected to commemorate the 30,000 military deaths of those in the Soviet Union in WWII, and particularly those who died in the Battle of Berlin in the Spring of 1945.

Sometimes I feel like if I've seen one church, I've seen them all, but then there's another church that I feel compelled to visit and it always impresses. The Berliner Dom (Berlin Cathedral) didn't disappoint. It was beautiful inside and out. 
We tried to visit it on Tuesday evening, and literally ran to get there before they stopped issuing tickets at 6pm (you can be in there touring until 7pm in the winter hours, which ended already and extended by an hour as of April 1). We arrived at 5:56, which is when we discovered that though they don't say it online, you can't get tickets after 5:55. It was disappointing, but Carson and I went back the next morning. Admission was 7 Euro regular and 5 reduced.

They had an exhibit on Luther and Bach that made the assumption that if not for Luther's words, Bach would not have had the success that he did. It was an interesting exhibit. We've enjoyed the different things Germany has done to commemorate the 500 Jahre anniversary of the Reformation.

On the observation deck of the Berliner Dom with the Fernsehturm in the background. The Fernsehturm is a TV tower built in the 1960s by the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) as a symbol of communism. It is the tallest structure in Germany and you can go to the top where there is a restaurant and a viewing deck (tickets to go up inside are about 13 Euro, so it isn't cheap).

Our admission tickets also included a trip down to the crypt, where the remains of many of the Hohenzollern family members are kept.

Thanks, self-timer! The flash makes this look very green-screeny.

Ampelmȁnnchen (literally - "little traffic light men") are the funny looking traffic light men that were a part of East Germany. The traffic lights with these little men are still up all over, telling you when to walk and when to wait, and they've become such a symbol that there are stores all over Berlin dedicated to these little guys. We stopped by a store and picked up a postcard and little figures that we'll use as Christmas ornaments.

We stopped quickly by the Humboldt University near the Dom to admire the outside of this prestigious university, but mostly to visit the Book Burning Memorial at the Bebelplatz.

This is one of those places that you could easily miss, even if you were looking for it. Through a window in the ground, you can look down at empty bookshelves that could have housed about 20,000 books - this is to commemorate the twenty thousand or so books burned by the Nazis in May of 1933. The books that were burned were those that were considered to be a threat to the ideas propagated by the Nazi regime. I thought that this memorial was very compelling and appreciated the manner in which it was presented. 

 We visited the Holocaust Memorial, or the Memorial the the Murdered Jews of Europe (Denkmal für die Ermordeten Juden Europas) near the Brandenburg Gate. It is organized in blocks that vary in size, and the ground underneath them is rather hilly. I'm not entirely sure what the blocks themselves represent, but also on the premises is a museum that lists the names of all known Jews that were murdered in the Holocaust and the stories of specific people. 

It is located in an interesting spot. In more recent history, the Berlin Wall stretched over this area. Over seventy years ago though, Hitler's bunker and various administrative buildings that organized the killing of so many people (these buildings have been destroyed) stood nearby. Today, there are several embassies and government buildings that look over this area and the spot was clearly chosen thoughtfully as a reminder to not repeat the past. 

One of the things I've noticed many times in Germany, and particularly in places like Berlin, is the continued emphasis on naming the failures and injustices of the past, so that they are not forgotten and not repeated. I didn't walk by any of these, but I'm told that they even have plaques in front of places where Jews were taken and transported to their ultimate death. I appreciate this transparency and am sobered by it. 

Buddy Bears are these large fiberglass bears that can be seen all over the city of Berlin. There was even a Statue of Liberty bear in the US Embassy!


Of course, among all the things we saw in Berlin, our favorite was reconnecting with our Marburg friends! We've seen some of our friends since we all separated in September, but others we haven't seen since then. It was great hearing what everyone is doing and how their projects have evolved over the past few months, hang out, and even get eis in Alexanderplatz before running back to our hotel.

I said we wouldn't try it again, but we gave German Mexican food a shot in Berlin because we've heard basically all food is good in the city. The verdict? It was good! We went to a place called Taco Dealer with Jaime while everyone else went to Indian food next door, and everything we got was delicious. 

On the last night, there was a dinner and dance. Here I am with Sarah and Sophie, just before we escaped the dancing and went back to our nice, techno-music-free hotel. This is just after I reluctantly was forced to join a conga line in the other room.

On our last night, there was a fire drill at the hotel. Oddly enough, we didn't hear it at all in our room, but Jaime knocked on our door and let us know and sure enough, there was a siren in the hall and a voice telling us to head downstairs so we changed from our pajamas and headed down. I don't know what the issue was, because after about 20 minutes, we were allowed to go upstairs again. We laughed at ourselves though, because we clearly didn't view this as serious, simply grabbing our phones and not our passports or anything in case the threat had been real. I hope that in the event of this being serious, we wouldn't have left ourselves without ID. 

We feel like we got to just hit the high points of Berlin, even though we missed quite a bit. The weather was marvelous, and definitely not what I would have expected from a city that everyone describes as being sort of dark, dirty and grimy. It's a big city, and I could see how people would like living here with so much to see, and such good food. I personally am glad we don't live there. It seems like a great place to visit, and I'd especially return when it's warm and green, but if I were to choose another German city to live in, I'd go south and choose Munich. Guess I'm a Southeast living kind of person no mater which country I'm in!

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