Saturday, April 20, 2013

Berlin and Dresden, Germany

Last weekend I went on my programs option trip to Berlin. Our trip started early Friday morning when we left Prague at 7:15 on Friday to drive to Berlin. Our first activity was a quick guided tour of Berlin. We saw some important buildings, memorials, and historical sites. I was actually surprised when I first saw Berlin. It was under a lot of construction and not nearly as strikingly beautiful as most major European cities are. It was complete with huge cranes and water pipes coming out of the ground. Some of the cool parts included the site where the books where burned, the area where Hitler's bunker was, the Holocaust memorial, and the main square. 

  Our hostel was located directly next to the main train station. This actually became extremely helpful since the train station not only took us everywhere, but also was the equivalent of huge food court/mall and even had a drug store and grocery store. It was a cool and modern station, and we actually spent a surprising amount of time there. Anytime someone needed a snack, quick meal, cough drops, coffee, or grocery run we would walk next door to the train station.

Friday night we headed out to the Mitte area of Berlin to grab dinner and find a bar after. We took our time walking around, but eventually our hunger led us to head into an Italian restaurant. No pictures were taken but I shared a pizza and salad with goat cheese. After having dinner, we were on the hunt for ice cream so we stopped by a Haggan Daz shop and grabbed some ice cream. The funny part is we actually saw a few prostitutes on the way from the restaurant to the ice cream shop even though it was a very public and family friendly restaurant area. I'll admit it was almost exciting because I felt like I could cross off the stereotypical European sights list.

We then went to a recommended bar/club called White Trash, but it was almost empty. It had a very Berlin grunge vibe, but too empty to be very fun. We were all pretty tired from getting up so early, so we headed back to the hostel after a little bit.

Saturday started off with a trip to part of the Berlin wall. Our tour guide talked about the history, and stories of individuals who escaped. We then went and saw two short education videos that were amazing. They were extremely interesting and I may have almost teared up at certain parts. Our last stop was by a ghost metro station. West Berliners would pass through this station to get to the other side of West Berlin, but since it was a East Berlin station, the train wouldn’t be allowed to stop. When it would slow down, the guards would sometimes smuggle messages to people in West Berlin.

After walking around the wall, we headed back to the hotel to plan our day. Berlin is a very metropolitan city, and is known for it’s interesting shopping. Since it was raining out, we decided to grab a cheap lunch at the train station (I got a bratwurst, but it was little disappointing compared to Prague’s kolbasas) and to head out. We walked around a few stores (I picked up a headband), before running into a flea market. Apparently Berlin has huge flea markets all over the city, and they had booths filled with beautiful jewelry, notebooks (I was so tempted), and food. I almost made it out of the market without buying anything until I saw a stand with homemade watches. Our whole group stopped and almost everyone ended up buying one. I got a watch with a long leather studded band and a watch face that is a map of Europe, Africa, and Asia.

We wandered around and grabbed a small dinner at a Japanese restaurant. I combined two appetizers because I knew we had plans to get gelato later. After dinner we went to a gelato restaurant, and I picked out caramel, tiramisu, and stracciatella—which was even more exciting since it was shaped like a rose (I have a soft spot for visually appealing food).

Our tour guide then took us to the top of the Parliament building dome. The whole area over looked the city and it was around sunset so the views were pretty cool (minus the construction). Interesting fact about the Berlin parliament: if they don’t show up to work or for a vote than they actually have to pay a fine to the government. Also the top of the dome is open and they collect the rainwater during bad weather.

We hung out at the hostel for a little bit to relax and get ready to go out that night. We ended up randomly following the crowds to this club called Matrix underneath a train station. It ended up being a really fun night, and felt very Berlin. Weird location, good music, dancers in bras and underwear 
playing the electric violin, and lots of dancing. It was definitely the highlight of Berlin.

The next day we wandered around for a little bit. We stopped by the National Gallery, Berlin Dom, and walked past the synagogue before getting back on the bus to head home.

 Our last stop in Berlin was at the East side Gallery--the part of the Berlin wall that is the largest open air gallery in Europe. It was definitely my favorite area of Berlin, and I could have spent a lot longer just looking at all the paintings.

One of the reasons I was so excited for this trip was because on the way back we were stopping in Dresden, Germany for a quick tour. I’ve wanted to see Dresden since reading Slaughterhouse Five and since it was only a short 2-2.5 hours from Prague. Although I had a good time in Berlin, Dresden was definitely my favorite even though we were only there for a few hours. The whole area looked like a fairy tale with beautiful buildings, gardens, and streets. We got a tour of the city and then were given free time for dinner and to look around. It was a really pretty day out too, so it was fun to see everyone out enjoying the sun. I’m really glad we stopped in Dresden because I would have really missed out on the city. 

Berlin was a fun trip, and I'm really glad I went. It's a city full of history and interesting atmosphere, but it definitely felt more like a metropolitan area than other cities I've gone to (like Paris, Prague, or Krakow). There was great shopping, food, and nightlife. Dresden on the other hand was gorgeous and much more my type of city. They were two opposites, but the weekend was a ton of fun. I have my last program optional trip to Vienna next weekend!

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