Berlin is a city still mourning its somber past. Dismay gray skies spread over an expanse of graffitied walls and WWII rubble. Solemn monuments to countless victims stand beside modern high-rise buildings. It’s to-the-bone cold and the sun keeps its distance. But for a city with as many ghosts and Berlin, perhaps that’s only fitting.
To be honest, I’m having a hard time connecting with Berlin. It’s a different Europe than what I’ve come to know and love. It’s a city that’s both ancient and new, having been torn apart and reformed over and over again. It still has the feeling of a city trying to reinvent itself. There are no ostentatious cathedrals and medieval castles. No trees or gardens. Everything is gray. It’s big and confusing and crowded. Around every turn there is a reminder to the atrocities committed on her soil. I guess you could say it’s a little depressing. Much of Berlin was completely destroyed during the war so many of it’s historic sites are merely crumbled concrete honored with small monuments. Not to say that there isn’t a ton to take in. I did stand beside what’s left of the Berlin Wall, crossed over Cold War top sight, Checkpoint Charlie, and stood on Hitler’s suicide spot (morbid, I know, but it’s marked with a plaque). I do live for history so there is plenty to occupy my mind, if not much to see. I will add though, seeing the aftermath of a country torn apart by decades of conflict has given me lots of thought while writing Rebel Song book 2!
Of course we all know about the atrocities of the Holocaust and the war that wiped out three percent of the world’s population (60 million deaths, in case you didn’t know), but being here brings it right to the gut. The Germans have decided to own their mistakes and now boldly honor those murdered at the hands of the Nazi regime. The Topography of Terror stands on the former Gestapo bunker showcasing hundreds of graphic photographs from the Nazi years–cold, hard proof of the horrors humans are capable of. The images of mass executions–of women, children and the elderly–would take down even the most hardened heart. One thing I learned more about is the millions of non-Jews also targeted by the Fuhrer. The Sinti and Roma (Gypsies) were enemy number 2. Then he went after the gays, followed by the mentally ill and physically disabled. Really anyone who was incapable of work for whatever reason was “exterminated.” It’s terrifying to see and read about how someone like Hitler could rise to power. I guess it puts Trump into perspective (does it though??) I won’t ramble on and depress all of you, but I suppose it’s weighing heavily on me at the moment. The juxtaposition of rowdy spring-breakers gleefully skipping past all that horror on their way to the techno club is unsettling.
My time here hasn’t been all so depressing though. I made a few Australian hostel friends (my own age, gasp!) and we hit up a few bawdy, stein raising pubs. Us responsible adults called it a night as they 20-somethings were just leaving for the clubs. And they returned to the hostel as I was having my morning coffee. Nothing like bunking with a bunch of college kids to remind that you that you are very much an adult. 🙂
Today I did my own version of a hop-on, hop-off tour on the Underground. For 6 Euros you get an unlimited day pass that whips you anywhere you want to go in the city. Once you spend a little time to figure out the routes it’s a fantastic (and cheap!) way to see all the sights. I grabbed some curry noodles from a street vendor and sat at the busy Alexanderplatz square and watched Berlin go about its day. The food in Berlin is pretty delicious, although sadly not much traditional German fare is vegetarian friendly. Luckily the ethnic street food is belly rumbling yummy!
I find I’m really enjoying solo travel hostel life. My current place is in an old historic building, with a cozy library for a lounge, complete with a little bar. Hostelers kill time sipping pilsners, reading, playing games with each other and chatting up strangers. By the end of happy hour you can have new friends from Buenos Ares to Sydney. Your room is a revolving door of travelers and you never know who you’ll find when you walk in each day. Tonight I’m bunking with a chipper British nurse and her little brother and a solo South Korean girl who doesn’t really speak English. She also has a suitcase with her the size of my Berkeley apartment, which is somewhat bizarre for a hostel filled with backpackers. The beds are cushy and comfy, the atmosphere is warm and the energy sizzles. Some are here for a quick boys’ weekend away, some have been here for months (the red-eyes and overgrown beards give it away). The nice thing about hostels is that no matter where they’re from or even what age, they are (mostly) your ilk for the sheer fact that they care about travel the way you do.
On a final note, a funny things happens when you travel like this: You stop caring about perfection. My hair has been in a bun for days, a mani-pedi would definitely be in order and I’m living in leggings and combat boots. But who cares what you look like when you’re staring down a Holocaust memorial?! It’s not just about appearance though. You stop caring about things in general being so perfect. So you got off on the wrong metro stop. Whatever. You get back on. You overslept? Ok, adjust your itinerary and move on. Blog post has a typo? I was too busy moving on to the next site to proofread (please do forgive the typos though. I’m a bit bleary eyed at the end of my days). It’s a freeing way to move about. When you don’t sweat the small stuff, you find you just learn to just embrace each moment for what it is. And you might have an unexpected adventure!
It’s below freezing on the bleak Berlin streets tonight so I’m cozied up in bed calling it an early night. This backpacking thing is exhausting!