Prague Day 1: From Berlin to Dresden to Prague

A new day, a new experience! Sunday was definitely a unique experience for me because Pop Pop and I planned to drive from Berlin to Prague.

We started  the day with another great breakfast, similar to yesterday’s. Then, we walked to a cute flea market down the street from our hotel. Luckily, this was only a walk away, and the car rental shop was an easy walk from the market. When we were done scanning the various antique, accessory and art tents, we retrieved our Ford from the rental office and drove back to our hotel to pick up our bags. Unfortunately, we experienced problems right away. First, we were not given a ticket that was required to exit the parking garage. The second issue was that the power outlet in the car was not working, and our GPS was dead. Correcting these problems ate up a chunk of time, but soon enough, we were on our way.

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Saying, “Tschuss” to Berlin by posing with its symbol, a bear.

I helped navigate the way and look for street signs, as well as double checked our projected route on a map. Yes, a paper map! After several miles of basically a straight route, we found our next destination: Dresden. We were not staying here, but we wanted to visit the Aldstat, the old town. This historical center is on the left bank of the Elbe River, with architecture from the Renaissance, Baroque period, and 19th century. The hour we were able to spend there did not do the city justice, but it was still fascinating to see a new old town.

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Entering Dresden

After two more hours of simple driving and navigating, we arrived in Prague. Our apartment there was definitely too big for two people, but it was quite a sweet, simple place. About a half hour after our arrival, we met with our tour guide who we would be with us most of our stay in Prague. Her name is Ida, and she is an absolutely pleasant woman. Her passion for this city is inspiring, and I can see why she loves it. Prague is layered in history, beautiful, clean and vibrant. After two minutes of walking through the city I was in love. If I did not have a top three favorite city list before Prague, I do now and I already plan to come back at some point in my life.

 

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My adorable room

During her informational, but very relaxed tour, we saw a number of historical and gorgeous buildings. The first place she brought us to was an old 19th century building upon a hill with absolutely stunning views of the city. At that point, she pointed out the separate sections of the city and explained to us the history of the area.

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View of Prague

From there, we walked down Paris Street, which is lined with beautiful architecture and expensive stores such as Prada, Rolex and Jimmy Choo. At the end of that street is Old Town Square, which houses churches, statues and colorful buildings. We were also fortunate enough to see the medieval astronomical clock there and watch the figures move as the clock struck 8 p.m.

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Prague astronomical clock

Lida also showed us the “oldest” synagogue in Europe, medieval buildings that were turned into bars and many examples of Renaissance and Gothic architecture. We ended the night by passing over the Charles Bridge and walking into where we would eat a long awaited dinner. The restaurant was beautiful and had a small fish pond built into the floor. I had a Czech specialty roast pork dinner that was extremely tasty. The sauerkraut it was served with was especially notable with its sweet and savory taste.

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The night ended later than I expected, but still no later than any other night. I was disappointed I only had one full day ahead of me in this picturesque city, but I knew we would make the most of it.

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Berlin Day 2 Continued: Welcome to the Wyld

At the beginning of our tour earlier in the day, Pop Pop and I noticed the Friedrichstadt Palast, a performing arts center. We decided to check it out on our way back and we ended up buying tickets for the show called “The Wyld,” at 7:30 p.m. This gave us an hour and a half to get back to our hotel, shower and change, and take the metro back to the center. With a small hold up on the metro, we made it to the show with minutes to spare.

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The show was…interesting, spectacular, full of energy…wild. It is described as “as wonderful and quirky as Berlin” and is set on the biggest theater stage in the world. The show had a production budget of ten million euros, and one could tell. There were strobe lights, intricate outfits, rising stage sections and trap doors. I am not sure if there was a set storyline in the show, as it was mainly dance and acrobatics set to song and music. Surprisingly, many of the songs were in English. Some scenes consisted of biker girls dressed up in cute biking outfits and a professional trick-biker, a museum of ancient Egypt and outer space. There were showscases of strength and flexibility. There were synchronized dancers under water. There were flips through the air. It was incredible. It was controlled chaos.  It was impressive. Apparently, this is a New York Times Top Ten “Must See” in Berlin. I would definitely recommend it.

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Closing bows

When the show was over, we still had some daylight, so Pop Pop and I decided to hop off the s-bahn on the way back to our hotel and see one more sight. We visited Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, which was bombed during WWII and only partially rebuilt. Half of the spire is missing and some pieces of walls are simply not there anymore. Now, people can see it as a museum and a devastating reminder of what once happened in the streets of Berlin.

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Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church

As we were walking around the corner from our hotel, I noticed another marking of where a Jew once resided. He was taken to and died at Auschwitz. Here I was, staying in a nice, developed area of Berlin, yet there is this gut-wrenching reminder of history.

This was an astounding day in Berlin, and I hope I can come back one day and see the sights that I have not had the time to visit. I would like to come back to Germany in general and visit different cities and sites as well. Maybe one day, if I can build the confidence to navigate the region and language on my own!

 

Berlin Day 2: You are Leaving the American Sector

Guten Morgen Berlin! Our first and only full day in Berlin arrived and we were ready to take in this new city. We started off with having a nice breakfast at our hotel that consisted of different types of pastries, meats (including smoked salmon), nuts, fruit and cereal. It was quite satisfying. After that, we jumped on the s-bahn, since we now understood how to work it, and went to our meeting spot.

Our plan was a six-hour walking tour and although it was going to be a very hot day, I was super excited that it was not raining. Below I have listed some of the the sights I saw and facts I learned while on the tour.

  • We stopped at a synagogue that had been destroyed during the Nazi regime and then later rebuilt. One can see the patchwork on the structure. The darker areas are original, while the new and lighter areas are new.
  • We saw an example of what an original apartment building would have looked like during WWII, since this particular building had luckily not been destroyed or renovated on the outside.
  • We observed that most buildings or parts of buildings that survived fro WWII had many bullet holes covering them and chunks missing from the wall.
  • We visited an original 1920’s dance hall, called Clarchen’s Ballhaus.
  • We saw where a building once stood that was destroyed during the war, but had left the room outlines and even some wallpaper on its once conjoined building.
  • We found place marks that explained where Jewish people lived, where they were imprisoned and when they died.
  • We stopped for food at a train station and had traditional German currywurst and braunschweiger.
  • We saw the Trains to Life, Trains to Death statue, which depicts the conflicting realities of Jewish children during the Nazi regime. Some looked happy, as they were being adopted into new families through special programs, while others were facing the opposite way, looking helpless as they left for concentration camps.
  • We went to the square at which Hitler would hold rallies.
  • We visited Gendarmenmakrt, which is the square that is home to Konzerthaus, a concert hall, and French and German churches that face one another.
  • We visited a market, which was set up with individual stands with red and white striped awnings, which was adorable.
  • We walked through the Memorial of the Murdered Jews of Europe. The architect gave this memorial a very abstract look, with cement blocks rising from the curvy ground at different heights. Some people describe it as a ghetto with tiny streets and small, dark buildings. Others say it brings a sense of isolation. The meaning behind it we may never actually fully understand.
  • We went to the Neue Wach Memorial, which serves as the “Central Memorial of the Federal Republic of Germany for the Victims of War and Dictatorship.” The inside sculpture by Käthe Kollwitz, Mother with her Dead Son, is a very broad remembrance of all victims of war. This woman created the tribute after her son was killed in war. Her art was actually banned from East Berlin because it showed the sorrows of war. Under it are buried the ashes of an unknown soldier and a Jewish victim.
  • We passed the opera house, which is pink and under construction.
  • We stopped at Humbolt Universsitaet, which is the very famous college in the city.
  • We visited a square at which thousands of books that did not fit the narrow guidelines of Nazi ideals were burned. There is now a memorial in the ground, which is an empty room of shelves for 20,000 books. A memorial that is very easily overlooked, one can view it by looking through the glass window in the ground. Many commemorations in Berlin are quite subtle, such as the markings where Jews were killed or taken. Many purposely slip the eye, but appear at random, giving a strong remembrance of what once happened.
  • We went outside a famous chocolate restaurant, Fassbender & Rausch, which has chocolate sculptures and even a full menu that features chocolate as an ingredient.
  • We took a long stop at Checkpoint Charlie, a famous check spot between East and West Berlin, which surprisingly is not one bit original ad extremely touristy. There is a remake of a sign that indicated when people were leaving U.S. territory, which I thought was a cool sign to see. There are even fake American soldiers dressed up with rented costumes that are not at all historically correct, and are also rented by many male strippers. So, if you ever take a photo opportunity with one of these pretend soldiers, you might also be helping out a male stripper. Woohoo!
  • We learned about the Trabi car, which was the only car allowed in East Berlin. A waitlist for one was about ten years, and they only went up to 50 miles per hour when stomping on the gas, going downhill. They were quite flimsy and unreliable cars.
  • We saw a mural the Soviet Union put up to show happiness, which is now juxtaposed by a picture of a rebellion in East Berlin on the ground in front of it.
  • We observed a statue, which is the outline of a man’s face. Apparently this was a policeman who used his power to oppose the war, and who was kept alive in prison to show people what happens when you are a traitor. However, once Germany knew they were going to lose, he was executed.
  • We saw the Brandenburg Gate, which was originally designed by Prussia. It is a famous neo-classical structure that marked the border of Berlin and Brandenburg an der Havel.
  • We ended the tour at Hotel Adlon, which is about 100 years old and has had guests including the Queen of England. It is a remake, of course, because it burned down. This is the site at which Michael Jackson dangled baby Blanket from a balcony.

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The tour was wonderful, but I couldn’t believe all the museums and other points of interest there are to see in Berlin. I loved learning about the history of Germany, how it started out as a country and how it became the way it is now.

Of course, a six-hour walking tour of the city was not enough. Pop Pop wanted to find something to do that night, so we decided to check out a place we passed at the beginning of the tour, which I will describe in a later post.

Berlin Day 1 Continued: Friends and Food

Navigating the NYC subway, fine. Finding my way through the Paris metro, simple. Figuring out the Berlin s-bahn, no thanks! Pop Pop, who speaks a decent amount of German, even had a difficult time learning how to travel on the subway here in Berlin. Somehow, I guess with asking people and using a map, we did figure out where we wanted to go and we got on the train. In Berlin, there are two types of trains: the s-bahn and u-bahn. The first is mostly above ground, and the latter underground. Unfortunately, we ran into a bit more trouble when we realized we passed the stop we wanted. We called the tour company and luckily they said we could make it in time. With much sweat and determination, we found the group right in the knick of time!

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The T.V. Tower. Notice that the light reflects off of it to form a cross.

We met the group at the T.V. Tower I talked about earlier, which is now a restaurant that spins three times an hour and a popular vantage point of the city. Our guide was American. After college he apparently moved to Germany for the music scene and has been here ever since. On our tour were people from the U.S., London and Australia.

We were on a dinner tour, so we were treated to a combination of history and food. A few things we saw along the tour include:

  • A guard tower looking out on the “death strip” of the Berlin wall. This was the area between the Berlin wall and the second wall surrounding it (Yes, technically, the Berlin Wall was not just one wall). It was dubbed “death strip” because when people tried to escape and hop over the first wall, there would be obstacles in their way and guards waiting to shoot them. Apparently there was an overload of bunnies in this area, and guards enjoyed hunting them for fun.
  • Markers that showed where victims were killed.
  • Markers that showed where the underground tunnels were that went from West to East Berlin.
  • A memorial dedicated to Kristallnacht, or The Night of the Broken Glass.
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Kristallnacht Memorial

During our tour, we stopped at three places to eat. The first eatery was modern and artsy. We had falafel there. Falafel is popular in the U.S. and especially in NYC, which has falafel stands dotting its streets. I don’t usually like falafel, but for some reason, this one was quite tasty. At the next place we sat outside, which was lovely. We had an assortment of German food, including rouladen, a type of meatball, a flatbread with greens and tomatoes, and many other small dishes. The last place we stopped at was for dessert. It had about a dozen types of cakes, but I ended up with frozen chocolate. This was basically cold hot chocolate with a scoop of chocolate ice cream. It was delicious. I tried some cheesecake, carrot cake and Danish apple cake that other people had, and they were all tasty as well.

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My frozen chocolate

Yes, you read that right. I tried other people’s food that I had only met a few hours before. During the tours I have been on, as I have mentioned, I have met incredible people. This group in particular was full of friendly, interesting travelers. Because this was a dinner tour, we were all forced to converse and get to know one another. However, these people all seemed genuinely interested in getting to know about each other and I loved that. I told them how impressed I was with the people I have met on the tours over the last few days, and they all agreed that to be traveling in foreign countries, a person is usually going to be open to new places, cultures and interactions. The mother and son I met from Australia happen to be from the town in which I may study abroad, and the mother gave me her card and the son added me on Facebook. I was so grateful that I was in Berlin with these incredible people.

It was an amazing and busy first day, and we expected nothing less of the next.

 

 

Berlin Day 1: Sights from River Spree

I feel like I half my brain was taken out, mushed up on the ground and thrown back into my head. Arriving in Germany is such a huge shift for me because I do not understand a single thing I hear or see. I don’t know French, but I was so much more comfortable staying in France. This is going to be interesting.

Our flight to Berlin was smooth and we arrived a bit before noon at the Tegel airport. It was surprising to find out it was not necessary to go through customs or get a stamp in our passports. We quickly hopped in a taxi and were on our way to the hotel. Upon arrival, my Pop Pop filled out a paper and discussed sightseeing opportunities with the hotel manager. Feeling extremely dumb and ignorant, I awkwardly sat there until I knew I could go back to my room. We are staying at the Hommage-a-Margritte, which is a modern, yet dainty and charming boutique hotel.

No more than 30 minutes after arrival, Pop Pop decided we would go on a boat cruise on the River Spree. It was extremely hot out, but once the vessel started moving, we welcomed a nice breeze. We passed through parks, trees and very modern buildings. Berlin surprised me like Dublin did. Although I did not know exactly what I expected of each city, both were different than I subconsciously expected. Then again, I have to remember that much of Berlin is fairly new because World War II was not long ago.

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On the River Spree

We passed several important buildings that the tour, which was recorded in English and German, pointed out. Here are a few things I saw and learned:

  • Berlin has a greater water surface and more bridges than Venice, Amsterdam and Stockholm combined.
  • We passed the Charlottenburg power station, which dated back to 1900 and is one of the oldest surviving power stations in Berlin.
  • The Royal Porcelain Manufactory (KPM) is one of the longest-standing businesses in Berlin and was founded in 1751 by a Swiss entrepreneur.
  • The Victory Column commemorates Prussia’s victories in the “unification wars” between 1864 and 1871. It is a gold-plate sculpture of Victoria, the goddess of victory.
  • The House of World Cultures picked up its nickname “pregnant Oyster” due to its roof structure, which was designed by an American architect and given by the U.S. for the International Building Exhibition in West Berlin.
  • There is a T.V. tower that rises tall above the city. It was built between 1965 and 1969, and is the second-tallest free-standing structure in Europe after the Moscow T.V tower.
  • The most beautiful bridge in Berlin is the Oberbaum Bridge, built in 1895. Its name means “upper tree,” coming from the historical tree barrier placed on the river as the sun would set to prevent barges from illegally entering the city.
  • The Berlin coat of arms is a bear.
  • There is an island between the River Spree and Kupfergraben Canal called “Museum Island” that houses five museum buildings including the neo-baroque Bode Museum.
  • The Berlin Cathedral is referred to the protestant counterpart of its role model, St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.
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Oberbaum Bridge

After the boat turned around to head back to its beginning point, Pop Pop and I hopped off at a rest point near where we would begin our planned bike tour. However, first, we would have to figure out the s-bahn, the subway.