Thursday 14 April 2016

Walking in the rain in Berlin

One of the things we took advantage of on offer at our hostel in Berlin was the daily 'free' walking tour. Now this isn't actually free and I'm glad that I now know this, as I wasn't aware on my first backpacking trip to Europe in 2007 and was super surprised when we got to the end of the free walking tour to be asked for money. As a poor backpacker I had embarked on the tour to save some money... only to then not have saved any! This time I went in thinking 'this is a €10 tour'. 

We were collected by our guide (the first of two) in the reception of our hostel and walked along to Pariser Platz, in front of the Brandenburg Gate. Here we were herded to a large swarm of other tourists waiting to be split into groups for their own walking tour. At this point our guide Konstantin gave us a numbered ticket and promptly disappeared into the crowd.

We ended up in the English language group and finally our number was called to join Lynsey, from Scotland, for the tour to actually begin. 

We didn't have great conditions for it, as it rained the entire two hours. Lynsey was knowledgable and engaging however and the tour was interesting. It brought back memories of the cycling tour I did with Macey and Joe all those many moons ago.

The only negative point of the tour was the pit stop we made around an hour and a half into the tour. This is obviously where all of the tours stop, and apparently all at the same time. Lynsey gave us 10 minutes to go in, use the toilets and buy a drink if we wished. I was lucky to get in the toilet queue before it started to snake up the stairs. But I also wanted a warm drink (since we'd been out in the cold for so long). This involved waiting a bit longer and being late back to the group. That was a bit of a shambles. The cafe obviously has an agreement (and probably a commission) with Sandemans tour operator but who brings everyone there at exactly the same time and expects them to be in and out within 10 minutes?!

It was a shame about the weather, since it cleared up as soon as we finished the tour. I'm still glad we went along though. Walking tours are such a great way to get a grip on a new place and get a run down of interesting places and some of the back story of the city, especially if you don't have a lot of time there. 

Me looking at the annoying people with their massive umbrellas ruining my photo!

This is inside the Holocaust memorial in Berlin (which is actually called 'Memorial to the Murdered Jew of Europe' a somewhat evocative title). I think this is a really significant sculpture/memorial. The fact that the meaning has never been explained by the artist is important, in my opinion anyway. There are theories to what all the stones symbolise, and they all seem plausible. Walking through I was definitely struck by its power. The stones are all different sizes, and as you get into the middle they tower above you, they are close together so it's not easy to pass other people. It's dark and disorientating. You can hear other people but you don't know whether they are about to pop out from behind the stone in front of you or if their voices are just carrying along from further away. There are some dead ends as well. It's an experience, more than just looking at a statue or fountain and being completely disconnected from its meaning. This memorial takes you inside of it, makes you feel uncomfortable and bring up real emotion. 

Some of the stones have started to crack. Which really seemed to add something to the memorial.

Even though I've seen it before; in Berlin and also at the Imperial War Museum in London, I was still struck by the Berlin Wall. It just seems so small and flimsy. How could this little wall have done so much damage?

Of course, the Berlin wall that separated East and West Berlin wasn't just this little piece of concrete, it was also watch towers, soldiers with guns and a no mans land 'death strip' filled with sand. It's still interesting to come face to face with this notorious piece of history and think 'is that it?!' 

Strange to be here looking at this wall, dividing a city, built to keep inhabitants within one country and there may be another wall erected soon across the Atlantic there to keep others out. Seems like we have learnt nothing.

We ended the tour in Bebelplatz. The site of Nazi book burning in Berlin. There is a memorial here for the approximately 20,000 books burnt on the 10th May 1933. This is also a moving memorial, as you look into a basement through a glass window, all you can see are rows and rows of empty book shelves. Enough to hold the number of books lost that night. Such a terrible part of history but marked and remembered in appropriate and significant ways. 
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