Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Impressions of Berlin

This is my second day in Berlin, and it is a really fascinating city. It is completely different than Prague, and there is so much to do. The city is GIGANTIC. Second biggest city in Europe, and trying to see everything is exhausting. I don't feel like listing everything that I have seen, but here are some of the highlights...
Yesterday was all about exploring East Berlin. I'm staying with a friend from BC, Chris Young, and his apartment is east of the East Center. The public transportation system here is great, so it is pretty easy to get to the center on the S-Bahn (the above-ground train) in about 15 minutes. One thing that is kind of eerie on the train, however, is that no one speaks. It was weird to chat with Chris, when I knew everyone could hear what we were saying (even if it was just a whisper).
Chris went off to university and I explored the center for a while. I saw the Reichstag, which is the lovely German parliament, and Checkpoint Charlie, but cannot remember the names of any of the other buildings I saw. The architecture here is very different. Although there are some buildings that look very old, they alternate with buildings in a modern style. This contrasts greatly with the continuation of very similar architecture throughout Prague. It obviously is one of the many effects the war had on Berlin's architecture. I tried to get lost in the city, but unfortunately failed. The streets are too straight, and they all intersect at right angles; my mental compass cannot be fooled when wandering around in a grid. This is a huge contrast with Prague's narrow and winding roads, but easier for a tourist!
I also saw the huge Berliner Dom, which is a gigantic Protestant cathedral. It was spectacular, but like many of the buildings, damaged by the war. My tourist book says that the reconstruction was not as spectacular as the original. It's a shame, but understandable. Right now they are constructing a new castle that was destroyed. Should be interesting to see the final product.
My favorite part of the day was stumbling upon a museum that described the road to democracy of Germany. I thought I was going into a church, but instead found a huge museum funded by the Bundestag. Not was it only free admission, they also provided free headsets in the English language: perfect for a student. The museum chronicled Germany's political history from unification to today. As a geek, I was fascinated; I stayed for two and a half hours, but had to leave to meet up with Chris.
At the end of this long day, I cooked Chris pork-chops with ginger, caramelized onions, mushrooms, and pea pods as a thanks for letting me stay at his place. Afterward, we met up with some of his Kiwi friends and I met some new interesting people. It seems like it is pretty easy to get a job as an English speaker in Berlin...
I slept in pretty late the next morning, but headed out to explore more of the East Center. I was trying to find the Museum Island, but as the city is so big, and the island as well, I could not figure out if I was on the island, or on the mainland, so I eventually gave up. I use the giant tv tower as a landmark, but without a decent map, this city can be frustrating. I decided to jump on a double-decker bus and wound up in the Western Center. This side is much more modern, and as Chris says, it feels more like the states. I spent the day walking, and walking, and just looking at all the interesting architecture. The streets in Berlin are so wide, and it feels like there is so much open space. Maybe that is why the city is also so huge. Instead of compacting it like in Prague, they just let it grow farther out.
I really like the German language. I used to think that it sounded ugly, but the more I hear it, the more beauty I hear in the sounds. I kind of am upset I didn't take the language in high school. (Then again, I wouldn't give up Spanish for any other language). It is also interesting to look so German. I don't look like a tourist at all, except when I whip out my video camera, which is nice, but frustrating. I feel really stupid when people approach me in German and I have to answer with an "I don't speak German, sorry". They always respond back in their perfect English, and I want to say something like "I'm only here for three days, otherwise I would know some German!" but refrain. Oh well... one day maybe I can study it.
Wish I had the time and the money to go see a Wagner opera, now that would be fantastic. However, I am just content wandering around the city, and exploring this new world. When I get home, I'll upload the video I have taken so you can see some of what I have seen.

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