Berlin is a city I’ve been eager to visit since my arrival in Europe in 2007, and as such there was a spring in my step as I filled out Day 2 on my Inter-rail pass and boarded the direct train to Berlin’s new Hauptbahnhof station. A smooth train ride, and I had fun messing with my Kindle, doing some reading, and attempting to take non-blurry shots out the window at high speed. By the time I was finally getting hungry and seriously considering the drinks car and its ridiculous prices, people were packing up and we were pulling into Berlin. Fantastic timing.
I’d meant to be here a week earlier with a friend (Nick Stace), but was still waiting in London for my Russian visa. However I had seen his photos and had a hostel recommendation from him, so bought a 48 hour travel pass and headed across to Baxpax Downtown hostel. Found my room, another 12 bed dorm (I politely declined their cheaper 30 bed dorm!), unpacked and headed out.
It was sweltering. Since Luxembourg I’d been in shorts – as it was bordering on 30 in the shade. I strolled down the side of the river towards the west, and soon enough came across a remnant of the Berlin wall by the US embassy. I’ve heard enough horror stories of taking photos around embassies, so kept walking right on.
What to say about Berlin? Everyone has a view of it – we’ve all heard so much about the war, about Hitler, Nazis, East and West, the wall (wow, I hope Google’s indexing of this sentence doesn’t change the type of visitors I get). What I didn’t expect, what I couldn’t imagine is just how much of it was destroyed, bombed to oblivion during the war, and as a result – how much of Berlin is new, clean, stylish and efficient. The trains are regular, fast, spacious and clean. The main streets have hardly any traffic (compared with other large cities like London). Architects have had a field day designing all sorts of amazing buildings.
At the same time, the city has still managed to retain much of its heritage. Many of the destroyed buildings have been rebuilt, often staying true to the original designs. Lots of the statues were taken down and put in storage during the war, and were restored to their original positions on the rebuilt buildings (often this is the only way to tell – the buildings’ stone bricks look clean and newish, while the older stone statues on them are darker).
I passed around the the Reichstag and through part of the Tiergarten, and came across the Brandenburg Gate. I’ve heard this name many times, and actually seen pictures, but never put the two together. I got some sunset-time shots, passed the Berlin museum and headed back to the hostel, as I’d arranged to meet up with a German friend, Ben, who I’d met in Buenos Aires – he’d just returned to Germany a couple of weeks back.
Back at the hostel I shared a drink with a couple of Aussies and a Canadian before Ben rocked up. It’s great to meet up with travelers and friends again in different countries – and indeed I’ve enjoyed a few re-meets in South America, back in London and even in Belgium. We headed out, exploring some of the northern suburbs, and went to one of the most random restaurants I’ve ever been in called White Trash – which bills itself as a restaurant, club and tattoo studio. Good food, good times as we caught up – he and many of the others from the hostel in Buenos Aires had stayed in the city for several weeks, before some of them traveled up the west coast of South America. Ben was now coaching basketball back in Berlin, and doing pretty well at it from the sounds of things.
I managed to make it back to the hostel with only making one semi-wrong turn at a large confusing station, and had a good sleep (apart from rowdy party-goers returning at 4am), planning on doing the walking tour the next day…
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