Berlin. A return to Deutschland.

I love Berlin! It’s not a city for the vacationer, but for the traveler. What is the difference? A person on vacation is looking for a relaxing time, to be pampered. Berlin is for the traveler. It is a city full of different foods and people, a terrible history and a fascinating present and future.

26 October 2011: Wednesday

We got into Berlin late, so we did not do any exploring. We spend time looking around our huge hostel and planning out our next few days. Our hostel is in what was East Berlin, the communist sector. I found it interesting that you can still see some parts of the communist rule around the city. According to Rick Steves, the people of Berlin voted to keep the communist crossing signals in East Berlin. When you walk into West Berlin, the signals change design.

This was my first time staying in one of these hyper-hostels and we met many interesting people. For example, the four of us were staying in a six-person room and we had one other guest staying with us. Rob was from the Netherlands. Just picture him, long black hair, leather vest, a total 50-year old rocker. I later found out that he is in an underground rock band, meeting up with his German band mates before they start their tour of Europe. I am so thankful that we had Fran traveling with us!

27 October 2011: Thursday

This morning we took the metro to the longest bit of Berlin wall still standing. It has been turned into the east side gallery; artists have painted murals all along the wall, reflecting on the time under communist control.

By now it was time for lunch and we had the best german fast food! Bratwurst and Fries!!!!! It was so good! If you are ever in Berlin, you must stop at Konnopke’s Imbiss. Situated under a railroad track, I was told by a local Berliner that this restaurant has been open since before WWII. It was even able to stay open in the communist sector during the cold war. Yum! I want some now!

This afternoon, we visited the Berliner Fernsehturm TV tower. This tower was built under the control of the Nazi party. There is a ironic story associated with this tower: Since the Nazi party rejects religion, it is interesting that when the sun is shining, a cross is reflected off of the ball of the tower!

We walked past the rathaus and to the Swiss embassy by architect Rem Koolhaas. We could only see the outside, but this building still shines with the smooth modernism that is swiss. We saw the Berliner Dom (Berlin’s Protestant Cathedral-like church), the Neo-Classical Altes Museum, and had fun sampling all of the International foods that have invaded Berlin. Fran was happy to eat Asian Takeout at Happy Noodle while JC and I were overjoyed to have Boba Tea!

This night, we went into the Pergamon Museum. This unique museum gets its name from the temple that was deconstructed in Turkey and taken, stone by stone, here to Berlin where it was reconstructed within this museum. There were many huge, ancient facades and countless artifacts dating back to antiquity.

28 October 2011: Friday

This morning we took a tour of the Reichstag. This building holds the meeting room of the new German Republic. The original building was built during the first German Republic, it was almost destroyed during the Nazi take over, and has been recently restored with a new dome by British architect Norman Foster. The dome is made of glass with ramps winding up the inside. An audio tour took us through the history of the German government, surrounding architecture, and the design of the dome. The glass construction represents the transparency of the new Republic.

We walked through the Tiergarten park, enjoying the fall colors, past Brandenburg Gate, to the Memorial to the Murdered Jews by Peter Eisenman. This memorial was very cool. Hundreds of concrete blocks rise out of the earth at different heights with the earth sloping down, creating a forest of concrete for an entire city block.

We met up with my roommate Kat, who was traveling during PLP break from Vienna to Berlin and we took her to the yummy Konnopke’s Imbiss for Bratwurst again!

29 October 2011: Saturday

Today was a very thought provoking day. We walked from the hostel through the city center to Daniel Liebskind’s Jewish Museum. I think that the museum building itself was so cool and brilliantly designed. Unfortunately the exhibit on Jewish culture took away from the impact of the museum itself.

Liebskind, a Polish Jew, was born just after the end of world war two and grew up in its aftermath. He moved to America when he was a boy and became an architect. He has been using his skills as an architect to create some very impactful museums (also one in San Francisco).

The original building for the Jewish Museum still stands with Liebskind’s metal “scar” stretching out behind it. There are several axis used to create the shape of the building. Between the axis, the “voids” become moments of contemplation. The Holocaust Tower is a tall, unheated room with just one light source, used to remember the victims of the Holocaust. The garden of exile holds 49 trees on columns with the floor at an angle giving a very disorienting feeling, the same feeling given to the refugees as they escaped to their new home. And the Memory Void held thousands of faces cut out of metal. This art installation was to represent the innocent victims of the war. You are able to walk upon the faces; you are forced to trod lightly, with the metal pieces overlapping and banging together… just watch the video…

This museum’s architecture was fabulous. I now understand why all of my professors are always raving about it.

For lunch, we found a Schwäbisch restaurant (food from Bavaria). I was so excited be cause I got everyone to try Käsespätzle!!! It was so good!

We hurried to the Neues Museum, museum of Egypt and antiquity, to see the bust of Nefertiti, before going to the Typographies of Terror Museum (TTM). The TTM was absolutely fascinating. It went in depth into the rise and fall of the Nazi party. It explained how the party gained so much popularity throughout Germany and put faces behind its leaders. It is so interesting how the party pulled Germany out of a depression after WWI while secretly destroying so many lives. The new pavilion that houses the TTM was built on top of the foundation of the original headquarters for the SS. A must see museum in Berlin.

30 October 2011: Sunday

Kat met us at the hotel this morning and the five of us took the train out of Berlin to the town of Dessau. The Bauhaus, school of Architecture was established here by German modernist architects Walter Gropius and Mies van der Rhoe (#3 on my list of favorite architects). Cal Poly sent five architecture students to study here for two quarters and we were excited to visit them and see the renowned school.

They met us at the train and gave us a tour around the small and quiet town of Dessau. It was Sunday so many things were closed. There is a very large theater in Dessau that is said to fit the entire population of Dessau (over 40,000 people). I was told that Hitler planned to make Dessau the new capital of the Nazi regime and therefore began building some very large, but now unnecessary, projects.

We had lunch in a small beer garden and spend several hours talking and laughing. We ate Bratwurst, kartoffelsalat (potato salad, but German and amazing), fresh bread, and an apple tart. We wandered slowly back to the train, enjoying the fall leaves and crisp air.

31 October 2011: Monday

Our flight left very early this morning from Berlin, arriving in Milan at 8am! We took the bus into the Milan center, exploring the beautiful Galleria and the Milan Duomo. The Galleria is a glass covered shopping center dating back to 1865 and selling the top Italian clothing like Gucci and Prada, and housing The Seven Stars Galleria Hotel (the only 7 star hotel in the world!) Also, there is a mosaic of the crest of Torino, a bull. For good luck, you are to step on the bull, just like Fran is doing. That spot in the floor is worn through to the concrete below!

The Duomo gathers its elaborate gothic style from the French. This cathedral is also home to many catholic relics including recently dead popes and cardinals (I could even see their hair poking out from under their death masks… weird if you ask me).

We had lunch at a bakery called “Princi.” It is a local favorite and we had to push our way to the bar to order the yummy and fresh focaccia bread! The train home was smooth and relaxing after our fun trip.