As always, here is the corresponding photo blog entry.
Let’s start with
Now. Before I talk about the city of Berlin let me talk about how, as I wrote in my previous blog entry about the Alps, I was in heaven. In the mountains. With not a lot of people. Going to Berlin was like being dumped in freezing water after coming out of a hot spring.
Second, I judge cities by their airports.
When we were landing in Berlin we passed one (which I now know is under construction to be Berlin’s new main airport) and the pilot announced, “On the left you can see an airport. We’re not landing there.” And I hoped that the airport we were landing at, Tegel, would be better.
Tegel has very little in the way of stuff to do, it is small for an international airport and designed in such a way that you can be from your gate to baggage claim in less than a few steps. Which is cool, for the 60’s. Now airports need to be larger and Tegel doesn’t have the space to handle so many people. Also, there’s no internet, and no direct way into the city. The buses are confusing. Basically, after taking a long bus ride, a train, and a long walk to my hostel, I was exhausted and angry. I’d spent half an hour walking around a train station trying to figure out how to buy a ticket. Let me tell you how confusing the train system is in Berlin (like the street system, and the bus system, and everything else…)
Basically, Berlin has two train systems, the U and the S. The U is mostly underground but sometimes goes above ground, and is pretty much like a subway. The S goes mostly overground but sometimes underground and covers places that the U doesn’t. Both travel in the center of Berlin and to points more outside the city, but are operated by different companies. Tickets are valid for both. You can make travel connections between both when you’re going somewhere but they are housed in different stations, even when they are at the same stop (as they often are, hence the connection) and a search online for directions will only give you directions using one of the services even when using both in combination might get you to your destination faster. Yeah.
They also don’t check your tickets, so you can pretty much wander anywhere in the train system. They do spot checks, but I never experienced this. I still had a ticket for a few days, though.
Now that that’s out of the way. After sleeping the first night as one is meant to do, I went out the first day with the intention of seeing what should be seen-i.e. the major tourist stuff. I went to Alexander Platz, which had a lot of Shops I Couldn’t Afford, and then walked from there to the museum area. There was an interesting exhibit called Exhibit X (I think), about persecution of certain people during the Nazi regime, including more famous people such as Albert Einstein. Many who were persecuted and/or fled during that time had biographies up outdoors for anyone to read. If you like history (like I do most times) it’s a great exhibit, and it’s free.
I continued walking to Brandenburg Tor and the Tiergarten, both of which are impressive. Then I walked to the Holocaust Memorial, which features many concrete slabs arranged in one part of the city (a block, I think) as a place where people can sit and wander through–the ground sinks so the blocks get progressively taller as you walk further into the memorial. It’s interesting that the memorial is both a very somber piece of work, but also very ordinary; if one didn’t know the history one might mistake it for a park, like the children there did. They were running in-between the blocks, playing like it was a maze. It’s a reminder and also a very organic part of the city.
I ended up taking the train to see the East Side Gallery, which consists of a long still-standing piece of the Berlin Wall. The “gallery” refers to the graffiti on the wall. Berlin actually has a lot of graffiti, more than even New York City it seems. It gives the city the effect of being edgy, which it is. The appearance is edgy, the people are edgy, dressed in various “cool” styles. Too cool for me, anyway. I felt intimidated, and people seemed a bit less friendly than in some other cities in Europe. I think the edginess has to do with history, a form of rebellion like the graffiti on the wall. But the lack of friendliness factor is worse than NYC, where you still find some friendly people among those who are out to get stuff done.
The next day I went shopping. I needed a day to just relax and not be on the run all the time, which in Berlin is hard, because it’s such a huge city and everyone has stuff to do. But I found a nice bookstore to go to in a nice part of the city with a market that had good food and a park with children playing and I got to sit and relax. I also found a Primark. If you don’t know what Primark is, it’s a HUGE clothing/fashion shop that’s really cheap, even including the fact that the Euro is worth more than the dollar. I may have gotten things.
Then I went to Potsdamer Platz for dinner and found myself at this gelato cafe in the Arkaden mall, which made what one customer called “works of art” rather than ice cream. And it was true. My own chocolate lava cake and vanilla ice cream was pretty aesthetically pleasing, and also really delicious.
Content, I went to bed early because the next morning I woke up at 3am to go to Tegel for a 7am flight (you can never be too careful, and early flights scare me in that I feel like I’ll always be late for them.) The check-in didn’t open until an hour before boarding, so I was there ridiculously early, and then I had a 6 hour layover in Munich, which is a great place to have a layover. They have reclining chairs and sofas and even nap cabins, which you don’t need if you can handle sleeping on a smaller sofa (which I did.) They also have a good amount of shops and food, and free internet for half an hour if you get bored of all that (or if you’re there for six hours.) And then I ended up in
Let me tell you a thing about Dublin. The first thing I saw upon landing was a bunny rabbit running past our plane. Which pretty much sums up Dublin, I think. It’s a city full of friendly people that is really pretty and sometimes downright cute, with lots of food and beer and shops and theater and music. I could feel at home in Dublin. It’s much more welcoming than Berlin, which to me is great.
I took a walk around the city when I arrived for awhile, but my main goal was to get to the movie theatre near the O2 (which is one of the performing arts centers) because last night was the National Theatre Live broadcast of MIF Macbeth. For those of you who don’t follow Shakespeare, MIF stands for Manchester International Festival, and this year the festival featured a version of Macbeth put on in an abandoned church and directed by Kenneth Branagh (who directs awesome Shakespeare adaptations for the screen and stage and also directed Thor, as well as plays many of the Shakespearean characters.) Branagh also plays Macbeth, and Alex Kingston plays Lady Macbeth. The production was fabulous, and having just booked the tickets in the airport, I was glad that I spent the night watching it, because it was not to be missed. Especially since most people like myself couldn’t see it live and in person. Every actor was on point and the sets were amazing and the atmosphere (and the Weird Sisters) were very creepy. It might be the best theatre I’ve ever seen. There will probably be a separate blog entry about it.
Today I got to see the world record for riverdancing broken by over 1,000 people dancing continuously for five minutes in a connected line along Dublin’s river. There were actually a lot of children participating, and tons of people went to cheer them on, and it was really cool to watch the record being broken and to see so many enthusiastic people cheering on dancers. So many dancers. It was a nice way to start the day.
Riverdancing world record being broken!
Then I went to walk around the city, exploring the shops and some particularly nice bookstores (I’d exhausted my reading material in the transit from Berlin to Dublin) and the Temple Bar area, which had a book market going on. And I got to eat a lovely dinner at this place called the Elephant and Castle.
So. Tomorrow I head for Edinburgh on what will be the last leg of the trip. Which is good, I think. Even though I love traveling, moving around constantly is wearing me down, so being home will be a nice chance to relax and stay in one place for the first time in a month. After Edinburgh will be London. What is also good is that these are two cities I’ve already been to, so less stress there. I can enjoy them again, more slowly.