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Bit By Bit Spending some months in Europe. Let's see how it goes... Check ya later, Barry.

Something About a Wall and a Place of Krones

USA | Saturday, 27 March 2010 | Views [418] | Comments [1]

As we said, we left Munich without going back to Dachau. We did not regret this decision.

We spent the day in the train station, at a coffee shop, with wireless internet where we downloaded pictures and just did a bunch of nothing. After such an all-over-the-place couple of weeks it was amazing. The only thing that could have made it less than perfect was the prospect of a crappy journey ahead of us. Which we had. Throughout the time of our stake-out in the coffee shop Michael took random breaks to go and check the train times leaving for Berlin. Hoping every time that it would be new, something different. We were eventually forced to lock into tickets that would surely wind up being the worst yet.

We left around 5PM, were on the train for three hours, did a quick jump onto another hour train ride, had a half hour layover and then another little-over-an-hour train ride. We got to our four hour layover at midnight, at a train station completely closed down besides the custodians, security, and the McDonalds. Not even the bathrooms were open (you can imagine where that left us). We were required to wait four hours, and we did. Michael was generous enough to lay out a nice sheet on the bench for Rebecca as her bed, and we piled on the layers. We then proceeded to have a good old-fashiond and lengthy conversation, primarily centered around our times in boot camp. Halfway through our time we moved our little hobo set-up to the very end of the terminal, and proceeded to try to stay warm. We climbed into Michael's pre-sewn sheet, which we brought with us in case any of the beds in the hostels looked nasty (not to worry, Rebecca was the one to wake up with some bites way at the beginning of the journey, and neither of us has suffered the same since). When the train pulled up it was half past three, and we snuck on board, although the lights were not on. It was dark and warm, a caccoon of safety, and Rebecca promptly fell asleep. That was an hour train ride, and we needed still to jump on another hour train ride.

We arrived in Berlin shortly after seven, and waited outside the doors of the tourist office for it to open at 8AM. Once again, it was amazing how desperately people want to be the first ones inside of a door.

By the time it was all said and done, we were walking into our prospective hostel some time shortly after nine. The Generator, it was called, a large place, many storeys, and very, very hip. Designed to look industrial, with a large cafeteria, plenty of internet (although not for us, as our computer would just not log on), and also plenty of high-schoolers getting drunk because they could. We were lucky enough to see a fight break out among some French students who must have been there for some school trip. It was actually a pretty big deal, involving the police and everything. The funny thing about the situation, though, was that on our first night there had been at least three security guards, all big and burly and heavily pierced. The second night, which was a Friday (and we were learning adolescents in Germany liked to go to hostels and get wasted because the bartenders just handed over the pitcher of beer with a straw in it), there were no security guards.

But the Generator, for us responsible adults, was a great place. The price was nearly half what was advertised (some promo), very well set up, and cheap food! Definitely the best deal by far. And the great thing about Berlin: cheap train tickets, and everything we went to see was free. Not so great thing about Berlin: it was the nastiest, dirtiest, filthiest city we have ever seen, and, quite possibly, on the planet. Any amount of graffiti we had previously been impressed with became nothing more than scribbled poster board compared to the canvas of Berlin. There was not a train car that had not been tagged, the tops of buildings all the way down to the earth they shaded, even chain link fence. The amount of garbage along the road was staggering and repulsive. We have thus far been impressed with the street-cleaning crews throughout Europe, which might be why people feel more inclined to spit out their gum on the sidewalks, allow their dogs to do their business in the same vicinity, and generally just drop anything they don't feel like holding/find themselves to be done with. There were no such crews in Berlin. In another fifty years, the entire city will be another couple feet above sea level due to all the trash.

So of course we went to Berlin to see the Wall, right? Right. And while we hastily and unashamedly admit we knew nothing about the Berlin Wall, we quickly learned much. For instance: did you know that the Wall was way more than just a wall? It was an entire barricade, thought out by obsessive tyrants, leaving people desperate enough to build tunnels underneath the city, jump into firemen's nets from the tops of buildings hoping to land on safety's side (many died this way, including an eighty-year-old woman), and even try to cross over the Wall where the soldiers were given free reign to shoot. The Wall was just the first part, because after the wall comes a set of spikes (and yes, people even decided to land on those spikes), and then a wire fence that detects movement and sends a signal to the guard tower revealing the exact location of the disturbance, and then a strip of dirt which was daily combed that would reveal any footsteps or signs of escape, and then vehicle barriers, and then the other side of the Wall. Oh yeah, there were flares too, and trip wires, and German shepherds. We cannot promise we listed this in the correct order; as always, we encourage research to be done. The odd thing about the several places of the Wall that we saw, was there was very little footage on the tearing down of it. Plenty of footage on the homes that became part of the Wall, and were boarded up and eventually demolished to keep people from escaping through the windows. Plenty of footage on the church that wound up being sandwiched in between the Wall and was blown up mere months before East Berlin was vindicated because it was an obstruction for the soldiers in the guard towers. But practically nothing on the Berling Wall's coming down, just that it was hard-put to convince the people to save enough for the memorial (of which there is plenty).

The chapel we visited was built as a memorial in the exact spot of the church that was destroyed, made of clay fortified by the crushed brick of its predecessor. The bells, which had been removed prior to destruction, were placed in their previous location. Looking down through glass in the floor one can see original steps leading into the original basement, even a bomb that was found which had never been detonated. We decided that as terrible a thing as it was to happen, it was very rewarding to see what people had put together to commemorate the loss in their city.

We went to see the famous Checkpoint Charlie, and it was a total madhouse. The streets were packed, and the checkpoint was lame. Old-school war vehicles were driven around to impress, and a cocky-looking soldier in uniform swung a sign reading a charge of 1 euro per picture. Would definitely recommend going a little further north and doing the Documentation Center stations (there are about five within a few blocks of each other, complete with memorials, portions of the Wall, and centers with free video and oodles of material). The good thing about Checkpoint Charlie is we found the fur hats we have been looking for since France. Ironically, there was table after table of these street vendors, selling more fur hats than we could have imagined. We holed up at a coffee shop at the corner of the checkpoint, and got so involved in our conversations gratis of the WiFi that we didn't realize the entire place had closed down around us. Thankfully, there was someone in the back to let us out.

Trying to leave Berlin on another night bus held its own adventures, including Rebecca getting left behind at one subway stop while Michael carried on. "How far are you gonna go?" he asked her, testily, when she hopped out to make sure they were heading in the right direction. We both realized the doors were closing a second too late, and we stared at each other as the train drove off. Rebecca took a few moments to pray for her safety upon her husband's return, and when the train came back in the opposite direction and she saw him toting all of their luggage through the throng of people, she gave up a hesitant offering of a smile. He did not find quite as much humor as she did. "It was bound to happen at some point or other!"

The bus was supposed to arrive at eleven-thirty PM. We got the first seats, which was perfect, and after driving for three hours we waited another one to be put on a ferry. The ferry was nice, complete with expensive food for our famished bodies. It was then that we were introduced to the krone (of which all of Scandinavia uses, in their own Danish, Swedish, or Norwegian kinds). Rebecca dismissively read a meal priced at over 130 on our entry into the dining room, and just figured it was for the rich folks. Turns out, that is the normal price for a meal. And imagine spending fifty anything on coffee for two. While the currency winds up evening out (although Scandinavia is more expensive than the rest of Europe), anything that reduces the value of the American dollar even further from the Euro is just plain agony.

Well, turns out the hour we waited for said ferry was not factored into the equation, so we found ourselves wandering the streets of Copenhagen well after midnight. We had read in our guide book how the streets were pleasant at night, full of friendly people, and as we broke into the city we found ourselves in the midst of many [illegal] transactions. We weaved in between shifty characters shouting out to one another across the streets, passed working women as they scoffed at the men who proposed a bargain, and even encountered a half-rusted, much-demolished electric wheelchair. The confusing part of our search was that we were along a street that intersected another, all four corners and sides completely decked out with hotel after hotel. And nice ones too. Nice enough to keep us out of them at such a late hour in such a neighborhood. We became even further confused by Copenhagen as the friendly hotel receptionists donated maps and directions to cheaper accomodations, and just two streets over from the portal to Hades was a very nice and well-populated district.

Our wanderings were not so terrible that night, and we wound up stopping at a nice-looking place which was offering the promotion of a double room for the price of a single (still, try handing over seven hundred for one night with no breakfast). We realized quickly that the theme must have been something along the lines of 'ocean cruise' because our room stopped short almost as soon as we walked through the door. Two bunks on the left side, with a trundle bed that actually elevated to become a double with the bottom bunk, which we didn't figure out until we read the directions on the wall twenty minutes before our check out two days later.

Copenhagen was really nothing special. We hate to say something so narrow-minded sounding, after all, we were in Denmark. But there was nothing that caught our eye. We took a picture of the sign over the 19th century amusement park called Tivoli, which has become very modernized. We wandered through the Ripley's Believe It or Not that connected with the Hans Christian Anderson musuem, which was cute but consisted of no more than a few creatively set up displays and some narratives of his fairy-tales. We ate some KFC, had Hard Rock Cafe two times because it was reasonably priced, and planned our next move.



Thanks for filling in the holes. It was wonderful talking with both you earlier; good to hear your voices and hear about the adventures with my family in Germany. Be blest & enjoy. Water over sand...,

  MOM Mar 28, 2010 11:42 AM

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