The adorable street light and beloved symbol of Eastern Germany, called the Ampelmännchen, has a souvenir store of his very own. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Ampelmännchen acquired cult status and has become a popular souvenir item for tourists...like me. April 26, 2016
That first day of crossing the Atlantic and landing in a country on the European continent is thrilling and tiring all at once. It means trying to stay awake when you really want to sleep. But you can’t sleep because even though you’re tired, you’re also too excited. And, so this was how I spent my first day in Berlin, Germany, as the second day of my 60-day Central and Eastern European trek that will take me through 11 countries and countless cities. But for now, let’s start with and stick to Berlin.
Like most of what I try to do at this point in my life, is to just move in the direction of what calls to me. Sometimes the most difficult part isn’t hearing the calling, it’s editing out all the other voices in my head and in the world that cause the congestion. And this just requires that I use my God given, super human skills to edit out the distractions, go with my gut, decide and move forward from there. Okay, that’s a long way around the block to say, I plan to travel even though this trip was initially going to start in Prague on a Rick Steves tour come May 2, I was just too close to Berlin…one of many cities that has peeked my curiosity, to not come and hang out for a few days. And, I’m so glad I did.
I love and fear going to places by myself that I’ve never been to before and finding my way around. That’s what I love about travel, the opportunity to be totally bewildered and yet somehow find your way through it. I made it. I’m in Berlin, Germany. A city with a history that once captivated the world for the atrocities committed to Jewish people and for the wall built to keep its people captive. I don’t know today’s Berlin well and that’s why I’m here. I’m exploring and while I’m exploring, I’m learning. Something that happened very quickly today, was ice rain. It rained tiny bits of ice for about 10 minutes, then it was gone and the sun came out. There’s a lot to learn about Berlin.
My 60-Day Europe Bash, April 24 to June 22, 2016, travel blog is in six parts: Berlin, Heart of Europe, Adriatic, Balkans, Vienna and Munich. This is the Berlin, Germany, portion of my trip from April 24 to April 29, 2016. Follow along through the photos and captions.
It was drizzling rain for part of the day but pretty chilly most of the day and yet it felt like this is the way Berlin’s history should be seen and felt…slightly overcast and windy with a touch of rain. Today was my history lesson for the east side of Berlin and I was captivated by it. I’m sure most of us Americans have read about Berlin’s infamous and despicable past, but being here, standing on its grounds has allowed me to get a glimpse of today’s Berlin while still peeking behind the curtain at its past.
It was another cold and windy day in Berlin, but the weather did not stand in my way. I just zipped up my jacket, put on my hat and gloves and got on with it. And, today it was all about the Berlin Wall. Like the many other historical elements of Berlin, the wall has always fascinated me. Maybe because the wall happened in my lifetime…going up in 1961 and coming down in 1989. The thought of family and friends being divided by an actual cement wall because the government leaders said so seems impossible and yet it happened. Everyday people lost their lives trying to get over, initially a barbed wire, that was put up without warning, over night. And, even in today’s world individuals running for positions of power are still advocating for walls to go up. Haven’t they learned that walls don’t work.
Besides seeing incredible sites and stepping into history, another thing I love about travel is the walking. It is the most intimate way to be a part of the landscape. And, that was definitely the case today. I ventured just slightly outside of Berlin to Potsdam on an “Original Berlin Walks” tour. Potsdam is mainly known for its Sanssouci Park but it is a cornucopia of wonder from its old town to its town center and from its beautiful park to its palaces. We took the regional train from the Berlin Hauptbahnhof to Potsdam’s Hauptbahnhof (main train station) where we explored the Old Market Square, a spy bridge, the stunning Sansoucci Park (just a small portion of it), a palace where a postwar map of Europe was drawn, the pedestrian friendly town center with a Dutch Quarter, a Brandenburg Gate and ultimately the palatial palace of a King, the Sansoucci Palace. It was quite a full day, still chilly, windy with a little ice rain thrown in and even some sunshine. This walk in Potsdam capped off my time in Berlin because tomorrow, I head for Prague in the Czech Republic. And, just to keep count, Thursday is day 5 of my 60-day birthday and retirement celebration trek through Central and Eastern Europe.
There are several things about this trip that really hit me and one of them is how very white Berlin is. I honestly did see many people of color, German or otherwise. That’s neither a good or bad thing, I just expected to see more people of color in Berlin. I never felt uncomfortable. When I had questions, people were kind, receptive and helpful. But on the train rides around Berlin, on the walking tours, eating dinner at restaurants and the hotel where I stayed, I was the only person of color. Maybe the people of color live in the suburbs of Berlin, I honestly did not venture out that way so I may have missed my opportunity.
I also didn’t see the usual selfie stick sales people at the tourist sites like I did in Rome, Florence and Pisa. Fact is, I didn’t see much in the way of what I call “trashy, tacky touristy kiosks trying to sell crap you don’t want or need.” And, just as importantly, I was not accosted by people trying to hand me or sell me things I don’t want or need.
Four days is just not enough to really dig into Berlin. There’s just so much history to uncover but I leave with more knowledge and understanding than I had before I got here and for me, that’s always good. Auf Wiedershen Berlin and Germany for now; and Ahoj Prague! And, the next leg of my 60-day Central and Eastern European trek in celebration of turning 60 and retiring continues with 60 Day Europe Bash – Heart of Europe Tour in Parts 1 and 2.