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Berlin: First Impressions

posted Sep 14, 2015, 12:09 AM by Meredith Greer   [ updated Sep 14, 2015, 9:48 PM by Brian Pfohl ]
Contributed by Greg Fitzgerald

I’ve been in Berlin for two weeks now and I still feel like I’ve done nothing…at least relative to what the city has to offer. In actuality, I’ve done plenty. I’ve walked through (real) ancient Babylonian ruins, taken strolls through an abandoned airfield of historical significance, hung out in Old Fritz’s summer palace, celebrated a German’s 73rd birthday (beer and schnapps included), and taken pictures of a stuffed-animal bobcat named Bastian atop a pile of rubble turned park…so yeah, I’ve been busy.

On my first full day in Berlin, after getting some much needed sleep and eating what I now see as a pretty typical German breakfast—a sort of free for all where every corner of the table is fit with bread, cheese, spreads and meat—I went to the IES center, which you could call our “home base,” to meet for a bus tour of the city. Having misunderstood the event description, which included “for students & faculty & family,” I brought my host family along, when actually it referred to faculty members’ families. Fortunately, this presented no issues other than a brief moment of awkwardness.

We first stopped at Schloss Charlottenburg, where we walked through the palace park and gardens. Directly behind the palace, Bastian requested a photo, so I respectfully obliged him. See here:

Having worked up an appetite on our leisurely stroll, a few of us diverged from the scheduled bus route and straight-lined it for some currywurst. Oliver (my host) recommended a place in Wedding, so we went there. Now, some of us spoke zero German at the time, but decided to order in German anyways. As you might guess, this made for a slightly awkward encounter with the clerk; nevertheless, we all overcame this first trial and were rewarded with tasty German fast food. We also discovered that some places in Berlin give you the option of having skin on your sausage. Apparently, East Berliners prefer it without skin, while West Berliners prefer to have the skin on. Interesting.

Moving forward, we walked to the nearby Humboldthain Park, which remains one of my favorite places in Berlin. The park consists of two former anti-aircraft turrets sitting atop a pile of debris resulting from the war, forming one of Berlin’s only hills and (IMO) nicest views. One can rock climb on the northern wall of both bunkers, which seems to present a unique and exciting experience for climbers and spectators alike. Behind the “hill” of debris lie gardens, footpaths and open green spaces, where we enjoyed a moment of relaxation and conversation.

Later, we met back up with our group for the “Long Night of Museums,” in which one could visit all of the museums in the area until 2 a.m. for a single fee. Needless to say, I did not last until 2 in the morning as I was freshly jet-lagged and exhausted from an already long day. I did, however, see a cool exhibit on Europe post-WWII in the German Historical Museum.

That about sums up my first full day in Berlin. Though it’s already been two weeks since then, I still feel like I’ve only just arrived as my list of things to do keeps growing and growing. It’s becoming clear that one could spend a lifetime here and always have something new to do.

Bastian at the top of the Humboldthain bunker

Monument at the top of the bunker at Humboldthain