Where: Train to Munich
Listening to: Miranda Lambert
Phrase of the day: "Germany is weird."
We arrived in Berlin, the capital of Germany on Sunday afternoon. Rachel and I were going to go see the Berlin Wall and the memorial sites dealing with that after stopping by a flea market that our hostel had recommended. After entering in the wrong side of the market, we stumbled upon a giant amphitheater build into the side of the hill with people doing karaoke (picture)!!! This was our first piece of evidence that Germany is a bizarre place. The theater was packed. This looked highly entertaining, as most people doing karaoke are, so we decided to stay and watch for a bit. Hands down, this was one of the best things I saw while studying abroad. We watched a hippie sing some song about loving everyone and the whole crowd sang with him, swaying back and forth. A 13-year-old Asian boy sang “Billie Jean” by Michael Jackson. If that in itself is not hilarious, I don’t know what is. A few guys came out and breakdanced during it. By far the best performance was by a guy who looked like Zach Galifinakis from The Hangover singing “Bohemian Rhapsody.” It. Was. Amazing. The whole crowd was singing along and banging their heads at the appropriate time. The best were the crazies that sat on the stage. One lady was probably around 40 and kept doing the splits. I was extremely sad when it was over. By that time, it was getting late so we just went back to the hostel and went to bed.
On Monday we got down to business. We took the train out to Sachenhausen, a former concentration camp. The cold, gloomy day reflected the mood permeating the camp. Sachenhausen is in Orianenburg, a suburb of Berlin. The weirdest thing was that people actually lived right next to the camp. As we walked through the surrounding stone wall, we could see children playing soccer. I can’t imagine that at all. The camp itself felt haunting and eerie. Seeing children have fun or a warm house with a garden seemed like a cruel reminder of what the Jews were missing while they were in Orianenburg. Children playing in sight of the infamous “Arbeit macht frei!” We walked around the camp and went into one of the museums they had set up. For me the most haunting part of it was seeing the showers in the barracks and the kitchen cellar. In the showers, they would pack people in as much as possible and often would hold people’s heads under water and sometimes even drown them. At the toilets, the frail and exhausted workers would often be trampled and consequentially be covered in excrement. Learning about this was horrifying now seeing these places in front of us and then trying to imagine people experiencing these things.
We stayed there until the afternoon and then went back into the city. We went into the Guggenheim and looked at the modern art. We saw the Brandenburg Gate. We went to the German History Museum and looked around in there for over two hours. We then went to see the Berlin Wall Memorial. The stop for the Memorial is a ghost station. This means that during the separation of Berlin, these stations that were in East Berlin were forbidden from being used. They remained the same from 1961 when the wall went up until 1989 when the wall came down. The station has the original tile walls in the lovely putrid yellow color that the 1960’s loved with signs written in the stereotypical German font. I had listened to the Rick Steves Berlin City Guide and they had talked about the ghost stations so I was really excited to see one. We then went to the Wall Memorial and read about the history of the wall. It’s so strange to picture just a wall causing such a huge divide in a city and the way the people lived. Something like that seems archaic, but in reality, the wall fell in the year I was born. So I must be getting old. It didn’t even look like a big, powerful wall. So strange to think about it running through a city with so many differences on either side. We took a picture trying to escape to the other side.
After we saw the wall, it was getting fairly late—and even more cold!!! We were freezing the whole trip. So we went back to our hostel, got a pizza, ate it in bed and went to sleep to save up for the rest of the trip. The next morning when we woke up to leave, we headed to the train station. In the train station there was a giant slide going down all the stairs! Germany was getting weirder and weirder. Turns out they were filming a promotional video for Volkswagen to put on youtube. So naturally we participated in it.