Oh, Hallo Berlin!

By Jantsen McBride

Last week I had the wonderful opportunity to visit Berlin, Germany, with my boyfriend, Marley. I have always been fascinated by German culture and history, so when Marley and I were deciding on a place to take a trip and he mentioned Berlin I was sold. We booked our flights through EasyJet, a cheap airline company that flies all over Europe. If anyone is reading this and thinking of going abroad I highly recommend the company. Flights within the U.K. and Europe are extremely reasonable. (I paid a little under 100 pounds roundtrip!) Sure, the planes are small and a little cramped with limited amenities, but for the price of tickets, it’s well worth it.

Also, I must clarify the word “Hallo” in the title of this entry. Hallo in German means the same thing as hello in English. This can get quite a bit tricky when greeting someone — you can’t tell if the person is English or German as the words sound quite similar. I got really good at pretending I could speak German. Often older adults we encountered did not speak English so you had to kind of guess what they were saying. Needless to say, I did alright in comprehending what people were talking about; however, I will admit there was a lot of nodding and smiling.

When we first arrived in Berlin, we went through customs and I was a little worried. The man working the line kept looking at me and back at my passport. While most people took less than a minute to go through the process, it took me about five. Those five minutes were some of the longest of my life. “Is he going to let me in? Am I going to be flown back to England? Are my glasses throwing this guy off?” These were just a few of the questions going through my mind.  Finally, he sent me on my way and, boy, was I relieved.

Marley, being the expert travel agent, had everything written down and planned to a tee. We took the train from Berlin Schoenefeld Airport into town where we were staying — but not before Marley had a little photo shoot. He claimed he needed a new profile picture, but I know the truth… He likes having his picture taken. We arrived at the hostel, put our bags down and headed out to explore some of Berlin. We wandered down the street to the Christmas markets that were less than a five minute walk from our hostel. We were both hungry and, being in Germany, thought we should try some of the authentic cuisine. We soon realized that German cuisine is mostly made up of sausages and bratwursts. Everywhere we went they were selling them! When we ordered our bratwursts the lady asked us which type of “dog” we wanted. There were curried bratwursts, jumbo bratwursts, regular bratwursts, bratwursts with spicy onions, bratwursts with mustard… The options were endless.  We decided on curried bratwursts and it was an excellent choice. I vowed to keep a food diary while in Germany. Half of my pictures are variations on this German dish. After gobbling down our food, we decided to stroll down the shops that were selling various foods, drinks and gifts. I got thirsty and ordered eggnog — or so I thought.  The clear container looked like it was holding the classic holiday drink. I don’t speak or read German so I pointed at it and said, “One please!” But when I took a big gulp of the thick liquid I about choked to death. The amount of alcohol in the beverage was like what I would imagine rubbing alcohol to taste like. We kept moving and soon came across one of my favorite parts of the entire trip — baby lambs! There was a small Nativity display and inside the gate there were real baby animals! They were so darn cute I couldn’t help but pet and talk to them in my animal lover’s voice.

One of Marley's photos from the shoot at the train station

One of Marley’s photos from the shoot at the train station

Before I realized I was about to drink nail polish remover...

Before I realized I was about to drink nail polish remover…

Bratwurst anyone?

Bratwurst anyone?

Baby animals! Sign me up!

Baby animals! Sign me up!

The next day we woke up early and caught a train into the heart of Berlin. Side note: Marley got yelled at in German for standing on the escalator instead of walking. Our first stop was the Brandenburg Gate. The gate is one of Germany and Berlin’s most well-known landmarks. Previously an entrance to the city, it led to the city palace of the Prussian monarch. When the Nazi party came to power, they used the gate as the party’s symbol. Seventy percent of Berlin was destroyed during the war, but the gate was one of the few monuments that was still standing, although in very poor condition. In 2002, the city fully restored the gate and is a major destination for visiting tourists. After the Brandenburg Gate, we stood in line to get tickets for the Reichstag building. It houses the German parliament and to gain entry we had to get a background check. Built in 1871 after the unification of Germany, the building was first used as it is today — for parliament; however, during the Nazi reign it caught fire and was only used for propaganda purposes. World War II air raids also caused the building to be further damaged. Not until 1999 was the Reichstag building reconstructed, and since then has become the second-most visited attraction in Germany. The dome on the top allows visitors to get a first-class view of the city. Security of the building is quite tough. Marley and I had to get special passes to wear around our necks, go through a security checkpoint and be lead into the building. We didn’t get the memo that we would be with a group and stopped to take a picture outside of the building before going in. We got yelled at by an employee.  “Haaaalllllloooooo!!!!!???”  was yelled very loudly at us and came complete with a very angry face from the man. We apologized profusely and received pitied looks and stifled giggles from our fellow tourists. Whoops. Arriving at the top floor, we walked around the dome and I soon realized Marley was having a tough time. Afraid of heights, he gripped the side rails like it was his job. I couldn’t help but snap a few photos… Poor kid.

The Brandenburg Gate

The Brandenburg Gate

IMG_1213

The Reichstag Dome

Cautious walker.  Hand on the siderails at all times.

Cautious walker. Hand on the side rails at all times.

We carried on exploring via my favorite method of transportation; the sightseeing bus. We passed the Charlottenburg Palace, which houses paintings from the Baroque time period. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to go inside and tickets had to be pre-ordered. We saw the high-end shops of Potsdamer Platz, and we continued through Charlie’s Checkpoint — the crossing place between East and West Berlin during the Cold War. While walking down the street we had a surreal experience with a man who was a neo-Nazi. He had a Mohawk and was dressed a little strangely. He did a German, “Hail Hitler” and put his arm out to a man walking past Marley and me. It was very bizarre and kind of scary to be honest. The fact that people still hold racist and intolerable views against others is disgusting. It is a crime in Germany to deny the Holocaust and, after reading up on it back home, I learned it is also illegal to incite hatred against groups of people by calling for violence against them. With the bizarre incident behind us, we headed to the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. Also known as the Holocaust Memorial, it consists of 4.7 acres of 2,711 concrete slabs arranged in a sloping grid formation. An attached underground information center contains the names of all Jewish Holocaust victims. It is also a short distance from the ruins of Hitler’s bunker.

The Holocaust Memorial

The Holocaust Memorial

That evening, we headed to another Christmas market in town and got food at a little stand. I have no idea what it was but it tasted delectable. It consisted of some kind of bread with cheese, meat and vegetables. It was also a much-needed break from sausages. When I arrived back at the hostel, I fell asleep as soon as I sat on the bed. Coat, shoes and all. I was so exhausted.  It was only 8 p.m.

A picture of one of the shops at the Christmas markets!

A picture of one of the shops at the Christmas markets!

The next day, we boarded another train into town and saw the Berlin Wall. It was freezing and raining quite hard. In fact, it rained every day we were in Berlin. I had only brought my glasses and the amount of times I wiped them on Marley’s sweater is innumerable. Sorry about that Marley.

The wall was erected to divide East and West Germany. During World War II it was impassible. Guards lined the wall and you were shot for crossing the barrier. Today, the wall has been painted and is also known as the Eastside Gallery. With a few hours left before our flight was to depart, Marley and I took a short detour to get a snack. Between getting the snack and heading to our train’s platform, Marley was pick-pocketed! We checked the garbage cans, the snack shop and everywhere in between. I went to McDonald’s to see where about I could check to see if anyone had turned it in and ran full-throttle, smack into the glass window. How embarrassing! There were five people seated at the table in front of the window and were all looking at me with horrified faces. I brushed myself off, laughed and booked it. It took a little bit of the pressure off Marley at the time. I hit the window really hard — face first. The glass was just so clear I could have sworn it was a doorway! After finding the information desk we were relieved to see someone had turned in Marley’s wallet. It had all of his IDs but, unfortunately, all of his money was gone — what a bummer. We got a quick Chinese take-away meal (which was God-awful) and Marley ate his feelings.

Part of the Berlin Wall.

Part of the Berlin Wall

Calling the bank to switch some money into his account.  Obviously sullen.

Calling the bank to switch some money into his account. Obviously sullen.

Finishing up that horrible Chinese takeaway meal like a real champ.

Finishing up that horrible Chinese take-away meal like a real champ

We headed to the airport, made it through security and were in line boarding the aircraft when I realized my backpack was still at security! Marley had helped me grab my coat, watch passport, etc. out of the bins and I had just figured he had my backpack (which he carried most of the trip!). When I realized it was gone, Marley played hero and sprinted all the way back for my bag with enough time to make it through boarding. Talk about being a mess!

On the plane with time to spare! We made it! (Also note Marley wearing my glasses...)

On the plane with time to spare! We made it! (Also note Marley wearing my glasses…)

To end this novel of a blog entry, I couldn’t have had a better experience in Germany. I learned a lot about the city of Berlin, ate a ton of sausage and traveled with my best friend. What more could a girl ask for?

Love always,

Janny

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