Berlin

It is crazy to think I’m posting for the last time about my European adventure. Berlin is the last stop before I head even further from home, to Nepal and India for three more weeks of trekking and sightseeing.

Day 25
I hopped off the train at Berlin’s central station without having slept much at all. I took the S-Bahn over to the Berliner Dom, Berlin’s Protestant cathedral. The church has an English language translation service for tourists and expats which I took advantage of for the 10am worship service. It was a cool experience to see how similar the liturgical practices are here compared to back home. The organ is fantastic too- it has 3 32′ pedal stops!

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Then I went back to my hostel to rest and recover for a while and catch up on some blogging/writing before heading out for a running tour of the city’s main sights.

First I ran past the impressive Reichstag building – a great balance between modern and old architecture.

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After that it was a quick jog the Brandenburg Gate:

Along the way to Checkpoint Charlie I stopped at the thought provoking memorial to the murdered Jews of the Holocaust. Thousands of seemingly identical but subtly different concrete stelae create a labrynth over a whole city block.

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From there I ran to Checkpoint Charlie to Potsdamer Platz, stopping for a while at the free Stasi museum to read about the history of the east German secret police. It’s worth a stop and doesn’t take too long. I then finished the loop with a run through the wonderful Tiergarten park back to the hostel. Afterward I had dinner at the Augustiner beer garden nearby which was a treat: it’s definitely the beer highlight of the trip. I hope I can find some in the US!

Day 26
I’m starting to get travel weary. My starts each morning are getting later. I think it is a symptom of not having seen anyone I know for two weeks. I know now that I am not the solo traveler type, at least not for this long!

Later than intended I took the S-Bahn to the Berlin Wall memorial north of the train station. This free outdoor interpretive site gave me a taste of what life in divided Berlin was like.

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The most compelling story in this section of wall was the Church of Reconciliation. Aptly named even before it found itself in the wall zone, the church was more and more engulfed by the oppressive border regime. First, most of its West German parishioners were cut off from access. Then the church was closed. Later, the graveyard was partitioned. The border police patrolled amid the graves and restricted access entirely even for family of the deceased.

The church was an irritating symbol even after it was finally closed, so the East German government knocked it down in 1985. The iron cross from the steeple was saved to this day and returned to the site after the fall of the wall.

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After this I took the subway to Unter den Linden, a tree lined boulevard which is supposed to be nice but currently is all torn up for construction. From there I walked to the “Topography of Terror” memorial site and museum, on the former site of SS and Gestapo headquarters.

The SS death squads have always been one of the most chilling thoughts about the Holocaust for me. The gas chambers were almost engineered to take the human contact out of mass murder. The shooting deaths of millions in Russia, Poland, Czechoslovakia and elsewhere by the Einsatzgruppen required the murderers to face their victims daily. How can the human mind withstand that sort of activity day in and day out? I guess they had already descended into some sort of madness by virtue of the work they were carrying out.

The site has special gravity in retrospect when I realized that the author of a book I’m currently reading, a pastor named Dietrich Bonhoeffer, was murdered by the Gestapo in the building which stood at that address.

Berlin is unique in that most of its history is so recent. How could one city have been so central to the last 110 years?

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Then walked back to the hostel but stopped along the way to look at the TV Tower and and hang out in the wonderful park on Museum Island.
I went back to the beer garden for a final, delicious Augustiner before making some Skype calls and calling it a night.

Day 27
This day was just a flight to Kathmandu! My next posts will probably be short and sweet given the nature of Nepal telecom but stay tuned for some Himalayan updates.

Reflections on Europe
It’s hard to give a top level summary on what I took away most significantly from my month in Europe. On a personal level, I think that I have developed and appreciation for the way people do things over here. The siesta makes perfect sense when you experience a summer day in Andalusia for example. Amsterdam has totally nailed public transit culture. The Viennese have a remarkable appreciation for classical music which extends through all ages. Especially in Spain where I could communicate better, interacting with local people is perhaps the most rewarding aspect of travel.

It has also given me some interesting aspects to be thankful for in my own land. Number 1: getting tap water for free in restaurants without getting glared at! I am on a budget, but I also just really like water. Along those lines, stuff in the US is just really, stupidly cheap. I also miss the act of driving. Not city traffic, but the open road. I definitely don’t miss having to park. But these are really small things.
I miss wilderness as a concept. Even in the Alps, there are people everywhere except in the very high glaciated areas. Coming upon a beer garden after a 3000ft trail climb in a national park was both amazing and a bit of a slap in the face. I like my short day trips into the wilderness out West because you can be completely alone at least for a little bit. Here, you can never really get away.

I also learned something about my character. I definitely need my space from time to time, but at the end of the day, I really am very much a “people person.” Not having seen a friendly face since Amsterdam two weeks ago has been tougher than I thought it would be.

If I thought I had wanderlust before, I have been disabused of that notion. I think taking 3 10 day trips would have been perfect. I have lost that sense of wonderment and appreciation of being in a new place that I had on day 1-10. I don’t see myself ever taking 8 weeks abroad again unless it was a long-term assignment for work or something.

Along those lines, I hate to say it, but I miss working on something. I have had nothing meaningful to contribute to anyone else for 4 weeks and it feels stifling, not liberating. I find myself with far too much free time. Reading only can absorb so many hours in a day. I am happy to start my career soon, not just because it’ll keep me busy, but also because it gives me a reason to really value my free time. Here I have no scarcity of free time so it has no value. I’ve been too far toward the “work” side of that ideal balance and it is interesting to have experienced too much “play” as a counterpoint.

Best park: Madrid (Parque del Retiro)
Best food: Spain (by far)
Best beer: Munich (Augustiner)
Best music: Vienna
Best cathedral: Barcelona (Sagrada Familia)
Best museum: Madrid (El Prado)
Best hostel: El Granado, Granada
Most livable: Amsterdam
Most beautiful: Prague

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