I had never been particularly interested in traveling to Germany; even though my mom’s dad was of German descent, she withheld this information from me for most of my life, so I never felt in touch with my German-ness. Regardless, having been offered a ridiculously cheap train ticket to Berlin a couple weeks ago, I had to take advantage of it! Thus, rather spontaneously, my friend with whom I am studying abroad, Alyssa, and I hopped on an overnight train on November 3rd. However, only a few hours into our ride, we witnessed a very intense and very racist occurrence; we were sharing our compartment with two other Middle Eastern looking guys, and at around 1:00 AM two policemen stormed into our compartment. They demanded to see the passports of the two guys and kept asking if they were from Afghanistan, but they said that they were Syrian. Anyhow, they didn’t have their passports with them, so the police officers escorted them out. However, they didn’t ask for mine or Alyssa’s passports. We had even started to reach into our bags because the situation was so uncomfortable, but they simply told the two of us to have a good night and then left! What was perhaps worse was that Alyssa and I were able to stretch out then and sleep more comfortably, all because the guys had been kicked out.
Anyhow, I awoke to the sun rising over the German countryside, and then we arrived in Berlin a little while after that. After checking into our hostel, Alyssa and I started wandering around the city. I was immediately struck by how different Berlin is from every other place in Europe that I’ve seen; it’s super modern, clean, and spread out with wide streets, whereas everywhere else that I have been to has felt very old and historical. It was really cool, and just had a neat vibe to it. We walked by the Brandenburg Gate (we just thought that it was a cool monument but didn’t actually know what it was at the time), a really pretty and massive cathedral, and the television tower (or, as we called it, the “German Space Needle”).
Then, after having some brunch, we went to the Berlin Wall monument and Checkpoint Charlie! Having been jipped of a good history education in high school, I knew the basics of what went down in the Cold War but still felt like I had a lot to learn. At this monument, they had this entire comprehensive history of the Cold War from 1945-1991, which included how events such as the Vietnam War and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan were intricately related to Soviet/Western tensions. It was fascinating! As for Checkpoint Charlie, it is where the border once was between East Berlin and the American Sector. In fact, they still have a sign there that says, “You are now entering the American Sector,” with a picture of a U.S. soldier on one side and a Communist soldier on the other. There were also a bunch of slabs of the remains of the wall that now have really cool artwork on them. One particularly moving part were several slabs in a row that each were painted with current dictators of the world with the phrase “More Walls to Tear Down” on each one. Feeling politically overwhelmed, Alyssa and I decided to get “Canadian waffles” at a nearby waffle café to comfort ourselves.
Later, while walking around the city, we found this little carnival thing. It had various places to buy food and beer, some small rides, and… SNOW TUBING! Thus after having our obligatory German beer (and me remembering that I don’t like beer), I experienced my first exhilarating snow tubing ride! It was so strange because, at the end of our ride, there were people dressed up as monsters at the bottom who had these creepy tails (with which they whipped me…).
I realized that day how glad I was to have gone to Berlin. I was pleasantly surprised at how much I loved the modern, progressive vibe of the city; as for all of the historical stuff, it was so interesting to learn about it from a German perspective, and not an American perspective, and also quite impressive that they were so honest about everything. However, it was quite an exhausting day, so Alyssa and I decided not to partake in Berlin’s infamous clubs that night.