A Little Motivation

On our following day in Berlin, Alyssa and I decided to simply explore the city as opposed to doing historical things. My sister had recently traveled to Berlin and recommended a funky neighborhood for us to check out (I don’t know what it was called, though). It turned out to be really cool! It was a more industrial area, as opposed to the sleekness we had seen elsewhere. There was a ton of huge and intricate street art, as well as cafés and, surprisingly, international restaurants.

We eventually settled on a restaurant that had actual German food and ended up sitting there for hours just talking and enjoying our liters of fruity beer, giant pork chops, fries, and two salads (I don’t know how that happened). Then, we walked around some more until we found a grocery store from which we could buy… more beer. And we did, and our two beers were, altogether, 1 Euro. However, an hour later and only 1/16 done with mine, I officially decided that I don’t like beer and threw it away.

In the meantime, Alyssa and I had found this really beautiful, massive park. All of the leaves were changing colors, and the sun was already going down in the gloomy sky by this point, creating a really eery, Halloween-esque feel. We went to a memorial for Soviet soldiers from World War II and then sat by a lovely pond for awhile.

 (The memorial)

Once it was sufficiently dark outside, Alyssa and I hung out in a café for another hour or two, thoroughly discussing our musical tastes over cappuccinos like our inner Seattle hipster selves. Finally, we then went to a little schnitzel restaurant before heading back to our hostel for the night. Again, we didn’t end up going clubbing…

The next day was our final day in Berlin. We had picked a random neighborhood on our map and decided that we found find breakfast there. It turned out to be a really modern area with lots of shopping, an erotic museum, and a zoo. After leisurely eating our food at an outdoor restaurant, we found another really gorgeous park! Again, all of the leaves were shades of orange and yellow, and it was so fun and rejuvenating to frolic around in nature.

Afterward, to turn to a far more serious note, we went to a Holocaust museum where once stood the Gestapo headquarters. There was an extensive history of the rise of the Nazi Party, and that’s as far as I made it through the museum before I wanted to leave. It was so upsetting, and reading all of the history and seeing the photographs really personally affected me. Maybe it had just been awhile since I had read something related to the Holocaust, or maybe the fact that I was right there in Berlin made it all the more real. Regardless, I was so upset reading about not only how hateful the Nazi leaders were, but how enthusiastically so many German people supported them at that time. Thus, Alyssa and I decided not to go through the rest of the museum.

We went to the waffle café to comfort ourselves.

However, I became really depressed then. Before even coming to Berlin, I had, for some reason, been particularly feeling the weight of the world’s problems on my shoulders. I think then with witnessing the police’s racism on the train ride over, to learning about Cold War agression and how it affected the lives of so many people who were in no way related to the core issue, to finally going to a Holocaust museum all added up and completely overwhelmed me. There were some eerily relevant quotes at the museum, including one from a high-ranking Nazi official saying that they don’t need to follow actual written laws because their authority is the reality that they have to deal with. Though the effects of this mentality were on a completely different scale during the Holocaust, it is this same mentality that drives a lot of people in power today to take advantage of that power and to persuade the general public that it is necessary. What came to mind for me was the Patriot Act, and how, although it completely contradicts the Bill of Rights, our political leaders convinced us that it was necessary in order to combat terrorism- that we willingly went along with this plan to give up our rights out of fear. From there, I just started spiraling into this dark thought process of viewing the world as a shitty place full of problems that I can’t solve…

Finally, Alyssa helped to talk me out of it, and I reminded myself that the Nazis lost in the end!! And that the Cold War ended!! And that, though it is physically impossible for me alone to solve the world’s problems, if I put forth the effort that I can, and if everyone on this Earth puts forth whatever effort that they can, then together we can make a difference!

And on that note, I ask you to find out what cause stirs your soul and then do something about it! The problems of the world won’t change if we just sit back and watch them happen.

And that is my motivational rant =).

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In the Motherland

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”).

 (The Cathedral)

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…).

 (A fireplace at the carnival)

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.