travel back in time

Monday 27th December, Berlin, Germany
*scroll down for the latest journal entry. It's at the bottom, mate*

checkpoint Charlie

We made it to Germany, but I tell you it wasn't as easy as it should have been. A very famous Australian once said that "life wasn't meant to be easy", but I want to know "couldn't it be easy, just sometimes?"

Before I go on, it would be remiss of me not to thank EzyJet. Thanks EzyJet for delaying our flight by an hour, and for not posting details of the flight on any of the 'departures' screens around the airport. Thanks for then allowing us to board the plane, even though repairs were still being carried out, only to have us sit there for two hours. I had a lovely long nap while we were still sitting on the tarmac! Then of course you made us all disembark. "Follow the instructions of the ground crew" you told us. Well, that was easy, because there were no instructions to follow. Not for a further hour anyway, until we heard the cheerful news that you were reboarding... four hours late! But hey! Thanks for the free 150 ml (five ounce) orange juice to compensate. A free sandwich would have been just too much, I guess?

the tower at Alexanderplatz is visible from just about any point in Berlin

This city is fascinating, but even more amazing than Berlin's colourful (to say the least!) history, is the fact that thanks to groups like Couchsurfing, Maria and I are able to arrive in a foreign country to find a complete stranger waiting for us in the arrivals lounge, with a sign reading "Steve and Maria". That's right- remember Ariane, who stayed with us for a night at the beginning of the month? Well Ariane is from Berlin. She's out of town at the moment, but her friend Steffi met us at the airport and drove us to Ariane's place, where we'll be staying while in Berlin. Thanks Steffi! Thanks Ariane!

By the time we got to Ariane's place, it was midnight. We decided to just call it a day. This morning, we were both up early, excited to go exploring. Our first stop was a cafe near the huge tower at Alexanderplatz. All the food looked so delicious, and the prices on the menu seemed reasonable, but the problem was that with the language barrier (what did Maria learn in two years of German lessons?) we couldn't match up the dishes in the window, with the names and prices on the menu. So we ordered bacon and eggs, feeling quite stupid for coming so far to eat the same food we can eat anywhere. Nevere mind, tomorrow we're going back to the same cafe, and we'll try something German. I promise.

From there, we set off on our walking tour of Berlin. Remember we both love to walk, and although it was cool- around two degrees above freezing- it wasn't raining, and we were comfortable in all our warm clothes. Our first stop was the famous 'Checkpoint Charlie', once marking the point or departure from the American sector of post-war Berlin. Just across the intersection from Checkpoint Charlie, a memorial has been established in honour of all the people who died trying to escape the east- even those who successfully escaped, only to be brought back and ... 'liquidated'. Quite an eerie thought.

Although brought down fifteen years ago, the Berlin Wall is still undoubtedly the city's biggest tourist attraction, with pieces of wall on display everywhere you look. If you're prepared to pay over a Euro for a postcard, you'll even find a tiny fragment of the Berlin Wall rattling around in a plastic bubble on the front of the card. We followed the path of the old wall up to the beautiful and well known Brandenburg Gate.

standing on the site of the Berlin Wall

I was naiive enough to expect a discernible difference between east and west, even now fifteen years since the wall came down. But it seems fifteen years is a long time, because Maria and I were continually checking our map to see on which side of the (now imaginary) wall we'd managed to get lost.

I'm still trying to get my head around the whole idea that some guy decided to build a wall that separated people from their friends and families. Why? And this is not ancient history either. This happened not that long before I was born!!

On the way to Brandenburg Gate, we noticed that Potsdamer Platz was abuzz with activity. There was a Christmas market in the square outside the banhof (railway station) and a huge ski slope had been set up, apparently as part of a promotion by the Austrian tourism department. At 1.50 Euros a ride, I couldn't resist. Maria thought it a foolish pursuit, and was content to hold my daypack for me while I yahoo'ed down the snowy slope. She doesn't know what she was missing. In fact the excitement was almost too much for me. Shortly afterwards, the two cups of morning coffee and the steaming hot cup of Gluwine- spiced red wine- saw me break into a feverish sweat as I tore through the streets, searching for a public toilet. Without going into details, finding that toilet was the best thing I would do all day, I was sure of that!

We stumbled across a number of memorials and monuments as we traipsed... I mean strolled the length and breadth of centra Berlin. An unusual sight, and at first a perplexing one, was the Holocaust Memorial. A large tract of land has been set aside in central Berlin to commemorate the attrocities committed by the Germas during the second world war. It's unlike any other memorial I've ever seen, consisting of thousands of plain rectangular blocks of concrete, varying only in height, placed in formation on deliberately uneven ground. I'm sure it has its critics, but I found it a poignant reminder, and it again reminded me that so much of the history that Germany commemorates is a history that they are ashamed of. Unlike the Americans and English, who would rather forget about such things as slavery, the Opium Wars, and the genocide of the Native Americans and Australian Aborigines, Germans seem determined that the horrors of their past never be forgotten. I take my hat off to them for that.

Down the super wide avenue from the Brandenburg Gate, we came across the intimidating memorial, a tribute to "all the brave Russians who died defending the country from the German fascists".. again strange to me that this is a tribute against Germans. By the time we moved on from the Russian memorial, it was well and truly nighttime. Preparations were obviously well underway along the length of for the upcoming New Years festivites, an occasion which this year has obviously been sponsored by Bittburger beer. Dozens of heavy duty electric cables ran the entire length of the avenue, even crossing on a temporary overhead scaffold. A massive ice sculpture -three semi trailers of ice- was being begun in front of the Brandenburg Gate. It seemed Berlin was getting ready to really turn it on for the occasion, but I couldn't help but smile- we would be celebrating New Years Eve in magical Prague.

Our last stop for the night was a famous church. Yes, it has a name, but I can't remember it. Anyway, isn't a picture worth a thousand words? This is a church that was bombed by the British during the war. The top was blown off, but the rest of the building was left largely intact. The church has been deliberately preserved in this condition as a reminder to younger generations. Looking at the damaged church, I was reminded of a story told to me by a young German friend of mine. Years ago, he was touring England. Being something of a history buff, there was a particularly significant church he wanted to visit. It had been bombed heavily during the German bombing campaigns of WWII. Finding himself a little disoriented, he asked an old guy at the bus stop if he could tell him where the church was. The old Englishman obviously noticed my friend's Germand accent and before turning away, snapped that yes, he could tell him where it was "but you didn't have any trouble finding it during the war, so you should be able to find it yourself this time!"

The forecast for tomorrow? SNOW! oh and of course MARIA'S BIRTHDAY!!!

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