24 February 2013

Would you rather be sick in the Jewish Museum or the Reichstag? Berlin 2013

I never felt entirely comfortable about being excited for Berlin: the prospect of concentration camps, lots of museums and the harsh reality of the history we were going to learn about was quite an intimidating one, and one too serious to get all "woo Berlin!" about. It was pretty "woo Berlin!"-worthy in the end though: a weekend filled with lots of educational stuff and a few eccentric tour guides, snow ball fights and overuse of the words "banter" and "bitchy" thrown into the mix, it was certainly one I won't forget (although the same can't be said for everyone)...

I didn't take many photos because my phone camera isn't fab and I 'lost' it altogether on the last day (left it plugged into the charger that I had shoved into my bag in a packing rush), but fortunately my arty sidekick Emma took lots, and my not-so-gifted-in-the-photography-department friend, Jack, (love you) took a few too.
(I think Frank took this one)

Day 1:
We arrived fairly late in the evening and were greeted by Bern who welcomed us to Berlin, instructed us how to hand our cases to the coach driver and educated us in detail about the new motorway on the city outskirts (fascinating). Banter from the start, was Bern. He made a lasting impression on us all to say the least, and also gave us a list of rules for the weekend:
  1. No alcohol 
  2. No secret smoking ("because there are smoke detectors in all of the rooms and the fire engine will be called and it WILL become VERY public")
  3. And absolutely no people to be brought back to the hostel
Our hostel was pretty alright; there were lots of creepy paintings everywhere but there was free tea and coffee, free WiFi and free bread so everyone was happy. We went to an Italian restaurant for dinner (eating non-German food was a running theme of the weekend) where I had a weird meal that was essentially tagliatelle in gravy and then most of us somehow ended up getting quite drunk on two glasses of wine (apparently it's stronger over there).

Day 2:
In the morning we visited Sachsenhausen concentration camp. It was overwhelmingly massive and there was a chill hanging over the whole place which was only reiterated by the bitter coldness of the day. Jack wrote a whole post about it here.

To be honest, I wasn't sure how I'd react to visiting such a place. But I didn't cry or anything - I don't think anyone did - which I'm really glad about, because it meant I could concentrate on educating myself about the events that took place there instead of mourning somewhat ignorantly. It was an eye-opening experience and an unforgettable part of the trip.
A stained glass window at Sachsenhausen

After that we visited the Olympic stadium where we attempted to make snow angels...
I paid for this act of foolishness by spending the next hour or so, quite unsurprisingly, absolutely freezing
had a snowball-throwing competition into an Olympic swimming pool and ran round a bit before ending up in the cafe. We then went to the Haus Der Wansee-Konferenz (which was very interesting) and visited the TV tower (which wasn't very exciting) in the evening. That night we wandered into (and back out of) a gay bar, got refused from a number of other bars and ended up drinking ridiculously strong vodka cokes in a posh Indian restaurant. There was a really attractive man sitting at the table next to us and the toilets had fancy taps that resembled waterfalls = fun.

Day 3: 
Day 3 was museum day: we went to the Jewish Museum (where a hungover Izzy SO inappropriately decided to be sick, bless her), the Topography of Terror and the Resistance Museum, visited Checkpoint Charlie, saw the Berlin Wall and went to McDonald's, all of which were very interesting but I won't go into detail about (although McDonald's had a weird thing going on where they wouldn't let you buy one cheeseburger and you had to buy 2 at the same time, or something). We had brilliant museum guides who were engaging and fascinating and the tours were brilliant.

Night 3 was quite the contrast. Beth got ridiculously (hilariously) drunk and repeated "I am an Indian" for about 3 hours, someone threw a bin, someone had a go at someone else for stealing their pants, we played 'never have I ever' with a teacher, Jess got lost, Beth kicked Hannah in the face, Ellie had a breakdown, Jack offered Ellie bread to make her feel better and then remembered she's a coeliac. All rates pretty highly on the scale of #berlinbanter.

Day 4: 
On our final day in Berlin we visited the Reichstag (German government building) where Beth was, very inappropriately and very amusingly, sick. After that we had the rest of the day free to explore and do whatever, so we went to an alright restaurant where we were very reluctantly given tap water and got charged a lot for not-that-great tomato soup. We quite expertly navigated the tube system and ended up at Faussbender & Rausch, an impressive chocolate shop which had massive models of cool stuff like the Reichstag, TV tower and the Brandenburg Gate made out of chocolate...

We then, very strangely, bumped into our old friend Bern (tour guide from the first night), who we harassed for a photograph. He confused us with his new group and tried to arrange a meeting point with us for later that day: we can forgive him because he had a cool hat but he was like an awful two-timing boyfriend who mixes up the names of his girlfriends.
"Hat on or hat off?"
Another highlight of the day was climbing hundreds of steps to the top of a spiraling tower with brilliant views.
Way to end the trip on a high!

To conclude, there was perhaps a little more inappropriate vomiting than expected but Berlin was pretty much the perfect balance of learning about very interesting things, exploring the city and chilling out with a glass (/jug) of wine in the evenings. I really wasn't expecting to enjoy it as much as I did but the city was beautiful and I loved it! I can't wait to go back and explore a bit more.

Things I learnt (besides the history stuff):
  1. Do not get drunk if you are visiting a place where you are required to act respectfully and not be sick the next morning
  2. If you order a vodka and coke, more than half of it will be vodka
  3. There is no such thing as too many pairs of socks
Number of Bern's rules we broke: 2, as far as I know...

Note: to answer my own question, I'd probably rather be sick in the Reichstag. I think it's slightly less inappropriate? Although still incredibly inappropriate and very frowned upon, I'm sure.