Achtung! Right off the bat, I’d like to warn you that I woke up at 6:13am today, something I haven’t done in years. I’m not sure how my brain will react to this. Also, I’ve taken in so much German in the past few days that this post might be a complete mess. You have been warned.
Berlin might have been my most relaxed stop so far. Apart from a single guided tour and very few landmark visits, I lived a typical Berliner lifestyle during the 3 days I spent in this city – or as close to it as a Lebanese with a North-American lifestyle might get; which in the eyes of the German might be quite far off. But since most of you have no clue what I’m talking about, I can pull this off. (I’m not sure if I even have a clue at this point, much of it is foggy as I daydream and my eyes fixate on the patterns of the seat in front of me).
Let me tell you first about the major spots I visited before talking about my impressions. Similarly to Munich, a big part of Berlin has been renovated or rebuilt after the war. You’ll find a nice mix of traditional and modern design meshed together within a small region (e.g. Branderburger Tor and Pariser Platz) or within the same building (e.g. Reichstag a.k.a. the parliament). I especially liked the Reichstag, which is, as far as I know, the only parliament open to public visits. When it was rebuilt, they included a glass ceiling and dome that open up on the offices – a statement that the German government will remain transparent. Walking along the streets of the city you’ll find partial remains of the Berlin wall or markings on the floor that trace it’s previous locations. The most memorable section I got to enjoy is the East Side Gallery; a long stretch of “refurbished” wall decorated by paintings and graffitis from various international artists. It’s a beautiful mishmash of colors and text ranging form a simple message of peace to more elaborate allegories. Another noteworthy structure is the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, with it’s maze of concrete blocks intentionally designed to make you feel a little claustrophobic.
I also covered the Haus Am Charlie Checkpoint museum and the Stasimuseum. The first is located next to Charlie Checkpoint, the iconic American checkpoint. It houses stories and artifacts from some great escapes (from East to West) as well as failed attempts that have led to imprisonment or even death. The latter is located in the old housing facilities of the Stasi. It displays many tools used by the Stasi to spy and control the population, as well as the propaganda used by the SED (socialist party). Both show the amazing feats of creativity and desperation Men are capable of in harsh times. The Stasi would find ingenious ways of placing cameras and microphones to spy on people. Some examples include, cameras behind jacket buttons (in times when cameras were barely portable), infrared scanning devices in briefcases, or pieces of mesh stored in jars to preserve the scent of people. As for the SED, they would develop a youth program to educate (read brainwash) the children on the superiority of socialism and the dangers of the western world. And finally, the most ingenious and courageous are a handful of Eastern Berliners and their helpers (individuals that would risk their lives to help escapees cross the wall). I was especially impressed by the one-man submarine invented to cross the river, the modified cars designed to hide a person under a seat or the hood, and the sheer courage – bordering on insanity – of the people who attempted to cross the border simply by climbing over the wall and running through the field guarded by riflemen and automatic motion detecting guns. One man was able to make it West this way even though 100 pieces of shrapnel had punctured his body. Luckily they all missed his vital organs and arteries.
I was also lucky to be hosted by an amazing young German couple. I got my own room (first time since London) and got treated to some good home made dishes! In other words, luxury for a backpacker! It’s also thanks to them that, for once, I wasn’t as much a tourist as I was a random Berliner simply hanging-out around town. I got to attend a Parkour meetup and train with local traceurs (Parkour practitioners) of all levels. It was a lot of fun and had a very friendly vibe to it. As always, I tried to leave a mark by pulling off my signature move: Busting my ass attempting a jump… I have two nice scars to show for it!* I’m ashamed to say it, but I was very sore the following two days even though my workout was pretty light. This is only the second time that I take part in any type of sport during my trip. I have a feeling that by the time I get home I will have turned into a vegetable. So don’t be shocked if you don’t recognize me as the muscular drop-dead sexy man I used to be 🙂 (please, don’t take me too seriously).
*Hello to my fellow Parkour mobsters in Montreal who are quite familiar with my signature move!
Ater the workout, a small group of us (8 germans and a clueless foreigner) went home to chill out, eat some typical Berliner street food (Döner Kebap), play games, and speak a lot of Deutsch, fast!** The next day, I was treated to a delicious grandmother-recipe home-cooked meal for dinner: Eir In Süß-saurer Senfsauce. I can assure you that preparing it is much simpler than the name suggests. I ate this potatoes and egg based dish with my two hosts in their cosy living room, listening to some German soap opera! Now, let me take this opportunity to talk to you about the very special meal of the trip in a new episode of The Blaspehmies. I ordered a pörkeleisbein at a typical German restaurant. Now, doesn’t that sound appetizing? let me brake it down for you, it will help. Pörkel-Eis-Bein = Pork-Ice-Leg. That is, I ordered a pork’s leg+ankle boiled***; and just in case that wasn’t intense enough, I insisted on having the über 500g portion. The only word I could come up with to describe this meal is “interesting”. While savoring it, I wasn’t even sure if I was eating meat, fat, skin, or joints as it all tasted the same once boiled for long enough. And of course, there was the customary side of potatoes. Germans eat potatoes with almost everything. Look out for potato ice cream, it might be on it’s way soon!
** I skipped on this last one.
*** Don’t ask me what happened to the “ice” part. Even the Germans I asked have no idea.
By now, you’re probably wondering why I woke up this early and where I am heading next. Get pumped up, because here comes some exciting change! I landed in Catalonia. Sun, sea, and fresh seafood here I come! no more grey skies, rainy days, and cold nights (that’s what I had for the past week). I’m throwing away my shoes and shorts, putting on my flip-flops and bathing suit, and exposing my pale feet and torso to some quality roasting. I’m in Barça!
[This post is part of a series on my 2011 eurotrip, check out the whole series here]