Germany had never really been on my radar, admittedly for its history, however work colleagues had convinced me to give Berlin a shot. I’m glad they did and I’m even more glad I listened. Berlin knocked my cotton socks off.
The train from Amsterdam to Berlin took almost an entire day, and this time I was on a Deutsche Bahn train rather than the Thalys train I had quickly become fond of. The DB train was comfortable but did not come with the space, free wifi and power sockets that Thalys did. I know, first world problems.
The train arrived into Berlin around 3pm, using the free wifi in the terminal I mapped my way to my hostel, 12 minutes walk away. In the heat and with luggage it felt more like 30 minutes. The hostel was a little hard to find due to lack of visible signage. I walked to where the red marker on the map said to go and after looking around finally saw the sign that read to head to the 3rd floor. There were some very nice restaurants in the area and a cheap bar on the ground floor of the building. Also in the same building was a dancing and burlesque school. The colours of the building were deep red and green, strangely seductive. While I was waiting to be checked in I noticed the art and decor in the reception, I was convinced this may have been a gentleman’s club back in the day.
I took the lift to the 4th floor and made myself comfortable in my 2 bunk dorm. Only 2 beds were taken however no one was home. I took a bottom bunk, showered and headed out for an early dinner. I found a Vietnamese take away and ordered myself a noodle salad and cider. After I was done I headed back to the hostel and met my other 2 room companions. A Canadian and a South African, both travelling solo and both full of advice. I love when I meet these type of travellers! Already on my list was Checkpoint Charlie and the Berlin Wall however both women added cheap market locations and told me where I could get a beer for 1 Euro! Shortly after another lady checked in to our dorm complete. I recognised her Aussie accent instantly, how lovely to share a room with women from both my homes. After some investigating of the property we decided the hostel used to be a brothel at some stage. The walls were lined with sultry pictures and paintings of women.
I had an early night as I knew I’d be spending the better part of the following day on my feet.
This hostel didn’t come with breakfast. I popped into the cafe next door for tea and a pastry. I made sure I left with a bottle of water, the sun was already blistering at 9am.
Google Maps panned my journey from the hostel to Checkpoint Charlie, a 45 minute walk. I made a stop at McDonald’s about half way there and grabbed a coke to restore the energy levels then kept moving along. I did find Checkpoint Charlie, the crossing point from East to West Berlin. The booth still stands with soldiers in uniform, however all around it are high rise buildings. Apart from that booth there is not much else to suggest the segregation that this spot once stood for.
From here I headed left, still on foot, bound for the Berlin Wall. It took me 90 minutes to reach the Wall however there was some amazing street art en route. This is the first thing that made me fall in love with Berlin. The second thing was seeing the amazing graffiti that now decorated what’s left of the Berlin Wall. There is a long stretch of wall filled with amazing political, philosophical work from some of the best street artist from around the world. I walked down the wall allowing myself to take in each piece, it was only when walked back up that I allowed myself to take pictures. This wall separated and segregated families for 28 years, only being re-opened as early as 1989. I am glad these artists have made this piece of history colourfully stand out, a reminder that even though current leaders may seek to divide nations and cultures, eventually we the people will knock that shit down.
On the way back into my part of town, I found a bar area that had been set up to look like a wasteland, like something out of Mad Max. I stopped for a rest to enjoy the shade, my apple and what was left of my water. The sun was quite warm and I had already managed a darker skin shade. I snapped up more street art before pushing along following the Seine River until I came upon a beautiful synagogue. What an absolute delight it was to come across a Jewish place of worship in a city that once would’ve imprisoned the congregation.
13 years ago I had the pleasure of reading a book by Jane Yolen called Briar Rose. The narrative follows a girl discovering her grandmother’s story as a holocaust survivor, using the tale of Sleeping Beauty as a metaphor. Each chapter of the grandmother’s survival is juxtaposed against the fairytale reference. A beautiful Jewish woman is imprisoned (Aurora pricks her finger), later thrown into a mass grave assumed dead (Aurora is left to sleep for 100 years), only to have a group of survivors find her and nurse her back to health (the Prince awakes Aurora with a kiss). Fun fact, Aurora is refered to as Briar Rose by her fairy godmothers.
I digress… I found this fond book from my adolescence resonating with me today. The Stiftung Neue Synagogue was raided by Nazi supporters and destroyed during WWII. Reconstruction has breathed life back into it, much like the story of our Briar Rose.
I was so glad to have ended my Berlin visit with this synagogue. I headed back to my hostel to freshen up, then crossed the road to the fancy looking restaurant and ordered the strogganof with red wine. With a full belly and buzz in my head I headed back to my bed. My dorm mates had returned and we spent the next couple of hours exchanging stories of our days’ adventures, and our next adventure. I had my final train journey in the morning so I tucked myself in for the night. Good night and thank you Berlin.