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Young and Broke. A Story of Berlin, Germany.

Free weekends are so fun because we get to go anywhere we want (as long as we are back by class time on Monday).  This free weekend we decided to head to Berlin, Germany.

Kelsey, Annie, Jenny, Zach, Faviola, and I all boarded the four-hour train together, but we wouldn't stay together for long. The train was already very full.  One fun thing about the train company we booked is they oversell their trains.  We all scattered to try to find seats.  I think we walked the entire length of the train. Twice. Jenny and I gave up and sat on the stairs at the end of one of the cars for about an hour.  By that time, enough people had reached their destinations and exited the train.  Zach came to get us and we were reunited in a compartment together. 

Once we reached our stop, Kelsey was the expert navigator and told us we only needed to go three metro stops to get to our hostel.  We had purchased metro tickets numerous times before, but we must have looked like we were struggling because  a man approached us and asked if we needed help.  We really didn't; we were figuring it out.  However, if he could help us get the tickets faster that would help us catch the next metro.  There was a reduced fare option that we clicked because we were only three stops away, or a "quick- trip." We boarded the metro and we had gone 2.75 stops when the ticket guy asked to see our pass.  Kelsey handed him our tickets.  He looked puzzled and angrily said "Follow me!" A terrified look was on all of our faces. We got off at our stop and he asked for our passports. At this point, we have no idea what is happening and Annie and I blindly obey and hand over our passports.  He told us that we had purchased a children's ticket and it was a 60 Euro fine. Each.  Our jaws dropped.  We had been in Berlin for a hot 20 minutes and we were already going to be down almost $70.  We tried to explain to him that we are students that had just arrived and that "this guy" helped us get the ticket.  He did not seem amused at all.  He pointed at each of us and said 60 Euro. We hadn't even been to an ATM to get cash.  We offered to buy another ticket, but he was instant on fining us.  I think he started to believe us because he said he would only fine us 60 Euro total, so 15 Euro each.  We were still shaken about the experience just because he was such a bully about it.  We walked away feeling young and broke. 

We got off to a rough start. There, I said it.  But we were not about to let that ruin our trip! The next day we scheduled a free walking tour of the city.  I was so excited to have someone take us and show us the highlights.  Before we started, we were already off to a better start because we found a Dunkin' Donuts right next to where the tour started. Not to be dramatic, but I had been craving an Americanized caramel iced coffee since I left in March. 

The six of us were put in a large group with Rochelle as the tour guide.  She was entertaining from the very beginning  by starting with "I know I don't sound German. Can anyone guess where I'm from?" She sounded very American. "Close! I am from 20 minutes north of the states!"  Our new Canadian friend did an outstanding job on the tour.  We started at the Brandenburg Gate which is an icon that split the East from West Berlin.  The monument at the top changed hands numerous times during WWII but is now back home where she belongs. 

Next, she lead us to the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe.  This memorial isn't on some side street or out of the way.  It is in a main square. This memorial is very visible and prominent.  Our guide explained that there is no plaque explaining what the memorial represents because it is open to interpretation.  It means something different to everyone.  She did tell us that the spaces to walk through were narrow on purpose.  It was designed so you have to walk in a single file line. It's too narrow to have anyone by your side. The monument itself is interesting to look at. It is so unique and hard to explain.  It is a patch filled with grey rectangular blocks. Some short, some very tall. Some rows are straight, some rows curve.  When we made our way through the maze-like blocks, she told us that the theme of the memorial was that it abandons human reason.  You could sit there for hours looking at it and draw millions of conclusions of what it all symbolizes.  I'm glad I got to experience it and I still think about it.

Next, we headed to a small parking lot. Cool, I know.  She anticipated our skepticism and quickly explained that it wasn't as underwhelming as it looked.  Under our feet was Adolph Hitler's bunker where it is believed he took his own life when he realized the war would be lost.  I had read before that he committed suicide, but I had no idea he married Eva Braun in the bunker 36 hours before he killed himself.  Our guide told us that medical records were found that revealed that he was taking a lot of different medications at the time.  The bunker was destroyed so no one can go down to see it nowadays, but a small plaque on the side has a blueprint of what it looked like. 

We made our way deeper into the city where we stopped at a section of the Berlin wall that was still standing. Our guide told us some crazy tales of escape attempts from East Berliners trying to reunite with their families in the west.  We also saw a memorial to those who lost their lives trying to cross the line separating the East and West. 

Checkpoint Charlie was our next brief stop.  We didn't get a chance to go into the museum (it's on my list for when I come back next time).  However, Rochelle told us this was the cite of WWIII almost breaking out.  It all started with a man who wanted to go the the opera and ended with 11 American tanks on one side and 11 Soviet tanks on the other of the checkpoint. Obviously, it was resolved, but it showed how high tensions were.  

It was a perfect day for a walking tour and we strolled to Gendarmenmarkt where we saw a huge concert house with a French church and German church on each side.  WWII destroyed the square but it has since been restored to its beautiful potential.
After our tour, we went to the DDR Museum.  The museum takes you through daily life in East Berlin and Germany. This was an interesting perspective to see after we had just gone over a lot of negatives of the wall.  The museum showcased that it wasn't all terrible.  DDR was so interactive.  There was a station on a computer where you could make the "ideal socialist" and it was a challenge.  You could pick everything from the shape of her face to the book she reads.  (I scored a 61/70 on my character. You may applaud anytime now.) 
Our brains and legs were tired after a full day of history and walking.  The group decided to take a break and relax for dinner.  We found a Mexican restaurant with a lot of aztec looking neon signs.  It looked fun so we gave it a shot.  They had a huge drink menu and we all ordered fun fruity cocktails (Rita I am expecting you to help me perfect the "Flamingo" recipe when I get home). Our final stop of the day was a quick stroll through a park. It was getting dark outside and I am sad we didn't get to see it in the sunlight because it was so gorgeous. 

The next morning we went to a trendy area that hosts a flea market. Personally, I was not about being run over by strangers to look at dusty old things.  However, the rest of the group was thriving (okay Zach was probably not thriving either).  I will say that the food trucks were pretty good.  It was the place to go if you were feeling young and broke.  

We had another walking tour scheduled for Sunday afternoon called the Red Berlin tour.  The tour focussed on the Cold War and how it affected both sides.  One thing I never thought about were the metro stations underground. The wall separated them above ground, but there were still train lines leading to the other side.  If a train started in the West and ended in the West, but went through the East, the train would slow down at the metro station but it wouldn't stop or open the doors. It was completely dark but you could still see the outline of the patrolmen guarding the stations.   They were called ghost stations. They had a video that played what it looked like during the tour and it was really spooky.

After the tour Annie, Kelsey, Jenny and I met one of my friends who lives in Berlin for dinner. John went to Minden High for a year through an exchange program and I got to know him through the speech team. When he saw I was in Europe he said we should come to Berlin and it all just kind of fell into place! We told him about our rocky start and he thought it was suspicious that he didn't print us a fine ticket to pay at the main office.  He said they usually don't take cash on the spot. Great. I hop that guy enjoyed his 60 Euros from the scared tourists. Anyway, I loved getting to catch up with him and introduce him to my friends.  He took us to one of his favorite restaurants and showed us around his neighborhood.  We brought up a candy bar that we saw in Germany but had never tried, so of course he took us to buy one so we could experience it.  John also showed us where he goes to school and told what his future plans are.  I'm so glad it worked out for us to get together!

Berlin started on a rough note, but it only went up from there.  It was by far the most information-packed trip we have taken yet.  Berlin is the first city I left feeling like I didn't see everything I had on my list.  We have one more free weekend here in the Czech (AH! WHAT?!) and I would definitely spend a few more days as a young, broke Berliner.

PS: We made it back to Olomouc with 15 minutes to spare before class on Monday. We are getting this travel thing down to a science.

PK 

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