Europe (part 2) – Berlin

After our shaky start in Amsterdam, I was a little concerned that the 6 hour train ride to Berlin would induce even more vomiting. Luckily for all of us (Kassandra, me, and a couple from Virginia sharing our compartment), whatever was causing Kassandra to feel sick was only a 24hour thing.

Berlin train station upon arrival.

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Again my initial reaction was about the cold, and then reality set in that I am in a whole new country, with a new language, and really have no idea how to get to our hotel. After asking for help at the tourism office, I thought I had a clear understanding of which way to head. But after about 30 minutes of walking, I remembered that I have absolutely no sense of direction.

A common theme on our vacation was that we were lost. This was not always a bad thing. It led to us finding some really cool shops and seeing things we wouldn’t have seen on the regular path. But after Kassandra being sick the night before, a six hour train ride, and -4⁰c temperature, we were not looking for adventure. We really just wanted to find out hotel. I would try to ask for help. I would point at where I was trying to get on a map and ask where we were. Each person would just tell us to keep walking like another 10 more minutes. What I realized from this is that street names in Germany are comically long and that the German’s have no concept of how long 10 minutes is. It took us three hours of walking in freezing weather with our bags to find our hotel. Hotel snap shots:

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After taking a shower and warming up, we ventured back out to find dinner. Out of pure exhaustion and fear of venturing too far from our warm hotel, we ended up just going to a pizza place. We figured it would be nice to eat some real pepperoni pizza (versus the beef pepperoni we have had to adjust to in the UAE).

The menu was in German, and the cashier/cook spoke no English. In Amsterdam, we were lucky in that we could usually find someone that spoke English, and menus were posted in both English and Dutch. That was a luxury that we would not encounter for most of the remainder of our vacation. So, we stared at the menu board and tried to decipher what it said for an awkwardly long time. It’s a pizza restaurant. It shouldn’t have been that hard, right? Pizza is pizza in German too, but somehow I ended up with pasta and a calzone. But, the funny part is that it wasn’t even real pepperoni in the calzone. We had somehow managed to stumble into probably one of the very few “halal” pizza restaurants in Germany. I noticed, after the fact, that “حلال” was written right there on the menu board. As we were about to leave, two men walk into the restaurant, and they greeted the cashier/cook in Arabic. At this point, I am thinking to myself that I am an idiot. I could have placed our order in Arabic (the items were numbered, and at least I know my numbers in Arabic). So, I go up to the cashier/cook as I am paying our bill and ask him if he speaks Arabic (in Arabic). He looks at me blankly. Nope. He really did only speak German.

The next morning, Sunday, March 31 we decided to go to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp. It is only 35 kilometres (22 mi) north of Berlin, so we hopped on a train to visit one of the most horrifying reminders of humankind’s hatred towards each other. It was as depressing and heart wrenching as can be expected.

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As Kassandra and I were walking around taking the audio tour, it was hard not to feel incredibly guilty for complaining to each other about being cold.  I just keep thinking about all the people that had to suffer through the winters in the camp, and they didn’t have a PSU/IELP sweatshirt to keep them even slightly warm.

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For me, walking through the medical offices was the hardest. The audio guide gave us descriptions of the medical experiments conducted on the prisoners, who was allowed to be given medical treatment, and the details of the autopsy rooms.

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Of course seeing the outside crematoriums and execution ares was also difficult. If you were dropped into this camp and had no idea what had transpired there, you might be think it looks like a peaceful college campus. But as I was walking through the grounds, it was hard not to imagine it as the people imprisoned must have seen it.

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After we left the camp, we started our walk back to the nearest train station. Along the street, many of the houses had colored eggs hanging from trees – a reminder that it was Easter. Europe 118

But as we walked down the street, I could not help but think of the people in these houses that live right outside the walls of the Sachsenhausen. Assuming that these houses have been in the same family for generations, what was it like for them living by the camp? How did they feel about what was happening? Were they the people that threw bread to the prisoners as they walked along the same street that Kassandra and I walked on to get to the train station? Or were they the people that threw rocks? It was a sobering moment.

That night, we snapped out of our funk by walking through Alexanderplatz. There we found a street market. There were mini fireplaces at some of the outdoor tables for people to sit around as they drank their beer. I’m not a beer drinker, but the fire was a nice bit of warmth as we ate our German sausages for dinner.

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When we could no longer handle the freezing of our extremities, I asked a guy near us (one that had that look about him like he may speak English) if there were any malls or stores nearby. He pointed out the Alexa mall (right across the street) and told us that we would be able to go inside but that it wouldn’t actually be open. Apparently everything is closed in Germany on Sundays…probably even more so since it was Easter. The man was right. The mall was closed, but we were able to go inside (warmth) and use the bathrooms.

Another thing I learned during my trip is that, in Europe, they charge you to use public bathrooms. Even inside the mall, there was a charge of .50 Euro and since she wouldn’t give me change, I had to pay 1 Euro ($1.30 US / 4.78 AED). It felt like a scam, and it made me ask myself if I really had to go bad enough not to just hold it.

The next morning, just as I was finally starting to get familiar with the metro system and some vague concept of direction, it was was time to pack up our stuff and goodbye to Berlin. Next stop Munich.

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