A few weeks ago, my group took a trip to Berlin. All in all it was a great trip. Berlin is a cool city and provided us with some great experiences and stories. But first let me start in the beginning. The trip to Berlin was about five hours by train. I was pretty excited to get a taste of the efficient German train system. We woke up very early to catch a regional train out of Marburg to a neighboring town, where we were to change onto one of Deutsche Bahn’s high-speed rail trains. Once onboard the express train, we were chugging along at well over 100mph. Villages and towns became nothing more than a tiny blur out of the window. The trip was mostly occupied with good conversation, making up for lost sleep, and a few outrageously over-priced Snicker’s bars. The train we were on seldom made stops, and when it did the stations were generally large and serviced other large cities and other railways. That is why we found it curious when the train began to slow down in the middle of the countryside, eventually coming to a stop nowhere near any station platform, and with only a few run-down farmhouses scattered about. This delay was completely out of character for the ever-punctual Germans and quickly became irritating, especially considering we couldn’t have had more than 30 minutes left before reaching Berlin. The Conductor was constantly making announcements over the intercom telling us that we were in fact not moving (in case we hadn’t figured that out for ourselves). With each new communication the Conductor’s voice became more and more tired and aggravated, until eventually he said he had no idea why we weren’t moving nor when we’d start moving again, but that he didn’t think caused by terrorists (yes, he literally said, “don’t worry, we’re pretty sure it’s not terrorists.” Hearing that in a very serious German voice is not the reassurance we were looking for). TWO hours later, we were on our way to Berlin. Amtrak probably would have gotten us there faster! Frankly, this guy would have gotten us there faster, probably would have been more interesting as well.
Anyway, once we finally arrived in Berlin we had very little time to get settled around before having to meet for our tour. The tour was interesting (or so I think, it was in German, so there’s a chance I interpreted everything false), but frankly not that note-worthy. What is not-worthy, however, is what we did after the tour. Our director had got us tickets to see a performance later that night. But we had about an hour in between the tour and show time to find dinner and make our way to the theater. We found a Curry wurst stand (a traditional Berlin meal of sausage smothered in what is basically a ketchup/curry sauce). It was quite delicious, but on our way to the theater we stumbled upon an ice cream stand selling Maker’s Mark ice cream. Naturally, we wouldn’t be able to call ourselves patriotic Americans if we didn’t try this. Now, I’m no Anthony Bourdain, but this was outstanding. The ice cream was not fully frozen because the alcohol from the Maker’s Mark prevented the concoction from freezing. Each spoonful tasted like a very cold shot of the bourbon and I’m pretty sure the alcohol content was quite authentic as well.
After a few scoops of that, we made our way to the Chameleon Club Theater for our show. Prior to our trip, we found out that the Chameleon Club was a former Cabaret theater, known now for its artsy and modern shows (exactly the kind of thing we expected from our group director). Needless to say we were a little worried about what was about to ensue. However, the show “The Loft” was absolutely amazing and completely out performed our meager expectations. This psycho-sexual..ughhh..play(?) was Cirque-du-Soleil-esque high-wire acts, burlesque dancing, comedy, and audience participation all rolled into one big, weird, fantastic show! There really was no plot, more like different acts or skits performed by actors. There were three guys and four girls, presumably all living in this loft, and apparently today was laundry day, as they were in their underwear the ENTIRE show. They did backflips, high acrobatics, and circus tricks…all in their underwear. The best way to sum up this experience is to point out that I was given Apfelstrudel by a man who ended up running across stage in just a red thong…. If you are ever in Berlin, I strongly recommend you check out this show or any other that might be playing at the Chameleon.
After the show we walked around Berlin at night, heading towards the Brandenburg Tor (Tor means Gate or Door). Brandenburg is one of the landmarks of the city. If you have seen any pictures I have posted (i.e. Facebook or up above), then you may have noticed the colored lights coming from the various monuments in Berlin. We happened to be in Berlin during the Festival of Lights, so the city was lit up in beautiful colors. The Tor was no different. It was impossible to miss its towering figure. So naturally, this gave us a great opportunity to play dumb tourists. After some encouragement, we convinced one of our group members to walk up to a German couple and, while standing with his back to it, ask “Where is the Brandenburg Tor?” The German man just started laughing and said “It’s right behind you.” My friend then proceeds to ask, “Oh great. And how often does the Tour go?” Now, I’m just going to assume this is one of those stories that was better for those that were there in person. But believe me the German guy was utterly confused at the word-play and tried feverishly to explain, in English, that Tor means door or gate in German, not an actual Tour like we had assumed.
The next day was to be devoted to sightseeing around Berlin. In the morning we had another tour of the rest of Berlin. After the tour we had about 6 hours before the train back to Marburg. We had diligently planned this before we arrived to ensure we maximized our time and saw all of the main highlights of the city. Naturally we went to such landmarks as The East Side Gallery (the largest remaining stretch of the Berlin Wall), the imposing Berlin Fernsehturm (a high TV tower in the center of the city that gives great views of the city…to those that want to wait in a two hour line), Tempelhof Airport (the site of the Berlin Airlift), and the bunker where Hitler committed suicide (now a parking lot for a rather nice apartment complex). That was a lot to see, as it was, in just a few hours, however we still had a few more specific places that various people wanted to see. So with about 2 hours left before our departure, we split up. One of us went to the Berlin Cathedral, another to the DDR museum, and I led the rest to the Olympic Stadium, which was very impressive. The complex was a lot bigger than I had anticipated, and we quickly got immersed among the history and architecture of the facility. It was awesome to walk around the stadium that hosted the 1936 Summer Olympics and where Jesse Owens disproved Hitler’s race superiority theory by winning 4 gold medals. We made our way to the bell tower that overlooked the stadium. However as we got to the top, we realized we had less than 30 minutes to be on the train home. So considering we had to get around to the other end of the stadium to drop off our audio guides and then catch a local Berlin train to the main station, we decided to run for it, bags and everything in tow. As we were circling the complex, flying past various tour groups, we tried to take a short cut through the Olympic stables. We ran through practice grounds, where horses and riders were practicing jumping routines. The short cut seemed to be working until we ran into a locked gate. At some point, we had managed to go outside the Olympic grounds and were now stuck. There was a caretaker who was telling us that if we wanted to visit the stadium we would have to go around front. He was shocked to see that we already had tickets and audio headsets. He had no idea what we were doing in the stables. He unlocked the door and said we’d better hurry if we wanted to catch the tram to the train station. We probably set a new Olympic record in the bell tower to front gate dash event (not yet a fully sanctioned event by the IOC). Luckily we made it back to the station in time and made it home with no delays.
Berlin was a cool city and I will hopefully go back soon. One of the greatest things about the city was the large number of Trabants driving around. For those that don’t know what a Trabant is, they are luxury cars manufactured by the Soviets for much of the latter half of the 20th century, and by luxury I mean the simplest car you can think of with no added options or anything. These cars are pretty cool and it is amazing so many of them are still operating today, all 30 horsepower of them. Hopefully I will get to drive one soon and that will surely warrant a blog post.