Stan calls Berlin a museum replica, and he's not far off. Ninety percent of it was destroyed during World War 2. There are beautiful buildings with old designs, but they're fakes: almost everything has been rebuilt since 1945.
Even World War 2 is ancient history in Berlin; the most visible scars are from the Cold War, when the Soviets encircled West Berlin with a wall that cut the city in two.
Despite the wall, West Berlin was stuffed with American investment and protection, and its citizens could travel in and out at their leisure. East Berliners were stuck behind the wall, run by a country that wanted revenge after the war. A few thousand East Berliners made it over to the West; a few hundred were shot dead trying to.
The Berlin Wall is everywhere in the city, in photo exhibits, in souvenier shops, in the tiny cobblestone path that marks where it used to stand. It fell in 1989, and the city was reunited; so in a sense, the Berlin we visited is only 20 years old. The city's history isn't in the architecture, but in the people and what they've perpetrated and endured.
Despite all this, Berlin is as pleasant and open a city as we've encountered. It's new, vibrant, multicultural, and liberal - perfect for a hippie like me. The streets and sidewalks are spacious. The people are nice. It feels good to be there.
There's a sense of being free to pursue your happiness - not to wacky extremes like in Amsterdam, but as a productive member of society (or a leeching tourist). Even the subway seems to run on the honor system; there are no turnstiles, just tickets that nobody checked while we were there. Also, the streets are paved with happiness, and strudels rain from the sky, even on sunny days, which is all of them.
We took the train to the city center in the morning and found Unter Den Linden, near all the cool communist stuff. It was rainy out, and we wandered for a while and looked for monuments.
Stan struck up a conversation with an Indian person next to him; he turned out to be a New Yorker who knew Stan's brother. This in Berlin! I thought Jewish Geography was intense, but Indian geography is on another level. The guy showed us around for a bit and then headed off.
We waited in line at the Reichstag, the huge, ornate house of the German parliament. But it took forever to get in, so we cut out to catch our walking tour at 4 pm.
The tour was intense. It lasted for 3 1/2 hours and showed us a history that makes Belfast look like Del Boca Vista. We saw typical European monuments like the Brandenburg Gate; but also the Holocaust Memorial, the site of Hitler's bunker, and the old Luftwaffe (German Air Force) headquarters. And we saw what's left of the wall, and the site of Checkpoint Charlie. Berlin hasn't always been smiles and sunshine.
After the tour, we found food at a diner that mounted a big American flag in the middle of my veggieburger. I appreciated it. Then we got some ice cream and headed back to the hostel.
I could live in Berlin. I think. We were only there for two days, and I don't see myself wanting to live outside the US. But if I had to flee the country, I could see myself hiding from the law in Berlin. It's comfortable and full of energy at the same time.
We just landed in New Jersey. It doesn't have the same flair as the last few places, but it's close to home, and I kind of missed it. It's been a great trip - I'll sum it up soon. For now, thanks for reading.
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