My trip to Berlin was all too short. Before arriving I had presumed this major city would be crowded and touristy and somewhat vexing with all of the largeness of it. You can then imagine my surprise when I arrived to a casual and cool, artsy urban atmosphere.
My first taste of Berlin was encountered on my stroll from the hostel to the German History Museum. Lots of street art occupied my eyes while the sounds of children playing outside filled my ears. No one seemed to be in a hurry and all throughout the neighborhood I noticed scents of fresh pretzels, warm bratwurst and Napoli-style pizza.
The German History Museum was massive, to say the least. A thousand years of German history cannot be taken lightly. I wandered in and out of hundreds of exhibits; beginning with the medieval times and working my way through the kingdom of Prussia, several religious wars and eventually coming to the modern day wars such as World War I and finally--the fascinating WWII and the shaping of the Germany we know and love today.
I learned a lot about the entirety of the country I was visiting. Close-up exhibits of Hitler's propaganda, Nazi uniforms and some of the first Volkswagens were all strikingly intriguing. The ending of the museum presented the denazification of post-war Germany. This including things like enjoying the American cinema and the culture it brought plus evolving into the economical power that Germany is thanks to many of the players in the automobile, fashion and manufacturing industries.
Being based in Berlin, there was a special section dealing with the Berlin Wall. I learned that Berlin was a pocket city of all of Germany at the time. Not only was the entire country divided into sectioned overseen by each of the allied powers, but the city of Berlin was also divided between the allies as well. What eventually happened is that all of west Germany merged together to form the Federal Republic of Germany while the east side (under the control of Russia) called itself the German Democratic Republic and remained under the control of the Soviet communist party.
Berlin was the city where the East and West met one another, so when the tension got thick and many east-Germans wanted to flee to west-Germany, the Soviets built a wall around Berlin that would keep the eastern Germans inside their borders. The infamous wall was 155 kilometers long and actually consisted of two walls which held a death trench in between. The death trench was full of electrical fences, police with guns and plenty of other contraptions designed to end the life of anyone trying to escape.
Eventually in 1990 the the east gave in and all of Germany was reunited This was when the wall came down and a new chapter was begun for the now free east-Germans. The era of music and movies and a lighter disposition swept over the entire nation and youth and old alike celebrated the peace that atlas was Germany's.
After three hours of soaking up the history of Germany, I was exhausted and returned to my hostel for dinner and an evening of relaxing. As I ate my dinner in the courtyard at the hostel, I quickly found myself engaged in conversation with two nice American girls. We were all traveling alone and fate had brought us to the same table for a great discussion. I never caught the name of the first girl, but I'll say she was the epitome of the typical Californian hippie. I noticed the unshaved hair on her legs as she began describing her studies of peaceful cultures, wholistic healing and the appreciation of the environment. Once she even scolded me for having a negative comment. I appreciated her mindset and though I agreed with most everything she said, I still found her a little bit overwhelming. She was very pleasant though and gave me a free diagnosis of the digestive problems I had been struggling with.
The other girl was from Maryland and her name was Sam. Sam was actually a member of the Peace Corps and had been living in Senegal, Africa for three years. Her degree was in environmental studies and her role in Africa was to live as a local with a host family and work in the fields with the common people. Eventually, overtime she would slowly give recommendations to the community for making a more sustainable culture. I liked that the community had to invite the Peace Corps in and that the volunteers actually had to spend time understanding the culture before they were allowed to offer advice or suggestions.
Sam received one month of vacation each year. After two and a half years she used her month to visit home. I asked if she minded being away from her family that long and she said Facetime and modern technology made it extremely bearable. Her month of vacation this year had given her the chance to explore Europe. Berlin was her first stop and it was her first night in town as well. Together we made plans to do a walking tour of the city the next day. The tour was at a reduced fair because of our stay at the hostel and it promised to hit all the historical and meaningful sites of Berlin in only three hours. After exchanging Facebook as a means of communication, we retired to our rooms as we were both exhausted.