After an extremely long and painful bus ride (8 or 9 hours I think?) we finally arrived in Berlin. I expected to be right in the center of the city, not too far from my hostel since we were arriving at the central bus station. Nope, not even close. In fact, I was 40 minutes by train from the U-Bahn station where my hostel was. Thankfully I could read all the signs, but if I didn’t know German, I would have been so lost. Also, the hostel directions weren’t very clear, but I found my way there eventually. I was expecting the worst when I got to the very busy hostel, but my room was actually pretty nice and I had decent wifi which I am learning is not easy to come by in hostels. The rooms were clean and there were only girls in this dorm so no naked men!
I spent my first day in Berlin doing something really incredible. I was able to go to the town where my grandmother grew up. It was about an hour and a half train ride to Burg. My grandmother had given me a hand drawn map, including a row of chestnut trees, that led me to her house from the train station. Everything was correct, even the chestnut trees. It’s a small town and a quiet town. I was surprised that not many people were out and about and not many shops were open. It was a little weird since it was the middle of the day on Wednesday. I still spent a couple hours here wandering around and imagining my grandmother growing up here. It took up almost the entire day, but that’s ok because I made sure I had another day in Berlin.
It’s also important to note that I have been to Berlin before. Ten years ago (almost to the day) I went to Berlin for the first time with an International Choir as one of our many stops through Europe. I could tell this time how much it had changed in the past ten years and it was much bigger than I remember. Since I had spent time in Berlin before I didn’t feel as much guilt not spending as much time out in the city as possible.
The next day however, I found a free tour that took up most of the day. The tour was actually really cool, even though it was like four hours long. It started at Museum Island and I was just expecting a regular tour with the highlights of the city. This tour actually went in to explain the stories behind things, most of them revolving around the last 110 years or so. My tour guide told us stories about WWI, WWII, and Cold War Berlin. We were even able to see the patchwork done to the buildings damaged during the war from bullets.
It was a little bit of a heavy day but it was really cool for a history nerd like me. I spent so much time studying European history in school, but it is a whole new experience walking around the town and seeing the things you read about being bombed. It is cool that a city like Berlin that has been ripped apart and nearly completely destroyed can come together and rebuild itself and still acknowledge the bad things that have happened there.