Recently I was able to travel to Berlin with my entire program. This is what CIEE calls an “ICE” weekend, or inter-cultural exchange. Around 70 of us hopped on a bus and took a 5 hour ride north into the historic city.
Going in I didn’t honestly know what I would think of Berlin. I’ve never been a fan of the German language and I know no one who influenced me in a positive direction towards Germany. When I thought Germany, I thought of history textbooks and maybe the Olympics.
The day we arrived I was surprised. It was actually a really beautiful city with loads of sculptures and amazing architecture. There was a large river you could cruise through town on a fairy boat or rent a bike so you could see all corners of Berlin without touching the metro (the metro I found especially difficult in Berlin).
Day one I went on a walking tour with a small group. This was something I needed because I felt like I knew very little about Germany. We saw the Berlin Cathedral (arguably my favorite building there), the museums, Humboldt University of Berlin (where the most prestigious men and women would study), the Brandenburg gate, the monument for the murdered Jews, Hitler’s bunker, and many more.
That evening my classmates and I had to experience the nightlife so we went to a highly recommended club. Too bad the bouncer could tell we were tourists and were denied. This was slightly a culture shock. They didn’t like tourists and they didn’t like if you were too flashy. I don’t think anyone was too “flashy” but Berlin prides itself on being a casual city so if you look any more than casual, even going out, you are found out and ultimately can be a disadvantage.
The next morning I went on another tour with one of CIEE faculty that was history oriented. We ended up spending three to four hours just exploring the Berlin Wall. We watched video clips inside a museum showing how Germans tried to escape to freedom. Some of these videos were very hard to watch because some of the escapers would become so injured during their escape but could not stop or would not stop for anything. Everyone’s knowledge on Berlin’s history greatly grew in these few hours.
Outside of the museum, a strip of the Berlin Wall was still in tact for use of tourism. In the same area, you could walk along the “Dead Zone”, the space between the Berlin Wall and an additional wall that you needed to pass in order to escape to freedom. In this area there were also monuments in remembrance to all of the people who died trying to cross the Berlin Wall and other photos showing how the land you were currently standing on looked during Soviet control.
During my tour I also met a photographer named Gunther Schaefer. Gunter, who grew up near the eastern border, was apart of the artists who made up what is now called the East Side Gallery. He was in the New York when the wall went down. He booked a flight to Germany immediately after hearing the incredible news. Now his own art is now displayed showing a combination of the German and Israeli flag, quite a controversial piece of art to design in such a sensitive public setting.
Berlin consisted of a lot of walking, but I would recommend biking a day. Much of my free time I wandered around the city, as much as possible on foot. The metro intimidated me a bit especially the German words I could not adapt to at all. Another recommendation, study the metro before you go because it’s a little confusing if you don’t know what you’re getting into.