art and history in Berlin

After several planning challenges, we ended up in Berlin for a weekend! First we wanted to take a train, but it ended up being too expensive. Then we wanted to rent a car, but we were way too afraid to drive on the Autobahn. In the end, since the bus didn’t work out, Jesús, Chiara and I settled on a great car share! Chiara was Jesús’ host sister and it was great to have a native German come with us! We struggled to find food, because almost all the restaurants we passed by were closed. At 9 PM on a Friday night! We were confused, but finally found Schnitzel and the Brandenburger Tor.

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We also met up with two other MIT students who were teaching in Lübeck, Jenny and Hannah. The five of us went to the Reichstagsgebäude, the old Parliament of Germany. There was an elegant dome on the top that you could spiral up. The audio guide automatically started and stopped depending on your location on the staircase, and even talked about nearby buildings and monuments that we ended up checking out!

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Afterwards we went on a walking tour and saw Hitler’s bunker (where he died), the Berlin Wall, and Checkpoint Charlie (which is all apparently fake), which were amazing to see and learn about. I’m still surprised by how recently the Wall came down – in my parents’ lifetimes! We passed by two cathedrals – one made by the French and one made by Germans. They are exact replicas of each other, because one just copied the other! Another funny story: one ruler couldn’t bear children and so he asked his brother to “help him out.” In return, he built him a palace. What a nice brother.

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Berlin has some pretty cute and unique symbols all over the city – Berliner Bears and the Ampelmann! The Ampelmann is the city’s traffic light man, and distinguishes it from other cities. My obsession with traffic lights totally paid off. There are even entire souvenir shops selling merchandise about him! Overall I felt an art scene in the city. An area under construction had many stone blocks lying around, holding up poles for construction signs. The blocks had quotes of famous writers, poets, and others painted on them. Even Albert Einstein! Another really cool artsy place is the East Side Gallery. It’s the longest surviving section of the Berlin Wall, decorated and painted over with tons of art murals. It was so beautiful, but also haunting. Some of the displays were a little morbid, others rallied for freedom in other nations, and some were just gorgeous artworks.

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We also visited the Typography of Terror and the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. The two museums were really different but both very impactful. The Typography of Terror was more historical, giving many details about every aspect you could think of regarding the Second World War. An hour was not enough! Then we walked through the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, which was much more personal. The exhibits featured specific families and their stories, including when and where they died. They were original letters sent from lover to lover, from parent to child, and friend to friend. One specific letter from a mother to her children was so touching and made me cry. It made the war seem so real and near.

“My dear,

don’t separate from Michael. Don’t let yourself be taken to the children’s home. Write to Papa, maybe he can help you, and write to Paulette. Ask the furrier across the way for his advice. Maybe God will pity you. We are leaving tomorrow, for who knows where. I’m hugging you, in tears. I would so much have loved to hug you again, my poor children, I will never see you again.”

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Between art and museums we, of course, had food. Berliner Currywurst and Ritter Sport chocolate. Mmm. If you ever order a Currywurst XXL don’t underestimate its size! We made our own custom type of Ritter Sport chocolate, and snacked all the way home.

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We also stopped by a Photoautomat to take black and white photos as souvenirs!

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We made great memories in Berlin and had an awesome time. It was definitely the most “city-like” place we visited in Germany, and it was always busy and fun!

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