Monday to Thursday in Prague flew by (as it tends to do). In those four days I did manage to squeeze in a fair amount, including school work, errand running, laundry (so fun!) and a bit more inspired activities like going to see Grand Budapest Hotel in theatres, catching up with friends from home, checking out some new parts of the city and some quirky thrift shops, enjoying Prague’s international cuisine (Indian, Chinese, and Italian!), and sampling local beer at the Beer Museum.
But what about the weekend!? How about a straight-forward narrative?
Come Friday, we once again boarded the bus—almost Dejavu except this time we took the “mini bus” which looks like a small child compared to our usual monster of a vehicle.
For my third time this trip we crossed the border into Germany—our Friday drive was broken up by a few hour stop in Dresden. For a city I had heard of only a handful of times, it is quite a gem. The city on the River Elbe is home to a museum housing Raphael’s Sistine Madonna, the picturesque Zwinger Palace, a world-famous Opera, and various other architectural eye-candy. And if this city wasn’t cool enough, it’s also the place where porcelain was first made in Europe. Ok, geekout completed.
After our tour (including a stop to a local bakeshop for some typical German mid-day snacks) we finished the drive into Germany’s capital city: Berlin!
Berlin immediately felt quite different than any of the cities I’ve visited so far in Europe. Its modern buildings, wide streets, and expansiveness reminded me very much of an American city, though its historical monuments (which popped up whenever you were just getting convinced you might be back in the States) changed any such illusions. Additionally, the notoriously fraught history of the city of which we are acutely aware adds an entirely different sort of interest.
The first night we began our Berlin experience by walking into Berlin Mitte (City Center) and then to the Brauhaus for some German cuisine and beer. It was a massive beer hall packed with people nursing equally massive beer steins whilst listening to a rather depressed looking trio playing trad music—they probably could have used a beer too but I imagine it’s quite hard to balance a stein and an accordion simultaneously. I reminisced of livelier German celebrations back in St. Paul, Minnesota in Der Glockenspiel with my relatives where our boisterous singing and the accompanying accordion playing cleared out the rest of the patrons by closing time.
Come Saturday, I was chomping at the bit to finally explore the city. Zdenek gave us a tour in the morning, guiding us through the historic district, much of which was rebuilt after World War II in the original style. We crossed over the Spree River and became “islanders” on what is called “Museum Island,” home to several collections of art and artifacts. Markets lined the canal leading to Unter der Linden, the famous street leading to the Bradenburg Gate. At this street we parted ways, and after Liz and I wandered through the markets together we too bid each other “adieu” to strike out into the city on our own.
Unlike the other cities we’ve toured, Berlin is not exactly a walking city. It could be done, but because our time was limited, several of us rented bikes to get around. Luckily Berlin is a very biker friendly city with permanent bike lanes. I hoofed it back to the Television Tower (a remnant of Eastern Berlin Soviet era, and the tallest building in the European Union). There I rented a “Fat Tire” bike and quite gleefully peddled off. My feet were very happy. Back past the Berlin Cathedral to Unter Der Linden, past museum after museum I rode until I arrived at the Brandenburg Gate, the only remaining gate from a series of gates that once led to the Prussian palace. It has been the site of an incredible amount of history—during the division between West and East Germany, the gate was closed and could only be viewed from a distance. At the gate, Reagan spoke those words that every good school girl and boy has heard, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”
The next hours I spent cycling through the Tiergarten, a huge forested park that begins right beyond the Gate, and stopped at various sites including the Jewish Memorial, the US Embassy, the Siegessaule (Victory Column), and the Bellevue Palace. I also got a jelly donut so I felt quite justified in rereating JFK’s famous words “ich bin ein Berliner”
Come 3:30 our group reconvened in front of the Reichstag and toured its dome where we got an excellent view of the city. It was odd to look out onto the city and the huge green expanse beyond the Reichstag and imagine all the destruction that occurred in that very place. After the tour Arnie and myself hunted down some filling German food and then biked back to the hotel with full stomachs. There I serendipitously ran into Olivia, Brooke, Ellen, and Alyssa who I joined in a night bike ride which ended at an Italian pizza place and a candlelit pub where we “Cheersed” to a jam packed, unforgettable day in Berlin. After a late night ice cream snack, we collapsed into bed.
The best part of the weekend began at 5:15 this morning (which actually felt like 4:15 due to European daylight savings) when Olivia, Alyssa, and myself dragged ourselves from bed and biked out into the city to see it the sun come up on Berlin. In an almost empty, quiet darkness the city was peaceful and the powerful monuments only more impressive. We admired the Cathedral, the Brandenburg Gate, and the Reichstag as the sun rose and hung out in front of the cathedral as the sky turned brighter.
By the time of our return our hands were nearly frozen but our gleefully stupid, cheeky grins said it all.
The rest of the morning was spent touring a local thrift market (here’s to 2 euro sunglasses!) and walking along the East Wall Gallery before driving to Wannsee where the famous Wansee Conference convened, solidifyng the Nazi plan for the “Jewish Solution.”
After a final meal in a Biergarten, we sadly boarded this tiny tiny bus where I sit now typing this blog post.
Here’s to the fervent hope that we make it to Praha soon where I will happily collapse into bed.
‘Til next time