About Me

My photo

I'm a 30 something who loves to travel.  I have a full time job and enjoy writing (or blogging) about my travels.  I've traveled through several countries in Europe as well as Russia and Egypt.  I also enjoy domestic travel in the United States, including Disney.  My long term travel goal is to do a round the world trip.  

Friday, June 18, 2010

Warsaw to Berlin

Day 30: Warsaw to Berlin: Our drive today passes through the Polish-German border to the cultural capital of Germany, Berlin. Upon arrival we'll see the Reichstag, Brandenburg Gate and the Russian Memorial. (Breakfast and Dinner included)

Breakfast: 7:30 Bags to the bus/depart: 8:00

This morning started with a really yummy breakfast, I love Poland! At 10:50 we had our first bathroom break which was the perfect opportunity to for people to analyze Andy's new t-shirt, it had a bunch of sperm swimming to the middle of the shirt where it said, "Everyone Loves Poland." I thought it was clever, others didn't get it. I was also wearing my new shirt that said "Polska," not entirely fitting for a trip to Germany, but it somehow worked out for me.

At 1:40 we had a lunch stop at McDonalds. Then at 4:35 we hit traffic at the border for Germany, fortunately we weren't a truck, their line was miles long. We were through the border by 5:00 and we even got stamps! That was totally unexpected, we assumed it had to do with the fact that the World Cup was going on in Germany and they had heightened security. By the way, as we were driving to Berlin the Germany Vs Equador game was being played in Berlin.
At 6:00 we got into Berlin, I know this because all of a sudden we started to see German fans walking the street with flags and other interesting German paraphernalia, apparently Germany had won. YEAAAAAA!!!!!! Once in the city we made a quick stop at the East Side Gallery of the Berlin Wall for pictures then headed to The Generator, where we would be staying. It was quite warm in Berlin, around 30° Celsius (86° Fahrenheit), and the hostel didn't have air conditioning, ugh. The next day we would find out that not much of Berlin had air conditioning, hazard of being a relatively cool city I guess.

The Berlin wall was built overnight and is an icon of the Cold War. After WWII the agreement between the allies was that Germany and Berlin were to be split up, as a temporary measure. But Stalin was in charge in Russia, and Berlin was in the middle of Eastern Germany, which wasn't doing well economically while Berlin was (thanks to foreign aid from the Allies). Berlin was the gateway out of the East, in Berlin you could basically do a one to one exchange for your East German passport for a West German passport and then travel freely.

At 1am on August 13, 1961 East German soldiers built the Berlin Wall around West Berlin, using barbed wire and checkpoints. Some people fell asleep at friends homes in the East side and couldn't get back home in the morning. This happened to one woman who didn't see her sister until the fall of the Berlin Wall. It split up families, screwed up roads and kept people from going to work.

The Wall caused problems with the Metro too. Many train lines covered stops on both sides of the Wall. Those trains were initially stopped, but eventually they made an agreement. The trains would run, but would not stop at the East Berlin stops, they would spend 28 years as empty unused metro stops.

The first wall was built 5-8 feet tall and 2 and a half feet wide, with broken glass on the top to keep you from climbing over. But over time the wall was improved, eventually it was built 8 to 12 feet tall with a cement pipe on top to make it impossible to get over the wall. The Wall also had a "dead zone" which included guard towers, anyone in that area would be shot dead. Some devised ways of crossing, but some died trying. They believe that 90% of attempts were thwarted. The Checkpoint Charlie Museum has a lot of paraphernalia about the many escapes.

In 1963 John F. Kennedy visited Berlin in a demonstration of solidarity. This is when JFK made his famous speech and said: "All free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Berlin, and therefore, as a free man, I take pride in the words, 'Ich bin ein Berliner.'" The phrase "Ich bin ein Berliner" has been often translated into "I am a jelly donut," though after an extensive search of the internet, I am convinced that he really did say "I am a Berliner," and not, "I am a jelly donut." Though I now understand that the translation could easily be mistaken. Either way, it has been the butt of many jokes, and some t-shirts too, though I never found one.
On June 12, 1987 Ronald Regan visited the Berlin Wall and spoke his famous speech where he says, "General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization: Come here to this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!"

After this speech there is much turmoil in the Hungary, as there had been all across the Eastern Block. On November 9, 1989 it is announced that travel rules were lifted and those with the proper paper work (exit visa's) will be allowed out of Eastern Berlin, he said it was immediate - no one expected the response they got. Thousands went to the wall for exit visas, the guards are overwhelmed and had no instructions as to what to do with these people. So they took the wall down themselves... and so the Berlin Wall finally fell after 28 years. It took a full year to physically take the whole wall down, except a few remaining sections for posterity. And who was the first person to sing there? The Hoff! Yes, on New Years Eve the honor of singing on the Berlin Wall went to David Hasselhoff! Gotta love the Germans and their Hoff!

I was in room 302 (which at least had it's own bathroom - though it was smaller then the bathrooms I've had on cruise ships - with Tanya, Leah and Cathy, but we had 6 beds in it. Due to some roommate conflicts Bridget was going to be using one of our extra beds. After a few minutes to freshen up we were supposed to meet downstairs. Maggy showed us a little video she had made for us with our day song and pictures from the tour, how sweet. And then it was time to hit the town!

Ash drove us as close to the Reichstag as he could and along the way you could tell it was going to be a good night. People were all over the place drinking and partying. Once there I went with Cathy, Leah and Bridget to find an ATM, taking pictures and soaking in the atmosphere when we went by the fan mile to the area where the Brandenburg Gate is. We finally found one and then went to scope out a place to eat, we found a little sidewalk cafe about 2 blocks from the Brandenburg Gate that was able to seat all 12 of us, we had picked up Andy, Kate, Lis, Jilly, Cara, Renae, Caroline and AJ. During dinner Tom called, apparently he had fallen asleep and just woken up, Lis told him where we were and he met up with us. We all had really nice dinners and reasonably priced considering it was the middle of World Cup - 13.00 euros for a steak dinner.

After dinner we all walked over to the fan mile, apparently the England Vs Sweden game had just finished, which was why it was really hard to get in (most people were leaving). But some of us wanted to get in so Leah, Renae, Cathy, AJ, Caronline, Cara and I pushed our way in. At first we just soaked in the atmosphere and took pictures, and there was a lot of atmosphere to soak in, those Germans (and whoever else) can party!

Eventually we decided to walk around a bit and we found a dance floor with music and people dancing (go figure), and for one of the rare occasions of my life I actually danced! Renae even commented at one point that I looked so happy, and honestly this was one, if not THE, best night I had on tour. Here we ran into Skye, Tom and Bridget too. We also met some strange men that were looking for attention, they even had a little dance off for us. I think one of them was Polish because he seemed to like me and asked something about my shirt (which said Polska on it). At one point the song, "Footballs Coming Home," came on, apparently everyone but us had heard the song and loved it. So we loved it and sang along like everyone else, the song will always remind me of that night.

Eventually we were so hot and tired and decided to duck off the dance floor to get drinks. I got some souvenirs, a World Cup pin. I tried calling home (having a cell phone was handy, even at $1.50 a minute) to talk to my sister and see if my brother-in-law would want something. We were just in time since they were starting to close up for the night, they were also running low on pins. Then we went back to the dance floor again, but I didn't stay long, I went with Tom, Bridget and someone else to see what was even further down the fan mile, it was another giant screen showing recaps from the World Cup games. This crowd was more subdued (they were only screaming, not dancing too.) There were a ton of police there too. Then we all met up again and decided it was time to head back.

For some reason we decided to walk back to the tram, which seemed like a decent walk until you realized it was 12:30 and it really was a long walk, around 2K. While waiting to cross some street a guy said something about me being Polish, apparently he was a fan, I didn't argue the point. Then along the way we saw the UN Buddy Bears and took lots of pictures there too. After losing people and then getting back together we finally arrived at the tram stop, only to have missed the tram by 1 minute. If we had realized the tram was running every 30 minutes we could have run to it, owell. So we waited and waited and it finally came (all public transport was running 24 hours a day because of the World Cup). We finally got back to the hostel at 2:15 and was in my unairconditioned bed at 2:30am. FYI: Taxi's are pretty cheap in Berlin, or so I would hear the next day, but if we took a Taxi we wouldn't have had the adventure.