Few weeks ago, I had an opportunity to travel to Germany to visit one of my dear high school friend, who is currently studying Architecture in Dessau. We have been in talks of planning this trip but our academic schedule has never matched up and this chance is really the last one we can compromise on before it is gone for good (seeing how both of us are going back Malaysia after the completion of our respective studies). Also, having gone through the beginner level A1 German optional module last semester, I was keen to test out my newly acquired language skill.
Upon arrival at Berlin Schönefeld airport late at night, I was greeted by my friend and his course mates who had already spent a day out in Berlin. We took a 2 hours train back to Dessau and one thing about the train travel system here I find peculiar is that – a return ticket from Berlin to Dessau for 1 pax (~€23) will cost almost the same as a ticket for a group of 5 (~€25, i.e. €5 per pax). Therefore, they will almost always travel to Berlin together or there is a website that allows you to find strangers to share the train fare with. Compared to UK, €5 is incredibly cheap for the 2 hours journey, as an 1.5 hour journey from Southampton to London will cost me £20 at least. Also, the train ticket in Germany includes all the transportations (buses and trams) that you will need when getting around in Berlin (travelling around in London by tubes and buses will cost me another £8 per day).
Dessau is a city relatively unheard of by foreigners, it is southwest of Berlin and is famous the famous art and architecture school Bauhaus and is currently listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It has important role in the German architectural modernism movement and its design is distinct for its radically simplified forms, rationality and functionality, and the idea that mass-production was reconcilable with the individual artistic spirit.
Berlin, in essence is a very cool and hipsterish city. The city’s colour scheme is very different from London with a lot more usage of neutral colours and understated architecture styles.
We first stopped by Mauerpark, a huge park that has a market packed with food and assorted items; and also a vast green area where people can have picnics and listen to street musicians.
We also visited Reichstag, the German parliament, where prior to entry, we had to go through a series of security checks, as strict as when in an airport.
We also tried out the famous kebab in Berlin – Mustafa’s Gemüse Kebap, often touted as the best in Germany. I must say, the kebab was well worth 45 minutes wait in the cold.
I have always been intrigued by everything about the Holocaust and anti-semitism issues. So I made sure we visited the the Holocaust Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, the Jewish Museum Berlin and Topography of Terror. The images of the Holocaust and stories told by and about the individuals who have experienced it were very depressing and haunting and I have learnt a lot through these visits. No photos to document those visits because I feel taking photos inside those memorials is disrespectful.
Another interesting history is the division of Germany into East and West Berlin during the Cold War. The Berlin Wall, although now knocked down in 1989, still has a remaining stretch here and there that can give visitors a glimpse of what it was like way back then. The barrier was built to stop citizens immigration from the eastern communism to western democracy. However, many tried escaping by crossing the Berlin wall to seek better economic opportunities and freedom, which resulted in high death toll due to shootings carried out by the border guards.
The problem with my limited German is that I’m perfectly capable of ordering food and drinks in German, but I am unable to understand their replies. A typical conversation that will ensue is:
(At an ice cream shop)
Me: Eine schokolade, bitte (One chocolate, please)
Cashier: Ein euro und fünfzig cent (€1.50)
Me: (hands over cash)
Cashier: blah blah blah blah blah?
Me: (stares back blankly)
Cashier: (stares back at me for a good few seconds) Will you like to have it here or take away?
LOL. The conversation always ends up with them speaking to me in english because I obviously am just a clueless tourist. My friend did however mention that the Germans will appreciate your meagre attempt at german and will be less hostile towards you than when you speak only in English.
I will now end Part 1 of my Germany trip and will continue my Dresden and Liepzig visit in Part 2. Ending the post with the iconic Brandenburg gate!