Friday, August 5, 2011

Berlin Part 2, or, Scarlet Johansson and I Ride All Over the City

So I should mention that my hotel deal came with: free wifi, free late check-out (4pm), a free "welcome drink" in the hotel restaurant (useful, because Coke is hecka expensive here, people), and free breakfasts, which would've cost me otherwise. I don't know how standard this is, if it's a German thing ("pay for everything") or just a cheapish-hotel thing (the hotel didn't feel cheap, at all, around the same standard as a Holiday Inn but smaller). I have no idea, but it doesn't matter at this point.

What matters is the delicious breakfast. I get teased because of my aversion to traditional American breakfast foods. Not a huge fan of cereal, greasy meat, fluffy waffles/pancakes, and I hate eggs. So this was perfect:

Cheese, cold cuts of meat, bread, fruit. I am never leaving. The little ice-cream-cone-shot-glass thing up there is actually for holding jam. Ingenious!

I followed the easy instructions to the meeting point for my bike tour--it wasn't hard to miss, besides the guy holding a big orange sign there were about 70 people in a large group, which was broken up into smaller ones of 16-18. We were then led to pick out the bikes (which, living up to their names, had the fattest tires I've ever seen), all of which were named.

Guys, meet Scarlet Johansson.

Our guide was a wonderfully awesome guy from Ireland named Ciaran, who assured us (especially the woman who had never ridden a bike before) that we'd never go too long without stopping.

Here he is using his great art skills to show how Germany and Berlin were divided.

One of the first places we stopped was the square in front of St. Hedwig's Cathedral (which is gorgeous and slightly resembles the Pantheon) and Humboldt University, notable for that huge book-burning party the Nazis held in front of it.

"Where they burn books, at the end they also burn people." -Heinrich Heine

 We hit Checkpoint Charlie, which is a total tourist trap (note: our guide warned that we should probably not get our passports stamped by the costumed guys offering to do so for 2 euro, since it technically invalidates the passport) although I heard it has a very cool museum, and hit the Topography of Terror (which is also next to the former Nazi air force headquarters) before he led us behind some construction and paused next to a car park.

Which also happened to the former location of Hitler's bunker.

It would've been underground, of course, so there's nothing to see. Not wanting it to become a pilgrimage site for Neo-Nazis, Germany didn't put up anything that marked it until the World Cup in 2006, and even then it's just a small board. So you've got families and tourists parking on top of this place, which seems fitting.

Also, check out the luxury communist apartments in the background. If you lived in East Berlin, that was classy, my friends.

We spent a bit of time at the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe...

(Complete with the hotel from which Michael Jackson once dangled his baby in the background...)

...had lunch in the Tierpark and saw a few more monuments, including the Reichstag building where the Bundestag, or German parliament, meets. Apparently it's free to go up in the dome, but you have to book tickets online two days in advance.

The trip, instead of the four-ish hours originally promised, ended up being about 5.5, which I was totally okay with, so I walked around parts of Berlin looking for souvenirs for the family and ended at the Brandenburg Gate, which--hey, yay historical significance, but it's kinda boring (and the light was bad, so I've got pretty pictures of the back or bad pictures of its front). I was happy, though, to find street performers on the way there.

 They moved very, veeeryyyy slowly, like robots.

Her thing was unfurling her wings and smiling for pictures whenever someone put money in her jar, since everyone who did so wanted a photo with her.

He held perfectly still until you put money in, and then he did the tried-and-true blowing-a-kiss-and-bowing routine. He was my favorite, obviously. No clue what he did for guys, though.

And then a semi-early retirement to again do a bit of homework (what can I say? It was a partner project, and I can't let someone else's grade suffer) because also most stores close by about 6 pm, even in Berlin.

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