Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Berlin Part One, or, How To Get Out of Town with Less Than a Day to Spare

Imagine you're me. You're sitting here totally not procrastinating on homework and trying to convince Facebook not to spontaneously pop up on your computer and force you to look at that for another few hours when you happen to glace at the calendar.

"GASP," you gasp. It is a gasp filled with the knowledge that you only have two weekends left in Germany, and there is a full-day field trip on the second of those Saturdays. You haven't gotten out of the country! You haven't gotten out of the state! You need to do something, stat!

So turning to your best friend (providing your best friend talks a lot of nonsense, often in Russian, and gives horrible directions) Google, you start looking frantically for a way to get to any big city that will keep you occupied for a three-day weekend.

To cut out a lot of superfluous detail--this is the music montage during the movie so that you have a basic overview of what happened. There's the computer screen giving me no results, there's me flinging the computer across the room, there's me crying over Facebook to a sympathetic parent thousands of miles away (note: Hollywood may exaggerate things for story effect), and a close-up of a message that suggests using a travel agent. To switch mediums now, there's the lightbulb going off over my head.

Ironically, it was when I started looking for a travel agent that I found something. I was assured that travel agents work on commission so I wasn't paying anything extra, plus they would do the work for me. I checked for some in Lueneburg, and found one--L'Tur Last Minute, which sounded good because at this point it was Wednesday night and I wanted to leave Friday morning. How much more last minute can you get? Apparently it's a chain and their website had some nice deals to Berlin, but my German is bad and Google Translate messed up parts of the site, somehow, so I went in to their physical location the next day.

Let me say it: I officially love travel agents. Seriously. She made it so easy and within an hour I had booked a round trip train and two nights at a hotel in Berlin within walking distance of things like Checkpoint Charlie and the Brandenburg Gate.

Also, I got to keep all my papers in here.

The Google maps directions I wrote down (complete with map illustration!) ending up in a dead-end, but there were big boards of maps at the train station so I took pictures of those as my guide and made it to my hotel (a one mile walk!) only a couple hours later than I anticipated. A block away, guess what I ran into:

Yup. Just a block from my hotel is a free museum, the Topography of Terror ("Topografie des Terrors") that has a stretch of the wall, so I headed back after dumping my trillion-pound backpack at the hotel.

The ToT/TdT chronicles the rise of Hitler and the Nazis, their campaigns and other atrocities during the way, and the aftermath that led to the division of Berlin and Germany, and is set on the crumbled foundations of a building that served as Gestapo and SS headquarters.

On the left you can barely see the backs of the exhibit boards. It's quite thorough, actually, and there's also a large indoor component that gets into more detail.

When I returned to the hotel, I had to figure out which of the many, many things in Berlin I was going to do. I gathered every brochure that looked remotely interesting from the hotel lobby and found it: Fire Tire Bike Tours. They had several options, including a general all-purpose Berlin tour that would last four hours and show you more than you could see on foot.

Props to whoever designed the brochures, they're fantastic--not only do they have a ton of info on the four or so different tours in Berlin they offered and stuff on their business and guides, but also small maps of the main places you'd be, tourist tips (such as how to figure out the public transit and cultural information), and suggestions of other places to see, like museums, complete with times and prices. Basically every question you would have, they answered, making themselves look way better than the competition which could barely be bothered to list where the meeting spots for tours were (communications major. I notice these things).

Having decided that, I did a tiny bit homework to make myself feel less guilty about the upcoming midterm I faced two days after I got back, and went to bed.

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