After our time in Finland and excursions through Denmark and Sweden, it was finally time for Jason and I to part ways and travel on our own. We dropped Sean off at the Kastrup airport in Copenhagen early in the morning (he was to fly home since it was the end of his 4-week journey), Jason and I found a laundry-cafe in Copenhagen so we actually had clean clothes to wear for the remainder of our trip, and then headed to the airport ourselves to depart for Berlin. The plane ride was short and sweet, and we arrived in Berlin after dark. After an hour or so trying to figure out which bus to take into the city and how to use the public telephone to get in touch with our housing accommodation, we finally made our way. We ended up renting a really quaint apartment/flat in Olivaer Platz, just a 10 minute train ride into the heart of Berlin. It was super nice to have a space of our own that wasn't cramped like all the hostels we stayed in while in Denmark. Our first morning we made our way to Alexanderplatz and headed straight for an internet cafe -- I was super surprised that Berlin had TERRIBLE internet access and connectivity. It seemed that no matter what cafe/restaurant/shop we were in, there was no free wifi, which made it difficult to get in touch with our German friend Patrick. We met Pat through a mutual friend when he was here in the US as an Au Pair and immediately clicked with him. He is so full of energy, wanting to explore any and everything new, and loved getting to know new people. We were sad to only get a few short months with him back in 2011 but were really excited to connect with him again. Pat is now a student in Chemnitz, and traveled up to explore Berlin with us and stay with us for a night. After finally getting internet access to confirm meeting details with Pat, and being disturbed by people looking at highly questionable content in a public internet cafe, Jason and I quickly left and made our way through the rest of Alexanderplatz.
With only 2 days in Berlin we had to be choosy, and for us that meant not setting foot in more than one museum (gasp!). It was difficult to bypass so many but we knew if we had gone into one, that would be our entire day. Instead we checked out a few churches (the Berliner Dom, St. Mary's Church, and St. Nicolai Kirche), walked the length of Unter den Linden, saw Neue Wache and Humboldt University, took photos of the infamous "walking man" traffic signal, stopped for a beer and brat on the street overlooking the Brandenburg Gate, and of course spent plenty of time there as well. We also walked through the Holocaust Memorial as well, which was very powerful; sadly the museum itself was already closed. A few blocks away was the Reichstag which, while we didn't get to go inside (apparently you need reservations AND to bring your passport with you), was a marvel in its vastness from afar. We took the Hauptbahnhof back to Olivaer Platz and got some pizza from "Andy's Burgers" -- an "all-American" restaurant, where we chatted it up with the server for a while -- and headed home to enjoy it with some good German beer and TV.
The following day we took our time in the morning with sleeping in and going to a coffee shop for breakfast and journaling. Eventually we made our way to Checkpoint Charlie, and were surprised at new construction going on around the tourist spot. Luckily all of the partitions blocking off the construction had a several-block written history of the political climate leading up to the construction of the Berlin Wall, the years in which the wall stood, and the aftermath to the deconstruction of the wall. Jason and I spent a good hour or two reading up on this in the warm sun before checking out the Wall itself. After our fill of that we took a train to meet up with Pat who, to our surprise after waiting an hour for his train in, showed up in the backseat of a car with some classmates from Chemnitz! Happy to be reunited, Pat took us around an artsy outskirt of Berlin, and ended up at Yaam which is an Afro-Caribbean beach bar in the middle of the city. We enjoyed some beer and conversation and then headed to the Holocaust Museum itself. More powerful than the memorial, I was struck with emotion the whole time; from the letters written in concentration camps (some even on their dying day), to the names of each victim displayed on the walls with a mini-biography, the tragedy of the Holocaust came to life. On the way out we walked to where Hitler's bunker was located -- mere blocks from the Museum -- and which is now a parking lot; all that remains is a small sign, so as not to encourage idolatry of the man I assume.
We spent our last night in Berlin with Pat walking through Potsdamer Platz (I think....), ate some kebab, got a street pretzel, enjoyed a beer at a local pub while talking religion, and then headed back to the apartment and had the last of our bottled German beer over more conversation on philosophy. Jason and Pat stayed up late into the night hanging out while I enjoyed my sleep :) Thank you Pat for taking us around the city and coming to meet us in your homeland. Here's to more visits in the near future!