Day 23: Cologne and Berlin

I woke up early around 6:00am, got some breakfast at the train station, and then got on a 7:48am train from Cologne to Berlin. The train trip was pretty uneventful and long – about 4.5 hours. Even though it says nonstop, it probably stopped eight different times on the way to Berlin (nonstop just meaning that you don’t have any transfers). I did get some work done though – I went through Rick Steve’s book, “Best of Europe 2010” and planned what I was going to do, on which days, once I got to Berlin.

I plan on seeing most of the main sites but even with 4.5 days, it’s a lot to fit in. I think I’m going to the Wannsee Conference center in southern Berlin on Thursday which should be pretty interesting. For those who don’t know, the Wannsee Conference was a meeting held at a lakeside villa with the high-ranking Nazi officials. The purpose of the meeting was to determine the ‘solution’ to the Jewish problem. They talked about who is considered a Jew, e.g. if a Jew marries a German, are the children Jewish or German, as well as the methods for ethnic cleansing. There’s a movie, Conspiracy, about the conference that is really well done if anyone is interested.

In addition to seeing most of the main sites (by myself and on a four hour bike tour) I plan on seeing the German Resistance Memorial (the execution location of Colonel von Stauffenberg and his co-conspirators, popularized in the movie Valkyrie with Tom Cruise) and see Hotel Adlon, the hotel where Michael Jackson dangled his baby over the railing.

Once I got to Berlin, I took the S-Bahn (above ground) and U-Bahn (underground) trains to my hostel and checked in around 2pm. This hostel is by far the best one yet; if you’re going to Berlin and going to a hostel, you should stay here. They have free wi-fi (a big plus for me), organized tours, and any kind of rental you can imagine (iPod, laptop, segway, bike, SmartCar, roller blades, etc.). They have a pretty neat interactive TV with their own ‘wiki’ page of Berlin with description and maps. The reception is also open 24 hrs with no lockout or curfew.

After I checked in, I took my camera, rented a bike, and then went into the city. The hostel is located on the north end of the city, a little bit far to walk but well within biking distance. I spent the next 3-4 hours just wandering around. About 45 minutes into it, I ran into the Jewish Holocaust memorial. It’s a pretty strange memorial because it’s made from about 2000 rectangular, hollow, concrete slabs which don’t symbolize anything. They’re lined into rows and columns, ranging in size from a few feet high to over 20 feet. I suppose it is up to the individual person to decide the significance or meaning of the slabs of concrete. I pulled out my guidebook, read a little bit more about the memorial, and found out that the sight of Hitler’s bunker was pretty close so I went off to find that.

The site of the bunker is located about 200 yards south of the Jewish Memorial and other than a small sign, there is nothing else marking it. It’s currently a parking lot for an apartment complex (which must get pretty annoying for the people who live there). But no tour buses come by it and unless you were looking for it, you wouldn’t know it was there. The Germans were reluctant to even put a sign up because they were worried it would attract neo-Nazis.

After exploring the city for a couple hours, I went back to the hostel and watched some live updates of Apple’s World Wide Developers Conference (WWDC 2010). They’re rolling out a new iPhone 4 in a couple weeks which looks pretty good. Probably won’t get one – at least not anytime soon.

At 8:00pm, the bar below the hostel offers a free keg of beer, which goes pretty fast. I met some Brits, Sam and Tom I believe. We stayed there for about an hour and I got a 3 minute explanation of Cricket (still not sure I get all of it, I’ll have to look it up later). There was a pub crawl that left at 8:00pm, so we went and caught up with them. The Brits could absolutely drink me under the table, not to mention they probably had 40 more pounds to work with. They kept handing me drinks so I eventually called it an early night and caught a taxi back to the hostel. I’ll spare you the details of the rest of the night; I had a good time but probably not drinking again for awhile (at least not like that).