Berlin: Jewish Museum, Reichstag, and KaDeWe

Day 17, 07.10.2009

holocaust towerWe went to the Jüdisches [Jewish] Museum (if you care to read in detail in German), where for the first time my entire trip thus far I could understand the tour guide. She spoke in simple and slow German, whereas the other tour guides we had spoke in frustratingly brisk German.

The museum was architecturally intriguing.There was a room where the ceiling converges into a single corner, leaving you in complete darkness, save for this one shaft of light coming through the tip of the ceiling. The Holocaust-Turm [Tower]. Every decibel resonates through. An incredibly eerie experience of utter loneliness, helplessness, and desperation symbolic of the plight of the Jewish during WWII.

IMG_2791We were given time to walk around the museum on our own and there was a byzantine maze of 49 pillars called the Garden of Exile, or Garten des Exils, that is a must-see exhibit. Steel columns rise 6 metres above you, and the sloping ground makes it seem as if the world is slipping underneath you. Olive trees–a symbol of Peace and Hope in the Jewish tradition–line the corridors. The 48 pillars represent the year the state of Israel was founded in 1948; the 49th pillar in the middle represents Berlin.

There was a special exhibit of literally 10,000 faces made from sheet steel, that looked like the sad masks from Greek theatre. This was called Shalechet – Gefallenes Laub, which translates roughly to “Fallen Leaves”. Each face remembers not only those murdered during the Holocaust, but also all those sacrificed in the war. As you trek through the field of faces, each responds with a resounding clang–thereby giving back these faces their “voices”. A deeply profound and poetic message for many of us. For others, aka one of the guys in our group, a message worth stealing (he took a face!!).

IMG_2799It was pouring–again–when we left, like it had for most of the week in Berlin. We ate lunch at this Turkish restaurant where I had falafel for the first time. I had been missing out on a lot; this stuff was delicious. My friends and I played Mao during the meal, and one of them made us sing a song every time we put a card down. It was terrible. By the 10th card I put down, I had run out of songs and was singing “Mary had a Little Lamb”.

Completely out of context now that it’s been 6 years—but my travel diary noted that one of the guys called one of the girls a “fat f*k” and that we females served him a solid verbal beating. I would hope all men know this by now, but never call a girl fat, especially to her face.

IMG_2802We then went to the Reichstag and were forced to sit through this 2-hour long speech about how German politics work. It could have been interesting if I could understand the speaker and if she didn’t speak in a monotone. I fell asleep multiple times, jerking myself awake, as did those who weren’t even in our group. There were a lot of sleeping old people.

After the speech we got to go up Die Kuppel, a glass dome that overlooks Berlin’s cityscape. The dome symbolizes that the people are above the government, in contrast to National Socialism. We actually had to go through security check before we were let into the Reichstag; my friend with the metal contraband from the Jüdisches [Jewish] Museum set the metal detector off. When we were leaving, he got the face back from the security people, who had a good laugh about it.reichstag

H. Birkelbach gave us our last 10 Euros of the trip for dinner because we had free time to explore Berlin in groups. All 20-or so of us stuck together for the first 1~2 hour(s). We visited the Frauenkirche, shopped at stands (I bought a piece of the Berlin Wall!), and went to KADEWE [Kaufhaus des Westen, or “Department Store of the West”]. It’s 8 stories tall and so huge that it’s split into two different buildings across the street from each other. Mostly window-shopping and luxury brands.

Upon looking at the directory, the three of us immediately knew which floor we were going to first: the chocolate [Schokolade] floor. It was heaven. I had never seen so much chocolate in my life. I bought 4 boxes of Lindt and a bag of Haribo gummy bears for friends (I swear!) and a bag of stracciatella Lindt that my friend introduced me to on our trip. Literally the best flavor of Lindt.

kadeweIt was still raining when we stepped out of KaDeWe. My pants got wet–ugh. We made our way back to the Brandenburg Tor, where our group split up. Clara, Laura, Abby, Jon, Cory, and I wanted to go to this bar with spiffy graffiti and a beach-like setting we’d visited the day before and the rest went off to do their own thing (I don’t remember what). Then began another downpour, so we took shelter at a nearby store. When the rain eased up a bit, we ran to the Hauptbahnhof and ate at Burger King for dinner. Ain’t nothing wrong with french fries for dinner.

I was pretty disappointed when we got to the sand place because I was expecting to see a band playing, like last time, but alas, no. There was also not that many people. Nevertheless, we settled down and everyone else but I got drinks. Clara, Laura, Abby, Cory, and Jon started arguing about gay marriage again. The debate continues!

There was no dancing either: I was bummed because I was hoping the place would be like a Disko [club]. Phooey. Cory and Jon got vodka because the lady who ran the bar didn’t care if they were 18 or not. After Clara and Laura got tired of arguing with Jon, Cory started arguing with him about Obama being voted into office, because Jon is a total Palin/McCain fan. Their argument got really heated and after a while, Cory just got up and heaved a frustrated sigh and went, “UGH, MEN.” And the Americans/Germans who were sitting in our vicinity laughed about it. As for me, I quietly sipped my water.

firedancing

Whaaat? Impromptu fire show!

Eventually, the rest of the group that initially objected to going to a bar, showed up at the sand place. They sat on the other side of the bar though. It was hilarious because when they saw my friend with a drink in his hands they all glared at him or watched him anxiously. They’d also check up on him everyone 20 minutes or so, going “Drunk yet” or “Please tell me you’re not drunk“. He and my other friend drank so much hard liquor that night that even my friend with steely tolerance said she was feeling a little tipsy. My friend was red, but not wasted like he was at the Zitadelle. He did break a bottle on the way back to the hotel though, and it almost hit one of the girls. Eek!

We played concentration on the U-Bahn. It was fun and I fared surprisingly well! I remember playing Big Booty with Glorystar–my middle school choir–and losing in like, the first second. Clara also taught us this hand game similar to slide called “Schokolade” [chocolate]. I rocked that.

My last night in Berlin: nostalgia setting in before I had even left. A truly epic week.

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