Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Freezing my giblets off

I don't think I have ever been colder in my life than I was for most of today. We were told it was going to be minus 11, but it apparently only got to minus 5. I can't even possibly imagine what minus 11 feels like. We were talking to a girl from Canada where it gets to minus 44 in the winter. Really. Well. I must say I don't believe her. I don't know how you can support human life at that temperature after what we felt today. I have now bought ANOTHER hat (my second new hat) and more gloves. Sean has bought another jumper. The good news was, it was a sunny day. We had beautiful blue skies and partway through the day I went to take a swig from my drinkbottle and discovered it had frozen inside. So picture standing inside the coldest freezer ever, all day, and that's pretty much the sensation we experienced. Thankfully, our hostel is warm and comfy. We started the day very leisurely, using the laundry service and eating heaps of breakfast and sorting out photos etc. Then we rugged up and headed to the Brandenburg Gate to meet another Sandeman's tour. A bunch of people from our hostel came as well which was fun. Our guide, Chris, didn't at first seem quite as enthused as our guides for Paris and Amsterdam, but we all warmed to him during the tour, which turned out to be incredibly interesting and enjoyable. Berlin, in comparison to Paris and Amsterdam, is not the prettiest city, but it is so rich with history, recent and relevant history. So the tour was great, but the cold was a serious distraction. I was unable to stand still, because it just crept into your bones if you didn't keep moving, so there was a lot of jigging around on one foot while the guide was explaining about certain locations.

After the Brandenburg Gate, we saw the Reichstag and the memorial to the murdered Jews of Europe. This was amazing. For those who don't know, its a park filled with cement blocks, all different shapes and sizes. The ground beneath them is hilly and gets deeper and shallower in certain areas. The architect has been famously tight-lipped about his reasons for it's design because he wants people to form their own ideas about what it might represent. Some people think the hills and stones look like the Jewish cemetery in Prague so they think of gravestones. Some people think the blocks look like train cars, like the ones to the concentration camps. Some people can see a bar graph in the silhouette of the stones, depicting the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe. I like to think the blocks are all different because it represents that the Jews were all individuals with independent character, not an identical group to be wiped out. There are 2711 blocks, but no one knows what that number represents either. We then headed further down the street to a carpark that sits directly over the site of Hitler's bunker. It was enormous, and he hid in it for most of the last month of his life. He married Eva Braun there (her wedding dress was black) and the two of them took cyanide capsules two days later. And good riddance. The bunker was blown up in the 80's and all that remains is a heap of scrap metal buried deep beneath our feet.

We saw one of the only Nazi buildings spared by the Allied bombings, complete with Soviet shells and bullet holes. We also visited the site of an enormous march (and subsequent massacre) of East Berlin citizens against the Communist regime. We saw the headquarters of the Luftwaffe, right next to a still-standing stretch of Berlin Wall. Then we walked down to Checkpoint Charlie, site of many innovative escapes into West Berlin, including a guy who hid his girlfriend in the trunk of a very low sports car, then drove the car under the barrier and ducked. Another guy bought a cow, killed it, emptied it, and wore its skin around him on a truck of cows headed to a West Berlin market. We stopped for a coffee break, but I was frozen, so I got a cup of broccoli soup with some lovely bread and it was just about the greatest thing I've ever eaten. We then saw a French cathedral, built for the Hugenots who came to Berlin from France where they faced terrible persecution. They did wonderful things for Berlin, so Berlin built them a church. Right near this is a German cathedral and a concert hall. We then saw the first Catholic church built in Germany, St Hedwig's (ARGH, HARRYPOTTER!) and the bank from Run Lola, Run!! That was way cool. Very close to that is a famous university whose name escapes me, but Lenin, Marx and Engels studied there, and Albert Einstein was a professor there. Luckily, he escaped to Germany before the breakout of the Holocaust. This university library was the site for the enormous Nazi book-burning. They burnt over 20,000 books, deemed 'inappropriate' because their authors were Jewish, Communist, homosexual etc. There is a beautiful memorial there which is a sealed room underground with a clear roof. It is full of empty shelves, enough to hold the 20,000 burned books. It was beautiful to stand in the square and see this memorial.

We then saw the memorial for all the victims of war and tyranny. The sculpture was placed there in the 90's, and depicts a weeping woman holding a child. She lost her son in WW1 and her grandson in WW2. It's incredibly moving. However, the memorial was built much earlier and used to be a memorial for the victims of WW1. When Hitler came to power he made it a memorial to the victims of Bolshevism. When the Soviets invaded after Hitler fell, they made it a memorial to the victims of fascism. And it stayed this way until the 90's when it became the memorial to the victims of war and tyranny. We then saw a beautiful domed cathedral and walked into the Museum Island where the tour finished. We were so, unbelievably cold, so we found kebabs, bought more warm clothes and headed back to the hostel, where I have been ever since! We wanted to do a pub crawl tonight, but I am so cold, I don't think I can bring myself to go out again. We shall see!


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