Fourth stop: Berlin. To be honest with you, I didn't have much of an idea about the place before we got here, but it's really defying all of my (non existent) expectations on it's way to becoming one of my favorite cities in Europe.
Here's all this:
Fat Tire Berlin Bike Tour: We struck off on a bike tour instead of a walking tour (free, but tiring) or a bus tour (cushy, but certainly designed for people over fifty), and it was the best idea we've had all trip. For one, biking really let me release some steam after a Laker loss in the Finals (I'm convinced the Boston Celtics are trying to ruin my vacation). Also, the bike tour itself was pretty fucking cool.
Our tour guide was Ingo, a native Berliner who spent enough time in the States to sound exactly like most of my friends from Manhattan Beach. The dude knew his stuff, wasn't afraid to crack a bad joke here and there, and managed to really pull the necessary amount of gravitas during the tours more harrowing stops (the memorial to the murdered Jews, Hitler's bunker, etc.). Also, he looked exactly like Sean Bean in Lord of the Rings. Good times.
What really strikes me about Berlin (and I suppose Europe in general) is how the role the city's history has played in shaping it is so visually evident. Ninety percent of Berlin was damaged or destroyed in WWII and you can tell when you walk around town - some of the city's monuments even have shrapnel scars still, an indelible reminder of the last great human conflict. The effects of communism and the division of the country are clear everywhere, from the drab buildings near the old remnants of the Berlin Wall to the tourist stands hawking old Soviet style winter hats and Mutryushka dolls of Britney Spears (ironic much?).
Bratwurst: I was disappointed to hear from my British hostel mate Berlin wasn't really the exemplar of Bavarian cuisine I thought it would be (in fact, most people better associate Berlin with the Donner Kebabs sold by the numerous Turkish immigrants in the city). I did manage to get my hands (and taste buds) around plenty of the stereotypical German snack: bratwurst. Nothing much to say about it besides the fact that it's pretty fucking amazing. Sometimes you gotta go with what everybody expects you to go with, ya know?
Hitler's Bunker: During the bike tour, we made a stop over to Hitler's bunker, the space where the dictator spent his last days before getting married right before offing himself with some cyanide and a bullet to the temple. Thing is, the bunker's not really open to the public (for various reasons), so we really just spent five minutes in a modern apartment building's parking lot talking about Nazis.
If I was seven again, this would have really freaked me out. When I was younger, I had a really deep seeded fear of Adolf Hitler. It started one night when I snuck out of of bed for a midnight snack and caught my uncle watching a documentary about World War II. The sight of Hitler pontificating to his Aryan dream stormtroopers scared the living beejesus out of me - enough for me to have recurring nightmares where Hitler would come after me in various places (in my sleep, at the park, during the big spelling bee, etc). The funny thing is, I wasn't afraid of Neo Nazis or anyone that could actually get me in the present - I was afraid of Adolf Hitler. Hitler was my Freddy Kruger, and that's a bit weird (although if you show any third grader Triumph of the Will late at night, I'm sure it would freak them out too).
Nowadays, I'm more afraid of Neo Nazis, who Ingo told us do indeed exist in Germany. Apparently, the large number of punks in the city manage to keep them in line, which all seems really Warriors-esque to me. Moreover, he explained that they were a real minority, which makes sense, since for the most part, I find the German people to be a super friendly bunch. It's almost as if they're all trying to make up for World War II, and if that means I get great service at every beer garden I go to while I'm here, then that's cool with me.
Knut = Kyut: If you've never seen footage of Knut, the (no longer) baby polar bear once rejected by its mother and then raised by a German zoologist with a sweet ponytail/beard combo, then do yourself a favor and witness the cutest thing you've ever seen, ever:
Euro Watch 2008, Part Two: As we’re prepping to leave Germany and head to Prague, I’ve gone and spent 413 Euros. I’m starting to feel the crunch, but I’m told it gets less expensive the more we head towards the East. Here’s to hoping that’s true, along with the rumors that the streets are paved with gold and tourists are given three virgins each at the train station.
See ya in the Czech Republic, y’all.