blablacar to kosice
What a tremendous few days in Budapest. I decided to split off from the group to see more of the north. The six Dutch guys would travel down to Croatia. I wasn't interested in going that far south just yet. I was more inclined to see the Baltic countries before the weather turned.
Growing up, my dad's two brothers had created a family tree of the Hellinger family. I had heard the countless stories of love and loss, a famous film directing great-uncle and my great-great-great grandfather who lived with his family in Humenne, then part of the Hungarian Empire. I was close to Humenne, Slovakia, which made the choice of going to the east an obvious decision.
My goal of this trip was to find out any kind of information about the Hellinger name. The two days I would spend in Humenne was catered toward this research.
My first step was to find a ride to Kosice, Slovakia where I would take a 1.5 hour train ride to Humenne. I found an affordable Blablacar that would take me from Budapest to Kosice directly. I ended up riding with two Ukrainian cooks who were both going home for the weekend. Thinking I was the only BlaBlaCar rider, we stopped at a hostel to pick up another traveller. The gentleman had just quit his job in Israel to travel a year the world. His goals were to see parts of Eastern Europe of South America. In a years time, he'd be getting his green card to work in the U.S. as a IT professional.
The drive was six hours to Kosice. Once I got there, I headed straight to the train station. I made the last train of the night by five minutes! I arrived in Humenne around 5pm.
I settled in for the night while dining at the hotel restaurant.
Old town in Kosice, Slovakia
Some intense clouds overhead
finding city hall and research
My search for the town hall was incredibly hard. I first asked the hotel receptionist who had no idea what I was talking about. She ended up giving me directions to a restaurant around the corner. My next stop was the police station. I walked in with 4 officers staring me down. I asked the same question as politely as I could to the male officer at the desk. He shooed me away due my lack of the Slovakian language. A nice female officer stopped me at the door to ask what I needed. I tried explaining to her what I needed. It took a good 15 minutes to describe my problem. She finally gave me an address. And, of course, I ended up at another restaurant... I decided to use my phone to figure this out. It didn't end up well. There was no way to determine if there was a building with documents of family members from the 1800s in town.
I went back to the hotel to cool off from the scorching sun. I did a bit of research about the family name in general. I came up with a list of Holocaust victims with the same last name. I have no idea who they are or if they are related to the Hellinger family. I will have to ask my uncles about this.
I was upset I didn't find any type of documentation about my family living in Humenne. There has to be some kind of way to find this information. I'll keep at it.
six hour ride to budapest
The previous night was a blast. I may camp more often. I will remember to bring a sleeping bag next time.
All seven of us jumped in the van for our next destination, Budapest. We had been travelling pretty extensively in the van the past few days. I slept the whole way there with no problems at all. We got into Budapest at 4pm. All of us previously booked an AirBnB for the two days we would be staying in the city. It turned out that the AirBnB wasn't what the photos portrayed. In the end the rooms were fine for $15USD a night.
Both nights we went out. The second night we ended up at a pub crawl that turned out to be one of the best nights I had during this trip. I met a ton of travelers doing the same thing as me. The pub crawl group went to six bars with four of them being ruin bars. This type of bar is extremely popular in Budapest. The concept behind the ruin bars is simple, the owners take old buildings and create a bar. It's that easy!
A ruin bar via Hostelworld.com
The second day all of us took to the streets with our rented bikes to see the city. I had heard Budapest was similar to Prague in terms of architectural design. But, I had no idea how beautifully unique this city was until I saw the sunset. What a magnificent scene to witness.
Architecture in Budapest
An apartment building amongst the clouds
A government building near the waterfront
The Shoes on the Danube is a commemorative memorial to the Hungarian Jews who were shot by the Arrow Cross militiamen between 1944 and 1945. For more information click here.
The waterfront from my point of view looking across at the Buda Palace
An eagle holding a sword near the Buda Palace
Heading to the Folk Arts and Crafts Festival through an old tunnel via bike
The Budapest Arts and Crafts Festival
Hungarian cinnamon bread rolls
Guards watching the doors of a building connected to the Buda Palace
The Budapest skyline from Buda Palace
The sunset with the ferris wheel in the background
Overall, my stay in Budapest was fantastic. As of August 29th, Budapest is my favorite city that I've seen so far. From the ruin bars to the overall architecture of the city, Budapest has so much to offer. I can't wait to go back explore more of this alluring city.
camping in Mala Fatra national park
After an unimaginable day at Auschwitz the day before, the six Dutch guys and I headed to Mala Fatra National Park in Slovakia to camp. I wasn't prepared for the freezing nights in Slovakia. With no sleeping bag or tent, I slept in the freezing van with as many clothes as I could fit on my body.
Before that that miserable night of sleep, I had a enjoyable night drinking beer and camping around a fire with the six Dutch guys. We ended roasting some disgusting Slovakian hot dogs. They tasted like hard plastic beef jerky. I recommend to not eat the cheap Slovakian hot dogs.
Scouting out the river near our camp site
It was a welcoming change to be able to camp. I hadn't been out in the wilderness with a fire going in a few years. It brought memories of sitting around a fire with friends in college. I'm hoping for more spontaneous adventures like this one.
my entire day learning about auschwitz
One and half weeks ago I took the 6 hour tour of the infamous concentration camps, Auschwitz and Auschwitz-Birkenau. I knew this was going to be a surreal moment for me. I have heard incredibly disturbing stories of the horrors of WWll and Hitler's destruction of the Jewish, Roma and Polish races.
For those of you who don't know the background story to the two concentration camps, I will paint you a picture. For those who do, you can skip to the photos and my reactions.
On January 27, 1945 ally soldiers entered what was left of the infamous Auschwitz concentration camps in SW Poland. The Nazis had torn down and blown up some of the most atrocious buildings days before. On that cold January day, the ending of the largest mass murder in a single location in human history took place.
According to documents at Auschwitz, Nazis killed at least 960,000 of the 1.1-1.3 million Jews deported to the camp. Jews weren't the only prisoners at the Auschwitz and Auschwitz-Birkenau camps. The other victims included an estimated 74,000 Poles, 21,000 Roma, 15,000 Soviet prisoners of war and at least 10,000 nationalities from around Europe. Auschwitz is known as the most deadly concentration camp in the history of man-kind.
The ally troops found sickening evidence of the true horror of the events at Auschwitz. About 7,000 starving prisoners were found alive in the camp, which is minimalistic compared to the 1.3 million who walked through those gates. Countless amounts of belongings to men, women and children were discovered. More than 110,000 pairs of shoes, 15,000 kitchen utensils, 4,000 suitcases and 400 striped camp garments were discovered along with 13,000lbs of human hair. Everything can be seen at the main Auschwitz concentration camp.
In January 1942, the Nazi party decided to roll out the “Final Solution” or the "Camp of Death." This camp, Auschwitz-Birkenau, was dedicated to the mass murders of Jews.
Auschwitz-Birkenau, with its sections separated by barbed-wire fencing, had the largest prisoner population of any of the three main camps. In January 1942, the first gas chamber using lethal Zyklon B gas was built. This building didn't house sufficient room to kill enough prisoners at once. Four more buildings were built due to the previous building being too small. All four buildings were used until 1945 when the camps were liberated by foreign allies.
The horror continued with disturbing medical experiments being conducted on Jewish, Roma and POW prisoners. The infamous “Angel of Death,” Nazi doctor Dr. Josef Mengele, was one of the physicians using awful practices at the Auschwitz l. According to the camp information, his particular interest was experimenting on twins.
The Nazis began to evacuate the camp in the middle of January 1945 once Hitler knew the war was being lost to the foreign allies. About 65,000 prisoners were forced to march an astonishing 30 miles west where they would board trains to other concentration camps. It's estimated that 15,000 died during that grueling march. If there were any weakened prisoners, the Nazis would kill them off from the groups.
More than 7,500 Nazi personnel are thought to have worked and witnessed the horror at Auschwitz. But only a small amount of those have been prosecuted for their crimes.
Via Auschwitz-Birkenau History website and the Myths and Facts of the Holocaust website
my reactions and first hand account of the camps
The entrance to Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp
The train track that brought in prisoners
As I walked into the entrance of Auschwitz-Birkenau, I felt a chill go down my spine. It was a warm day with the heat reaching 33 Celsius. Even with the heat bearing down at me, I felt uncomfortably cold while standing at the entrance. I walked to the right where the iconic Star of David (flag of Israel) flag hung in the barbed-wire fencing with flowers around it.
The Star of David
The building behind the fence was a quarantine area for prisoners when they first came into the camp.
To the right, a description of the building's purpose.
The inside of the quarantine building
Remaining chimney stacks from numerous housing structures
This road was used to escort the prisoners who would immediately die in the gas chambers. To the right is an actual photo of the assembly line.
Housing dorms for those picked to immediatley die by the Nazis
This part of land was once used to store ashes of murdered prisoners
Two blown up buildings where Nazi documents were held. The Nazis blew up the majority of buildings like these to cover their tracks.
This is the original gas chamber entrance. Here, prisoners would strip down naked. At the end of this building, the gas chamber doors would open.
A Nazi shack that overlooked the operations
An old water tank that's missing its top
More burial areas for the ashes of the victims
The Nazis believed that Jews, Roma, Gypsies and basically every race other than German were disgusting animals. This building was used to disinfect all victims.
This first room was meant for undressing and collecting valuables the victims brought with them
The main bathroom as they stripped down
The items taken
Cleansing stations for items taken
German for "Hair Clipping Space"
The explanation of why the Germans cut off the hair of each victim
The next room after being stripped naked was the shower. Only scorching hot or ice cold water were available.
A chilling photo of prisoners using the shower room
An explanation of the shower room
This was the next room. The drying room.
An explanation of the drying room
Surviving confiscated photos of loved ones from numerous victims
The history of the Kohn family. Eli Aron Kohn was the only surviver of the Kohn family.
Eli Broder, the only surviving member of the Broder family.
Housing units in 1943. And now, in 2015.
Another gas chamber in 1943. And now, in 2015.
Before victims were sent to the gas chambers, they had to wait in this forest with temperatures at or below -20 celsius in the winter.
This train is a commemorative piece for the Jews from Hungary that were victims of Auschwitz-Birkenau
After a 4 hour walk around Auschwitz-Birkenau, I almost had enough. But, I did have to see Auschwitz while I was already here.
I took a shuttle bus from Auschwitz-Birkenau to Auschwitz l. At this point I had seen a great deal of devastating loss... I had no concept of what was in store for me at Auschwitz l.
The entrance to Auschwitz l
The real entrance to the concentration camp. "Arbeit Macht Frei" means "Work Sets You Free" in German. Chilling.
Two layers of barbed-wire fencing surrounds the entire camp
An original sign to warn the prisoners
The many buildings at Auschwitz l
This room was meant for sick prisoners who would be killed by lethal injection to the heart. 121 Polish and Jewish boys were killed in this exact room.
Blankets used by sick prisoners in Block 20
A few rooms from Block 20
After walking around other Block buildings, I went to witness the most disturbing part of the whole experience. The hair, clothes and skeletons of the victims.
Out of the respect for the victims who were murdered, I did not take a photo of the hair or skulls. It was too emotional for me. Twenty tons of hair was collected and compiled. This made me sick to my stomach as I walked through the disturbing gallery.
Side note: As I was researching the uses of the human hair, I came across an article from 2009 that accused car manufacturer Schaeffler of using hair from 40,000 victims for textile purposes. Take a quick glance at it here.
This tour was overwhelming. I find myself unable to truly explain my overall reactions of visiting Auschwitz and Auschwitz-Birkenau. In fact, trying to find words to sum up this experience is difficult. It's been a week and half since I saw the camps, yet, I still get the sick-to-my-stomach feeling every time I think about it. It's difficult to contemplate that entire day. There have been other horrific genocides since my birth in 1990. But, this is the first time I've ever witnessed the aftermath.
I highly recommend seeing these two museums. However, I would strongly advise those who go to not book anything thrilling afterward. I wasn't in any mood to do go out that night. The thought of having any kind of enjoyable night would have been disrespectful to those lost.
In terms of preserving both sites, I believe everyone needs to see the two camps. It's vital to history to learn from what happened in those 4-5 years in Poland. Others may think the two sites should be closed to protect the existing history. I disagree. I knew about the Holocaust from documents and documentaries. However, once I stepped foot on those two sites, my entire world turned upside down. Experiencing something like Auschwitz can't be explained. It must be seen to be understand.
KRAKOW OUR first stop
Before I knew I was going on this van ride, I had booked 3 nights at the hostel I was staying at. I luckily got my money back for the two nights I wasn't going to use.
I met the guys at their hostel. We then headed to the van in the center of the city. We packed up our stuff in a giant Mercedes Sprinter van. Our first stop on the trip was Krakow, Poland. I have a friend I met in Hong Kong that is currently living there. I gave her a heads up that 7 guys would be hanging out with her that night.
My ride the next 6 days
The drive took 6 hours. I was in and out of sleep during the trip. The previous night consisted of a lot of cheap Czech beer. As we were driving through the outskirts of Prague, I noticed how similar the farm fields were to Eastern Washington. It felt like I was on a cross country trip through the U.S.
We finally got to Krakow after the 6 hour drive. Our first glimpse of Krakow reminded me of Berlin's slums. Krakow on the outskirts of the city isn't nice. There's a lot of graffitied abandoned buildings as we drove into the center of town. Once we got to the main square, I understood why we went to Krakow. The center of town is gorgeous. Giant old buildings surround statues of important individuals of Poland.
Krakow's main square
The seven of us got settled into our hostel that overlooked the main square. I called Alex to tell her we'd meet her at a restaurant close to our hostel. The restaurant we all went to had a special for Monday night. One liter of beer for $1USD and $4USD for Polish Schnitzel. It was a heck of a deal for all of us.
We all ended up drinking here for most of the night. I do regret not seeing more of the city while here. I have decided to go back to Krakow for one more day on my way to Warsaw. There is more to see in Krakow than I thought.
Tomorrow the seven of us go see the infamous concentration camp, Auschwitz.
My missed ride to brussels
Matt and I split off after Amsterdam. He had to get back to work in Canada after a 3 week vacation. I had a great time travelling with him. He's one of the best people I know to travel with. He's a really outgoing guy who likes to have fun. That is the type of person who makes travelling fun.
After we said our good byes, I headed to my BlaBlaCar ride share spot where I would take a car to Brussels. However, the guy never showed up... I decided at the last second to book a bus to Prague. I was itching to see Prague my entire trip. I put off Brussels for later on in the trip.
Once I got to the bus station, I noticed all the shops were closed. This meant I couldn't write on my blog for the 3 hours I had to wait. Ten o'clock rolled around with no Prague bus in sight. I was getting nervous because my previous ride hadn't showed up either. I then asked two Dutch guys if they were waiting for the same bus. They indeed were, which made me feel a bit better. I started talking to both of them about their travels. Frits, a 23-year-old was travelling to Slovakia to go to school as part of a program for the United Nations. He'd split off once we all got to Prague. David, a 20-year-old student, was meeting friends in Prague to start a van tour of Eastern Europe. We all talked for the majority of the 12-hour bus ride.
Once we got to Prague, Frits split off while David and I headed to our hostels. Coincidently, our hostels were two blocks apart form one another. I was glad that worked out because English in Prague isn't well-known. The two of us had a difficult time finding out stop.
Once we both got to our destination, David invited me out to drinks with his buddies. After settling into my hostel, I met the guys at a random bar near the famous Charles Bridge.
An amazing photo of Charles Bridge. Not my photo. Check the page out here.
Charles Bridge in the day time
There I showed them many American drinking games. The beers were $1USD each, which made it easy to spend a little bit more that night. At the end of the evening, the guys invited me to join them on their van tour from Poland to Italy.
I was only in Prague one night. I will back track and go check out the city on my way back from Oktoberfest in Munich.
Marijuana policy in amsterdam
Matt and I jumped on an overnight bus to Amsterdam after Berlin. I didn't have many plans for Amsterdam on this trip. I wanted to see the coffeeshop culture in particular. The Red Light district was also on my list to see. Both are highly questionable topics anywhere else in the world.
Marijuana has been hot topic in the U.S.A for some time now. Most countries have strict laws against marijuana. It is common knowledge throughout the world that Amsterdam is the place to buy "soft drugs" as Holland refers to them. When you walk into a "coffeeshop," you are handed a menu with drugs of the day. There can also be a special menu, you just have to ask. The price of four pre-rolled marijuana joints cost the same as a pack of cigarettes. Edible marijuana treats and Psilocybin mushrooms or psychedelic mushrooms are also legal in Amsterdam. Police will not arrest anyone with paraphernalia on them.
So what kind of laws are these? Doesn't the Dutch government want to regulate the consumption of marijuana and magic mushrooms? Well, Amsterdam's drug laws evolved the same way as any other major city the last 100 years. But, the lax drug laws obviously didn't follow the same patterns as other countries.
The Dutch drug policy declares that every human being may decide what is best for its health. The Dutch consider this rule to work the best for tourism, overall health of its people and crime rates. Although other countries such as Belgium, Luxembourg, Switzerland and some parts of the U.S. allow marijuana with controlled consumption, those countries do have problems with underground drug smuggling. Another idea which guides Dutch laws in their drug policy is the act of trying to hide the negative stereotypes of marijuana and magic mushrooms does not make them disappear. It actually makes them worse, because when concealed, they become far more difficult to influence and control.
The Dutch see the use of drugs as a health matter, similar to the use of tobacco and alcohol. They also point to the fact that prohibition of alcohol in the U.S. from 1919-1933 brought more negative effects such as more drug consumption, illegal moonshine sales that increased the death toll during that time and criminal activity as a whole.
I thought once I got to Amsterdam, the street would be filled with pot smoke while people were stumbling down the streets. That is not the case. The only reason coffeeshops exists is due to the overflow of tourists looking to smoke a joint. The negative stereotypes of Amsterdam's legal marijuana businesses don't exist inside the country. It's looked at just like alcohol and tobacco.
Red light district, amsterdam
The Red Light District consists of brothels to sex shops to museums, the Amsterdam Red Light District leaves nothing to the imagination. It is very likely that you will have heard about this neighbourhood and to be frank, everything you will have heard is probably true , but to really put rumours to rest, you have got to check it out for yourself. The Rossebuurt, as the locals know it, is unlike any other place. Guaranteed. Certainly, the Red Light District in Amsterdam that everyone knows about is the one where women, of all nationalities, parade their wares in red-fringed window parlours, many ready to offer more than a school boy peep-show in a private cabin. Another familiar image of the Amsterdam Red Light District is of packs of men, young and old , couples holding hands and pointing in shock of it all, giggling groups of women celebrating a hen night , and busloads of Japanese tourists toting cameras (except not in the direction of the female entertainers! Strictly banned!). This is proof en
train to cottbus
Matt and I decided to take a detour to see another town outside Berlin. Our friend Sophia grew up in Cottbus, Germany. The plan was to meet her grandparents who are non-english speaking Germans, tour a famous park and eat German Schnitzel.
We met Sophia at the Cottbus train station around 11am. We then headed to her grandfather's apartment complex to meet him and his wife. We walked into a beautiful courtyard with vines scaling the walls all around us. Sophia's grandfather was waiting for us at the door. We greeted him with broken German as he smiled and laughed. He then went ahead and rolled out a few sentences in German as Sophia translated. We all laughed as none of us besides Sophia knew what any of us were saying.
The four of us took our shoes off while heading up the stairs to meet Sophia's grandmother. Both of her grandparents are in their mid-70s. Sophia's grandfather reminded me of my grandfather, Don. My grandpa was always smiling and excited to see my brother and I. He'd make us popcorn, scoop us a couple spoonfuls of vanilla ice cream and ask about our day. That's how Sophia's grandfather greeted us, minus the famous popcorn. It brought back good memories.
We all sat down and talked about Sophia, ourselves and the many questions Matt and I had about growing up in Cottbus during WWll. Sophia's grandfather was born in 1940 right before his father went to war in Russia. There he died from starvation in the snowy field of the Russian countryside. I'm almost positive his father was a Nazi soldier during the war. I made a good decision not to ask. Either way, he was one of the nicest people I'd met on my trip. No matter the connection to a forgettable era.
Our next plan was to walk around the town square and eat some lunch. We walked into a beautiful square that reminded me of The Truman Show. It was too perfect. The buildings were picturesque, the people smiling and going about their day, the sun shining with minimal clouds in the sky and the delicious scent of fresh bread in the air. I was pretty content with my day at that point.
The main square in Cottbus. Majority of the people were behind me when I took this photo.
The three of sat down at the Mosquito Restaurant. I had a Ginella's Special that consisted of Spanish ham (jamon) wrapped in honeydew melon, chorizo eggs, green olives, tomatoes and mozzarella, bread and butter and orange juice. It wasn't the most German lunch... But it was delicious.
After lunch, the three of us walked to the old church near the square. From what Sophia said, this was the best viewpoint of the city. We paid 1 Euro each to climb the old church steps to get to the top. What a sight we had of the entire Cottbus area.
I'm not the most religious person. But, I do enjoy seeing the artwork and craftsmanship of each church/old religious building I see on my trip.
Old church bells as we climb the many steps to the top
The view from the top of the church
The last part of our day was exploring Branitz Park with Sophia's grandfather. Branitz Park represents the life work of famous landscaper Herman Prince von Puckler-Muskau (1785-1871). He was one of Europe’s greatest garden artists, a womaniser, a successful travel book author, an enthusiast of fancy food who gave his name for an ice cream.
The land the park lays on was once barren farm land that was undeveloped. This gorgeous park was created from scratch by Prince over many years. It consists of sloping hills, elegant waterways and ponds, giant 200 year old trees and Prince's house and gardens. The property is worldly known for its beautiful landscaping and creative designs. The design of the property is inspired by Prince's trips to England, Egypt and South East Asian countries.
Adolf Hitler used this property during the war as a summer home. There are bunkers underground as well as underground passage ways.
Herman Prince von Puckler-Muskau (1785-1871) is buried in an Egyptian style pyramid
After Branitz Park, Sophia, Matt and I went to dinner at Stadtwachter. This restaurant is well known for it's unique beer combinations and German Schnitzel.
Above is the Schnitzel I had. Delicious!
Dinner was a success. The food was delicious. This was the ending to an educational day. Matt and I said our good byes to Sophia and headed to the train.
Matt, Sophia and I
After a tremendous night out the previous evening, Sophia, Matt and I went to breakfast at Steinecke Cafe. There I had a delicious German sandwich with three different types of meat and a cobbler pie. It was the perfect meal to start the day.
The plan for the day was to see an art museum before going to a beach party on a river in Berlin. Matt and I split off from Sophia to see the Museum Berggruen, known for it's spectacular artwork from Picasso, Paul Klee and others.
Museum Berggruen has generous amount of artwork from the collector Heinz Berggruen. Berggruen bought his first first collectors piece, a Paul Klee watercolor painting, in 1940 for $100. Five decades later, he gave Berlin the bulk of his impressive collection, which was recently valued at $450m. It includes 165 masterpieces by Braque, Matisse, Klee and Giacometti. This gallery/museum also has more than 100 works by Picasso from early student sketches. The museum is an impressive sight. I enjoyed wandering around for the 3 hours I was there.
After an educational filled day at Museum Berggruen, Matt and I headed to the Arena where the beach party was. The Arena is a beach bar that has a swimming pool in the middle of a massive river. The buildings surrounding the bar area are over a hundred years old. That night, there was a Tango competition going on. It was interesting to see Tango dancers dance the night away in Berlin as we hung out in the sand. Matt and I had a few drinks while hanging out with others on the sand. I then fell asleep for the next 3 hours. Matt eventually did the same thing. The past fews days didn’t include much sleep for either of us. So, to sleep on the beach that day was quite nice. Matt eventually went swimming in the pool. I had forgotten my swim trunks unfortunately.
Pool party in the river
The plan after the pool was to get dinner with another friend from Berlin, Benny. We both met Benny in Hong Kong. He brought out his friend who was visiting from Bavaria. We all went out and had Spatzel and Maultaschen. I had the Maultaschen, while Matt had the cheesy Spatzel. It was great to see Benny again. It had been three years since the last time we all drank together. Once dinner ended, Benny and his friend ended back home.
Matt and I started to head back to the hostel for the night. As we walked into the train station, we saw a large group of people crowding around a live band on an intersection. We decided to check it out the commotion. I’ve never seen so many people watch a live taping of a band, let alone a band on a street corner at 2am. It was an interesting experience to watch the reactions of the crowd. The main performer was from France. He was live recording his album other musicians chimed in with their voices. His main instrument was a trombone. He would make a beat using a synthesizer. He'd repeat this process until the entire song was completed. He would then add his own trombone solo as the completed song play in the background. What a random treat to run into! I especially enjoyed the main singers voice as he serenaded the crowd.
After Cesar, there was another band to perform next. I found the woman's voice to be funky, yet beautiful.
Tomorrow we leave Cottbus, Germany to check out the countryside.
getting to berlin
Matt and I took a bus from Copenhagen to Berlin that got in at 630am the next morning. It was a brutal ride. The bus was too small to walk in. I had to bend my head every time I went to the restroom. And the seats were meant for a 5’6" person… But it is the best way to get around in the summer due to the low cost of travel.
Once the bus got into the station, we set off to grab more Euros for the Berlin trip. We ended up at a gas station in central Berlin at 7am. Our first taste of German culture was a skin head with tattoos fixing his car in the parking lot of the gas station. He was blasting German electronic music while drinking a beer. It was a interesting way to start our early morning adventure in Berlin.
And, of course, once I tried to get cash out of the ATM, the machine broke. I had to call ING Berlin to see if they could get my card from the machine. A woman answered the phone in perfect English. She then proceeded to tell me to call back in an hour because her and the other employees didn’t speak English. I was pretty upset at this point due to my card being stuck in the machine, ING Berlin not being helpful and skin heads surrounding me in a parking lot. Finally I gave in, and slammed my fist on the machine. The card popped out!
We proceeded to try and catch a train to get to our friend Sophia’s apartment. With no money, Matt had to pay for me. This process wasn’t easy. Everything was in German. No one spoke a lick of English at the train station. Our first impression of Berlin wasn’t a great one at this point. Matt and I finally got on the train and proceeded to walk toward Sophia’s place.
We got a message saying we wouldn’t be able to get into her apartment until 11am. Matt and I then got some food at a local cafe and headed to a park to catch a few hours of sleep.
The true meaning of backpacking Europe is summed up in our morning in Berlin. Sleeping in a local park while eating our handmade sandwiches and coffee is almost too perfect of a definition.
We finally got to Sophia’s place. Our next stop was the Berlin Wall and all it’s glory. We walked from the apartment to the wall in 20 minutes. It was a beautiful day to start walking around. The temperature was already getting up into the 30’s as we walked around town. We got to the wall and examined the entirety of it. What an amazing piece of history right in front of my eyes. We all checked out the wall for the next hour. I took many photos of the front of back side of the wall. It was a surreal moment when all three of us could walk from East Berlin to West Berlin without any hesitation. That obviously wasn’t possible 30-40 years ago.
An artist spray painting his design on the Berlin Wall
Photos of the Berlin Wall
The most iconic mural on the Berlin Wall
Here's background information on the photo above: This photo, when taken, went viral around the world. Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev is seen leaning in to kiss his East German Counterpart Erich Honecker. Not to long after the painting was created, the mural became the most viewed mural on the East Berlin Wall.
Suddenly, without any warning, the image was removed by the German government. The original painting had been on the wall since 1990. The artist, Dmitri Vrubel, recreated the artwork as it stands today.
Our next few stops consisted of a mini walking tour of Berlin courtesy of Sophia. The artwork in the city is worth seeing. Graffiti blankets the city walls, yet, it still gives the city a charming feeling. The outskirts of Berlin are a bit sketchy in term of people, but the city center is much safer. After walking around for a while, the three of us headed to a local grocery store to buy beer. We grabbed 10 or so beers at .50 Euro cents each. So cheap! I forgot to mention for a major city in a major developed country, Berlin is the cheapest I have seen so far. Food is no more than 5 Euros for a good meal. A meal in the UK is no less than 15-20 Euros for a decent meal. That’s a huge difference.
Matt and Sophia posing with a mural
All three of us taking funny photos in front of the Berlin Wall
Random artwork in the courtyards of numerous apartment buildings
All three of us grabbed our beers and headed to a famous part of town that has these cave like drinking areas in the middle of apartment courtyards. It’s a popular place to drink and see the Berlin artwork. After the cave, we walked to Mauer Park where most Berliners have drank at one point in their lives. It’s a popular college student drinking spot.
Matt juggling in Mauer Park
While walking around Berlin, I met an Italian guy who had been on vacation. He joined us the rest of the night. When I’m in Italy near his hometown, he’ll show me the Northern part of Italy. Travelling is awesome. I can meet any type of person while traveling and make those connections instantly. The beauty of travelling is wonderful.