I’m not sure where the week has gone – it’s been a blur of studying and cafes and unpacking and repacking. I got home from Berlin on Monday at around midnight, was in bed by 1:30 am and was up for my 8:00 am French class at 6:30 – at least it was my last French class of the semester, yippee! Tuesday and Wednesday afternoon I spent in this adorable little cupcake/coffee shop called “Little,” studying for my four exams next week. I leave tonight to go to Paris overnight to catch a plane to Warsaw with Preeti tomorrow morning, so I haven’t had much time to really catch my breath this week, but that’s the fun of being on exchange – learning to juggle everything in the name of travelling.
Berlin was amazing last weekend. I definitely could’ve spent more than the 3.5 days that we had there, but I am still amazed by how much we saw and did in the short time we were there. There was a total of nine of us from Lyon who went, but throughout the weekend we split up into smaller groups to make it easier to make our own plans and to see what we all really wanted to see, which is important in a city as big as Berlin.
We arrived late Friday night, but since we didn’t go out drinking, we were able to wake up bright and early Saturday morning to get in as much sight-seeing as possible. A group of five of us started our day by walking along the East Side Gallery, which was just down the street from our [amazing!] hostel. The art is amazing, and it was surreal to finally see the wall and know that so much history surrounds it. After taking the usual touristy pictures of the many art pieces, we hopped on the U-bahn to visti our first Christmas market of the weekend. Unfortunately it wasn’t fully set up yet, but we treated ourselves to some freshly fried donuts and a few cups of Gluhwein among the five of us before heading to the Brandenburg Gate to meet for the free walking tour.
The tour lasted three and a half hours, and took us to most of the city’s main tourist destinations. I learned so much from our tour guide, and gained a fresh understanding of Berlin’s history just from being fully immersed in it. My dad and brother are big history nerds, and I have been told countless times about the Berlin wall and much of Germany’s vast history, but I have never understood it as much as I do now. Take the Berlin Wall for example; I had learned in high school how the wall surrounded West Berlin, and my Dad even explained it again the day before I left for Berlin, but by seeing the wall, and seeing the death strip, I have a totally new appreciation and understanding of what exactly took place and why the wall was built.
On the walk we also saw Checkpoint Charlie (not much to see, but it is a tourist destination, so I’m glad I saw it), the Reichstag, the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, the site of Hitler’s former bunker – where he killed himself and his wife, Luftwaffe Headquarters, the former SS headquarters and museum island – just to name a few. I was blown away by how much history one city could have, and left with the desire to learn more about it.
After our tour we went to the Jewish Museum, which was amazing! We were there until it closed at 8:00, and then walked as fast as we could to the nearest Indian restaurant for a much needed hearty and delicious meal to end our long and informative day. We were once again too drained to go out on Saturday night, so Sunday we were able to wake up early to see more of the city before meeting back at the Brandenburg Gate for a tour to the Sachsenhausen Memorial. Logan, Mackenzie and I went to the Berlin Wall Memorial before meeting up with the others to one of Germany’s first concentration camps open to the public. It was a heavy day of experiencing Germany’s darker history, but it is important to me that I recognize both the good and the bad of the world’s history, rather than hide from it and pretend that bad things don’t happen to good people.
Sachsenhausen was the first concentration camp I have ever been to, and while I most certainly can’t say I enjoyed it – in fact, it left me with a pain in my stomach and a very heavy heart – but it was definitely something worth experiencing. It once again put history into perspective for me by visiting a place with such a dark and complicated past. It was a fairly personal experience, and I will forever remember what I saw that day, but I think that’s all I’ll write about it. If you ever get the chance, I think it’s an important part of our world’s history that cannot be ignored because ignorance will never lead to improvement.
The weekend ended on a happier note, with a full day of Christmas market shopping with Logan, Kenzie and Livia. It was just what I needed to start getting me into the Christmas spirit. Usually it doesn’t take much to get me into the Christmas spiriti back home – I’m the girl who starts counting down for Christmas as of December 26th, and who starts listening to Christmas carols in November, and who will make any excuse to drink out of a Christmas coffee cup because it just makes the day that much cheerier. But I’ve been finding it hard to make my world feel Christmassy here because it is so unlike being home for the holidays that it almost feels like I’m missing out on a part of this Christmas season. I keep telling my friends that I’ll just have a Christmas overload when I finally get back to Canada on the 20th, which should do the trick. At least the German Christmas markets began to fill my Christmas void – with more Gluhwein, lots of delicious food, Christmas carols and lots of shopping, Christmas began to feel just a little bit closer.
I have a pile of studying to do that is unfortunately calling my name, but I’ll fill you all in about Poland and my first four exams next week. Love to you all,