A Day in Berlin, more like Brrlin || A Semester Abroad

After partying it up in Amsterdam over New Years, Messy and I continued our travels to Berlin. At first, I found Berlin to be a little harsh and chilling. This was partly due to the to the bleak winter weather, but also the abruptness of the cities architecture. It was very jarring, especially in comparison to the gezelligheid of Amsterdam. (Gezelligheid is a Dutch word that encompasses the feeling of a cozy and friendly atmosphere). But now I look back and revere Berlin.

My most distinct memory of Berlin was the eclectic mixture of architecture. There were many different styles of buildings, and they were all shoved on top of each other. This meant that the city had a very different feel from what I’m used to, there was so much going on. There were these impressive modern buildings, so it felt like a business city.

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When Messy and I first arrived in Berlin we were met with awe. Berlin’s Hauptbahnhof (main train station) left me speechless. I had never seen such a humongous and extensive train system. There were never ending platforms above and below us, everywhere we looked lead to more trains. You’d look over the edge of a platform and you’d see a labyrinth of more platforms set out beneath you. I ended up seeing a number of central stations through Europe, but none of them compared to the set up of Berlin’s Hauptbahnhof.

On top of this modern feeling, Berlin had the normal historical sites of any European city. You could find the old historical buildings, churches and palaces, which gave Berlin that quintessential European charm. In the picture below it’s the Oberbaumbrücke, a double decker bridge.

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But then shoved among the modern and old were these old houses that were still in a state of disrepair. You could see where the buildings had been bombed and ruined. It felt like you could see the scars of the city.

At times this could be a little chilling. However, I quite liked that the buildings were kept the way they were. It showed the history of the place which gave Berlin a certain rawness. I saw buildings with bullet holes in them that still haven’t been covered up.

Then, littered through the city you could see parts of the Berlin Wall. Sometimes the Wall was left bare, others like the East Side Gallery were covered in art.

I believe it was the history that made me feel a chill towards Berlin at first. Prior to here, I hadn’t been to any places that were obviously touched by war. It surprised me by how much I was confronted by seeing the Berlin Wall. It was surprising how thin it was. We spent some time at the Berlin Wall Memorial to better understand the Cold War, so I found it to be one of the more affecting and haunting time of the overall trip.

All of these different styles through out the city made Berlin a really unique place. It felt like you could walk through Berlin for years and still find something you never noticed before. I think that’s what I most respect about Berlin, it is rich historically, but has lots of cool underground things going on.

Messy and I did not spend much time in Berlin yet we still found some amazing places.  We found a coffee shop that was serving a delicious German breakfast. They bought out platters of meats, cheeses, fruits, breads, jams and spreads for us to share. I love sharing food, and German breakfasts, so the combination made me a very happy Jacqui. It was delicious. I’m also quite a fan of outdoor markets we were lucky enough to go to the Flohmarkt am Mauerparkt. We spent a morning perusing the stores and sipping at Gluhwein to keep us warm.

The city had a very distinct feeling, one that I had never experienced before, and have yet to experience again. I’m very excited to return to Berlin and see what more this city has to offer.

 

 

 

A Semester Abroad || Amsterdam, Netherlands

Amsterdam was a city that truly impressed me. We arrived in Amsterdam by train from Frankfurt. During the train ride, we met a lady, Silke, who we spoke to the entire train ride. We bonded over yoga and she tried to teach me some Dutch. She also showed us how to get out of the train station, Centraal. My first impression of Amsterdam was one of my favourites. We walked out of the relative calm of Centraal and into an explosion of the senses. The sun was setting over the canals and the Christmas Lights were out and twinkling. Then the cold air hit us, as had the noise and commotion from the traffic. There were bikes, trams, cars and people all intertwining, lights were flashing and horns were beeping. Tourists were everywhere, all speaking rapidly in different languages. It was overwhelming to first walk into the chaos. Especially since I was still not used to right-hand traffic. I couldn’t remember which way to look, or who to give way to.

Once we had navigated our way to our hotel we unpacked and got ourselves comfortable. We went back right into the mayhem to find some dinner, we chose pancakes. We spent five nights in Amsterdam and quickly fell into a pattern. I would eat croissants for breakfast, we would walk to the city and wander all day and eat pancakes.

It was a nice rhythm, we would walk throughout Amsterdam taking in all its uniqueness and beauty. I really enjoyed the way that Matt and I travelled together. We would pick a place or two that we wanted to visit and walk in that general direction. If and when we saw something interesting we would make a detour. It meant that we had purpose in our wanderings and would see something we wanted to, but enough flexibility that we could stumble across some cool places. I liked walking up to intersections and going whichever way looked the most interesting.

On our first full day in Amsterdam, our goal was to figure out the general layout of Amsterdam and see some of the main sights. I had wanted to see the I Amsterdam letters, apart from the canals they were quintessential Amsterdam to me. I had not done my research, but luckily we stumbled across them when we went to check out the museum’s.

I am quite a fan of climbing, and will generally climb on most things. That was one of the reasons why I was looking forward to those letters. I love that these letters were built to be interacted with. So, of course, I had to climb them. This will be a general theme within these blog posts, me climbing to the top of things.

As I previously mentioned, we would wander to our hearts content. One of the downsides of this is that you don’t know where you’ll end up, and you can’t always find your way back. We had come across some winter markets. We stopped and had a few drinks and tried these delicious cheesy fingers. They were spring rolls filled with cheese that you dipped in sweet chilli sauce. They were delicious. One day we caught up with some Australian’s that I had met back at Splendour in the Grass. We had raved on and on about these cheesy sticks, that we had to find them again to show them.

We all explored Vondelpark together and again climbed the I Amsterdam letters. We spent all day keeping our eyes out for these markets, and as soon as we gave up we stumbled upon them. It was like finding Narnia. We all ate and swapped stories. I am really glad that we had caught up with Elise, Beau and their friend Abbey. I had not seen them for 2 years and travelling had brought us back together.

New Years was the big day. We knew the layout of Amsterdam and we were determined to get a good spot. We decided on one of the main canals. It was flooded with people, to the point that people were standing on the tops of bus stops. Fireworks were a constant, coming from every direction. Bursts of colour twisting through the air. The sizzling and crackles echoed through your body. It gave a feeling of connectedness and warmness within the crowd, despite the cold mask over everyone. I had never experienced a New Years celebration like it, the fireworks were endless. When we were leaving Amsterdam two days later, explosions would set off once or twice every hour.

Amsterdam was the city that I was the most reflective. It was one of the cities that we spent the most time in, so we took it at a slower pace. By this time of the trip, it had hit me that I had left home and that all the trip was ahead of me. Not only was I overcome with excitement at all the possibilities, I realised that parts of this trip will be difficult. This exchange trip had been a dream of mine for over a year, and it was finally coming to life. It was no longer in the future, it was finally happening. It was a bit of shock as I had expected to be distracted all the time. I associated travelling with constantly having new things to do, new things to explore. Whilst this was true to a certain extent, it was not as often as I was expecting. To fill my time I started drawing, something I had not done for a few years. I also spent quite a bit of time determining my ten songs that summarised 2015 for me.

A Semester Abroad || Frankfurt, Germany

My travels abroad began on Christmas Day. Matthew, a friend of mine, and I left Brisbane airport at 3am and proceeded to spend the next 27 hours of our Christmas in transit. We arrived weary eyed but excited in Frankfurt, Germany. We caught a cab to our hotel when I tried to speak German to the driver. I say tried, I mean failed. I had only been in the country for a few minutes and I was already destroying the language. My German teacher would be so proud. The cab driver and I had a little giggle about it, and he drove us to our hotel.

Despite sleeping for the majority of the flight, I was wrecked. The moment I stepped foot into our room I got into bed and had a nap. We had a few hours spare before my friend Kaity met us at the hotel. When she arrived, she walked into this tiny little room and could only see Matt sitting on one of the beds. She had never met Matt before so she was a little confused until Matt pointed to me stirring awake. After a catch up we realised that we were running a little late to our Christmas dinner booking. We rushed through the cold to the train station and hurried through buying a ticket. In our frantic search for the platform, we walked down one of the disused staircases. We were met with the smell of urine and a man shooting up on heroin. Welcome to Frankfurt. We dodged the puddles and got down to the platform. We arrived at our dinner reservation 15 minutes late. The waiter was quite scandalized that we considred 15 minutes late to be acceptable. I forgot how punctual the Germans are. The three of us then enjoyed a delicious Christmas dinner, waddled back to the hotel, with our tummies filled.

Day two in Frankfurt. I awoke quite early to find that Kaity was not in her bed. I found her in the bathroom, sleeping on towels. My snoring had kept her up all night and she could only escape it by sleeping in the bathroom. Whoops, I never realised I was that bad. We then went to explore Frankfurt in the day. It was Boxing Day, so I expected there to be people around. I’m used shopping centres being busy because of Boxing Day sales. However, it was also a Sunday, and apparently nothing is open on Sundays in Germany. It was surreal walking through a deserted city. We found the most beautiful and quaint part of Frankfurt, the old town square.

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We quickly realised that we had explored all that Frankfurt had to offer and took a train to Heidelberg, just a casual hour train ride away. Heidelberg was fantastic. We explored the old castle that had views over the town.

 

We strolled down by the river as the sun set, it was a picturesque German village, exactly what I envisioned Germany to be like.

Day Three started with the three of us getting up early and training out to Lorsbach. By now we were quite confident with the Frankfurt S-bahn (train system). Perhaps a little too confident. We got ticketed on the train out to Lorsbach. When we presented out day pass the ticket man responds with ‘Das ist Falsche’. The last words you want to hear in a foreign country, ‘that is false’. Kaity’s German was quite good, I could get by on mine, and Matthew’s was nonexistant. Turns out we had bought the wrong day pass for Lorsbach, that wiped the confident smiles off our faces. They were going to fine us all 60 euro each (equivalent to 90AUD) but they let us off lightly and only fined us 60 euro all up. After that excitement we were happy to arrive in Lorsbach. We were heading to der Baha’i Haus der Andact. To get there on our now considerably smaller budget we had to walk up through the Taunus Mountains. So, we started walking up this path that lead us into a forest.

As we were walking we realised that we could no longer see the path. All I was thinking was ‘if we were tourists in Australia we would die, there would be snakes everywhere and the locals would laugh at us for being so naive’. We had some reception to show us the way, so we hoped it was correct. We came across these wooden structures, which of course I had to climb (you’ll soon notice a climbing theme in these stories). I think they are used for hunting.

We made our way up to der Baha’i Haus der Andact, which is a place of worship for the Baha’i faith.

 

I was quite impressed with the architecture. At first Matt, Kaity and I had all joked that it looked like a giant nipple. However, when we got there was an air of tranquility and peacfulness that I was not expecting. The ceiling was astounding from the inside, and it was surrounded by lush gardens. Another aspect that I really liked was that it had 9 points of entrance. This was to signify the other 9 big religions, and it meanss that anyone can enter in worship and prayer. I liked the significance of bringing everyone together, no matter the religion, race etc.

That afternoon, we caught a train back in the direction of Frankfurt, and said that if we liked the look of a station/town we would get off for lunch. This lead us to the town of Hofheim. We explored the Altstadt (Old Town) where Kaity found a London Telephone Box. It was restored as a bookcase, where you take a book if you leave a book. The hipster side of me really likes that sort of thing.

 

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‘If only I could actually read a German book’

 

We lunched in a resteraunt in a tower. The special that day was goulash with dumplings, it was almost as good as my Grandfathers. Sitting next to us was this German family, and their daughter would have been 5 years old speaking rapid German. I turned to Kaity and joked ‘a five year old is better than me’, she wisely responded with ‘yes, but she’s been speaking it for years longer than you have’. I really hadn’t considered that. That night we trained up to Geissen. Somehow, Geissen was just as boring as Frankfirt. We had gone up to visit Kaity’s old school friend, Johannes. He took us out to dinner and highly recommended a certain burger. I love listening to people’s recommendations, but also was feeling a schnitzel. So in the wise words of the tacos advertisement

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And I had myself a burger with a schnitzel added on it. Johannes’ face was priceless. I have never seen food envy so strong, it was beautiful.

Day four was our first travel day. Kaity was heading back to Australia, and we were continuing onto Amsterdam. Matt and I were lost little puppies, we had no idea how the Eurail system worked. Luckily, Kaity helped us out and told us how to authorise our tickets and reserve seats. We then had a few hours spare before our train, so we went ultimate Australian tourist and went and bought a beer. It was such a novelty, walking around the city with a beer. Matt and I then explored Frankfurt with a beer in one hand and our suitcases in another.

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We had made our way back to the station with plenty of time. I was determined that it would be the one train I wouldn’t have to rush to. Eager us had our tickets out and ready to be checked, determined to do it right. It all went smoothly and we left to Amsterdam.