(Written in Sept 2011)
Breakfast is probably the best thing that could have happened to me on this tour. There’s salami and bacon and different breads, jams, spreads, salads, fruits, croissants and cereals. I couldn’t decide what to take. I want to try out everything. For today, I chose brown bread, scrambled eggs, sausage, tomatoes and coffee. I spend good 30 minutes devouring the contents of my plate sitting by the window. I am one of the first few people to come down for breakfast. Breakfast starts at 6 30 am and I was there by 6 40 am. Reason being? I got up at 6 30 am Istanbul time (oh fish!) which is one hour ahead of Berlin time. Anyway, it was good in a way because I could eat peacefully, spend some time on the net and go out for a walk.
I walked around the peaceful locality of our hotel in the chill. The streets are quite deserted and I pass only a few passers by going for work. I walk around fascinated and muster up enough courage to ask a pretty girl, standing by the road, to click a picture of me and she happily did so. One thing I have already fallen in love with is the cobblestone path. Europe has them everywhere. Different texture and pattern of cobblestone roads.
By the time I came back, the group had started assembling near the reception area and I saw everyone interacting with everyone else. Looks like people had got friendly with one another! I joined them.
We get into the coach and begin our city tour at 9 am. We met our German guide, Walter who took us to our first stop Charlottenburg Palace. It was a replica, of course. I loved the wrought iron gates and the carvings.
We drive around Berlin and see the various important buildings like embassies, stock exchange, theatres and shopping complexes. We get too much of information by our German guide and I have difficulty retaining the things he tells us. Anyway, I let the feel and aura of the place sink in. We take some quick stops at the Holocaust Memorial, the World clock, Check point Charlie, where I buy a Berlin souvenir bag, Deutscher Dom, Konzerthaus and the the Berlin wall (the sight I was so badly waiting for). The paintings on the wall leave me gaping. Some paintings are dark and some are pleasant but all of them have messages written on them which reveal the painters’ frustration, bitterness and often, hope.
One thing that had troubled me before the tour was getting my pictures captured. Who would click my pictures? And for this reason, I had carried a light, cheap tripod along with me. I left it in my bag when we left for the city tour. Every time we got off at a locale, everyone got busy with their families clicking each other’s snaps and I was left feeling awkward. Bengali Aunty did offer to click me and I agreed but it was still awkward and formal.
This is the day the Pope is in the city and there’s police everywhere. We manage to see the Brandenberg gate and Reinstag minutes before the police sealed the area and moved 100s of tourists away. It’s cloudy and cold and the wind makes moving around a bit difficult. Brandenburg is right opposite Hotel Avalon, which is the most expensive hotel of the city and is the hotel from whose room MJ had dangled a kid from the balcony.
After a quick lunch, we leave for Potsdam to see the palace there. This small town is an hour away from Berlin and we drive down there. Potsdam has all the original palaces unlike Berlin which only has replicas. This town was destroyed in the Second World War when there was bombing over it and most people died because of the heat. It was later restored. Several original palaces are based here. The kings has made palace for various purposes of leisure – for self, for guests, for plants and for different seasons. Looks like they had a lot of money and time and resources to spare. I look around enthralled at the old walls with creepers, sidewalk cafes and small historical buildings. We visited the New Palace. There are several other beautiful palaces in Sanssouci Park and several of them were going through restoration work. I feel glad and impressed that the country takes so much care of their historical monuments.
We return to Berlin and spend an hour in the shopping area in Kudamm amidst brands like Gucci, Porche, Benetton, Louis Vittion, Merc and Armani. I still can’t stop looking at all the well dressed people around me, whose aim in life seems to be sitting in cafes or roaming around the streets looking chic. We walk through cigarette smoke among the beautiful people feeling really content in this fantastic city.
I could hardly afford to buy anything, obviously – one of the disadvantages of coming from an under developed country. But yes, it was fun being a part of this crowd.
I have finally befriended the young guy (his correct age is 26) and 2 others in their twenties/thirties. This is going to be my gang for the next 10 days. We walk together into the lanes of Berlin after dinner till late night. We look at store displays and sigh that we are unable to buy anything. We pass stripping bars and beer bars and my guy companions look doe eyed at them. Fast cars pass us narrowly missing each other, the discipline and traffic rules totally forgotten.
Ah. This is how I have always wanted to travel. I’m loving each moment I’m spending on this part of Europe!