Thursday, July 24, 2014

Berlin, Germany Dec 28 - Jan 2

Guillermo, Laure, and I went to Europe's biggest recurring outdoor party. Or at least that's what some claim about Berlin's New Year's party.

We'll get to the party, but first I will tell you about some details of our trip. In the spirit of staying up late and mingling with strangers, we decided to stay at a hostel named Three Little Pigs. Although we stayed at a hostel and shared common areas, we decided to have our own separate room so we did not have to worry about our luggage or have to deal with others snoring. That still allowed us to meet a lot of interesting people including some South American students on an exchange program in Europe and a few strangers that kicked our asses in pool.
Pool with fellow travelers

Even though Christmas had come and gone, Berlin still held theirs for a few days after. This gave us a chance to drink more Glühwein and eat cotton candy!
Guillermo behind a mountain of cotton candy.

We really enjoyed the free walking tour with a very helpful guide that had a thorough understanding of Berlin's history. She told captivating stories, challenged us to think about the living situations and tough decisions people had to make during World War II and the proceeding times with the Berlin wall.

One thing that is very clear about Berlin is their recognition of the Nazi atrocities during World War II. Taking a tour of Berlin, we constantly came across disturbing details of the brain washing, genocide, and destruction during the war. The experience is pretty sobering especially when you consider these things happened not that long ago. Alongside museums explaining the horrors of the war, Berlin also built parks and memorials as a sign of redemption and change.
Laure at the Holocaust Memorial
Walking through the memorial makes one feel a little disoriented.
The memorial's official name demonstrates that Germany recognizes its past:
"Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe"

I was very impressed at Berlin's transparency regarding the history of the war crimes during World War II. I cannot think of any other occasion in modern history where a community and its government admitted to committing a genocide. Berlin is not hiding anything under the rug, and that is probably the best way to keep something like that from happening again.

Laure spent one afternoon by herself to check out the Jewish Museum by Daniel Libeskind, a museum she's been wanting to see since architecture school. It turned out to be her favorite museum in the world that she has visited. The museum tells the story of the Jews before, during, and after the war were not explained only in exhibits, but also in the building's architecture.
The Axis of Continuity symbolizes the continuation of Berlin Jewish history.
Interactive map of Jewish emigration from Nazi Germany.
The Jewish Museum's two buildings are separated by a "line of Void" that represents "That which can never be exhibited when it comes to Jewish Berlin history: Humanity reduced to ashes.
-Daniel Libeskind, the museum's architect.

We also learned a lot about the era following World War II and the infamous Berlin Wall plus tons of propaganda from both the Soviet and the American governments.
A typical Eastern German kitchen as shown in the DDR museum.
Mochi and Rug at The Wall.

Some of the wall remains in its original place although most of it has been destroyed or shipped out to different countries for exhibits. I particularly like some of the parts that have been re-purposed as an open-air exhibit where artists from all over the world take turns in painting murals.
Einstein and the solar eclipse that confirmed his general theory of relativity.

Laure and I also took a tour of the graffiti art of Berlin. Some of the art was really interesting, although frankly the guide was pretty annoying -- she kept complaining about gentrification and fancy coffee shops but she is a recent expat from the UK drinking a latte herself. If you are are interested in street art, I definitely recommend checking out the graffiti in Berlin, but it may be better doing it on your own.
One popular graffiti alley in Berlin.
I particularly like the little monster with the white face.
A familiar face in Berlin.

Okay, about that party... Berlin hosts a humogous outdoor party every year that draws roughly one million people on a stretch of road that is famously nicknamed "Party Mile". It contains many mobile bars, carnival games, live music, and DJs. The main stage with the main acts is at the east end of the Party Mile in front of the Brandenburg gate.
The Party Mile is actually about 1.1 miles long.
Its real name is Straße des 17. Juni.
We found dangerously fruity alcoholic drinks.
Guillermo was drinking and shooting.
Nicht gut.
Guillermo with the cool Uschanka that he almost bought.
Hee-hee.

We decided to pop in one of the DJ tents where I found this awesome guy jamming to every song. Every now and then someone would join him, but he basically owned the dance floor. I decided to jump in.
 Unbeknown to me, I battled a local Berlin celebrity on the dance floor.

As we were leaving after a few songs, someone told us this guy is a kind of local celebrity that is always at local clubs and dances throughout the night until closing time. That's the kind of guy I like!

We headed towards the main stage hours in advance to get a good spot to watch the show and wait for the New Years fireworks.
Main stage.
Main stage with the Brandenburg Gate behind it.

As we were looking for a good spot to watch the show, we bumped into a few people that immediately made us their friends! They were two groups from opposite ends of Germany -- from Handewitt up north and from Bavaria down south. We had a lot of time to waste, which meant many shots of Jägermeister and some type of flowery liquor. We even practiced some German and our new friend Fabian was explaining the lyrics of his home town's band Santiano.
Zum Wohl with our new German buddies!
We learned there is some weird tradition of putting tiny bottle caps on your nose.
Or maybe they tricked us into looking dumb.

As New Years approached, our friends were impressed when we pulled out a few bottles of Champagne and some plastic glasses out of my backpack. And this is definitely something I recommend: buy a few bottles as soon as you arrive at the party because they will surely sell out before the clock strikes midnight! We made sure all our friends had Champagne by the time the countdown began. As the New Year rolled around, the sky lit up with an exciting display of fireworks. Definitely an experience to remember.
Plenty of Champagne to go around.
One last drink with our new friends.
Oh yeah, and happy belated anniversary.