Saturday, February 27, 2016

Holiday Photo Diary: Germany (Cologne, Berlin, Hamburg)

Germany was sort of my home base as I traveled through Europe. I stopped at Cologne on the way through to Prague, spent some time in Berlin before heading into Scandinavia and stopped into Hamburg before making my way to my final stop in Amsterdam. I'd spent most of 2015 learning German on the Duolingo app so it was one of the countries I felt most comfortable in, language wise, which was was a welcome relief while travelling by myself.

I mentioned being sick at the start of my Prague visit, and sadly it was at its worst in Cologne. I had caught an overnight bus from London so I was tired, stressed and aching. The train station in Cologne is huge, but I think there are maybe 4 seats in the whole place so I wandered around the area before trying to grab a seat in Starbucks to warm up and rest my weary bones. Sick or not, the cathedral was seriously stunning.

Berlin was also amazing. My photos make it seem a little grey and morose, but it certainly felt brighter and more exuberant in person. I was staying in Mitte, which put me in the perfect positon to visit all the iconic sites from world war 2. I have so much respect for the Germans and their absolute refusal to hide from their history. It's a dark and devastating past and you can't walk down a street without a reminder of exactly how horrific it was, but at the same time the city is so alive and positive. I took another one of the free walking tours which started at the Brandenburg Gate, and went past the Reichstagg, the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, Hitler's Bunker (or rather the carpark that sits there today), Luftwaffe HQ, Checkpoint Charlie, East Side Gallery and some other spots. The tour guide was fantastic and gave us a great history of Germany both pre- and post- WWII. I did tours through a few different companies, but I did a few through Sandemanns and I wholeheartedly recommend their free walking tours. Such an excellent way to get your head around the city and some free advice on what you should visit and what can be skipped. After the tour I took a train out to Sonnenalee to get a tattoo by the amazing Daisy. She's actually from my home town (small world or what?!) and if you are anywhere near Berlin pay her a visit. Her line work is so delicate and her style is incomparable. After my tattoo session I went down to the turkish markets that are in the area. If I lived in Berlin I would buy all of my food there, it was all so mouthwatering. There are non-food things for sale too, but honestly I was so hungry that they were basically blurs as I hunted down the food stalls.

The next day I started with a coffee and a walk through the Tiergarten, the large park right beside the Brandenburg Gate. It's a gorgeous park, but it's also home to a lot of monuments commemorating people who were persecuted during WWII. My favourite monument was probably the one commemorating the persecuted homosexuals, it's a grey block of concrete with a small screen on one end which screens a short film of two men kissing. It's so simple but it's so deliberate and unapologetic and I loved it, I can't really explain it any better than that. I had signed up for a tour out to the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp, which took up the majority of my afternoon. It was such a raw experience, it paralleled the visit Tom and I took to Hiroshima a few years ago. One of the most mind-boggling aspects was getting off the bus and seeing all of the houses buttressed against the camp. I can't imagine trying to live a regular life with such an unavoidable reminder of human suffering outside of your window. I think it'd probably be incredibly humbling, but I don't think I'd be strong enough. The tour guide sat with each person individually on the train back into Berlin and helped us find somewhere to visit to help balance out the experience of Sachsenhausen and I really appreciated that. He also gave everyone a list of books and movies about the concentration camps that he recommends, both fiction and non-fiction. He really went above and beyond the usual tour guide role.

In direct comparison to my rather somber Berlin visit (I swear it wasn't all WWII and concentration camps!), I spent my day in Hamburg literally just hopping between Christmas markets. It was divine. They opened at around 10, and there were at least 4 within a short-ish walk from each other. I started at the Weisserzauber markets on the edge of Binnenalster, where I drank mulled wine at 10.30am and then had to make a beeline for some bratwurst because it went straight to my head! The next market was at the Hamburg Rathaus (town hall). These markets were absolutely packed full of people and I shuffled along with everyone drinking hot chocolate and buying little handmade Christmas decorations. Each market had their own souvenir mugs and by the time I made my way back to the hotel my bag was clinking from all of the cups I had purchased. There was a parade of dancing children and small floats riding around the streets and it was the cheeriest parade ever. There's something about Wham Chistmas carols and snow machine and dancing gingerbread which makes my heart shine.

Actually I lied, I didn't spend my whole day at the Christmas markets. I did spend most of my day there, but I spent the afternoon at the Museum Für Kunst und Gewerbe. They had an exhibit of 'jugenstil' or the art nouveau movement which was a nice compliment to the Mucha museum in Prague. I also got to see some exhibits on modernity and fashion and interiors, islamic art and flatstock gig posters. And when I went to find a bathroom I found a group of 6 little girls dressed like Marie Antoinette dancing in a alcove. It was basically the most perfect museum ever. They also had a local artist market in one section and I'll tell ya, if I had the money I would have bought my weight in hand-dyed scarves, jewelry and pottery.

Cologne Cathedral
Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, Berlin
The memorial is said to be inspired by the Jewish cemetery in Prague, which incidentally Hitler wanted to conserve as a museum of the extinct Jews. Just in case you didn't already think he was an awful, awful, awful person.

Brandenburg Gate

Memorial to the Homosexuals Persecuted Under Nazism, Berlin
My new tattoo!
East Side Gallery, Berlin

Christmas parade in Hamburg, complete with snow machine!



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