April 14, 2010

My Travel Project

It’s been a while that I quit my job and back in India. Many of my friends and family members were wondering what I am upto.
Long since I was working in Sweden, I rekindled the travel bug in me making me yearn to travel all over the world. I saw couple of countries while in Sweden, but thanks to my unyielding manager, couldn’t cover more than that. But now, I set the stage for the best trip.
http://hitchhikingindia.com I and Ajay (@ajaymreddy) are planning a long hitchhiking trip to North East India. We plan to do many activities while hitchhiking. We will live blog the entire journey uncensored at http://hitchhikingindia.com. We’ll also tweet the journey.
There’s more to the journey than just hitchhiking:
We are covering all the 7 states of the North East India namely Meghalaya, Tripura, Mizoram, Manipur, Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh and Assam. If weather and heath permits us then we want to cover even Sikkim and Darjeeling.
  • We plan to record local folk and tribal music in all the places we are traveling.
  • We are flashpacking enough to have a Point and Shoot Camera and a DSLR. It means that it’s gonna be a photography treat.
  • Try to make Podcasts with the details of the destinations.
Do follow us with our exciting journey and spread the word.
Oh, I almost forgot, We are tentatively starting on 5th of May and planning to span the trip for 45 to 60 days.
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April 7, 2010

Travelogue – Berlin

Here comes the Berlin Travelogue which happened during the Easter of 2009.

Berlin Day 1 – The Reichstag and The Brandenburg Gate

Its Easter and time was good for my next small getaway. This time my destination was Berlin, the capital of Germany. So off I went to city that was centre of the world wars.

I got into Pfefferbett Hostel at Senefelderplatz a bit away from the main tourist attractions, but very near to the vicinity of metros. Rather than going for a twin ensuite, I chose to go to dorm of four beds. It was because of two main reasons, to cut down my unnecessary expenses and next to get a chance to meet new people.

I reached my hostel at around 4 P.M in the evening and by the time I got out unpacking myself, it was almost 5:30, so I didn’t had much time to go around the tourist attractions. I decided to cover one of the top 5 attractions of the city and picked Reichstag as it was open to public till 12 in the midnight.

Transport: The best way to get around in Berlin are the S-Bahn and the U-bahn Metros. If I am not mistaken, the U-Bahn is the metro which goes under the ground and S-Bahn is the Metro that goes over the ground. If you are staying less than 7 days, I suggest you take the Day Ticket which costs you around 6.1 Euros and you travel all day till 3 AM next morning in all the public means of transport. The S-Bahn, U-Bahn, Busses and the Trams. There are zones demarcated for the tickets. The ticket for AB zone should cover most of the tourist attractions. Do not forget You have to validate the ticket before you enter the trains the fine if get caught is 40 Euros and you don’t want to be in that kind of misdeed spoil your vacation mood.

The location of the hostel was great in the sense that I have the U-Bahn station right in front of the hostel. I boarded the U2 metro and went to AlexanderPlatz and from there to Hauptbahnhof – the one of the largest Railway hubs of Europe and also the main railway station of Berlin. The station is simple ginormous – you have the long distance trains in the underground, you climb two stairs and come to the ground level, you have 2 floors of shopping complexes and climb further, you reach the metros – the S-Bahn and the U-Bahn.

Hauptbahnhof Station

I got off at the Hauptbahnhof and walked across the Swiss Embassy to reach the Reichstag. The Reichstag building is a combination of contemporary architecture and the last century style. From the front, it looks like a normal last century building, but on the top is the glass dome which overlooks the entire building right till the bottom. The Reichstag is the Parliament of the German government. The entrance to this building is free and the public is allowed in till 10 in the evening. I suggest you to go there either early in the morning or late in the evening as the queues that stand are never ending.

The Reichstag

To tell something about the Reichstag’s structure, the construction symbolizes the inner meaning of the Democratic government. The members of the Parliament have their meetings in the ground floor of the Parliament, the public can see the proceedings from the top dome which is made of glass. It states implicitly that the in Democracy people are the head and their representatives are being watched by them from above. The Glass dome also represents the transparency  of the government. Quite a representation I say. In the picture,  you can see the dome from inside. If you observe carefully you can see the seats of the representatives at the bottom.

Inside Reichstag

You can also a panoramic view of the entire Berlin city from the top of Reichstag. Don’t forget to collect a booklet outside the building which marks all the places that can be seen from the top of the dome. The booklet also helps you as travel guide as it lists the major places of the city.

The Reichstag is definitely a worth look. Do not miss that.

Awaiting what seemed as a lifetime in the queue outside the building, I came out victoriously after some 2 hours.

After striking off Reichstag from the list, I head towards the next most important monument – the Brandenburg gate.

The Brandenburg gate was almost empty as it was already 11 in the night. There were couple of tourists like us and a person playing saxophone beside the gate. Little did I realise that this is the centre of the entire tourism industry in Berlin.

After spending a little time @ the gate, i returned to my hostel. It was almost half past midnight but I was not done. I am spending some time in the lobby surfing internet and then writing this blog and also cover my Naruto and Bleach Manga.

 

Berlin Day 2 – Walking Tour and Pub Crawl

Day 2 – the main day of my tour as I had to cover all the main tourist attractions. The best way to do it is to have the free walking tour.

The tourist activity of Berlin is mainly concentrated in and around the Brandenburg Gate Square. The walking tour is no exception.By the time I reached the location, taking pictures along the way, I missed the walking tour, by couple of minutes. So, after deciding to go with the next tour which was scheduled at 1:00 PM, I spent the next 2 hours, strolling in the TierGarten which is nearer to the Brandenburg gate. After a while, I went into the Sony Building which is the prime attraction in the Potsdamer Platz. I must say that I was in awe when I went inside it.

 

The Sony Building clip_image001[10] I was so smitten by it that I went there everyday of my Berlin tour. My visit resulted in yet another gadget in my gadget arsenal. I bought the Sony Wireless MP3 player. Its quite a coincidence that my every tour results in a gadget collection.

The Walking tour started at exactly 1 PM. We first got an intro of the guide who was an Australian (in fact 90% of the tour guides tours I came across, are from Australia). The tour started with a History of Germany beginning from the last millennium to the 19th century, all in the shadows of the Brandenburg gate. Next stop was the Reichstag, the German Parliament building. There we learnt how Hitler came to power after the Reichstag was burnt down.

After the Reichstag, the next stop was at the Jews Memorial. It was a large area covered with rectangular blocks. It was more of a bar graph..starting with bars of 0 height at the entrance and flattening out again at the end before reaching the maximum height at the centre. Though it is popularly believed that the height of the bars represent the number of Jews died in a particular period, there is no official representation what the height of the blocks mean, leaving it to the imagination of the tourists to understand how it represents the Jews’ holocaust.

The Jews Memorial

Our guide asked us to interpret the Memorial. I thought that the height represent the number of deaths of the Jews. It was zero indicating a zero height before the war, rose to the maximum during the war and subdued back to zero.

After spending some time at the memorial, the next stop was at a Museum where the Nazi’s supposed empire was replicated. The plans of Hitler, the buildings he wanted to construct, if he succeeded in the war, were brought to life in a miniature version. One striking replica was that of a People’s Building which was 10 times of the Reichstag Building. I will learn more about this is the Third Reich tour which I am plan to go tomorrow.

Next stop was the Place where Hitler’s Bunker stood. Though there was nothing left reminiscing the gruesome past or fact that the place is a mere parking lot, this was my favourite tourist stop of the entire Berlin.  This is the place where Hitler spent his last days. It was here that he killed himself and his newly wedded wife along with his pet. The guide narrated the series of events that happened on the last day before Hitler died. How he married to his long time girl friend, how he tested the cyanide on his pet before he took and how he shot himself in addition to the cyanide consumption. The half burnt bodies of Hitler and his wife were buried in an undisclosed location. The next stop was the Aviation Building of the Hitler’s regime.

Hitler's Bunker

This is the only building that is not destroyed and which bears the testimony of the sordid past. After Hitler’s Regime, it was taken by Russians as their control office and the it bore the another phase of sordid past – the East Berlin. The building bears the same grandiose architecture that all other Hitler’s buildings do. This is the very place where the East Berlin revolution took place which was brutally crushed. As we pass this building and move forward you face to face with a structure for which the Berlin is most famous for – The Berlin Wall.

The Berlin Wall

The Berlin Wall – the Wall that separated parents from children in one night, the wall that separated two neighbours into two neighbouring provinces, the only wall that once separated the two Super Powers of the World. You can spend days studying the Berlin Wall and its History. A thin wall running right behind the Aviation building with a death strip covering some meters from the wall. The death strip meant that no one should enter the strip of land and the Army had the power to fire at you.

After an initial look at the wall, we moved to have a bite as everyone in the walking tour group were starving. There I met couple of Swedes who also came from Gothenburg. So the company grew a bit. After a sandwich bite, we moved to the next part of the tour. We covered the only catholic cathedral in Berlin and the also where the Book Burning incident took place in Berlin. The Book Burning is the incident when the Nazis burnt all the literature in University Libraries which preached a different school of thought than that of Hitler’s.

The walking tour ended at the Islands. After the tour, we walked all the way from the TV tower to the Brandenburg gate. Then went to our hostel to get into our party wear and off we went to Pub crawling. The Pub Crawl also starts li Eat Berlin similar to the walking tour and the group hops from one pub to the other for 5 happening pubs. We get a free beer at the meeting point. The party ended at around 3 PM in the morning and so was my 2nd day in Berlin.

 

Berlin Day 3- All About Adolf

Today was all about Adolf Hitler – one man who took Germany to two extreme sides of fame.

After crawling pubs till early in the morning, I woke up at almost 9:30 in the morning. Got ready and was back on road by 11 AM. My schedule for today is to cover the Third Reich tour. The Third Reich tour covers the Rise and fall of Hitler’s Regime, spanning all the places that are part of the sordid history. After a brunch (a sandwich), I started off with the tour at 1 PM.

The tour as usual started at the Brandenburg gate. After giving a brief intro about the First and the Second Reich, I was told how the Nazis came to the power by burning down of the Reichstag. Since the tour was mainly revolving around Hitler, it had to contain all the memorials and the monuments. So first of the lot was the Memorial for the Political prisoners (see the image).

Political Prisoners Memorial clip_image001[16]It is exactly in front of the Reichstag. It consists of many irregular planks, each plank bearing the name of the Politician, his Party and how he met his fate. Many of them perished in the Death March that took place right before the end of the war, where the prisoners were told that they were being freed and then sent in boats only to get sucked up.

After this, I went to the Memorial for the European Jews which I visited the previous day. Large blocks of concrete with no name and no particular size. From here, I was taken to the Hitler’s Bunker. As I wrote in my previous post, it was from here that Hitler ruled his Reich in his last days and it was here that he killed himself and his wife. The place where the Bunker stood is just a car parking today where the dogs Berliners come to do their daily job. I learnt what happened to Hitler and how he chose to die with a pistol and cyanide. There is just one sign board stating what the place is all about, but it was mainly describing the Bunker, not the person using that. I think the Germans take a lot of pain not to acknowledge Hitler in any means, although the major chunk of tourists flock to Germany just to see and know about him ( yours truly is one of them). There is also a museum just beside the bunker showing all the buildings that Hitler planned to construct in the Nazi Germany(called Germania). The one that really attracted my attention, in fact everyone’s attraction was the People’s Dome which he planned to construct. It is to house 200,000 people at any point of time. It contained a large dome in the top. It is also called the Dome of the Rain as if it were to be built, it seems that it would have rained in the Dome because of the breathing and perspiration  of 200,000 people. The museum has a prototype of the People’s Dome built and to show how gigantic it would have been, if built and to appreciate its size, they made another scaled prototype of Reichstag and placed it before the People’s dome. The People’s Dome could be at least 10 times larger than the Reichstag. I was so involved in that that I totally forgot to take a pic :(

After the Bunker, I went to the Soviet Union Memorial – a memorial built for the Soldiers of Soviet Union who sacrificed their lives to conquer Berlin. I also learned that the memorial had motives other than just to commemorate the Soviet Soldiers, it was to show that the Soviet crushed the Nazis in every possible way. In Hitler’s Germania, Hitler wished to construct an axis similar to the East West axis which runs through the mid of Berlin and had the Brandenburg gate on its way. He sought to construct a North South Axis much better than the East West Axis. The Soviet Memorial was built exactly at the intersection of both the axes hence declaring that Hitler’s Germania will never be possible.

The Russian Memorial

After this, we went to the buildings that used to be in Berlin during the Third Reich.As I wrote in the last post, none of them is standing today, but there is one building that is standing without any scars of war on it. It was the Hitler’s Office of the Aviation. Just in front of it was the longest piece of Berlin wall standing. The Aviation building was half into the death strip and the area near the Berlin wall here is the narrowest. The road is still the same which gives us a chance to imagine how it was then.

It was time for lunch and this time I had a Chicken Kebab at a corner. After Lunch we headed towards the Topography of Terror which is exactly at the place where the SS and the Gestapo headquarters used to stand before they were destroyed in the bombings.

I almost spent 3 to 4 hours in the topography of Terror. The exhibition portrays the real life pictures of the Third Reich in different parts of the Nazi Empire. How the Nazis systematically took over the countries rule and how they arranged for the holocaust and after the war how the officers ended their lives. The pictures were equally sordid as they were informative.

There are many museums focusing on the Berlin Wall. The One notable is the East Side Gallery which I still repent that I missed on this tour. One interesting observation I learnt is the Cover of the Wall (The circular covering over the Wall) was ordered by West Berlin from none other than East Berlin.

There are many incidents surrounding the Berlin Wall and the tiffs between the either sides those I learnt in the Walking tour. I will mention couple of them here. The day the East Berlin constructed the Wall, the entire West Berlin was cordoned off and there was no way of coming into West Berlin without trespassing the East Berlin’s territory. The West Berlin was so adamant to give into East Berlin’s power that they started to supply every thing from air through air carriers. Imagine, the air base when there are flights coming in every 2 seconds. Finally the East Berlin had to give up and open some passages into the West side. Then came the Check points. These were the places where the Berliners could cross from one side of the Wall to the other. The most famous of the check points is the Charlie – Check Point. It was demolished after the Wall came down but was re-built the same way for the tourists. The place gives the feeling of the Berlin Wall days as still people in Army Uniform guard the Check Point. But the Sub Way just beside the Check Point lessens the the historic look. One more incident at this check point is when the two super powers of the World, The USA and the USSR came face to face with Military Tanks. I couldn’t exactly get what ticked off the incident, but must have quite a fearful moment.

The Charlie Checkpoint

I also went to the museum where all the important incidents are catalogued in real pictures. Quite indepth information I must say.

Also near the Charlie Checkpoint where the Berlin Wall ran, there is a wall of posters or digital images depicting the entire History, Cause and the Effect of the Berlin Wall. Information on the people who died trying to cross the Berlin Wall, information on the places that came in the line of the Berlin Wall and as a result became a no man’s Property.

From here we went to a Jewish locality where a Jewish Old age home was slowly converted to the extinction camp where the old and weak were put to death.

I always had a question regarding Hitler which I wanted to ask a German. But never got a chance, so this time I asked the same question to our walking tour guide. The question was – What do Berliners or in general Germans think of Hitler? Do the hate him or sympathize with him? Well, I couldn’t get a convincing answer even from her. Guess I need to ask someone else. In any you are a German reading this post, then do try to give in your thoughts. in fact – not only Germans, every one is entitled to have an opinion. So, do tell me what do you think keeping yourselves in the Germans’ shoes.

At the end of the trip we were told the One reason why the Berlin Wall came down Allegedly one phone call  made the difference.

After the tour I again went back to Sony Building., and basked myself in the its awesome ambience. took some pictures and ended the Day – 3 of my trip.

 

Berlin Day 4 – Walk Inder Walk

This was my theme today..I mean I walked almost the entire breadth of the city today, right from Charlie Check Point, went around the Alexander Platz and then to Hauptbahnhof. Here the entire story…

After a good nights sleep, I got up at around 9:30 in the morning, got ready and checked out the hostel at 11. Using the Metros which was the main means of transport for during my entire tour apart from 11 numbered bus (read walking!), I reached the Hauptbahnhof station and kept up the luggage in the lockers. It costs you 5 Euros per bag. After getting rid of the baggage, I headed towards my first destination, the Topography of Terror. This is a must watch for all, who are interested in the holocaust and its impact. The entire crimes of SS and the Gestapo are depicted here in the chronological order. I felt like seeing the movie Schindler’s List when seeing some of the pictures. History interests me and the Holocaust and the World War are my favourite topics. So I almost took some 3 hours for half of the display. The Sun was bright and I was feeling the heat along with the hunger pangs, so I completed the rest of the pictures a bit hastily and Off I went to have a bite and gulp down something chilled. This time it was Subway @ Charlie Checkpoint.

After the Lunch, I rented a bicycle for 3 hours. It costs you 5 Euros but it is the best way to tour the city if you know where you want to go. I travelled along the entire breadth from the so called East Berlin to West Berlin to the Zoo. Well, I am not a kid to go to Zoo, but I heard that there were some animals which I did not see till now. It turned out to be true. I saw the Polar Bear, Penguins, Bison, Walrus and Giant Panda for the first time. The Giant Panda was just lying on the ground sleeping but the Polar Bear and the Walrus really entertained the people. Seeing the number of people near those animals, I understood that these are the stars of the Berlin Zoo.

The Polar Bear

After completing my Zoological trip, I started to TierGarten, Its a stretch of four hectares of land right in centre of the city. It houses the Zoo and the Soviet Union Memorial. I circled the park for some time seeing the Germans who were spending their holiday on the edge of the lake. After some 30 minutes, I started back to the Bike rental shop. I returned the bike and started back to Hauptbahnhof. This is the where my walking tour started. Little did I know that It will take me almost 2 hours to travel back which should have taken some 30 min. I don’t know how but I missed the route and travelled in the exactly opposite direction to than what I should have been going. I was walking walking and walking just to realize that I was no where near the destination. Then we got an idea, I took the map and tried to mark the shortest route to the Hauptbahnhof rather than the traditional route which the metros or the tourists take. It was quite funny as the roads we took were not filled by the tourists and we got a chance to see the locals in the residential communities. The roads were quite deserted as expected. Within some 25 min, we were in the Hauptbahnhof station thanks to the route which we followed. Had the dinner as usual at the Pizza Hut and took the luggage out of the lockers.

One thing which wondered me was the toilet in the station. One has to pay 80 cents to use the toilets. It converts to around 40 Indian rupees. Paying 40 rupees for the loo, yeh baat kuch hazab nahin huyi…

Overall, the Berlin tour was much needed break from Work, which was pushing me to the limits. I think I desperately needed this trip. I got my priorities right and I think I can plan accordingly for the coming months.

Thank You Berlin, I think I LOVE YOU :)