Deutschland – Berlin – Freunde und Kapital

Friday morning I woke up early to go for a run. Using my normal tactic to find a route, I headed for the nearest large green space I could find. I found myself at the edge of a large park which had formerly been an airport. Before I explored the park though, I happened across two interesting pit-stops: first, a nice-looking Mosque. There was a small graveyard there and it was very quiet and peaceful.

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The quiet mosque I found in the morning

After a brief stop at the mosque I went to continue on with my journey, but I couldn’t help but stop again soon. I happened upon a WWI cemetery, featuring soldiers’ graves and several large memorials. There was even a memorial to Kaiser Wilhelm himself there, although I don’t believe he was buried at the site. It was neat to experience the other side of history. It’s a story you don’t hear as often but the soldiers on ‘the other side’ all had families, friends, and were real people. Often propaganda and nationalism tends to de-humanize enemy combatants. While they might not have been fighting for the right side, I was undoubtedly standing among brave men.

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German WWI graves
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The inscription reads something like: “Kaiser WIlhelm II and his chief squire, you are deeply mourned. Rejoice comrades”

I apologize for the poor translation. I am still learning German. The rest of my run proved uneventful – I spent some time in the park, turned around and ran back to the apartment to get cleaned up and get started with the day. I was (for the last time, thankfully) “refreshed” by the ice cold shower at our apartment. We checked out and grabbed a quick brunch before we headed to Alexanderplatz to meet our other friends. Mike Trentadue from my high school was meeting up with us (he had taken vacation to fly over from the US) and another trainee had a friend flying up from Italy whom he had met from college.

While waiting for them, we saw an awesome skateboarding dog. (I’d have taken a picture of video for the blog, but my rule with street performers is that if I photograph them I feel obligated to pay them, and I didn’t feel like fumbling through all my luggage to do so. Therefore, no pictures, sorry.)  The dog entertained us during our short wait. Before long our two new arrivals stepped off a bus from the airport and we made introductions. We wanted to get rid of our luggage, so our first stop was our next AirBnb where we would be spending the weekend.

Naturally, however, on the way we realized it was St. Patrick’s day. So we did the only logical thing and detoured to go to an Irish pub. A round of Guinness later, we were on our way to the apartment. We checked in at around 3:00 but we needed to leave in a hurry. I had made our first appointment of the afternoon, a scheduled rooftop visit to the Reichstag building. The Reichstag is the seat of Germany’s legislature, perhaps best known as being the site of a fire. Hitler used the Reichstag fire as a justification for seizing power, arguing that a state of emergency was in place. He alleged the fire was set by the communists, but many now suspect he was responsible for the fire himself.

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Who’s that handsome photographer I see?
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The Reichstag dome ramps
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The top of the Reichstag dome is left totally open. Rain is captured via the metal structure behind me
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The inscription on the Reichstag building reads “To the German People”

Today, the Reichstag affords a beautiful view of the city, thanks to its massive glass dome adorning the roof. The dome features a spiral path visitors can use to climb to the top, and a neat-looking cone of mirrors which serve to redirect light into the legislative chamber. The symbolism of the glass roof is clear (pun intended): the citizens are watching their government. Transparency is paramount. We walked up the spiral, taking our time to learn a bit about prominent buildings and features of the Berlin skyline. It was a nice way to start our visit as it gave us a good introduction of where things were laid out and how to structure our time.

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Our fleeting glimpse of the Brandenburg Gate

After traversing the Reichstag, our friends were hungry. We hurried past the Brandenburg Gate (determined to see it later) and found a place to eat. Several people got 1L beers which were huge, and I recieved a baked potato wrapped in tinfoil decorated like a swan. I liked my swan-tato. Our group wasn’t trying to rush things too much on our first evening, so rather than do more sightseeing we hit up a few bars and chatted, planned, and caught up. It was nice to see  Trent, learn about what he was up to with work, and talk about our experience at the hackathon.

Barhopping, we stopped by “museum island” and got to check out some of the grand facades.

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Museum views

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Before it got too too late I split off from the group and headed home. I later learned that a few of them had to walk home in the rain, so with extra sleep and a warm bed I felt pretty content. After all, we had a busy day planned for Saturday. More on that next time.

Until then,

Best wishes and safe travels,

– Ben

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