While our last day felt a bit rushed due to our quick 45-minute breakfast, the chaperones sacrificed their digestion for the good of the easily bored students. Another train ride and walk through Alexanderplatz returned us to Museum Island and our last museum of the trip: The Neues. Heavily bombed during World War II and finally restored and renovated in the 80s, it is home to, besides a wide array of early German, Celtic, and Roman artifacts, an expansive and impressive Egyptian collection, including, most importantly, the world-famous Bust of Nerfertiti. Our next stop, for shopping and lunching at KaDeWe and along Kudamm, was sabotaged by a closed KaDeWe (and seemingly every other store). Recalibrating, the group traded (some more enthusiastically than others!) shopping for a long lunch, including American-sized ice cream sundaes, at one of the few open restaurants in the area. We then walked to the Topography of Terror, a detailed exhibit on the history of the Nazi regime built on the sight of the former SS headquarters and next to a large, extant stretch of the Berlin Wall. Our final stop of the trip was another short stroll away: the inconspicuous site of Hitler’s bunker. From there, we took one last subway ride back to the hostel to rest and pack before our final group meal of the trip: Greek food, obviously! Tomorrow, we’ll fly to Amsterdam before heading back to Atlanta. Classes await us all on Tuesday!
Our usual express train to Potsdam not running, we improvised and took a suburban trip to Potsdam and then a long bus ride through Potsdam itself before emerging on the edge of Frederick the Great’s sprawling complex of palaces. Starting by the massive Neues Palais, we wandered down the central spine of the extensive grounds, forests on either side, with baroque follies, elaborate gazebos, and even windmills peeping out or towering over the dense trees. Reaching the central nexus of fountains, we climbed the carefully manicured grounds to Sans Souci, Frederick’s relatively snug palace. A tour of its dozen or so open rooms induced rococo overdoses: decoration piled on decoration, all gilded or filigreed or fussed over. A bus took us back to the Potsdam Hauptbahnhof for a quick lunch before an 18-stop, 3-line subway ride returned us to our hostel for a couple of hours’ rest and homework (one can hope, right?) before the group was given free rein of our Kreuzberg neighborhood for dinner on their own. Tomorrow, our last full day in Berlin, will include a little of everything: Egyptian art, World War II History and shopping.
By now, the breakfast pattern is set: quickly-chomping students bored of casually-dining faculty. Yet wait they must! Finally, after a proper morning meal, we head on the first of many train rides today. Alexanderplatz and the nearby radio tower were iconic parts of old East Berlin. From that mildly scenic square we walked first to the imposing Berliner Dom, then on to Museum Island itself for our tour of the Pergamon Museum. While its namesake altar is still being renovated, the Ishtar Gate and the Market Gate of Miletus are enough for any collection. Our path away from the Island took us by Berlin’s Neue Synagogue and then, via subway, to the Friedrichstrasse station, filled with small food stands. Lunch was, therefore, a chaotic blend of healthy and not, German and not, and cheap all around. Our last stop of the afternoon was a long ride to Temptower Park, filled with beautiful allees of trees and monumentally-sized sculptures to the Soviet losses in taking Berlin in World War II. After reversing our subway trek, the group rested for a couple of hours before joining Mr Hornor’s cousin Gregor for a wonderful, long and full meal at a Biergarten in his home neighborhood of Prenzlauer Berg. A happy, tired and fully satusfied group made it back to the hostel late and ready to crash (assuming the German school group staying on our floor can keep quiet!)
A blessedly late wake-up call led to a leisurely breakfast in our hostel. By 9:30, though, all were ready to take in the sights on another of Mr Hornor’s patented walking tours. Passing the shell of the Anhalter Bahnhof, we arrived at Potsdamer Platz, formerly the pre-war hub of the city, now home to rings of aggressively modern buildings. After kitschy photos with remaining chunks of the Berlin Wall, we followed the wall’s former path to the Holocaust Memorial. After spending time wandering its unsettling and evocative pathways, the group discussed its meaning, its reception and, ultimately, its effectiveness as a memorial. With the American Embassy squatting next door to the Holocaust Memorial, we passed its heavily fortified perimeter to see the Brandenburg Gate, one of the most iconic symbols of Berlin. Just around the corner, we contemplated the stony solidity of the Reichstag building topped by its glassy, transparent dome. An Italian lunch re-energized the group for a walk to Checkpoint Charlie and its guard post, now comfortably ensconced in an aggressively commercial area. A subway ride back to the hostel gave the group a couple of hours of rest and homework time. Dressed again in their finest garb, the group dined on Greek food at a neighborhood restaurant before taking the subway again to the Philharmonie, where, seated right behind the orchestra, we listened to works by Strauss, Liszt, Chopin, and Wagner.
Our last day in Munich began with a Tetris-like geometrical puzzle: how to fit 14 suitcases and an equal number of backpacks in a 2 foot wide supply closet. Having (eventually) successfully stored our luggage, we ate one more hostel breakfast before taking a suburban train to the village of Dachau and its namesake concentration camp, the first in Germany’s ultimately vast system. The group spent several hours touring some of the original buildings, along with reconstructed barracks, guided along by incredibly detailed and moving displays, punctuated, as always, by Mr Hornor’s thoughtful analysis.
After returning to Munich, an even more complicated unstacking of our bags finally allowed us to drag our suitcases, some rolling more efficiently than others, to the Munich Hauptbahnhof for our nearly six-hour train ride to Berlin. First, though, one last stocking-up on Bavarian pastries, pretzels, and sandwiches. And, for some reason, the not-available-in-America Paprika Flavored Pringles.
Six hours is a long time, but it flies by when your chaperones force you to spend most of it working on physics, or calculus, or English. Arriving in Berlin wiser than before, we then took three subway lines to end up in our beautiful, historic hostel, a former bishop’s home that survived the World War II bonbing of Berlin. With a long day behind us, the group will tackle a walking tour of Berlin and a visit to the world-renowned Philharmonie tomorrow.