Oh my, what’s going on here? I go away on a trip for a little while, and a large share of commenters (and contributors) have ditched any capitalisation rule there is. Admittedly, I don’t always watch my capital letters when I chat, but please, ladies and gentlemen, can we leave this kind of typed slovenliness to CTC? Thank you, I appreciate it.

I went to Berlin. Here’s the quick version:

flat nutshell

There’s more after the bump if you’re interested…

I went to Berlin. It wasn’t originally my idea, but many of my students kept begging for a trip there, so I referred them to a colleague of mine in political science who travels to Berlin rather regularly. My colleague set to task, and his experiences helped us get conveniently located, quality budget accommodation in the in vogue neighbourhood of Prenzlauer Berg, only minutes from the city centre with its political district and multitude of museums via underground.

Unlike where we are from, Berlin has got a continental climate, which makes for more extreme weather conditions; streets and pavements were covered in thick sheets of ice and fierce winds were blowing from the East, so walking was strenuous. According to my colleague, the best seasons for travelling Berlin are late spring and late summer.

The trip was short, we therefore had a tight schedule, but still didn’t get to see everything that’s worth seeing. So below you’ll just find a list of places we went to that is by no means a complete guide to Berlin.

Not the Capitol...

Right after our arrival, we went to the Bundestag building. Members of Bundestag are granted a certain budget to sponsor student trips to the capital. When you’re travelling with a group, try to make arrangements beforehand, so you’ll be taken through security rather swiftly. You can visit the place as an individual, but might have to wait in line for a long while.

Once inside the building, we could watch two debates from the visitors’ ranks (one on the federal budget, the other one on gay, lesbian & transgender rights).
Afterwards, my colleague gave us a quick guided tour through the historically interesting parts of the building before we climbed the famous dome, from where you get a great view over the city.

I'm so glad I don't have to polish that one. :)

snow from below - I'm such a poet.

Afterwards, we went to see the Brandenburg Gate as well as the Holocaust Memorial. The dusky sky, the icy winds and steady snowfall added to the nightmarish atmosphere the steles, the uneven ground they’re on and the narrow corridors between them created.

Mama, I also want a pony!

Holocaust Memorial

To keep things short, here’s a brief list of places we went to that I consider worth visiting:
Stasi Memorial Hohensch̦nhausen The memorial is based on the premises of a prison maintained by the State Security of the GDR. Political critics of the GDR Рeven Communist ones, people that tried to flee the GDR or plain citizens that had been denunciated were detained and tortured (first physically, later psychologically) there. Big Brother came to mind.
Pergamon Museum Frieze of the Pergamon Altar? Check. Market Gate of Miletus? Check. Ishtar Gate & Processional Way of Babylon? Check. Much, much more? Check. (Buy tickets in advance or you might have to wait in line; student groups get free admission if they get audioguides for 1.50€ per person.)
Wrrrroarrrrr, I'm a lion!
DDR Museum If you want to get a glimpse of how people in the GDR made do in Socialist isolation, this might be the place for you. Beware though, this is a small museum, which documents the everyday life of common, non-oppositional citizens of the GDR. If you want to get a more comprehensive view of what life in the GDR was like, I suggest you combine visiting this museum with taking a guided tour at the Stasi Memorial.
Ritter Sport Schokowelt Need I say more? Children, teenagers, and student groups can book the chocolate workshop to create their own chocolates. (There are opportunities for individuals in-store as well, but depending on traffic, maximum age restrictions may apply.) If you love chocolate, this place will be great fun for you. The store offers Ritter Sport in all flavours and sizes, even not generally available varieties, a small café serves hot beverages, hot chocolates made from your favourite flavours, and fancy cakes with chocolate. My recommendation: if you want to pick up a little something for friends, family and / or co-workers with a sweet tooth, get chocolate there (79 Eurocents, 89 Eurocents for the organic varieties per 100gr bar) and a Berlin design gift box to match (30 Eurocents a piece).
Gedenkstätte Deutscher Widerstand Located in a part of the famous Bendlerblock (where Operation Valkyrie was plotted), the memorial site documents German resistance during the Third Reich. The exhibition is huge, and each room covers a different aspect. Admission is free. BTW, in contrast to popular belief (among Jews even for whatever reason), the largest group among resistance fighters were Jews.
Jüdisches Museum Berlin The museum would be worth visiting for Libeskind’s extraordinary architecture alone, but the permanent exhibition is nothing short of captivating either. The construction of the basement of the Libeskind building mirrors the concept of the exhibition: Libeskind crossed three axes he understands to be integral to German Jewish identity – the axis of the diaspora, the axis of the Holocaust, and the axis of continuity. Accordingly, the permanent exhibition covers a plethora of different aspects, individual and communal history and fates, as well as degrees of affiliation and approaches to Judaism. Plan in at least half a day for visiting this museum and do get an audioguide to fully enjoy this extraordinary place. (BTW, better only take a small handbag as even medium-sized ones, as well as coats and jackets, need to be checked.)

Eating out is astonishingly cheap in Berlin, and if you aren’t too concerned about keeping kosher, you’ll be able to enjoy traditional as well as international quality cuisine for under 10€ per meal.
(To tease our colleagues that didn’t travel with us, my colleague and I snapped pictures of our desserts one night. And now, I’ll share the pleasure with you:

My personal highlight of the trip was meeting Jewlicious’ favourite and highly cherished Yuriy Gurzhy of Russendisko, Shtetl Superstars and Rotfront. Yuriy’s really a great chap; he gave me the limited edition CD by Mama Diaspora vs Yuriy Gurzhy you can see above, which makes me cool by default.

I think I’ll be back to Berlin. Probably not as soon and as frequently as I’ll be going to NYC, but there is still a lot for me to see and explore. Maybe I can even drag CK along though he seems to be taken with Düsseldorf.

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  • I am so jealous! Do…how do I say this politely…do any of the ladies in Berlin fetishize shtetl Jews in a way that man of lesser principals than myself could manipulate in a “spiritual Holocaust for the weekend” sort of way?

  • I’m so jealous! I was once passing through Germany on the way from Luxembourg to Switzerland: the family I was with asked me to watch the car while they went to the supermarket, and I was gutted, and thought I WANT TO SEE GERMANY!

    What was the problem you mentioned about capitalisation?

  • DK, CK would get very upset at me if I made such arrangements for you. 🙂

    Middle, Frugal Dougal, more and more people don’t capitalise anything anymore – neither beginnings of sentences nor names. As far as names are concerned, they get capitalised in English as well as in most other Indo-European languages as a gesture of respect towards the person you’re referring to.

    Mark, I don’t know. The winter over here in the West is now as it used to be 25 years ago, but the atmospheric phenomena that create it are different ones.

    Vicki, next time I go it’ll be during a snow-free season. 🙂

  • Wow. Ben-David agrees with xisnotx, hell freezes over, and froylein abandons her disdain for all things Prussian.

    Did you pick up that helmet with the big spike through the top for me?

  • Ok, it’s a date. Next trip will be DK, Frugal Dougal, the Rabbi and me. DK will get some Valkyrie with a shtetl-Jew-fetish, Frugal Dougal will get an overdose of German touristy stuff, the Rabbi will get panna cotta and tiramisu, and I will get to go shopping.


  • Froylein: I tried to get come to Berlin, so now you went without me? 🙂
    I will say that the best Chabad shul and Rav that I’ve come across are in Berlin, I think R. Teichtal is just the greatest, and if you are in touch with him send him my very best regards.
    Good old Ba-lin. ‘ick’ bin sehnsuchtvoll…

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