Thursday, February 25, 2010

Berlin: History meets modernity

As a political science major, I have always been enchanted by the fall of the Berlin wall and the Soviet Union, which is why Eric and I have decided to take our travels east from Amsterdam to the German city of Berlin.

Berlin has had a history of occupation and reform, including the 1806 Napoleon occupation which lasted three years but also introduced a self-governing, early form of democracy to the city.

The sometimes tumultuous monarchy in Germany was abolished in 1918 with the end of the First World War, which was followed by a period of relative prosperity throughout the 'golden' twenties until the US stock market crash of 1929. There are many historical locations which reflect Germany's monarchy and its legacy.

The cite of many historical events, such as Napolean's entrance in Berlin and the celebratory procession after the rise of Hitler in 1933. In May of 1945 Berlin fell to the Soviets after on April 30th, after being encircled, Hitler killed himself and Eva Braun, his mistress.

Berlin has suffered the brunt of many of the bombings during WWII, with more than half of all buildings and one-third of industry destroyed or damaged. At least 125, 000 Berliners had lost their lives and around one million women and children had been evacuated.

Second World War history is where Eric's interests lie, whereas mine revolve generally around the Berlin Wall, which we expect to visit. Other interesting destinations in Berlin include the Berlin Zoo, the Brandenburg Gate, and the numerous town squares in both east and west Berlin.

We have been warned by a German friend of mine to stick to the tourist parts of Berlin, though I didn't envision us straying from the beaten track while there.

Rick Steves claims that Berliners joke they don't need to go anywhere because their city is always changing, and we hope to catch a snapshot of this year's Berlin.

Facts about Berlin
  • The earliest evidence of settlements in today's Berlin central areas is a wooden beam dated from approximately 1192.
  • Sixty percent of Berlin residents have no registered religious affiliation.
  • The Teufelsberg (Devil's Mountain) is an artificial hill in former West Berlin. It rises about 80 meters above the surrounding Brandenburg plain built by the Allies after WWII from the rubble of Berlin during the following twenty years as the city was rebuilt.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

From the Past

Thought you all might enjoy some old pictures!!

(from left) Myself, Eric, Danielle and Jose
in Tiananmen Square, Beijing

Sept. 2008

China, Nov. 2005

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Memories Resurface

OK, so I'm struggling a bit with not returning to South Africa this year, and I'll admit it.

Eric is getting upset that every day I seem to turn to him and question: "So, you wanna just go to Africa instead?"

I rarely get an answer any more. Just a glare. In recent days a promise of "next trip" has become commonplace, which gives me some peace of mind, but I still find myself pining over not going back this year.

For the past two years, February has marked the time where I would be preparing for leaving, getting shots or even booking flights. This year, I'm left with an empty void once filled with plans of volunteering on development programs with African Impact.

A few weeks ago, when images of relief work in Haiti flashed across the TV screen, Eric and I debated going to do relief work. We both speak fluent French and I've worked on development projects before, and I've been to Haiti.

Despite this, neither of us could find an organization where we were assured we would really be making an impact, instead of taking a space that could have been taken by a doctor or nurse, or even someone simply more valuable than the two of us.

So I think I've come to terms with not returning to my aid work on the continent. There's always next year, and maybe I'll have someone accompanying me on that trip, too.


It Begins...Again?

Today, we finally booked our flights. There's no turning back now.

Leaving on May 1, we'll arrive in Amsterdam for the day on May 2 before moving on to Berlin. The rest of our trip has been tentatively laid out, but I figured I'd let the path we'll take unfold as I complete blog posts. I'll give you a hint that a few of the countries listed in previous blog posts will not appear on our route, but a few extras will!

And so the planning begins, for real this time. With time seemingly running out, Eric and I have started flipping through the many travel books given to us over the Christmas break. But with searching and applying for jobs over the past month, it seems that our travel plans have gotten away from us and today was a big slap in the face.

We're predominantly using Lonely Planet's Europe on a Shoestring book - which is by far the best guide to traveling Europe on a budget that I've ever seen. Even their website is so navigable and helpful, it's making a daunting task seem manageable.

As is expected, we do have some problems with planning (and most of them stem from me). I like being in control, and having more experience I often feel like I need to control the planning, forgetting that Eric is just as capable as I am (he's going to love reading this).

Otherwise, planning is going well, so stay tuned for our first destination, Berlin, and what we plan on doing there!