Berlin & Hamburg Tour - 25th - 30th October 2014
By Ornaith Keane
The lengthly countdown had finally drawn to a close. We had long awaited this day, the only thing we weren’t looking forward to, perhaps, was the time of day. 1:00am was the arranged time for the bus to depart, with the flight leaving from Dublin to Berlin at 7:10am. It was going to be a long night. With the Germans one hour ahead of us and the hour going back, we had no time difference problems as we emerged from our 10:25am landing.
As the bus transferred us to the city centre, I knew I was going to like Berlin. The architecture is completely different to that of Ireland; every building scrapes the sky with its numerous floors. Our first encounter of Berlin occurred when we were allowed free run of the city before we met with our tour guide. Not having but two words of German, I was nervous as to how I was going to order food in a restaurant, or ask where anything was. My nerves were immediately calmed as I heard the surrounding customers ordering and asking in English and this continued on for the rest of the tour. The German workforce has such a high standard of English that they would only love to accommodate you.
Returning to our bus we were met by our tour guide. As she was so experienced at her job we explored every nook and cranny of the beautiful site that is Berlin. Seeing the Holocaust memorial at the Brandenburg Gate, and the gate itself you could understand why it was truly a symbol of peace in Germany. I really enjoyed the East Side Gallery. There are over 106 paintings covering this open air gallery. We were told the story of one painting in particular, where a politician took his affection for another politician a bit too far! Off to Checkpoint Charlie we went afterward, also known as The Berlin Wall museum. We saw original artefacts and documents from this border crossing. Some of us got a bit side-tracked after finishing viewing the museum and made our way toward the nearest coffee shop for some refreshments, touring is tiresome work!
Afterwards we checked in to our hostel, it was absolutely beautiful. Our heavy luggage was drawn up 3 flights of stairs, or by lift for those who were lucky enough. We relaxed in our rooms for a while before going down to the basement for our evening meal; their food is only slightly different to ours. Curry sausage was the dish to be tasted in Berlin, and to be terribly honest, it wasn’t exactly my favourite.
We made our way by underground to the ice-skating rink; which had to be the most eventful journey of my life to date. Never have I been under so much pressure to get on and off a train in my life. And I soon learned why. A woman, getting onto a train going the opposite direction managed to jump on just as the doors were about to close. But she forgot something in the heat of the moment. Her handbag. The handle had remained in her hand while the bulk of the bag was hanging outside. A gentleman barely prised open the door to allow her handbag inside, and a younger lady, who had previously thought she had missed the train, saw her opportunity and lodged herself between the two doors. It was dramatic to say the least.
Ice-skating was definitely the highlight of night one. I’d love to say that we were all top class ice-skaters by the end of the night, but we were far from it. We had problems getting onto the ice, never mind skating on it. Our group was evidently comprised of beginners, but the locals seemed to be experts at it. Skidding around, twisting, flipping, even moon walking. We were no match.
We returned to the hostel on a slightly less pressurised journey and immediately got some much needed sleep for day two.
We had an early start; in fact our whole trip was comprised of early starts. We ate our breakfast, there was such a big selection; ham, cheese, eggs, tea/coffee, fruit juice, cereal, yoghurt, fruit, profiteroles, we were spoiled for choice. We left for the Anne Frank Zentrum at 9:15am which is partner of the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam. Our group was split into two; one half watched a documentary about Anne while the other pondered around the museum and we switched after 30 minutes. Anne’s real diary was at the museum so we all felt honoured to catch a glimpse of this sacred book.
We then made our way to the Flea Market in Mauerpark; it was much like the Dungarvan Show, only a lot more people in a lot less space. No shops, except restaurants or tourist outlets are open on a Sunday so it is tradition for all locals to attend the Flea Market. At the entrance, a man was controlling a robot sitting on a trolley. He had made the robot himself, out of old scrap metal. Sitting next to it, he was making it shake and nod its head, dance and even spit out water at the spectators. I had never seen the likes of it in Ireland.
We continued to Gruselkabinett Berlin, once an air-raid shelter, now like a German, educational version of the Nightmare Realm. We all really enjoyed this, and were on edge for rest of the day! Later, we went to the Pergamon museum which was mainly composed of carpet on walls, not really my cup of tea, but that was all made up for when we left for Schwarzlicht-Minigolf-Berlin, an underground minigolf course lit up with fluorescent lights. We were given 3D glasses to enhance our experience. We were a lot better at this sport than ice-skating! We left at 21:00 and prepared ourselves for day 3 before going to bed.
Following breakfast in the hostel we preceded to the German Bundestag- the German Parliament Building. We all had to have our passports with us and all of our bags were checked, for fear of fears before we were allowed in. It was a beautiful building, mainly constructed of glass, with a big column in the middle which allowed rainwater to pour through. We promptly transferred to the city centre for some much needed shopping. All the regular department stores are there, the only difference is they are roughly 10 times bigger. Which of course, we had no problem with.
We departed Berlin at 14:30 to Tropical Islands, a huge dome, the size of eight football pitches made like a tropical holiday resort. There was a 200m long beach, a lagoon, a volleyball area, waterslides, restaurants and much more. Almost like a small village enclosed from the outdoors. We left there at 8pm, though we all would have happily stayed there for another couple of days. We did some major packing that night as the next morning we would be checking out of the hostel to and transferring to Hamburg.
An extraordinarily early check out meant we were a bit sleep deprived, but as the journey was 4 hours long, we had some time to catch up on our beauty sleep. I had the nicest pizza I have ever had in my 17 years of life in Andronaco, an Italian bistro. It was overflowing with people, a great sign of a restaurant. Our humorous tour of Hamburg was provided by Sven, he was absolutely hilarious with a completely different style of tour guiding than what we were used to. Then, we visited the Hamburg Dungeons, a tour through Hamburg’s history with an entertaining spooky approach. The main feature being the drop ride at the end of the tour, where you heart was literally in your mouth.
We checked into our hostel afterwards, this one was a bit more centrally located than the previous one, and we were all on different floors. Those lucky enough to be on floor one used the stairs, and, as there was a scarce amount of lifts available, the rest of us waited patiently, or made the regrettable decision of scaling the stairs. I preferred the dinners in this hostel as they were more like what we would eat at home, the chicken pasta bake and lasagne were absolutely delicious. When we left after dinner we took the train to Miniatur Wunderland Hamburg. It was amazing. Every aspect of it was so heavily detailed, every person in a crowd of thousands was individually designed and buttons set off certain features such as fire brigades, music, lights and trains. My favourite part of this site was the model aeroplane runway where tiny flights were taking place, while the workers maintained the airport. We took the train back to our hostel again and caught 40 winks before the day that I was most looking forward to.
I didn’t mind getting up early that morning, as today was the day we were all going to Heidepark Resort. It took one hour to get there which seemed like the longest hour of my life. As the German’s school midterm was the week before ours, the park was practically empty in comparison to the week beforehand. We went on as many rides as possible such as The Pirate Boat, Scream, Colossus, Krake and many others. As we were the only group not to receive the message about our early departure due to the bad weather, we held up the whole group while we went on subsequent rides, I’m sure they didn’t mind. We still managed to leave a bit early to accommodate any shopping that we had missed out on. We scoffed our meal and met with the coach again to go to Bowling World Hamburg. We all had a great time and made the most of the last night we would spend together in Germany. We were lucky enough to have late check out so we could relax before becoming homeward bound. We stopped off at a chocolate factory- Chocoversum, where we learned how chocolate is made, and how they only select the finest cocoa beans for their chocolate, as well as getting to taste some raw. We all got to make our own bar of chocolate and then received them at the end of the tour. Regrettably, we made our final bus journey from the factory to the airport and said a sad farewell to our bus driver, Ian a Scotsman, before boarding the plane on our journey home.
Everyone who went on this tour enjoyed it thoroughly, and even though I don’t do German, I would recommend that if you have the opportunity to visit Berlin and Hamburg, do. They must be two of the most beautiful cities in the world and I’m glad I got my chance to do it with the school. These cities are so steeped in history and the language barrier was not and will never be a problem. So in conclusion Germany is a must for any of you interested in travelling, and I will definitely be heading back again.