Day 3 – Berlin and Night Train to Krakow

*Brett and I recently finished a trip to Europe. Based on a journal I kept during our travels, these posts are being made after-the-fact for those who are interested in reading more about it. Our photos are all in Flickr, some available only to my contacts for increased privacy.*

We walked, we took the U-Bahn & S-Bahn, and then we walked some more …

We started by taking the U to Alexanderplatz to find grub for breakfast but weren’t very successful after walking around and then settling for a too-salty, not-so-fresh brat place. I was too picky and it ended with us being in a pickle. Oh well. After that fiasco, we checked out from the hostel and left our bags locked together in the hostel’s locked luggage closet. It was a little too open and left unsecure for our liking. Oh well.

Our first site was Checkpoint Charlie, then to a pile of rubble nearby that had been the SS headquarters during WWII and is now an open air museum called the Topography of Terror. We walked around some more in that area of the city. We passed the former Luftwaffe headquarters which is now the Finance Ministry. It is a very imposing building. On one wall, the soviets created a mural touting socialist ideals. How ironic that the building with that mural is now occupied by the Finance Ministry of a somewhat capitalistic government. Next we passed through Potsdamerplatz where we checked out an installation art project which required us to peer into headless statues to see a video presentation of something to do with nazi germany’s atrocities, or at least that’s what was playing when I looked inside. From Potsdamerplatz, we took the S Bahn to HackescherMarkt to walk a short distance to Museum Island and the Pergamon Museum.

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The Pergamon Museum was built to house the Pergamon, a partially intact greek temple and the art treasures from it. The Pergamon is more impressive than the Elgin marbles in the British museum. Question of the Day: How did they transport all those heavy marbles from Greece to Berlin? The museum also housed impressive Babylonian and other old world treasures.

After we left the Pergamon, we walked to the tomb of the unknown soldier (moving), Babelplatz and GendarnMarktplatz, all blocks from Checkpoint Charlie and the Brandenburg Gate. One big loop. We ate dinner at an Italian restaurant named “Rocco” (I know, what were we thinking) located at HackescherMarkt. Brett ordered vegetarian lasagna (it came with cheddar cheese on top) and I had bratwurst.

After dinner, we collected our bags from the hostel and made the trek deeper into the former East Berlin to Lichtenberg train station to wait for our train to Krakow. We were about an hour early for our train and sat on the ground leaning on our bags propped against a wall facing an industrial skyline. The train was colored like a rainbow, representing the several different railways whose cars were part of a motley rail crew going east. As we pulled into major stations, a car would be disconnected and another one or two connected in a seemingly complicated dance which sorted itself out in the end. Even our railcar would change trains and directions several times in the night.

The night train wasn’t luxurious but the experience was worth it. Six beds, three on either side, were suspended from the ceiling with sheets and pillows on top of each. An area over the door for our luggage. As we left the station, five of the six beds were taken. A silent man on the bottom right read. Above him, a Polish woman in her fifties. The bunk above her was empty. I had the top of the left side, Brett immediately below me, and a young Polish woman immediately below her.

An hour or so after leaving Berlin, while half asleep, we stopped and “Passports!” rang out from the corridor. The German border agents passed through. A while later, the train moved slightly and “Passports!” rang from the corridor again, this time from the Polish border guards. A little while later, as all was black, a young man entered (after Brett unlocked the door for him) and quickly took to the top bunk where, in a few quick moves, he made the bed and fell asleep. He got off a few hours later, while it was still dark out, followed a little while later by the man on the bottom right bunk, and then the young woman below Brett. They seemed to be pros at this. The woman in her fifties exited with us in Krakow the next morning. She was extremely helpful with preparing us for getting off the train at the right place. As we closed in on Krakow, Brett chatted with her in German. She was coming home to celebrate her daughter’s birthday for a few days before returning to Berlin.