Travels Part 5 – Prague & Berlin

The overnight train dropped us off in Prague early in the morning, and we went straight to our hostel to unload our bags. Our “hostel” turned out to be a giant 2 bedroom, 2-story apartment with 4 beds, 3 couches, and another pull out bed. More than enough space for the 6 of us. Too bad we only had 1 night in Prague. Since our time there was so short, we set off to see the sites as soon as we dropped off our bags. Old town Prague and the major sites aren’t too far away from each other, so we were able to walk around the entire city without having any problems or getting too exhausted. We started out walking down the Vltava River back towards the old to explore the dense winding streets in the morning.

We eventually made our way back into the old town towards the Old Town Square, where the famous Astronomical Clock (Prague Orloj) resides, among other things. Since I don’t know much about it, I’ll direct you to the source of all knowledge for more information –

Across the square is the Týn Cathedral, but unfortunately it was closed when we tried to go in.

So, we decided to sit down and a feast for lunch instead. The food in Prague was relatively cheap compared to some of the other places we went to, so we ordered a lot of food. However, we weren’t aware of the 18% automatic service charge at our restaurant, so it ended up not being such a cheap meal. But, the food was to die for. I ordered a Goulash soup for an appetizer, and then a steak with a creamy vegetable sauce entree served with the house special potato dumplings. One of the tastiest meals I’ve ever had.

After lunch, we headed back over across the river to hike up the hill to the St. Vitus Cathedral, the monstrous church overlooking city.

A view of the Charles Bridge on the way:

After climbing up the Old Castle Stairs (Stare zamecke schody), this is view that you get at the base of the Prague Castle complex:

Inside the complex is the St. Vitus Cathedral, the largest and most important church in the entire country. It’s a huge Gothic cathedral that towers of the castle and the city.

The other side of the castle provides a similarly stunning view of the city, before heading down another giant set of stairs back into the city fabric:

We crossed the Charles Bridge (Karlův most) on the way back, which is a hugely populated pedestrian bridge. Artists, vendors, and street performers cause it to be pretty congested, but it’s also kind of nice because it gives you more time to appreciate the scenery.

And lastly, we stopped by the Dancing House (Tančící dům), an office building also nicknamed the Drunk House. Not surprisingly at all, it was designed by Frank Gehry in collaboration with Czech architect Vlado Milunić.

After dinner, we walked across town in the freezing cold to check out the “largest dance club in central Europe,” before heading back to the apartment. We were able to watch some of the USC-Oregon football game online, but it was very late at the point so once we started losing, everyone just fell asleep. We had to get up early for our train to Berlin anyways.

The train to Berlin. Interesting experience. Well, the de-boarding part at least. Big cities usually have multiple big train stations whose names all start with the city name (ie. Berlin Südkreuz). Since we saw “Berlin” in the name of the station we were approaching, we threw all of our stuff together and tried to get off the train. Some of us got of the train without a problem, but then it started moving. Michael literally threw his bag out of the car and jumped after it, followed closely by Joanna. Except Joanna’s bag got stuck between the train doors and the platform, so it got dragged away by the train before being dumped off and slightly destroyed by the ground between the tracks several hundred feet down. Oh, and the other problem – Van and I were still on the train. So we watched all of this shenanigans happen through the windows of the train, which, in hindsight, was a pretty hysterical thing to watch. So we waited until the next stop to get off, which happened to be the one we were looking for – Berlin Hbf.

Van and I weren’t sure if the others had seen what happened to Joanna’s bag, so we decided to head back to the other train station via the metro to see if they were able to find it or not. By the time we arrived, the other group wasn’t at the station anymore, and we couldn’t sport Joanna’s bag out in the train tracks, so we assumed they had successfully retrieved it or it was lost forever. In any case, we then set off for our hostel. We got lucky that we had the map to the hostel and Yoav had his iphone, or else it could have been a problem meeting up. By the time we arrived at the hostel – Wombat’s Hostel (another good one), they were already up in the room unpacking. Apparently it was pretty painless retrieving Joanna bag from the tracks, however it the bag itself was pretty broken. She ended up having to buy a new suitcase in Berlin. Lucky though, nothing else was lost or damaged.

So after recapping and sharing a good laugh about that whole situation over a hearty southern-style meal, we set off to start checking out the city. Unfortunately, because of how far east we were, the sun went down pretty early. So our first afternoon/evening in Berlin was in the dark. We first went to museum island. We passed the Altes Museum, designed by Schinkel in the 1820’s on the way to the Pergamon Museum.

Unfortunately, this is all we got to see of the Pergamon:

We got there about 20 minutes before the museum was going to close, and didn’t figure it would be worth it to buy a ticket for such a short amount of time. We also figured we would have time to check it out the next day. More on that later.

After leaving museum island, we headed over towards the Fernsehturm, the giant television tower dominating Berlin’s skyline. To our surprise, it actually stays open pretty late. So we got tickets and waited in the nearby Dunkin’ Donuts with our hot chocolates until our alloted time slot arrived.

The tower is the tallest structure in Germany at 368 meters. Like the Space Needle in Seattle, one level of the observation deck is the a rotating restaurant. The views from the observation deck (which is all inside) are pretty spectacular. I would have liked to see it in the daytime though. None-the-less, the important monuments around the city are very well lit at night so you can pick them out as you look out across the city.

The next day was our only full day in Berlin so we set out in the morning with a list of things to do. First stop was the Dutch Embassy, designed by none other than Rem Koolhaas and OMA. It’s an interesting building that we’ve studied a bunch in school. It’s basically a cube that has a wandering circulation corridor that winds its way through all of the different floors, at times penetrating the envelope of the cube and other times showing up on the facade through material changes. Here’s the project on OMA’s website –

After the embassy, we went across town to the Jewish Museum, designed by Daniel Libeskind. The fragmentation of the building on all levels supposedly reinforces the volatility of the history of Jews in Germany. There is a huge linear void that runs through the entire project, and is supposed to represent the void left in the history/culture of the Jews as a result of the Holocaust. The museum doesn’t intially seem that extensive, but the form is deceiving. The wandering route through the galleries seems endless at times, even though the content is very interesting. We spent almost 2.5 hours inside without even realizing it. Here are some pictures:

One part of the museum is a tall triangular room called the “Holocaust Tower.” You enter through a heavy sound and light proof door into a cold dark room. The only light comes through a thin narrow slit high up in the corner of two of the walls. It was a super-interesting space to inhabit, but not one any of us wanted to spend a lot of time in because it was just too eerie:

More info on the project here –

We set out back towards the main part of town in order to see the Brandenburg Gates, the Eisenman’s Holocaust Memorial, the Reichstag, and the Pergamon. But first, this is what we came across when we popped out of the metro:

Tubing in downtown Berlin. Who would have guessed? On the way to the the Eisenman project we came across a small exhibition on the Berlin wall, with some of the original pieces:

We then made our way to Peter Eisenman’s Holocaust Memorial, a stunning urban landscape project in the heart of Berlin. Earlier this week I posted a short assignment I did on this project which has a bit of information, pictures, and a sketch. Here’s the link – But here are some pictures anyways:

Just down the street on the way to the Reichstag is the Brandenburg Gate, which was much larger than I had originally thought:

Continuing down the street is the Reichstag, the building housing the German Parliament:

The building was completely destroyed during WWII, and it didn’t undergo a complete restoration/renovation until Norman Foster tackled it in the 1990’s after the unification. Foster kept the facades and cornerposts of the original building (restored of course), but completely redid the interior and the central dome, which now acts as a museum for the building.

Because it is a government building, access to the roof/dome is very controlled. As a result, there seemed to be a line of length shown in the above picture at all times. And yes, we waited in it. For almost an hour and half. In the freezing cold. When we were about 3/4 of the way through the line, we came to the conclusion that we weren’t going to have enough time to go the dome on the roof AND make it to the Pergamon Museum. Huge bummer. No Ishtar Gate, no Nefertiti, no Pergamon Altar. I guess I’ll just have to come back. Anyways, more on the Reichstag. By the time we got up to the roof, the sun had just gone down so it was pretty dark:

The glass panels covering the conical shape reflect sunlight down into the council chamber:

The white tubes are part of a shading screen that rotates around the sphere, tracing the path of the sun in order to diffuse the most intense rays:

The view out over the Brandenburg Gate:

At the top viewing deck:

On our way home we passed by the Brandenburg Gate again, this time in the dark:

Our flight back to Barcelona was pretty early the next morning, so we called it an early night. At this point, we had been traveling and living out of a suitcase for 20 days, and were ready to get back to our “home” in Barcelona. Clean laundry, internet, cooking, and warm weather were all things we were ready to get back to. Overall, this mid-semester trip was amazing though. The number of countries, cities, cultures, and projects we were exposed to is staggering. I mean, just look at the length of these last 4 blog posts… And this is already the abridged version. So, if you’d like to see more of anything (or else), just let me know.

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