I was lucky enough this past summer to experience a phenomenon that most American’s have never been privy to experience. And that was visiting a World Cup Soccer host country during the games while the host country was playing and doing well. I was working in Queens when a friend of mine said that her and two other girls were travelling to Berlin and wanted a guy to travel with them and asked me to go. Of course I jumped at the chance to head to a far off land that I had never been to. They were going for two weeks but it being Berlin during the World Cup, all hostels were booked years in advance, so we seemed shit out of luck. But the girl who asked me to go had a trick up here her sleeve. Her brother was living in old East Berlin for the summer and had a floor with our names on it, free of charge. AWESOME!
But the planning duties of the actual travel arrangements were left up to me. And they weren’t cheap then. So we split the actual air route into two destinations. Sometimes it's cheaper to fly Aer Lingus through Dublin and then on to further eastern destinations. Aer Lingus or RyanAir have good deals from Dublin to other European destinations, so I figured that this would be a good idea. The cost wasn’t too bad (about $750 round trip to Dublin from JFK and then round trip from Dublin to Berlin) considering the time we booked it (early May for a June departure) and that we were heading to multiple destinations. I have one piece of very useful information if you are a female travelling abroad and have never done so before. Try to only pack one or two bags and make sure that they can be carried on your back and not rolled. The girls I was travelling with didn’t take this piece of advice to heart and ending up loosing their luggage for a couple of days. Also, when we got to Dublin for a two-day relaxation drinking fest, they had troubles trekking their bag village with them. So, pack lightly, there are Laundromats in Europe and other destinations around the world.
So, back to our trip. When we got to Berlin, we dropped our bags and got ready for the first Germany match. They were playing Ecuador in Berlin that day and we needed to get prepared. Whiskey bottles were opened, beers were passed, absinthe was consumed and faces were painted in representation of our host. Unfortunately, we couldn’t get tickets to the actual game because they were just too expensive, but right in the heart of Berlin near Brandenburg Gate there is a place called the Tiergarten. This is a giant park that is most likely the equivalent to the length of two American football fields. In the park, they had set up giant TV screens to showcase the match to the rest of the world that couldn’t flock to the mayhem that was the soccer stadium. This is where the magic really happened. People were scattered about like snowflakes during a blizzard. At every turn, there was a person, must considerably drunk and all were screaming. There were bathrooms off to the corners of the park, but the lines for that were very reminiscent of the DMV. So, off to the woods. People were scampering off as if the woods contained some magic money making tree, with people declaring a tree as their own for the day. Randomly, people would pop out from the brush around these trees with a face of bliss that just gave a great feeling that defined the surrounding area.
Luckily, when we were in Berlin, Germany was wining the matches that we were lucky enough to catch. And with each goal, a thunderous roar exploded through the park, shaking our very foundation enough to convince us that there were earthquakes perfectly timed with every German goal. After the game was over (Germany winning 3-1 over Ecuador) we headed to the Jewish Memorial which is an architecturally creative group of monuments. It is a cool sight to see at night because it is quiet and you can easily get lost but so enthralling. There are large marble tomb-like slabs scattered in perfect rows around an open park. We then decided to head home, sober up a bit and head back to the center of the city for a walking tour at night. We started at Brandenburg Gate then headed over to Berliner Dome and then down to the Potsdamer Platz.
Along the river, as we were observing the city, we noticed that the government buildings were symmetrically aligned with one another while the river sliced through the groupings of buildings. This city is an architect’s dream city because everything is new and creative. The TV in the center of the old east city was transformed to look like a soccer ball for the World Cup. In front of Brandenburg Gate, a gigantic illuminating soccer ball that you could actually walk in to, go up two flights inside and learn the history of the World Cup of Soccer. Random Stages were set up all over the city that had musicians and the like performing throughout the day and even in the evening.
The next day, we awoke and went to explore the remains of the Berlin Wall and the Checkpoint Charlie’s (Death Strips). These Death Strips were areas over the once existing wall that if someone jumped these tower (Checkpoint Charlie) guards would shoot the fleeing German. The Berlin Wall Museum is a gut wrenching place to visit because it is very descriptive and informative. Then we made our way over to the Jewish Museum, which is complied of the strangest architecture one has ever seen. With uneven floors and gaping holes in the walls acting as windows, it is the strangest place I have ever set foot in. But a great experience. Then, finally, after a day of culture, we needed to unwind, so we headed off to the public pool on the cusp of the old East and West cities in the park. The pool is great because it is cheap and has a kick ass slide. So worth the trip. Enough said.
The following we left Berlin and headed off to other destinations, but if you have a chance, HEAD TO BERLIN! It is a city that embraces its artists and encourages their creative muscles. Also, go to the World Cup (www.fifa.com) in South Africa in 2010. It is going to be amazing.