Unfortunately, I will not be able to add pictures until next week, which stinks because they would really help me tell about my experiences.
Yesterday we went to Potsdam just outside of Berlin. We were able to take the regional train. There are several types of transportation in the city. We have 5 day passes that allow us to use all of them. There is the S-Bahn, which is an above ground train, the U-bahn is underground and similar to a subway, there is a tram which runs on a rail in the middle of the streets, and then there are buses. They do random ticket checks in all transport, but I have only been asked twice throughout the week. It would be really easy to ride for free. The regional train is entirely separate from all of these. It does not make as many stops in town. It was a 2 story train, so I obviously sat on the top. Upon arrival in Potsdam we went directly to the bike station and got our bikes. Although the day started gloomy, it ended up to be beautiful. I really liked the bike tour. It was approximately 12 miles hitting all of the major attractions. I decided that if I lived in Germany I would live in Potsdam (but I might change my mind when we get to Werne). There are several parks surrounding the city and we rode through all of them. Within each park are some great castles, houses, and restaurants. The beautiful buildings seemed never ending. There was not enough time to stop at all of them so I tried to take mental pictures. One big attraction was the castle Celilienhof where the Potsdam conference was held in 1945. All of the world's great leaders walked on the same lawn as I did. Another big attraction was a king's castle. There were some beautiful gardens. The entire ride was flat and I did not get tired or sore. After Potsdam, we went back to Berlin and visited the Berliner Dom, or the cathedral. Unfortunately we could not go inside.
Today we took a historic walking tour. I learned a lot more about Berlin's history. We started at the Brandenburg gate. The gate represented unity throughout the separation. The land around the gate was empty until reunification, so all of the other buildings are new. Then we went to the Holocaust memorial which takes up a whole block of the city. The memorial only looks like a series of cement blocks from the outside, but as you walk through the square you realize that the ground sinks and the cement blocks grow around you. It was interesting to decipher why they might have chosen this as the memorial. I am glad that Berlin and Germany as a country did not decide to forget what happened here. They are brave enough to build memorials that highlight a bad part of their history. I guess it is a way for Germany to show that they have grown from their mistakes. A lot of the historical buildings from before the war have been reconstructed. They are still building more. The rulers of East Germany tore down a famous palace and built a more modern building instead. Now the city has demolished that building and is reconstructing the palace. There is a lot of construction throughout the city. We continued to Checkpoint Charlie, a place of exchange while the wall was still there. It is famous as the site for many escape attempts. There were also a lot of other interesting pictures. After lunch and some shopping, we went to the East Side Gallery where the wall still stands. We walked the whole length and looked at the pictures. A lot of the phrases were in English. We also went to an outdoor museum that explained the extra security that was on the other side of the wall. You did not just have to get over the top to escape. There were also mine fields, a barbed wire fence, sand pits, and other barriers. The museum showed how the building of the wall prompted the destruction of many apartment buildings and churches since they stood in the way. We walked through what used to be the high security part just over the wall. The way the grass grew signified the existence of stone and metals underneath. I thought it was really cool. I have definitely learned a lot about Berlin on this trip.
I am sure I am leaving a lot of things out, but I don't have the time to write about everything. If you have a specific question about something, feel free to comment. Tomorrow will be our last full day here. The plans have not yet been made final, but it will probably include walking through the Tiergarden, which is the largest city park in Europe.