Category: Euro Trip

Weekly Photo Challenge: ROY G. BIV

Berlin 13I couldn’t think of another picture when I read the topic for this week’s photo challenge – colours of the rainbow. Although I prefer calling it Vibgyor. Roy G. Biv is a lot to remember.

Anyway, I spotted this girl in Berlin, just putting smiles on the faces of passersby. I felt like a child looking at this girl. I couldn’t tear my eyes off her until my sister actually pulled me away. I loved the randomness of it. :)

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A thousand words for a picture – The Englischer Garten, Munich

Ok I’m going to attempt to paint a picture in your head with just words. So this is basically a picture post, except there isn’t a picture. I’m going to make you exercise your imagination. Here goes.

I’m sitting at the Englischer Garten in Munich. It’s a garden of tremendous size and lush, highly saturated green. It’s pretty much a forest of sorts. You could get lost in it. Su, appa and amma are away, taking a walk. I’m on a bench, reading Wodehouse and casually watching passers-by. I see a cute-ish guy jogging. He’s wearing a dark blue dry fit t-shirt. It fits him perfectly. He ran swiftly past me. The smell of his deodorant slightly lingers.

There is a boy who looks American sitting on the bench beside mine. He is wearing a skull cap and a scowl. He doesn’t look like he wants to be here with all his uncles and aunts and kids. He’s a teenager for sure. He’d rather be with his friends. He looks disgruntled. His family has left him to sit here and gone for a stroll. Just like mine. Except I’m not angry. I’m loving every bit of the sun.

Oh yes! The sun! It’s a warm day. It’s the Tuesday everyone has been looking forward to for weeks because the weather forecast guy told them to. Sixteen degree Celsius is a blessing in disguise. Girls are lying in the grass, barely clad and sun bathing. I sat in the moist grass a while ago. My black jeans now have dirty green and brown patches on them.

The atmosphere is very pleasant. It is of the kind the word “spring” brings to mind. Birds chirping, children laughing, the gush of flowing water (there is a stream that flows within this garden), shadows of trees swaying happily, cycle bells ringing, bottles clinking, dogs barking and panting, women’s heels clucking, basket balls bouncing and ringing…

Everyone is dressed colourfully. The sky is blue, the exact blue that it ought to be on a typical spring day. I see red and green trees.  Flowers are in the pink of their health. I see a couple holding hands and walking. He is in blue, she, in a beige dress. There is a black guy on a cycle, casually cycling past the two of them, wearing varicoloured patch-work clothing.

The wind that’s blowing is cold. the kind that rises off the surfaces of a cold river. A touristy old couple is walking in my direction. “Wodehouse!” the old man exclaimed brightly, noticing my book, as he walked past me. He’s holding his wife’s hand. Even after all these years, they still hold hands. Makes me feel good about being in love.

I hear many languages. German topping the table. I can hear English and a little bit of French here and there. And oh! A familiar voice. That’s Kannada of course. I can hear my family even from two kilometres away.

Change of location.

I see a thin, shirtless guy with long curly hair. My kinda guy. Hehe. And my my! The number of dogs! Poodles, blanket-face dogs, pugs, bull dogs, golden retrievers, German shepherds, mastiffs, mutts- some playing fetch, some running about in carefree glory. There is just one silly little mister that is carrying a log that is a tad too huge for his mouth. That is no twig. It’s a huge bark of a tree. There is another dog swimming to fetch hiss ball from the pond behind me.

I hear the cluck cluck of a horse running. It’s a horse-drawn carriage. A beautiful black horse with flowy, shiny hair and thick muscular hooves.

I absolutely love this garden! I wish to have a dog someday, bring him to this garden and watch him stick his tongue out and gallop about wildly.

Whereas me, I’d rather just sit on a bench, absorb the pleasantries of Munich, put this notebook away and get back to reading Ukridge.

Paris, Je T’aime

It’s a cloudy day in Bangalore. Sort of reminds me of the menacing clouds in Paris. Nothing to worry about though. Bangalore is a calm city, weather-wise. Unlike Paris.

Yes,  I finally found time to write again. And I’m excited about this post. Why? Because it has sound effects. :D Yeah! All you have to do is press the play button below before you read the rest of the post. So you’ll hear the sounds I heard and feel exactly how I felt through out the day I’m going to write about.

Our first stop was at the Catacombs of Paris. A catacomb is a man-made chamber that is used to bury the dead. As far as I know from common knowledge and Wikipedia, the catacomb in Paris has walls lined with skulls and heaps of skulls all over. Or that’s what I thought. We were all kicked about going there because of the spooky nature of the place. Unfortunately the dead seemed quite unwelcoming that day. This is what we saw.

Is that the only day you could pick to be shut Catacomb? Really?
Is that the only day you could pick to be shut Catacomb? Really?

After cursing the dead a bit, we took a train directly to Saint-Michel, Notre Dame. I had heard the name “Notre Dame” so many times but I had never bothered to look it up or know what it was all about. Notre Dame, is a massive cathedral sitting on the banks of River Seine. I read somewhere that it is the epicentre of Paris. I’m not so sure about that. The church is of Gothic architecture, a style that really intrigued me. It’s everywhere in Europe. I am so proud that I can now tell Gothic architecture from non Goth.

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A front view of the enormous Notre Dame Cathedral

Although a madly crowded tourist spot (there were people like ants all over the place), the church maintains its serene atmosphere. I haven’t been to many churches really. Through out my life, I have had a bad habit of laughing thunderously in quiet places thanks to the awkrdness. So a church has hardly ever been on my itinerary. But this cathedral made me feel like praying. I don’t know why. Maybe it was people kneeling quietly in prayer or people lighting lamps silently in a corner. Maybe it was the woman singing with the organ or the bells that sounded eerie and comforting at the same time. There was something very ancient and haunting about the church. In a good way of course.

The lighting was so beautiful in Notre Dame
The lighting was perfect to play around with a camera

And oh there were depictions from the Bible and until I saw them I never knew that this song I had learnt in school, which goes, “Peter James and John in a sail boat, out in the deep blue sea sea sea” was from the Bible. This is the best part of travelling. You suddenly realise so many things and learn so much. I love the exposure and insight I get, no matter how silly the things I learn.

Also, as I see pictures now, I realise how photogenic Paris is! Right from Notre Dame to the buildings outside, to the boats, yachts, ferries and ships in River Seine, to the street market with souvenir shops, the birds that come flying to you if they sense a morsel, every single thing is picture perfect. For my camera, it was like walking into a bloody good restaurant with munchies and eating heavenly food for cheap. It was a treat.

We made a stop at the famous Louvre, the museum that has the original painting ‘Mona Lisa’. We didn’t go inside because we aren’t a family that is enthusiastic about art. I don’t believe we have the ability to understand or appreciate great artwork. Besides, a few hours do no justice to the Musée du Louvre. But we did walk around outside and see the great glass pyramid that lies in the centre of the courtyard of the museum, which is the main entrance to the museum. And, on that day, I believe I clicked the best panoramic shot I have ever clicked. Here it is. Gah! This view does it absolutely no justice. But then again, I don’t know how a panoramic picture is viewed best.

Panorama panorama
Like I said, Paris photographs well.

From there, we went to Arc De Triomphe. It’s a gigantic monument in the middle of a junction where twelve avenues meet! It’s a monument in memory of French soldiers who lost their lives during the French Revolution. It has each of the General’s names and France’s major victories inscribed on it. It decorates the junction so well with it’s awesome Neoclassical architecture. It’s a very intimidating monument.

Paris 20
Arc De Triomphe

Our halts at all these places were fleeting because look at those clouds. They threatened to come down any minute. But we made the most absurd decision and decided to climb up a hill, Montmartre. Atop the hill lies a beautiful church, the Basilica of the Sacré Cœur, which overlooks the city protectively. It’s literally like God is looking over you. Montmartre also endless souvenir shops and night clubs lined up on all streets. It’s a pretty little secluded town standing by itself but bustling with life.

By now the heavens had opened their gates to send holy water gushing down on us. I bought an umbrella and used it but within minutes the winds tore at it and feasted on it. Unfortunate much?

I still wouldn’t call it a day. From there I went to Père Lachaise Cemetery, where Jim Morrison has found his resting place. But like I already said, I had rotten luck with dead people that day. The cemetery was shut. We missed it by twenty minutes. Can you believe it?

Paris is a city where you take time to explore and experience. Like Anand said, you can do a crash course of Berlin, you can do one of Amsterdam. But you need to give Paris time. I am definitely going back there and doing justice to this city that has allured me so with it’s ancient history and sublimity.

Paris, je n’ai pas fini avec vous. Je serai de retour. Je t’aime.

Je rêve de Paris

Paris.

Almost synonymous with the Eiffel Tower to a typical tourist isn’t it? Not surprisingly, that was our first stop. It was a long long metro ride from our apartment, which was handed over to us by a French woman, Ingrid. “Take care of ze house and enzoy your holiday,” she said before she handed over the keys. She was a pleasant lady with a decent enough house.

We’ve been staying in flats instead of renting hotel rooms. It’s way more convenient and cost effective to book flats if you’re a family. We can cook our own meals and be as we like and not feel like tourists.

Our flat was in Croix’ De Chavaux and the Eiffel Tower at Trocadéro. That’s all the way on the other side of Paris. Here, see this for a better understanding.

Paris Metro Line map

 So after a nice bread omelette and hot chocolate breakfast, we took Metro 9 and were on our way to what is supposedly the most romantic tower in the history of the world.

After getting off the train and out of the station, I was a bit too eager to see the tower. I thought it was so massive that it would be visible from anywhere. But I couldn’t see it for I was surrounded by tall buildings. So I walked and walked with my neck craning forward to look beyond every building that shot up next to me.

And voila! The unique triangular tower that I’d heard/read so much about loomed into view! It was right there is front of me with the fantastic fountains and lawns and everything. The gigantic man made wonder from the late 1800’s. 1889, to be precise.

The Eiffel Tower in all its splendour

At first I wasn’t so intimidated by it. I wasn’t overjoyed looking at it either. I had been looking at monuments constantly at Amsterdam and Berlin and had come to terms with their enormity, not just in terms of size but in terms of reputation as well.

It wasn’t until I began climbing up the stairs that I started to feel the power of the tower. To have had such vision a hundred years ago and to have built the magnificent structure is an incredible feat.

The structure is so complicated. It has iron bars screwed up in all possible directions to keep it sturdy. Imagine it has had to withstand heat from the sun and deadly wind for more than a hundred years. It sways and the tip moves up to 18cms when there is wind and also expands due to heat. And Gustave Eiffel (the master mind behind this tower) made arrangements to incorporate all these alterations.

Did you know (typical gyaan giving moment coming up) that Gustave Eiffel also built the inner frame of the Statue of Liberty? I didn’t until I read it while on the tower.

Visitors are allowed to climb up two floors (when I say two floors, I mean some 330 steps each floor) and take an elevator to the third, which is the top most accessible point of the tower, for a panoramic view of the French capital. I think it is the best city view I’ve had so far. I like going atop hills to get a view of natural sights but Paris is full of buildings and a considerable number of trees and gardens. Despite the gushing cold wind, I could’ve stood there and watched the bustling city life below, carrying on its daily activities and being completely normal about the 320 metre ex-wonder of the world staring down at them.

View from the top

From the Eiffel Tower we took a train to Châtelet, ate burgers and wraps at Burger Stop, a tiny place run by an Indian guy, with my mum suspecting everything she ate to be meat. We walked around the streets of Paris for a while. The weather was presently turning into an unfriendly shade of grey.

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By the time we reached Notre Dame, it had begun raining and our morale was quite low. We didn’t go inside the cathedral. Instead we walked along the bridges on the River Seine. And oh! I love this part! So we walked on this bridge called the Lover’s Bridge. It is believed that if a couple takes a padlock, affixes it on the grills of the bridge and throws the key into the river, their love will last forever. I don’t know if it’s a belief or what but it’s a fun touristy thing that couples do. So this entire bridge is filled with locks! (The little girl in me thinks it’s soo pretty!)

(Some of them used combination padlocks. :-/ I don’t know what the point is.)

With that, we called it a day.

Feel like a Berliner

Ok I figured I wasn’t done with Berlin. It seemed like I just described places I visited and never gave you a feel of the city.

I drew up a collage while sitting in a bus. Here it is. (Thinglink doesn’t let me embed it here. Bah!) It basically sums up my trip to Berlin, right from things I did, people I met, places I visited, food I ate and more. Hover your mouse over the picture to see the places you’re interested in in detail. And oh! Forgive spelling mistakes!

Berlin is a very organised city. Transport facility is excellent and food and alcohol are rather inexpensive compared to other European cities outside of Germany.

It has been one of my favourite cities so far. And I’m saying this after visiting several other cities in Europe. It is easy to get around and difficult to get lost, provided you have a map of the metro lines and about 15 euros per day for a group of five for your metro day pass.

The city is gifted with not so cold and not so warm weather. If it’s sunny it’s super pleasant, except you’ll tan like hell. Also, the rains come down on you with no prior warning. So next time you’re in Berlin and it rains and you’re with no umbrellas, don’t say I didn’t warn you!

We packed food to most of the places we went because we’re vegetarians. We couldn’t eat currywurst and hot dogs. I really wish I could taste meat because I feel like I’m missing out on a lot of good food but I just can’t get myself to do it.

Also, like everyone says, beer is indeed way cheaper than water!

The people of Berlin are very friendly. Most of the places I visited was filled with tourists though, so I didn’t get to see the natives much. Our apartment was in Leinestraße. It is a locality where Turkish people live. But we were hardly at home, so we didn’t get to see much of them either.

Berlin has an elaborate and sensitive history that has touched every Berliner deeply. Once you go into the city you begin to feel like you’re one of them. You feel like you’re re-living their history. It’s a city full of contrasts and colours. You’ll want to be a part of it and it will readily invite you to experience it as Berliners do.

Like I was telling my friend the other day, Berlin is a city that

was in ruins

is glorious and stands tall and proud

will only thrive and get better.

It is a city of perfection in the making.

History, Architecture, Jagermeister- Berlin in a nutshell

I haven’t written for so long thanks to constant traveling/sharing laptop/fatigue/too much beer, etc.

This post will see the last of Berlin and continue its journey to the next destination. I had saved the best of Berlin for the last but couldn’t quite avoid the time lag.

Anyway. We visited Sachsenhausen, a concentration camp situated at the North of Berlin in Oranienburg. It isn’t as well-known as Auschwitz in the South of Poland or Dachau in the state of Bavaria, but I suppose it is as haunting. When you begin traveling towards the concentration camp, you’d think it isn’t too far. But once you get on the metro, reach the last stop and then take another train and get off after four stops and then walk three kms you’ll realise it’s not close to anything at all.

We had it easy because we travelled by train. But the SS prisoners (jews, enemies of the state, homosexuals) were loaded in trucks like cattle and sent far far away, to a vacant piece of land, where they built their own prisons and quite literally dug their own graves. There is something very eerie about the place. When we reached, there were few people around the camp and a sign board that said “enter at your own risk” didn’t make it any better.

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Thanks to Anand for the pictures! I couldn’t get decent ones!

Inside the camp, we saw the room where the prisoners slept (most of the camp has been retained as it was), where they went to bathe and to answer nature’s call. Although the rooms you’ll see look quite fine, it’s the story behind each room that sends chills down your spine. The fact that at the very spot I was standing, a few decades ago, a man’s head was rammed into a tap until he bled to death, completely freaked me out.

I’m not sure if I should give you a graphic account of what else happened in there. It’s very depressing. Four hundred people would be crushed into a tiny bathroom and asked to wash up. They’d have five minutes. If they were late, they’d probably be tortured and killed. At night, while sleeping, SS members would sneak up on them and torture them. Even after liberation, a few prisoners were forced to walk towards the Baltic coast at freezing temperatures. Prisoners who couldn’t walk were shot dead and their bodies, trampled over.

The entire camp has been turned into a museum with recollections of camp survivors. “It’s impossible to grasp that you are suddenly free,” said Zvi Steinitz, an eye witness and survivor. It can’t be put more aptly. I can’t possibly put across the extent of depression that weighs the place down.

Let’s drop the depression here and head towards the Reichstag, Germany‘s Parliament, an amazing mixture of ancient and postmodern architecture. Here’s a picture.

Berlin 3
The Reichstag, standing tall and proud since 1884

Now you know what I’m talking about. That’s the old part of the parliament building. Here is the new one.

Bundestag 1
The glass dome that offers a 360 degree view of the city of Berlin

The glass dome offers a spectacular view of the city below. You can see the Brandenburg gate, the Berliner dom, the Tiergarten, the Fernsehturm tower (tv tower), the Jewish memorial, Potsdammer platz, embassies of all countries and lots and lots of sky scrapers, churches, and cranes used for construction. (Yes, the cranes were all over the place ruining my pictures!)

The Bundestag tour offers an audio guide which will keep you happily occupied through the climb upwards. Despite having entered the parliament only at 8 in the evening after a long long long day and waiting in the line to get in there for two hours, the visit was totally worth it.

I learnt about how a transparent democracy is the essence of Germany’s governance. Quite literally. When you look down standing in the dome, you can see the seats in the parliament and you can even sit in the parliament in the visitor’s gallery when the parliament is in session. I appreciate how Germany is so open about everything and how it genuinely involves common people in administrative decisions.

Bundestag 2
You can see tiny purple chairs inside the parliament through the glass

Needless to say, I’m a fan of Germany. It’s impressive how they have progressed so much after the Second World War despite the debt they were in. I’m sure they make tonnes through tourism though. There are so many places to visit, it’s difficult to do a crash course of the city in three days. But we covered all we could.

Our next day began with the Pergamon Museum. Honestly, I thought “meh! A museum! Booorrriinngg!” But once I went in there, my jaw dropped and bringing it back up was quite a task. The foyer has the massive Pergamon altar. (Pergamon is an ancient Greek city and today exists in Turkey.)

Pergamon 1
The Pergamon Altar

The Pergamon altar is clearly dedicated to Zeus. It has friezes of Zeus and his daughter Athena surrounding it. Although I’m not a fan of such art, I was absolutely mesmerized by the sculptures. I mean they date back to 200 B.C. or something and they’re perfect! Every expression on every figure’s face is so explicit. Even the robes, wings, hands, hair, spears, animals, abs, just about everything has been given so much attention.

Check these.

So that was just the beginning of a five hour walk within the Pergamon museum. After this, just after ascending that staircase in the altar, was a small square which told the story of Telephus, the son of Hercules, through friezes. It was a fascinating little story, quite similar to that of Lord Krishna. In both their cases, it was prophesied that they would cause the end of the villain, and both were secretly sent away as soon as they were born. It’s a long story. It’s best told at the Pergamon museum. His story is here if you’d like to read it.

The museum had a temporary exhibition of the remains and history of Uruk. No, not Uruk-Hai from Lord of the Rings. This Uruk is a 5000 year old civilization in Mesopotamia.

IMG_0966
About Uruk, the Megacity

It was an elaborate exhibition of the tools they used, jewellery they wore, scriptures they wrote and buildings they constructed. Every room I entered had information rolling out like newspapers in a printing press. After a while it was an overdose of information for me. You need at least two days to thoroughly follow everything that is shelled out to you in that museum.

Oh and of course Pergamon’s most popular possession! The Ishtar gate in the city of Babylon! The massive and royal gate dating back to 575 B.C. The gate was so colossal, it wouldn’t fit in my camera lens. You have no clue how badly I have wanted a wide angle lens through out this trip. I don’t think i’ll put up the picture I took of it. It doesn’t do justice to the gate one bit. But you can see it here.

What I can show you is the artwork on the gate and a model of the procession street in the city. But seriously, pictures do not do justice to the treasure of information hidden in those walls.

That marked the end of my touristy stuff in Berlin. That night I went clubbing at R.A.W. Temple, drank a beer, a couple of free Jägermeister shots and danced; tried to dance rather. I’m more of a chill at a table with good music and a beer kind of person.

Post that we walked on the Rock Paper Scissors bridge (Oberbaum Bridge) at 2 a.m., ate the best, THE BEST, cheese fries in the world at Burgermeister and took a cab home.

That was bye-bye Berlin.

Next stop. Paris.

Berlin’s street art – Where the walls speak

This post will explore the artistic side of Berlin. Not architecture art. Creative and intuitive street art. I have never seen art like this before. Even the most amateur stuff here exudes expertise.

We went on an Alternative Walking Tour, this time with Jason, a guy from San Francisco. Even our previous tour guide, George, was from Missouri, U.S.A. I don’t know what’s with all Americans turning into European tour guides. But I totally recommend these free walking tours hosted by Sandeman.

So our first stop was at R.A.W. I still have no clue what the full form is and I think it’s quite irrelevant. By the looks of it, the place is a bizarre mixture of clubs, restaurants, a taekwando school, a music school, a recording studio and cafes.

The walls are full of abstract art and portraits. It takes a long time to perceive some of them. And funnily, a few I could understand only when I looked at them through my camera lens. This is one of those.

Berlin 6Not just at R.A.W, that day, we saw all over the city of Berlin, near Warschauer Straße and Stralauer Platz at Young African Artist Market (YAAM) and the Eastside Gallery, a crazy amount of graffiti.

While R.A.W. and Y.A.A.M. are culture spreading centres, the Eastside Gallery, which is the longest remaining bit of the Berlin Wall, is a glorious piece of art by itself. You need a couple of hours to walk along the mile long wall to study each piece of art that has been painted by several artists from all over the world. My sister, her husband and I walked by each painting, discussing our interpretations of it. It’s a very fun thing to do; more so when you’ve had some yummy lemon beer before it.

Here, you may try and interpret a few.

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There was this other form of street art that fascinated me. There were gigantic paintings on the walls of buildings. When I say gigantic, I mean visible-from-the-moon gigantic. Ok I’ll show you a few pictures so you can get an idea.

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All these are completely legal and have been painted by Belgian and Portuguese artists. During this tour I learnt of so many techniques of street art like dabbing, sketching, pissing (yes, pissing), etc. Dabbing is when you take a huge cloth and dab it onto the wall. Of course when you dab and pull off, it drips, creating a shady effect. Pissing is when the painter stands on the ground and shoots paint onto the wall with a hose (I guess).

I can’t imagine how much dedication this needs. Just imagine, hanging off the wall by a rope in the bitter cold, with a bucket of paint and painting something on a wall. I wouldn’t even consider it even if I was paid a heavy sum. Not to mention I’d have no perception of the size and dimensions of my artwork while so close to the wall.

Jason said that every night, you can hear paint spray bottles going click click click pssssss and then sudden police sirens, followed by silence. I mean, it’s so bizarre, there is this guy that paints the number six all over the city. He’s called the “Six guy.” Nobody knows who he is but he paints his number everywhere.

I think street art reflects how deep Berliners’ emotions go into the history of their city and also the immense passion they have to articulate it in such an imaginative manner.

Here are a few more pictures that I clicked all over this colourful city. Each picture has a story behind it. Every artist has so much to say with such simple works of art. It’s a lovely idea to cover a city’s walls with its culture. I think even Bangalore can improve its roadside art by taking inspiration from this.

That was the street art tour. We wrapped up by leaving our mark on the Eastside wall. Here is the message I left for everyone to read.

Berlin – the land of history, culture and art

And oh! How could I forget! Beer!

I don’t know where to start, the classy Reichstag or the wondrous Babylonian Gate at the Pergamon Museum; the R.A.W graffiti walls or the Eastside Gallery.

I made a three-day trip to Berlin, went on two walking tours, climbed five floors four times a day to and from our apartment, froze on the first day, got baked on the last day and travelled by the U-Bahn (metro rail) more than any Berliner would’ve travelled in it. Basically, in three completely packed days, I saw the most intriguing places one has to see in Berlin and more.

Our walking tour started at the majestic Brandenburg Gate, Berlin’s famous landmark and a fantastic work of 18th century architecture. There is something very charming about the idol of the Roman Goddess Victoria, holding her spear and riding her chariot to victory.

Berlin 2
You can’t tear your eyes off the gate at night. It’s beautiful!

From there we followed the path to the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. The vast expanse of tomb-stone like monuments, more than anything, makes you think; think about the claustrophobia and the suffocation that the Jews and SS Prisoners might have felt while being loaded and sent off to concentration camps, the everlasting panic they felt on being separated from their families and the pain of being made to feel inferior among self-proclaimed superiors. The memorial itself offers no explanation and you are free to perceive it however you like.

From there we went to a place (now turned into a parking lot) where Hitler’s bunker once existed. It was the bunker where he hid during his last few months and eventually shot himself. George, our enthusiastic tour guide, told us of how Hitler first killed his wife, then consumed cyanide and shot himself and ordered for his body to be burnt so no one could mess with his corpse. Can you imagine the ego he had!

Listen to George tell you the story. There might be slight disturbance because of the whistling wind, but it’s quite insignificant.

This is the sign he is referring to. You could zoom in and read if you like.

IMG_0431The next few stops were not as interesting as the last. We saw Nazi architecture (one of the few existing building that the Nazis constructed) which is appropriately used as the most hateful place, the tax office. Heh.

As we walked I saw bizarre things on the streets that distracted me from the tour. Take these pictures for example.

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When I found my tour-group again, I saw them looking around in awe, at two churches that mirrored each other. We were standing in the middle of Gendarmenmarkt, a square that consists of the French and German cathedrals and the Konzerthaus in between them. Once again, it’s a breathtaking architectural marvel, especially so when the lights are turned on at night and during summer when the orchestra plays outside the Konzerthaus, in the square. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see it in its full swing. And I’m not a great fan of architecture photography, so my photos are very average.

The most striking part of these churches is that almost all of them were completely destroyed during the Second World War. The domes were reconstructed and prettied up in 1984. But the tiny statues that stand atop the building remain from the 1700’s. The Nazis, whose love for architecture was unprecedented (scoff), took off the statues during the war and buried them far away where they wouldn’t be damaged. The monuments were put right back when the church was reconstructed.

Next we went to another war memorial, Neue Wache. It was a very touching one. It consisted of a sculpture of a woman holding her dying son in her arms. What makes it moving is that when it rains, water flows down the mother’s face, making her weep. This was sculpted by a woman who lost her husband in the First World War and lost her son and her brother in the Second World War.

You can find pictures online of this monument here. I was advised by my brother in law not to use the picture I clicked because it invades the privacy of a woman who was having a silent moment before the monument.

Right. Digest that much. My parents are in town. I shall come back and continue writing about my Berlin exploration. Tata!!

Keukenhof – Where the grass is green on all sides

Yesterday, we visited Keukenhof in Lisse, Holland. Keukenhof is a tulip garden, something that you do NOT want to miss (even if you are a boy!). This happy place is nature at its creative best. Acres and acres of tulips, you can spend an entire day in this cheerful, chilly and chirpy atmosphere. I’ll let the pictures do the talking here.

Not just this, Keukenhof has one of the oldest musical organs in the world. A good old Dutch man operates it all day, enchanting the visitors with an almost fictional experience. Here is a small video I took of it.

After spending seven hours at Keukenhof, I went out with my sister and her husband.  It was around ten and the weather was wet and rainy. We went to a coffee shop, Sound Garden, at Marnixstraat. Coffeeshops are where greens are sold in Amsterdam. There is one called Baba, with a huge idol of Lord Ganesha. To me, it was hilarious. But come to think of it, from a non-Indian’s point of view, Lord Ganesha looks completely absurd and perhaps exotic. But it was thoroughly entertaining to watch people smoke up sitting in front of Lord Ganesha.

Our coffeeshop/pub was completely old school. Good Dutch (maybe) rock music, beer and other stuff. With my tiny eyes, I saw tattooed and pierced people, spoke to a few of them. I got to understand others’ perception of my country. One guy spoke about weed from Manali, peace in Pondicherry and temples in Tamil Nadu. Another guy spoke only (and only) about skating, skate boards and skating rinks. He was all about “flattening the floors in the temples and skating all over them.”

After that interesting encounter, we walked through Warmoesstraat, say, Amsterdam’s Brigade Road. The street was lined with coffee shops,  munchie hangouts, pubs and hotels.

I also  happened to walk through the red light district. Contrary to my expectations, I found it completely normal to walk along the street with sex workers beckoning by-standers or other pedestrians.

This is why I love traveling. There is so much to explore, learn and so much to open up to and broaden my vision.
Now I’ve been cooped up all day, editing, uploading and writing this blog. Gotta go out and get some fresh freezing air!
Leaving for Berlin tonight. I’m not sure if I’ll have internet the next few days.

Until tomorrow (or whenever)!
Auf wiedersehen! :)