Saturday, February 7, 2009

The travels have begun

First things first, I've recently returned from several days of traveling. As such, I'm having to split this entry up into two, so no computers shut down from picture overload.

Since the last entry - actually, very recently thereafter, I came down with a rather bad case of the flu. I was quite sick from Sunday night until about Wednesday morning. Thrillingly, I had two exams on Wednesday, so even though I was no longer sick for them, study time was not really existent. I also had to miss a soccer match Tuesday evening I was supposed to go to. But such is life, and at least I was generally well for the trip. All that remains at the moment is a persistent cough.

Early Thursday morning we departed for Estonia ( Estonia is essentially, as far as Europe is concerned, the middle of absolute nowhere. As such, the capital city, Tallinn ( if you had not clicked the link in the past) felt rather provincial despite it's significant legal status. They have been doing their best to eradicate memories of Soviet control, which they refer to as an "occupation" despite being fully incorporated into the Soviet Union. They seem much more accepting of their Russian colonial legacy, however.

This is one of Peter the Great's palaces, Kadriorg, right outside of town on the Baltic Sea ( It's actually considerably smaller than I expected. Interestingly, out front was a series of ice sculptures of the Chinese zodiac to celebrate Chinese New Year. Do let me know if you can possibly explain why.

Tallinn's old town has remained fairly well preserved despite generally being fought over for 600 years.

This is a statue commemorating the Soviet war dead from World War II, the Bronze Soldier ( Previously, it held a prominent place in a major town square. The Estonian government recently moved it to a Soviet military cemetery a few kilometers outside town, past a dilapidated army complex. Russia was, needless to say, displeased.

Estonia had tons of old churches, relatively concentrated together. They were fully integrated into the urban environment and they certainly did not follow the German urban historical policy of disencumberment, which removed buildings around urban churches so as to make them a more dominating presence in the squares. In Estonia, there is even ice skating right above.

Directly from Tallinn, we flew to Berlin. Actually, that's sort of a lie, we had to double back across Germany to Frankfurt because there are no direct winter flights from Tallinn to Berlin, but we ostensibly got there directly.

I enjoyed Berlin a great deal. The city has some issues dealing with its past as well and seems to be a perpetual construction site. But there is certainly a ton more going on, with monuments and points of historical significance on almost every street corner. Might I add that both Berlin and Tallinn were very cold. Going still further north in winter, not always a good plan, especially when we had to spend so many hours at a time outside.

This is one of the big surviving East German landmarks, the TV Tower at Alexanderplatz ( East Berlin still feels rather different than what was West Berlin, with the exception of the very central part of town, Mitte ( Mitte, as the location of most of the conventional tourist points and was directly divided by the Berlin Wall, has been fully reintegrated. Yes, Alexanderplatz is technically in Mitte, but is far enough away from the immediate surroundings of the wall that it still seems like East Berlin. As our hotel was slightly outside Mitte further into old East Berlin (, this was the district which I was able to best get a feel for.

This is actually a protestant church, believe it or not, the Berliner Dom ( I ended up not getting inside to take pictures because one day we got in because we pretended we were going to a service. The second day I tried to go in to take pictures, they wanted to charge me five euro. I find it unacceptable to charge admission to an active house of worship for any denomination, so alas, no pictures have been taken. The Berliner Dom is located on Museum Island ( which has a rather impressive concentration of artifacts in one place. I only made it to a couple museums on it, but I managed to see the Ishtar Gate (, one of the surviving gates of Babylon dating from the 6th Century BC.

This is the German parliament building, the Reichstag (, amidst the Berlin snowfall. In the late 1990s, a giant glass dome was put atop the building, which permits both looking in and climbing to the top to get views of the city.

The views are rather good, this is only a small portion of the way up to the top, but you can easily see the Brandenburger Tor ( and most of the other landmarks of Berlin by climbing its winding ramp.

I rather enjoyed Berlin though, despite a tense moment where a rather offensive girl from our class compared the Israel/Palestine conflict to the Holocaust. Publicly. In a meeting at the German Department of Defense. Needless to say, I don't think the program will be getting that meeting again anytime soon.

Alright, stay tuned to part two of the entry.

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