Copenhagen: Another walking tour, an Amazing Chocoloate Danish and of course more Beer!

Hey guys, it’s been a while since we’ve posted. Apologies for the delay in posting but we’ve been so caught up in the travel and internet connectivity has been somewhat sparse. We’ve been in India for a few weeks but I wanted to finish out the last of our time in Europe.

Our last post was all about Berlin and how amazing it was. From there we headed on back to Copenhagen. The ride was quite easy and we took the same route back; bus ride from Berlin to Rostock, ferry to Gedser, Denmark and another bus ride to Copenhagen.

Day 1 – Kebabs and Beers with a side of live music

We arrived in the afternoon and made our way to our apartment rental which we found off airbnb.com. The email communication was easy, the apartment perfect and the location excellent. We got an involuntary lesson on frugality when Anjli ordered a glass of juice at a juice bar, which turned out to be $9.00.

We dropped our stuff, showered and headed on out to meet up with our friend Lindsey, who just happened to be in Copenhagen. Lindsey and I worked on a project together recently at Microsoft. Anjli and I met up with Lindsey and after a quick bite at one of the many Turkish Doner Kebab places, we ended up at a live music bar to grab a few pints at a bar called Strecker’s. The live music was excellent and we ended up tossing back more than a few pints of excellent Danish beer.

Here’s a picture of Anjli and Lindsey enjoying a pint.

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We turned in early that night and readied for the next day.

Day 2 – Beer Baron, Chocolate Danish and a country within a city.

We started off day 2 with another free walking tour of the city with Sandeman’s, the same company that we took a walking tour with in Berlin. The tour started in front of the Copenhagen City Hall and we made our way to the birth place of J.C. Jacobsen, of The Carlsberg beer (Named after J.C.’s son Carl). Here’s a picture of me in front of the building where he was born. J.C. and Carl made so much money off their famous beer that they started giving it away. Countless monuments, buildings, landmarks around the entire city were gifted by the beer barons. We couldn’t walk a few blocks without hearing of something that had been gifted to the city by them.

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From there we checked out multiple sites around the city. Here’s a picture of the historic Hotel D’Angleterre (Wikipedia). A night’s stay here will run you a measly $15,000 a night. Heinrich Himmler, who was supposed to stay here, escaped an assassination attempt (Spy Tommy Sneum’s The Hornet’s Sting) when he decided not to come to Copenhagen after getting sick in Norway and skipping it to head back to Berlin.

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Though Denmark was under Nazi occupation during the Second World War, it managed to save over 95% of its Jews. In one incident, many Jews were quietly smuggled to Sweden with the Nobel Laureate physicist Niels Bohr, a Dane himself, in tow. From Sweden, Neils Bohr later moved to America and worked with Robert Oppenheimer on the Manhattan Project.

We visited other sites including Amelianborg palace (home to the Danish Royal family) and the Little Mermaid monument.

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Denmark was also home to Hans Christian Andersen, who authored many famous fairy tales including The Ugly Duckling and The Little Mermaid. After the walking tour we indulged in what our tour guide called the best Danish pastry in Copenhagen. So Anjli, Lindsey and I indulged in a little afternoon treat. Here’s Anjli scarfing down her chocolate Danish.

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We later walked to a part of town called Christiania (Wikipedia), where canabis is legal and you can purchase it and smoke on premises. Anjli and I opted for a beer instead, while Lindsey had a water. Christiania had just three rules that were clearly posted on street signs.

  1. No Photographs
  2. No Running, it makes people nervous
  3. Have fun

As simple as that. We didn’t take any photos as they weren’t allowed but it was an incredibly amazing and safe place. If you’re ever in Copenhagen, be sure to check this place out. As we were leaving Christiania, a sign posted with the inscription “You are now entering the European Union” was posted in graffiti.

That about wrapped up our time in Copenhagen and in Europe. We were to head off to India the next day.

Finally, one more thing about Copenhagen I loved was public drinking. Here’s me enjoying a Carlsberg while posing for a picture with Anjli and Lindsey.

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We really enjoyed Copenhagen and wished we had more time here. A deeply socialist society that has a history of taking care of it’s own during good times and in bad. It was also great seeing our friend Lindsey. If you’re planning on being in Asia in the next few months…hit us up.

Cheers,

-Rajat

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Berlin – A history lesson

Oct 17th – 20th, 2013

After an amazing week in Poland, we arrived in Berlin towards the late evening. I dropped Anjli off at our hotel and went off to return the rental car. We were both pretty exhausted from the drive, so we turned in and had a good night’s rest to ready ourselves for the following day.

DAY 1 – Berlin walking tour and the Memorial of The Murdered Jews of Europe

We started the day with a free Walking Tour (highly recommend this) of Berlin which started at Brandenburg Tor, a huge pantheon like city gate with a statue of what the tour guide described as the worst German Citizen ever. Her name used to be Irinie, the goddess of peace. Ever since her appointment, Germany has never had peace. Eventually they changed her name to Victoria and Germany has lost every war since her renaming. Hence, the worst German citizen ever!

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Here’s a picture of Anjli and I in front of Brandenburg Tor. Perhaps appropriately, the random bypasser that took the photo cut Victoria out of the photo. 😛 From there we moved on to see many other sites around Berlin. Incredible history at every corner and much of it focused on the Holocaust and atrocities committed during World War 2. We also passed by the Memorial of The Murdered Jews of Europe on our way to a parking lot. We arrived at this parking lot and our tour guide stopped. All of us looked puzzled at each other as to why we had stopped in a parking lot. The tour guide continued to explain that under that parking lot was what remains of the bunker where Adolf Hitler and his girlfriend Eva Braun spent their last days. It was in this bunker, with the Red Army and the Allied forces approaching, that they committed suicide. What was moving about this whole deal was that the tour guide never once mentioned Hitler’s name. He simply referred to him as “You know who” or “That terrible person”. Even uttering his name was considered unnecessary. A parking lot seemed suddenly appropriate for this individual.

After finishing the walking tour, we spent a few hours at the Memorial of The Murdered Jews of Europe, which was directly across the street from this parking lot.

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There are over 2000 of these concrete blocks here of varying heights. When people asked the designer, Peter Eisenman of Newark, New Jersey, what are the concrete blocks supposed to represent, he replied “you tell me”. This piece is meant to be interpretive. It is to the visitor what they see. Anjli immediately thought of coffins and the sheer number of blocks across the landscape is meant to give you a scale of the number of Jews (6 million) that lost their lives. To me, the blocks looked like bar graphs and the fact that their were so many signified the scale of the loss of life. Under this landscape is a visitor center that gives additional history of the Holocaust. Especially moving was a room where a piece was dedicated to individual families, where they lived, what they did and how their lives were forever changed through the events of World War II. It also showed names of individuals, how and where they died along with personal artifacts (letters, etc.) that had been found and preserved. Seeing personal stories put a very emotional and real face to a very large and incomprehensible number (6 million). Anjli and I spent three hours here, reading, reflecting and trying not to get teary . Though a few people did walk tearfully through the exhibit. We walked to the train and back to our hotel in relative silence that night just thinking and reflecting.

Day 2 – East Side Gallery and the Berlin Wall Memorial

On day 2, we decided to check out the East Side Gallery (Wikipedia) where sections of the wall have been dedicated to graffiti art work by famous artists. Afterwards, we checked out the Memorial of the Berlin Wall.

After a light breakfast, Anjli and I walked to the East Side Gallery (Wikipedia), which was a short 10 minute walk from out hostel just east of the Mitte area of Berlin. The East Side Gallery is a section of the Berlin Wall that was dedicated as an art gallery. A number of years ago, artists were invited from all over the world to paint a section of the wall. The wall which once symbolized oppression of the people of the GDR has now become a canvas for beautiful art. Here are a few pictures that Anjli and I took at the wall.

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We happened to chance upon a piece that was currently being worked on by artists. Anjli and I snapped a few photos. Check them out.

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Just from walking around Berlin, we saw so many incredible pieces of graffiti art. Here are a few more that we found in random streets around Berlin, including a beautiful piece depicting Anne Frank smiling.

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Anjli and I walked along the wall checking out other pieces before making our way to the train station to head on over to the Memorial of the Berilin Wall (Tripadvisor Page). We visited Bernauer Strasse, a subway station that was closed up at the time of the building of the wall. We read about how families, friends and even spouses were separated forever almost overnight with the closing of the border between West Berlin and East Berlin (GDR). We also read about attempts made by people to escape via tunnels, running across the so-called “Death Strip” (Space between the inner and outer walls). Here is a picture of a preserved cross-section of what the wall used to look like when it was operational

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There were markers in the ground at the memorial where tunnels were dug to escape the GDR and where the wall once stood. One family even built a home made hot air balloon to escape to the West. The memorial also listed the names of over a hundred people that lost there lives trying to escape during the almost 30 years that the wall stood.

On Day 3, we visited the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp (Wikipedia), the first of the many concentration camps installed by the Nazis. I will not write about it here because it’s frankly too emotionally draining to recall the cold October day we spent there walking the grounds, reading, learning and reflecting about the lives lost there. I will say that no trip to Berlin is complete without visiting here.

That wrapped up our trip to Berlin. We spent time exploring Hackesher Market and the many alleys, bars, restaurants and street graffiti. We had an amazing time in Berlin. Definitely a highlight of our trip so far. Our time in Berlin was up and Copenhagen was calling our name.

Cheers,

-Rajat

Living in the shadow of an 800 year old church, dining at a 400 year old restaurant! Who do we think we are!?

October 11th – 16th, 2013

Those were the highlights of our trip to Poland! Many friends asked us why we traveled to Poland instead of other countries in Europe. Our dear friend Zbig, who is our neighbor in Seattle, has been inviting us to his home in Warsaw for a couple of years now. We had to begin the international chapter of our trip with him!

Zbig, Nika and family are some of the most intellectual, generous folks that Raj and I know and the most gracious hosts! We spent our time with them in Warsaw and a little town by the name Bukwald near Olsztyn in the Varmia region. In Bukwald, we spent most of our time hanging out by the lake, eating like we hadn’t seen food in a week and drinking yummy wines! We also went mushroom hunting and explored the woods around the lake. Zbig had been urging us to visit in the summer so we could swim in the lake – we’ll have to go back in the next couple of years! However, fall had its own appeal with beautiful colored leaves, mushrooms aplenty and an excuse to hang out and chat by the fireplace.

We spent just one day in Warsaw but only now, as I write this post, I realize how much Zbig made us do in that one day :). We started off with a nice walk in the Royal Lazienki museum (wikipedia) where Polish royalty lived over the centuries. We got to tour the bath house (note – not a bath ’room’ but a bath ‘house’!), a painting room where every wall was adorned with multiple paintings from floor to ceiling, and admire the skillfully carved marble structures across the many rooms in the mansion.

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We then took off to a fairly new museum dedicated to the Warsaw Uprising towards the end of World War II, in which the brave Polish people of Warsaw led an uprising against the Nazi occupation. The Polish failed miserably since they had no support from any of the Allies – most of the city was destroyed and 180,000 civilians including doctors, lawyers, intellectuals and philosophers lost their lives. Many were sent to concentration camps. There still exists a debate today on whether the Warsaw Uprsing was a good idea given the probability of success and the extensive tragedy. Fascinating, albeit sad, piece of history!

On hearing these stories, I couldn’t help but draw parallels with the India-Pakistan war. One of the major differences, of course, is that Poland and Germany have excellent relationships today. On pondering and brainstorming about why that is, I came to the conclusion that it’s because the Germans apologized profusely aghast at the damage caused by their own kin, and the Polish forgave and moved on to build a strong economy.

From the museum, we headed over to old town. It’s pretty amazing how the buildings and forts have been restored to their glory before the destruction in World War II. This is something I really appreciated about Poland – the people’s pride in their country and their effort to restore the city. Zbig took us to the oldest restaurant in Warsaw, just 400 years old! (Note my sarcasm? That’s older than the United States of America!) While the main floor of the building was restored to resemble what it looked like before the destruction, an original narrow circular stairwell took you down to the basement which had more tables, bathrooms and wine cellars. The authentic Polish meal at this exclusive restaurant was an experience we won’t forget for a long time! Thank you Zbig!

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We spent our last three days in Poland in the northern city of Gdansk, by the Baltic Sea. World War II started because of a dispute over the control of this port town – the place where the first shots were fired is now a memorial. The Solidarity movement, that brought democracy to communist Poland, also began here. Now, a beautiful, lazy old town with churches galore, cobblestone streets, window shopping for amber jewelry, and a bunch of people watching, Gdansk was just what we needed to get over jetlag and the hustle of traveling (refer to the previous blog post ;)).

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Watching people walk around in Poland was like sitting on the side of a runway – people seemed to be dressed in some of their best clothes, most women in skinny pants, ankle boots and fitted leather jackets. Raj and I were probably the most under dressed tourists, not to mention seemingly the only non-white ones. The lack of diversity really stood out to me! We saw just one other brown man and one Asian woman over the course of three days.

We were lucky to find an apartment on the famous St. Mary’s street named after the spectacular St. Mary’s church, supposedly the largest brick building church in the world that can accommodate 25000 people! Its construction began in the 12th century and was completed in the 15th century! The street allowed just pedestrians and was lined with shops that sold amber jewelry – what a tease! We stayed on the 3rd floor of the building in the picture.

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We climbed the 400+ steps of the St. Mary’s church to get to the roof of the 78m tower for some pretty awesome views of the city and surrounding area! Raj was huffing and puffing on his way up 😛

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We were also lucky to catch an organ performance at the beautiful Oliwa (pronounced Oli-fa) cathedral. The gigantic organ was built right over the tall entrance over the church so that you had to look behind you to view it if you were facing the altar. Interestingly enough, you couldn’t view the nuns who were playing the organ almost like they were no name artists and the only reason there was any music was to focus on your prayers. The acoustics in this church were fantastic.

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We really wanted to visit Krakow in the south and pay our respects at the Auschwitz concentration camp memorial, but it would have involved a lot of driving. We’ll definitely visit that area the next time we are in Poland!

Nazdrovia! (Cheers in Polish)