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This Free-Spirited City Defies Definition

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    Photo: Courtesy of Kate Titus.

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    On May 24, 2014, my fiancé, Andy, and I got married in New York City. A week later, we hopped on a plane with two carry-on suitcases and two one-way tickets to Paris. We had just pressed pause on our careers, sublet our apartment, moved all of our things into storage. The only plan was to have no plans at all — and we ended up traveling for 394 days through 25 countries, stopping in nearly 100 destinations. Over the next few weeks, come along on this crazy journey to learn more about how we did it — packing, plotting, budgeting — and see some of the tens of thousands of photos we took along the way.

    After Austria, our plan was to travel by train to the Czech Republic and visit Prague. Around this time, Andy was also starting to research the paperwork we would need to acquire for our tourist visas for India. We looked into applying for visas before we left, but since we had no itinerary at that point, it would have been nearly impossible. Most applications require you to state exactly when you’ll be arriving in the country, how long you’ll be staying, the address you’ll be staying at, etc. Also, the length of time you’re allowed to stay in the country can vary greatly. Some visas expire within months of receiving them and some are good for years.

    In his research, Andy learned that the applications could take up to seven business days to process. Meaning you hand over your passport (while they send it to god-knows-where) and hang out in a foreign country with no international form of identification. Eeee! We needed to be in one place long enough to get our passports back safely, with plenty of buffer time, so we chose to skip Prague and head straight to Berlin, where we submitted our visa application the day after we arrived. After a few rounds of suspicious questioning ("Why are you applying for Indian visas...in Berlin...as Americans?") we were asked to make a few revisions to our paperwork and come back. We needed to process the application that day, so we found a random bar down the street with free Wi-Fi, took new headshots of ourselves against a white wall on the street, and sneaked into a hotel to print our documents for free. After over a week of back-and-forth, we secured our Indian tourist visas. Success!

    We ended up staying in Berlin for 10 days and really fell in love with the city. So much of it reminded us of New York City — the multiculturalism, the international cuisine, the spirit of creativity, and the overall grit. But at the same time, there is no other place like it. This is a city that has changed so much in the last century that you’re reminded of its history around every turn. This is a city that was nearly leveled by bombings — its famous monuments are still riddled with bullet holes — and literally ripped in half in the last 60 years and put back together. Residents have been able to take the many reminders of their tragic past and turn them into beauty: War bunkers that have become art museums and Nazi airports that have become parks that encourage community and creativity.

    Nothing felt contrived in Berlin. Everything seemed to have a story. It felt raw, authentic, free-spirited, and slightly lawless.


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    The Brandenburg Gate is the most iconic landmark in Berlin, and has lived through the many turbulent chapters of Germany’s history. It was built in 1788 as an entrance to the Prussian Palace and a symbol of peace after many years of war during the reign of Frederick the Great. Centuries later, it was used in Nazi propaganda and served as a backdrop for a parade celebrating Hilter’s rise to power. During the Cold War, it became a symbol of a divided Germany, as it was precariously placed near the border of East and West Berlin. The area surrounding it became a fenced-off wasteland. Finally, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the gate was renovated and once again became a symbol of peace and reunification.

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    The Victory Column is a monument located at an intersection in the heart of Berlin’s largest park, Tiergarten, and was constructed to celebrate Germany's victory over France in the 1870 Franco-Prussian War. It survived WWII mainly because the Nazis moved it from its original location in front of the Reichstag Building, which was severely damaged during air raids.

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    This image was taken at Berlin’s Holocaust Memorial, just south of the Brandenburg Gate. The space was designed by architect Peter Eisenman and inaugurated in 2005. It serves as a memorial to all of the Jews murdered during the Holocaust. Its 4.7 acres are covered in 2,711 gray concrete slabs which are equal in dimension, but vary in height. The slabs are have been placed on sloping, uneven ground, so these very solid forms dip in a variety of directions, creating an organic, almost wave-like effect. Visitors can enter this maze of slabs from all four sides of the memorial. Walking around the space is disorienting — I’m sure it's exactly what the architect intended. One interpretation is that the slabs are supposed to represent an orderly system that has lost touch with reality and reason.

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    We also visited the Jewish Museum, and were very impressed with the elegant way that space, light, and sound were used to describe the plight of the Jews during the Holocaust. The building is comprised of two sections — an old baroque building and a new, incredibly modern building designed by the architect Daniel Libeskind. You begin in the old building and descend down a dark hallway into the modern one.

    Once underground, you find yourself in a series of long hallways that feel slightly askew. At one point, you open an enormous steel door and walk into a small, dark room which you quickly realize is a cell with an odd triangular shape and a sky-high ceiling. There’s a single small window which allows a beam of light to pour in. The shape of the space makes your voice and the sound of your footsteps echo across the walls.

    You exit the main building and enter The Garden of Exile, a series of tall concrete columns topped with sprigs of olive trees. As you wander through the rows, you feel trapped and disoriented by the space. When you look up, you feel hope by seeing the familiar shapes of trees above you, but you can’t find your way out of the maze. I feel like these sensory experiences express so much more than words ever could. It’s a beautiful way to share a sliver of the emotional experiences of these people and commemorate their lives.

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    A shot of one of the hallways in the Jewish Museum — controlled architectural chaos.