Hello again! So Berlin was a pretty cool city. My brother has lived there for a while so he knew the place pretty well and was able to show me around. Since I only had 2 days there, I had to narrow down the sights to see. The highlights of the trip were definitely the Stasi Prison and the city bike tour (i know, another bike tour!) Unfortunately I got robbed in Dublin last weekend in a nightclub (wallet, 500 euros, credit cards, car keys, apartment keys, ID's, camera, phone...basically everything except my passport!), so i no longer have my pictures from Berlin. So i'll paint the pictures for you the best i can...
The Stasi Prison was outside the city center, and i think most tourists never make it there since it's quite a ways off the beaten path. After WWII the Soviet Secret Police took over the prison and held Nazi war criminals there. However in 1951the East German Ministry took it over, it soon became a place of imprisonment for anyone deemed a threat to the communist regime of the German Democratic Republic (GDR). The interesting thing about this prison is that all the tour guides are ex-prisoners of this Stasi prison themselves, so they're able to share their personal stories and experiences with the visitors. Our guide was imprisoned there for 6 months, and her crime was "having thoughts of action against the GDR." Her interrogators still live freely in the area near the prison.
There were so many torture methods used here and a couple especially stood out. As part of interrogations/punishment, Stasi guards enacted Chinese water tourture - a slow, steady drop of water to the forehead for days, weeks even. At first it feels like a drop of water, but after a while each drop feels like a boulder being smashed into the head, and prisoners literally went mad and lost their minds forever after such torture. The reason this method was used was because it left no marks of physical abuse on the body, so it was very difficult to prove that you had been tortured if you had received this abuse.
The second shocking torture method was solitary confinement in a completely dark room, circular in shape with rubber padded walls. Because there was no light and the room was circular, the prisoner would very quickly lose his orientation and not be able to tell how large the room was, or how many days had passed. In addition, the prisoner was left with a bucket to use for going to the bathroom. However, due to the lack of orientation, prisoners often tripped over the bucket of their own waste, and then in an effort to wipe themselves off, only spread the waste over their bodies even more. Eventually, after being locked in a room like this for days, or even weeks, the prisoners would be released, and come out of the room covered in their own feces. Pretty disgusting.
On a more positive note, the bike tour the next day was a lot of fun. My tour guide was from Dublin, so we were able to joke about some of the pubs and areas of the city. On the tour we cycled through the Brandenburg Gate (separated East/West Germany), former sections of the Berlin Wall, Checkpoint Charlie, Hitler's Bunker, Reichstag (Germany's famous parliament building), Bebelplatz (sight of infamous Nazi book-burning), and the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe.
Checkpoint Charlie was really neat because there was a big wall with different stories of attempted escapes of people trying to get from the East to the West - some more successful than others. My personal favorite was a story about a boyfriend and girlfriend. Basically, when the Wall went up, it went up overnight one night and no one had been prepared for this - it was a complete surprise to the population. So families were separated, people who worked in the East but lived in the West were stuck on one side and could no longer get to the other, etc... One couple got separated because the guy was in the West and the girl was in the East at the time. So, the guy found a different girl in the West who looked just like his girlfriend and wooed her and started to date her. He took her on a trip to the East (westerners could travel east, but easterners could not travel west). Once in the East, he ditched that girl, stole her passport, found his real girlfriend, and got himself and his real girlfriend back over to the west using the passport of the girl that he just left over there on the East! Talk about a smooth operator...haha
It was a short weekend, but got a lot packed in. It still amazes me that I can get on a 2-hour flight and be in Berlin!!! It's a very new city - everything got destroyed in WWII and has been rebuilt. The Berlin Wall only came down in 1989, so a lot of the history of East/West is still alive. It's eerie thinking that the Stasi interrogators just live a few blocks away from where my tour guide works. There's still many former Stasi guards and former secret police informants who live all over Berlin, and i think that's what gives me the heebie-jeebies.
On another note, we had a Finance/Actuarial team-building night out last weekend which was fab! We went to the dog races at Harold's Cross where I bet on (and lost!) every single race. But it was a lot of fun and something i'd never done before. The only races i've been to are the piglet-races at State Fair in Wisconsin every summer - where the pigs chase an oreo cookie and they probably all get turned into bacon afterwards...
And one more announcement - the Hartford s-TAG's won the division championship (we got a trophy!!) Here's a team photo:
That's it for now. Happy belated 4th of July! :)