Sunday, March 4, 2012

Berlin, Germany

Welcome Back! 
To all of our Eaters, Travellers and Divers.

Another early start; jumping eagerly onto another empty tram and yet another chilly train station platform.  Keen to crack on and get to Berlin, we opted for the first train out of Amsterdam heading into Germany.

It’s not a short hop and jump to Berlin.  It’s a fair distance, but a pleasant journey through The Netherlands into Germany via Osnabruck, then Hannover before hitting the platform in Berlin about 6 hours later.  Needless to say, Winnie did her best to catch up on the previous nights’ lost sleep – I even visited sleep-land for a few hours!

On arrival in Berlin we headed straight to our hostel – Schlafmeile Hostel.  Schlafmeile was a hostel that I’d classify as average, instantly forgettable (I had to ask Winnie to remind me).  Take that as you will, but I must point out that it’s lack of Wifi in anywhere except the bar was a let down.  The kitchen was useable (not user-friendly) with an oven that looks like it was last serviced in the dark ages.  I did use it, but with difficulties!  The rooms had sturdy, large wooden bunks – we opted for the 10 bed mixed dorm, which wasn’t at full occupancy so it had space.  The lockers were big enough to hide even the biggest of backpacks, but the lock hinge bits were a bit shitty though – we arrived early to the hostel so they let us get first picks on bunks and lockers.   The hostel staff were very helpful, giving good directions, and tips about trains etc so Schlafmeile sits on the balance for that.

With map in hand, and a grey sky above us we set off on foot towards Friedrichshain where we could see the East Side Gallery.  This is the longest remaining piece of the Berlin wall.  The graffiti and commissioned art on the wall is interesting, and vivid with colours.  Of note, the portrait of Soviet leader Brezhnev kissing GDR leader Erich Honecker. 

Looks like there might even be tongues in this one!
You can walk the 1.3km of the ESG from end to end, with only two breaks in the wall, allowing you to walk on the West-side if you wanted, but it seemed more interesting to amble along the east side. 

After this we headed into the city, using the metro (in Germany there are many transport options, we’ve been using the U-Bahn and S-Bahn network to get around in the city).  Stopping at Alexanderplatz, we first viewed the TV Tower (it’s pretty hard to miss) that stands tall across the back drop of a city filled with large buildings peppered with neon lights of every size, shape and colour.  We walked around the city taking in the various sights, viewing them at dusk gives them an aesthetic edge of viewing during the day – especially since Berlin was so grey and rainy. 

We walked from Alexanderplatz along Karl-Liebknect St, passing the Fernsehturm (TV Tower) which resides in Panoramastrasse which looks like it could be a nice park to chill out in during the warmer summer months.    It was approaching dark by now, and we passed over the small bridge that links the city to the “Museum Island”, so we could snap photos of the Berliner Dom and Altes Museum.  We continued onto Unter den Linden and walked past the various Designer retail stores until we reached the Brandenburger Tor. 

Brandenburger Tor is massive, very photogenic but in my honest opinion, better to view it at night. During the day it looks like another large hulk, with its huge statue of a soldier in a horse drawn chariot looming over head.  At night however, the lighting of this monument brings it to life with a energising glow that makes the soldier look less static!  Winnie and I had fun trying to take self-portraits of the two of us – we never quite got the whole thing in the frame!!

A short walk away from Brandenburger Tor, we headed for the Reichstaggebaude, houses of parliament, to try and get a night entry to the huge glass dome that sits above the parliament – which you can climb for free.  Only one problem; since an attempted terrorist bombing at the Reichstaggbaude in 2010 you need to book in advance (online only), with a current waiting time of 3-5 days!  Well I was a little mystified, but at the same time – nothing we can do!

We returned to Brandenburger Tor, then returned to our hostel, for a quick (joke) oven pizza and chips.  Our oven had the most annoying temperature settings: On Burn everything or Off never gonna cook anything!!  I had to watch the pizza cook.  This plus the lack of metal cooking trays meant sticking a plate of chips into the oven and cooking the pizza directly on the rails – which sucks a little.  Never the less we had a cheap meal, and I tried some cheap local beers.  I like to sample the working class price range of beers (under 1 Euro per bottle) that the supermarket has to offer.  At 0.35-0.50 Euros per beer I was happy!  Tip: use your local supermarket they offer beers at a much lower price than the pubs.

GAFFA can relate to this!
The next morning we awoke early and headed out into Berlin with a plan – little did we know that the U-Bahn and some S-Bahn trains were cancelled from our stop to the city centre.  Luckily starting early has its benefits in situations like these.  Whilst we were messing around losing an hour we still had plenty of time ahead of us.  We started at Brandenburger Tor, for a daylight viewing then headed down towards Checkpoint Charlie.  On our way to CPC we stopped at a cool bakery-come-café which sold yummy hot chocolate and amazing fresh bread, pastries, cakes and Pretzels.  We nibbled on our Pretzel, reviewed our day’s itinerary and watched the baker make some nutty bread.   Back on the road we walked down to Checkpoint Charlie.  Checkpoint Charlie is located in Kreuzberg, an easy 15 minute walk down Freidrich St, another affluent looking part of town.  CPC is a border crossing set up by the Americans, and the only original piece is the sign saying:

“You are now leaving the American Sector”

You can pay for a photo with the border guards, but it was a little too cheesy and touristy for WinGaz so we decided on taking yet another self-portrait.  We walked over the border crossing and then returned to the “American Sector” and hung a left heading towards Potsdamer Platz.  In Potsdamer Platz we were going to see if we could watch a movie (since it was the Berlin Film Festival), but when we arrived it was heaps busy and we couldn’t find a movie that we fancied watching.  So, we left Potsdamer Platz and headed toward to Victory Column.

The VC is located about 30 minutes from Potsdamer Platz, so we walked but you can catch public transport too.  The walk took us along the Tiergarten which is a picturesque setting for any romantic afternoon walk.  After viewing the VC which sits in the middle of a roundabout we decided to walk to the next S-Bahn stop and jump on it headed for Alexanderplatz. 

On the first night, whilst getting our groceries from the “Westfield-Style” shopping mall, we were given a reminder of Home, Australia: Bubble-Tea!  For those of you who have never lived (lol) and tried Easyway or Chatime, the Germans are coming to play with Mr Bubble!  Bubble tea is a refreshing drink, that the amazing Asians came up with.  It is either Green or Black Tea, either a milky version or a refreshing juicy version.  You pick the tea type, then the juice or milk flavour….then you add pearls (which are tapioca balls), or Jelly or Boba (or all three).  Pearls are black balls of chewy yumminess, the jellies come in a multitude of flavours to suit.  Boba are basically fruit pearls, I think.  You drink bubble tea using a wide boar straw, which you need to stab into the top of your drink.  The Germans tend to struggle with this part, so we looked uber cool stabbing our drinks without spilling any!! 

I highly recommend finding a good bakery style café and having a few different local pastries, oh and Mr Bubble!

It’s a phenomenon in Berlin, queuing out of the shop and down the street for a drink!  Winnie first introduced  me to bubble tea (Easyway) when we first started dating, and playing Monday night Monopoly games with her family; so it was a hit of nostalgia for us to see it after all these months away from home.   It goes without saying that we both had drink and drank it heading back to the hostel.

A short, fairly enjoyable experience in Berlin.  If you are like us, and are short on time and finances opt to walk around the city to get the most out of it, take your time at the ESG and Brandenburger Tor you’ll get a real sense of life and culture in Berlin.  This was our first German experience, and it was nice enough.  We were happy that we chose to cover it in just a couple of days.

Next Stop: Prague, Czech Republic!

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