Trip to Berlin: Part Three

This is part three of my trip to Germany, for part two click here. Over the last couple of weeks I’ve done tonnes of new and exciting things, and seen some pretty cool things. Here are the highlights.

On Monday (the 9th) and Wednesday (the 11th) we went to see movies and had dinner afterwards. The first was the movie Revolutionary Road, which was (like another movie by same director, American Beauty) a great film. I’m going to have to look out for more of his films. After the movie we had dinner at a 60’s themed diner, named, for some strange reason, ‘The 60s Diner’. On the Wednesday we saw one of the films in the Berlinale competition, It Might Get Loud. We were seeing this mostly for Stephanie’s benefit (a fan of Jimmy Page and guitar music in general), but I thoroughly enjoyed this movie too. It turned out the people sitting next to us were Australian too; the chances of that happening must be pretty small. After the movie again we went and ate, this time at a restaurant called ALEX, under the Berlin TV tower.

On Thursday (12th) we went ice skating in one of Berlin’s public ice skating rinks. The fact that they were outside amazed me, of course being winter and constantly below freezing there is no need for them to be covered and artificially cooled. I managed to only fall over once while trying to skate backwards (not hurting myself at all), and then tripped over Stephanie (who had stopped to tie her shoe) just outside the gate of the rink, tearing skin off both my hands (after removing the blood everything was fine).

On the Friday we spent one of the most fun afternoons I’ve had in ages: we just went train hopping. We started off catching a train into central Berlin, and caught random public transport (using the rule of whatever came first) all over Berlin. I really liked being on one of Berlin’s regional express trains (which are double decked with really comfy seats), though winding through the eastern suburbs in a tram was really cool. This afternoon we also caught a bus through central Berlin, which enabled Stephanie to take a few pictures of things in Berlin on my behalf.

On Sunday we went and had a look at the Spandau Citadel (a castle), which dates from the 16th century. I took a few photos, mainly because I’ve never seen a castle before in real life, and the towers and cannons were cool. In addition, I knew my brother would kill me if I didn’t take some. We also had a look at one of the churches in Spandau, which was very impressive, from the 12th century. It looked like something built in Hobart in the late 1800s.

The Monday (16th) saw us walking through the Berlin Cathedral, which had some really cool things in it. Under the floor of the main church was a room full of the tombs of the old monarchs of Germany. After that we went for a walk through the courtyards near Hackescher Markt. I bought a new Moleskine notebook, as my old one (a gift from my sister) was worn out.

We woke on Tuesday morning to a huge dump of snow, so (being an Australian) the only thing to do was go out and jump around in it. We took a Sled up to the top of the hill near Stephanie’s house and rode it around the park. After a couple of rides I stirred up enough courage to ride down alone. After a while I decided (in a spot of male hot-headedness) to ride down the steepest slope I could find in the park without first learning to brake. This is, if you are interested, a stupid thing to do. We also attempted to build a snowman but the snow was too soft. We also threw a heap of snowballs, naturally.

On Friday we headed out to the German Technical Museum, Berlin. First we headed to look at the trains. The museum is situated in an old railway station, so they had a huge amount of space. In addition to the locomotives, they also had some of the rolling stock, which was interesting. In particular, a goods wagon used in the second world war for transporting people to concentration camps. I also paid interest to the classic steam engines from the 1930s. Then we went onto the computer section, where they had a display on the Zuse computer company from the early years (1940s to 1960s) of computing. After a quick peek at some of the aircraft they had on display (including one of the U.S. cargo planes used in the Berlin airlift), it was on to what we were both at the museum for: an exhibition on the history of Maths, and Maths in nature. One of the coolest pieces in the exhibit for me was three books: each a volume of a few million digits of Pi. Needless to say, I’m now on the lookout for my own book of Pi. I think if you wanted to, you could fill at least 2 days looking around the whole museum properly.

Today is Saturday the 21st, and tomorrow I leave Berlin heading back to Hobart. I’ll be wrapping up the trip with a few of my thoughts after I’ve recovered from the jet lag.

Trip to Berlin: Part Two

This is part two of my trip to Berlin. For part one, see here. The next day (Friday) we went in to the city and walked around a bit (well quite a lot actually). The first place we went was Unter den Linden, which is a big long boulevard (about 1.5km) with the Brandenburg gate at one end at a huge statue of a guy on a horse at the other. After walking through the gate whilest simultaneously trying to avoid a large group of American tourists, we turned left and visited the Holocaust memorial, which is I think the saddest place I’ve ever been.

There was a huge amount of material in the information centre under the memorial, which we took about an three quarters of an hour to look around. It was a sad place, it felt like a never-ending funeral. Every person in there, even a few younger children, were silent as they walked around, and you could feel respects being paid. One room told the story as a timeline of events, and a few more rooms (three, from memory) told stories of individual people, families, and concentration camps. It felt strange as I came out the other end, perhaps it’s not something I can really describe. I feel deeply saddened for those who lost their lives, and even more so for those who lost somebody they knew.

Our walk around central Berlin

After coming out of the Holocaust memorial we walked North to the Reichstag and the other government buildings. We didn’t go into the Reichstag, the lines were long and we couldn’t be bothered. Instead we walked through a few of the parks around that area. We skirted around the edges of the Tiergarten, and through Spreebogenpark. We walked over the bridge to the Hauptbahnhof where we caught a train to the next station, Freidrichstaße. From there we walked South to Unter den Linden again. Here we got hungry, so we ate some donuts. We then walked East along Unter den Linden looking for a drink to wash them down with, and also at a few of the sights (the opera house is on the south-east side of this boulevard, near the word Mitte on the map). A word of advice: the south side of Unter den Linden has no food shops at all. The central island had a few sights on, mostly museums, as well as the Lustgarten (which apparently gets it’s name because it’s full of couples in the summer months).

Crossing over the next river we came to a couple of nice cathedrals: one on the side of the river we had just come from, and one to the East of us on the main bank. After a suitable pause looking up at them (much more impressive than the two cathedrals in Hobart), we walked towards the tallest building in Berlin, the TV tower (368m). I was surprised to find a casino lying at the bottom of it. After this we walked to another train station, Alexanderplatz, where we caught a train back to Freidrichstaße again. This was for the purpose of going to the biggest bookstore I’ve ever seen (and as such, how can I resist). On the 5th floor I found the English-language computer books, which I had a great time looking at. Stephanie could eventually be dragged away from the English-language literature as well, and so that wrapped up my second day in Berlin.

On Saturday (the 7th) we visited the second largest department store in the world (if I recall correctly), KaDeWe. I had a look at mobile phones, since my current one (a very nice HTC Touch) is dying. Battery life is now somewhere around 2 hours. After buying some Earl Grey tea flavoured chocolate on the top floor, we left for the cold weather outside. We walked along to see the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtniskirche church, which was bombed in the second world war, before catching a random bus and seeing where it would take us. We rode it across the centre of Berlin before catching a tube train home.

On Sunday we started by walking along the East Side gallery, which is a remaining section of the Berlin wall, now covered in drawings and paintings. The wall stretches most of the way from the Warschauer Straße station to the Berlin Ostbahnhof, about 1.5km. From there we went to Checkpoint Charlie, the point where officials and foreigners crossed between West and East Berlin. The original checkpoint has long been demolished, but in its place has been put a replica.

Next to the checkpoint is Haus am Checkpoint Charlie, a museum dedicated to the history of the wall. It was previously used as a place from which people viewed the happenings at the checkpoint: comings and goings of guards and so on. Now it’s the most confusing museum I’ve ever been into. The rooms are all over the place and are filled with all kinds of stuff. I guess it’s what happens when you build a museum out of old apartments. It is filled with all sorts of information though. I found the most interesting part was the details of the escape attempts from East Berlin to West: people used hot air balloons, hang gliders, flying foxes, tunnels, all sorts of things.

Those three days were the ones we did the most sightseeing in. I’ll write next about some of the other random things we’ve done!

Trip to Berlin: Part One

Last Monday I began what turned out to be a 59-hour journey to Berlin in Germany for a holiday an adventure and to see my girlfriend, Stephanie. At around 4pm I got on the plane to Melbourne from Hobart Airport, and then after a considerable wait I got on the plane to London Heathrow at midnight. During the wait I started reading the first book of The Lord Of The Rings trilogy, as well as accidently buying a bottle of Pepsi Max (a serious oversight on the airport’s part is not selling Coca-Cola anywhere in the International terminal).

We landed in Heathrow Airport at terminal 4, and my flight to Berlin left from terminal 5. Transferring between the terminals involved an 18-minute bus ride. It has occured to me as I write this that the bus ride between my house and the middle of my city is around 18 minutes on a bad day. I think that worries me. At the other end of this bus ride, I arrived outside one of the biggest buildings I’ve ever seen: London Heathrow terminal 5. I walked inside, up two escalators, along a very long corridoor past a line of depressed looking people, and then into a room where I discovered why they all looked so depressed. Because of the snow falling in London over the last couple of days, a whole heap of flights had been cancelled, and so people were trying to organise other flights. Luckily for me I didn’t have to queue, I overheard a British Airways employee tell somebody to enter Britain, go up to the checkin hall, and book a flight there instead. Because my Australian passport allows me to enter Britain, I did that. At the same time I rang Stephanie (my girlfriend in Berlin) and let her know that I’d be delayed. Of course, she already knew about the snow and the cancelled flight before I was even in Europe.

Unfortunately quite a few people had already done that. I managed after an hour and a half of waiting to talk to another employee of British Airways who booked me in on a flight to Frankfurt the next day. I wasn’t really pleased, but I could tell that under the circumstances it was the best I was going to get. That of course raised the problem of where I was going to sleep that night. After already spending 30 hours in plane seats, another second of uncomfort wasn’t going to go down well. So I joined a queue outside the “British Hotels Reservation Centre” and they found me a hotel near the airport that didn’t cost a mint. BA were giving out £200 compensation for the cancelled flight to provide for accomodation, on provision of a receipt from a hotel. So I made my way to a Holiday Inn, and slept. I woke up the next morning at 5am, and not wanting to go back to sleep in fear of missing my flight (I had been told to check in at 8:30 for a 10:30 flight), I got up and went to the airport on the first bus back. I arrived at the airport at 7am, and already it was busy, mostly with business travellers and a large family “on their way to Cairo”, loudly. In search of something to do, I drew out £20 from an ATM (not remembeing the exchange rate), hoping it would be enough for breakfast. I then walked over to a Krispy Kreme donut shop, and bought a three donuts and cup of tea. It cost £5, so it seems I had quite overestimated the cost.

At 8:30 I checked in to my flight. I handed a baggage receipt to the guy when checking in, and he even managed to confirm my luggage was in London (somewhere) and that it would make it to Frankfurt (probably). During the trip through security I manage to lose my document wallet containing flight details for the trip from Frankfurt to Berlin I had booked the previous night. I didn’t notice until I was fully through security, but luckily an airport worker managed to retrieve it and put it through security to me. After that I found a duty free shop and spent the rest of my British currency on chocolate (about a kilo and a half of it). I’m still eating it now. And that was London. Before I left a contact of mine in England said to “Oh? Heathrow? You’re going to lose all your luggage.” They didn’t lose my luggage, but it’s definitely the most lost I’ve ever felt.

Arriving in Frankfurt was strange. Everything was written in German (to be expected) but about half the signs were written in English as well. I managed to make my way to the Immigration checkpoint, where I was through in under half a minute. I spent longer than that leaving the country in Australia. I arrived at the baggage carousel to find my luggage already spinning around, so I picked it up and proceeded to check in for my next flight. In the hotel in London the previous night when I booked the flight I wasn’t sure how long it would take to transfer from an International flight in a foreign country to a domestic flight, so I went with two hours. I was having panic attacks on the flight thinking it wouldn’t be long enough. It was. It took 20 minutes all up.

Landing in Berlin was the most relieving experience ever. The baggage felt like it took ages to come around, but it probably didn’t. At this stage I was just nervous. After collecting my baggage I went through a series of doors and gates and ended up in the arrivals lounge. I fell straight into the arms of Stephanie. Which was great, because from then on I didn’t have to worry about where I was going anymore. That was her job. Which was a good thing too, because finding our way out of the airport proved to be fun. First we went on a bus to the Hauptbahnhof (their central train station), which was completely insane because I was trying to get used to driving on the wrong side of the road (Stephanie keeps trying to correct me there and point out it IS the right side of the road).

The first thing I have to say about the Berlin train system is that it is COMPLETELY awesome. The second thing I have to say about it is that it is COMPLETELY confusing. I have total admiration for the people who manage it. We caught an S9 train to Stephanie’s house. Although it was dusk going on dark, I still saw some pretty cool sights, like the Berlin TV tower and statues and so on. At Stephanie’s house, I slept. Quite a lot.

The first thing we did the next morning, of course, was have breakfast. And wow, breakfast is cool here. They chocolate-coated muesli (possibly the nicest breakfast cereal ever), and scrambled eggs comes in jars you buy from the supermarket, like a toast spread. Stephanie drinks red tea (Hibiscus flowers or something like that), so that day we went to the supermarket and bought some Twinings tea. Proper stuff. Also that day we went to the Berlin Zoo. We saw quite a few animals, including the Kangaroos that Stephanie was interested in. She was upset because “they didn’t do any skipping”. So we went and ate some McDonalds instead.

I’ll have to leave it at that for this moment. There’s lots more to write about, so be sure that I will.