Trip to Berlin: Part Four

This is part four of my trip to Berlin. For part three, click here. This is the wrap-up of the trip.

Firstly though, the trip home. It was a bog standard 40 hour plane trip, with the only two things of note the really nice girl I met in Singapore airport, and the delay on the last leg. Just after landing into Singapore airport for refuelling and so on, a girl (well, woman, about 25 or so) came up to me and asked if she could follow me because she didn’t understand what she was supposed to be doing (and I must admit, it was confusing). I said yes, and so together we trundled off the plane, looked lost in the middle of a big hall full of shops and no chairs, and then back into the gate through security. We talked, mostly about the country we were from (in my case, Australia, in hers, Serbia). She was travelling to Melbourne to meet her aunts and the rest of her extended family.

The Qantas flight from Melbourne to Hobart was delayed by the fact that the controls for the air conditioning in the cockpit weren’t working. As the pilot said, “we don’t care, but it’s not legal to fly”. The flight time from Melbourne to Hobart is 65 minutes, and we spent almost that much time in the plane on the ground. Apart from those things, and the crappy reruns on the in-flight “entertainment”, it was all fairly normal.

There are a lot of differences between Tasmania and Berlin that I’ve noticed. The first difference was in the public transport system. In Berlin, it’s functional. The trains and buses run perfectly on time at predictable intervals (3 minutes past the hour, 23 minutes past the hour, 43 minutes past the hour and so on for all of them), and are clean and always large enough. They only service the areas where it is profitable to run (not having bus stops and routes in the middle of nowhere). Compare that to Tasmania, where buses come at random times, don’t run near enough in peak hour times, and services areas where there is obviously no profit, which doesn’t help the bottom line, degrading central city performance.

The other huge difference was when talking about buildings. The whole of Australia has had an architectural history of just over 200 years. In Berlin, a house can be “only” 100 years old. In Australia, a 100 year old house is covered in protection acts. They also have a lot of efficient heating, solar panels on a significant portion of rooftops, and double glazing is everywhere (even on some of the trains, as far as my bad eyesight could tell). In addition, recycling was a lot better organised than in Tasmania: bins in the street were organised into 4 sections for rubbish, glass, packaging and paper. A big difference from a single bin for “rubbish”, into which is thrown everything under the sun.

I’ve tried a few new foods too. Sauerkraut was one that when placed in front of me I was a bit skeptical of, though is actually rather nice (it basically tastes like less-harsh vinegar). I’ve tried cherry-banana flavoured yoghurt and cherry-banana yoghurt soft drink, neither of which were very nice. For breakfast, new items included chocolate-covered muesli and scrambled egg spread (bought in jars from the supermarket). Last item of note was the large pretzel, which tastes exactly the same as the small pretzel I am used to. Meal structure was different too. Although occasionally using the large evening meal structure, most of the time it was a smaller evening meal and a larger lunchtime meal (which I quite enjoyed).

Overall, my trip to Berlin was brilliant. Since July last year I’ve been talking to Stephanie online through IRC, MSN, and eventually Skype, and the chance to meet her in real life was awesome (so much so, I can’t even think of decent words). As soon as I can afford to do so I’m going back there for another trip. I’ll make an effort to try and see a bit more of Germany, perhaps staying a bit longer to do so. I’ve convinced Stephanie to visit Tasmania in July, so that should be interesting too.

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!