What's there to see in Berlin?

Trip Start Aug 30, 2006
Trip End Jul 16, 2007

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Friday, February 2, 2007

Spent the weekend in Berlin with my friend Gesa, who I met during the overnight homestay in Sapa, Vietnam. Berlin is full of old and run down buildings, creative people (artists/ musicians/ architects or in advertising), graffiti everywhere, punks, designer clothes, cobblestone paths, graffiti, bars and clubs, saukraut, german budweiser beer, very relaxed and cool people and did I mention grafiti?

Gesa was extremely hospitable. Lots of little touches really made my weekend more enjoyable. She left German chocolates by my bed (just like a hotel!!). For breakfast she bought me coffee, made toast, croissant, a cheese platter, even a fruit salad, tea and coffee ... all prettily set out whilst I had my morning shower. How spoilt was I?

Left work early at 4pm to catch my 6:45pm flight to Berlin! Yay. How exciting. Another weekend, another European country to explore.

Arrived at Stansted airport without fuss. But the line through the departure gate took almost 45 mins. Looks like I wasn't the only one with the brilliant idea of leaving London for the weekend :) Grabbed a Hommus sandwich from Pret (I love Pret) and headed for the departure gate.

Flight was uneventful and after 1 hr 45 mins we were in Berlin at about 10:30pm Berlin time. (They are 1 hour ahead of London).

Caught the train to AlexanderPlatz. And then the underground to Gesa's flat.

IMPRESSION: GRAFFITI everywhere. On the walls, subway, train, seats, doors, windows even the cars!

A few punks boarded the graffitied train, all dressed up in leather gear with purple mohawks. I looked at the 2 other tourists on the train and we all burst out laughing. That's Berlin for you.

Gesa met me at the station which was a few minutes walk to her flat.

Had a quick rest before heading out to the local bar for a couple of german Becks beer. It was a very funky and relaxed cool bar. The toilet was decked out in red vinyl retro couches and chandeleirs.

There was a black and white puppy dog running around the bar. Very cute. I was to see lots of dogs around Berlin - they love them :)

Drank, chilled and chatted with Gesa til 4am.

IMPRESSION: If you return your beer bottles to the bar they give you 5 euros back.

Woke up after sleeping in a proper bed (well a mattress), in my OWN room (well the lounge room) and had a refreshing shower. Wow power shower head!

Gesa had set the table with croissants, toast, jam, cheese platter, tea and coffee and yoghurt. She even ducked out for coffee for me and a English magazine about Berlin! How sweet!

We decided to go for a walk around Berlin. There were lots of cool boutique stores selling designer clothes by Berlin designers. Very funky. Very cool. Very expensive.

I did buy a bag - it was a copy of the old army bags and had German writing on it. Apparently roughly translated it means "Fearless is golden".

I seem to be buying bags everywhere I go. This trip should be called my International Bag Tour.

The cinema

Taking a break

IMPRESSION: Most people in Berlin are artists or musicians. This is reflected in their sense of style. Lots of khakis and greens and bright colours.

Again one of things that struck me was the amount of graffiti. Nearly every building had graffiti on it. Lots of old buildings too. This gave the streets a rundown feel. But amongst this were cool and funky boutique shops, cafes and bars, cobblestone roads next to road works. A rusted street sign in front of new Illy coffee shop. So amazing.

Cool building

Weird charity bins

We visited the last part of the Berlin Wall. It was smaller then I thought. But touching this wall gave me the chills as it has so much history. Gesa showed me the parts that used to be East Berlin and West Berlin.

The Berlin Wall

The Berlin Wall

We met up with Marius, a friend of Gesa. He works in advertising. We had coffee and some "American food" - quiche and toasted cheese sandwiches. The only place we could find that sold decent food. It was also crowded and we managed to squeeze onto a table. Marita, another friend of Gesa's also dropped by for a coffee. She teaches English (refreshingly different as since Gesa worked in advertising all her friends worked in advertising or were architects).

After coffee, Gesa and I visited The Reichstag - the parliament house for Germany. we were lucky to only queue up for 10 minutes outside. Sometimes you have to wait a couple of hours. I guess it was late. Security was strict - almost felt like I was at the airport. We made our way to the viewing tower and it was COLD. It has an open roof, and you lie directly underneath it to watch the clouds pass overhead. We managed to glimpse ONE lone star. The view was amazing. Though it was dark so couln't make out most of it.

The Reichstag

The viewing tower was so modern. Quite a contrast to the Berlin I had seen so far. The grounds around The Reichstag was surrounded by green grass. Reminded me of Parliament house in Canberra. All new and clean.

The Reichstag viewing tower

IMPRESSION: German TV. MTV - They played a music video by Lordy, a heavy metal act that one Eurovision. The song was not too bad, though the video was hilarious. A group of cheerleaders in a school gym, and then suddenly Lordy (a 4 man group) burst through the door - all electric lights and explosions. Did I mention that Lordy dress up as monsters/freaks. Full on alien costumes. Hilarious. They also showed the movie Rush Hour, which Chris Rock and Jackie Chan dubbed in German.

After relaxing at home Gesa and I met up again with Marius and another friend, Rafael (who also worked in ... advertising), in an old German pub. They teased me as I wanted to try traditional German food and they had never been in this pub, which was full of old German men and tacky brown furniture and white curtains. Like someone's grandparents place.

The old German pub

My German food

As I said, I wanted to try traditional German food. But I don't eat meat. So that was a challenge. Traditional German food it seemed was Wurst sausages or snitzels. So I ate warm potatoes served with cold herring. A weird combination but it worked. And of course a plate of saurkraut. Washed down with Budweiser beer. This was the original German Budweiser beer, not to be confused with the imitation American Budweiser beer.

At 1am we heading off to Maria. A dance club. Clubbing is not one of my favourite things, but hey we were in Berlin and it was supposed to be a really great club. Waiting in line though I had my doubts. We were along the river and next to us was a large pile of rubble. The building itself looked like a rundown disused warehouse, covered in graffiti. charming. At the front of the queue a small group of guys line jumped in front of us. One was smoking a joint. The bouncer nonchalently took it from the guy, said something in German, and smoked the joint. The guys walked straight through. I looked on in amazement and said to Gesa "Did that just happen?" She laughed and said we were in Berlin!

Outside Maria nightclub

Inside Maria nightclub

We walked through a little hallway with 2 plastic covers (covered in graffiti). I felt like I was in the first scene of the movie Blade, you know, where the girl takes the guy to a hidden club and then the vampires eat them all.

But suddenly it was an open area, with a bar, crowds of people, a dj on stage and video screens on the surrounding walls. And graffiti. What an amazing place. We danced til 4am! It seemed everyone was on something. They all danced like zombies. Or were too cool to dance. Berlin cool. There were a few hidden rooms (one was a record store, another sold pink cupcakes). On one wall was a huge painting. Rafael explained it was a new artform. Everything is created in the same dimension on the computer. And then reused in different pictures. It looked like one huge Sim City game.

The sim city like painting

Boogie on the dance floor

I was so tired but Marius insisted on one more stop. So we caught a cab to a dodgier looking bar. I thought it was closed on the outside as it was covered in the usual graffiti. We had one drink each. we chatted an observed the 4 drunk guys at the bar staring at the sexy bargirl. Quite a sight. Gesa and I caught a cab home, and we suspect Marius went off in search of another bar.

Crashing into bed at 5am, I slept like a baby.

Woke up at 1pm. Oh well, there goes the plan to have breakfast with Gesa's friend Carlton.

Again after I had my morning (er afternoon) shower, breakfast was prettily set up. Toast, croissant, coffee and tea, cheese platter and even a fruit salad. Gesa and I both slowly woke up at the breakfast table. Carlton arrived with a fresh, and somewhat squashed, bag of croissants. How sweet.

He planned to join us on our bus trip around Berlin that day. But as we woke so late, he decided to meet up with his friends to watch the finals of the World Hand Ball championships. Germany and Poland were in the final. Apparently Germany was in the grips of Hand Ball fever. I've never even heard of it - Gesa explained that it was like football with your hands. Germans were going crazy about it this year because it was being held in Germany and they were also in the finals. So after a quick breakfast Carlton was off to the pub.

Gesa and I made our way to Alexanderplatz. A concrete and barren square surrounded by closed shops and roadworks. Lovely. We caught the no. 100 bus, which is a local bus but goes past most of the city sights.

Gesa and I on the no. 100 bus

The no. 100 bus went past famous Berlin sights such as the Brandenburg Gate (though was partly hidden by roadworks), president residence, parliament house (The Reichstag), Fernsehturm (Telephone tower), Siegessäule (golden statue of victory) and other museums and churches.

The Brandenburg Gate

The city is surprisingly likeable. At first glimpse it looks run down and grey. Most of the buildings look built in the 70s. Not attractive at all. Plus there is the every present graffiti. But most people are artists or musicians this is shown in the new boutique shops, bars, cafes and clubs.

Graffiti on the street

Suddenly it was 5:30pm. Well we did leave the flat at 4pm. So after quickly packing my things (I've become a professional - packed in 10 minutes) we met up with Gesa's friend Juday to have dinner of curry laksa soup. Then Judy kindly dropped me off at the Alexanderplatz station.

I said goodbye to Gesa and words could not express my utter appreciation of how well she had looked after me the whole weekend. I hope I can do the same when she visits me in Melbourne some day.

Went a bit crazy at the airport - bought a German edition of UNO, a German smurf figurine, German chocolate and a inflatable travel pillow.

Caught the 6:55pm flight to London. Didn't end up home until 2am though. Stansted express train wasn't running. So had to catch the bus to Victoria Station. Then was wondering around the streets at 1am trying to find the no. 52 bus home. Lovely.

Back home. Into my squeeky bunk bed. Ahhhhh Berlin. What an experience. All good.
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