Berlin the new favourite =D

Trip Start Nov 30, 2012
1
7
11
Trip End Jan 30, 2013


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Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Berlin

Day 1

Man what can I say about this amazing place, no competition, favourite place in Europe =D. What can I say, I'm just a sucker for history and when you’re in Berlin there is absolutely no trouble in finding it (even on the streets!), WWII, the Cold War and the Berlin Wall and even earlier on to antiquity with the crazy amount of museums on museum island.  As for the rest, well let’s just say Berlin is not a pretty city, in fact I’d go as far to say that for many parts of it, it is in fact quite ugly =P.  BUT it makes up for it in atmosphere, it’s hard to describe but it seems bustling and exciting…I guess cos the reunion wasn’t really that long ago…so whereas other cities may be established and have their set ways (at least in certain areas) Berlin feels like it’s still finding out what it wants to be.  Does that make any sense??  Anyways, it just feels exciting as you walk around the city!

So day one, another long night train ride into the German capitol, this time we opted for seats and what fools we were!  It started off alright, there was even a really friendly old German guy (Josef) telling us about what to see in Berlin and he was such a typical German warmed my heart in some weird international way.  The list he gave us was grouped  into areas and then numbered according to the order we would see them as we moved along the street…how cool is that! =P  I found it especially funny when I was making my own notes (his suggestion…so I would know what the places contained as he described it to me) he looked physically uncomfortable as my numbering got messier and messier.  All in all it was a really cool chat from a friendly German man =).  I think he would’ve gone on too since it seems like the older generation enjoys it every time a young person is willing to listen (experiences from Grandpa haha) but it got really late and I was tired so I tried as politely as I could to let him know I needed to sleep =P.  That was when the trouble began…won’t describe it in detail but let’s just say middle aged men on a train with lights that won’t turn off is not a good combination for a good night’s sleep!

So in the end while it was not a horrible disaster, after all we did spend the rest of the day wandering the streets of Berlin…we were all hunting for coffee after the long trek to the hostel.  We stayed at Wombats and in a word…clean and efficient though internet was horrible when more than 5 people were using it =S.  Ok, so Berlin, day one and it was all about the sights…we figured that the combination of walking in the cold and seeing the amazing sights of Berlin would keep us awake =).  To the big tower we go, photos, check out the gym (Brian) and then to Alexander Platz and lo and behold is a Christmas market‼  Even before our bratwurst, gluhwein and champinions, the smell of the Christmas market was enough to remind me how awesome the markets were =D  For the rest of our trip we would be constantly wandering in and out of the many many markets scattered around the heart of Berlin, always tempted by the smells…chestnuts, mulled wine, candy…mmmmm.

Followed the Unter den Linden down, checked out the Berlin Dom which was really cool actually I thought the 4 euro entry was a bit over the top for a church but once you go inside and see the exhibits (yes there’re exhibits) and the view from the top it’s very worthwhile.  Just the models of the churches were amazing both in their intricacy and their age.  Admittedly though, after Rome the church itself while impressive was not that impressive haha if you get my drift.  Continued on memorial, Humboldt, down to a very cool car forum where they have an exhibition of the Golf on, perhaps something Pat would appreciate.  Onwards toward the Brandenburg gate, with a stop of course at the ampelman store.  For those who don’t know it’s a quirky East German thing where they have their pedestrian lights as little school kids (check out the photos), it’s pretty cute and needless to say, after the reunification it has become quite a marketable icon for tourists =P.  Ok, so reached the Brandenburg gate and while nice, it still didn’t quite infuse me with some kind of awe.  Maybe it’s just me, maybe I need to know more about the history or maybe it has more to do with what it symbolises but I never did quite figure out why the Brandenburg gate is so famous. 

The first thing that DID remind me why I loved Berlin so much however, was the Holocaust memorial and museum.  Remember how I said that the Swiss put up a good exhibition, well the Germans are just as good was just a fantastic experience.  Ok so not fantastic because after all, this is the holocaust museum but it’s rare that it would connect so much with a museum, just wanted to read and find out everything!  Tragic as the stories and the past was, it was also a really precious and moving insight to what went on and how the everyday (Jewish) person was affected.  Anyways, Tracy was right and I would recommend it as one of the best places in Berlin to visit especially if you have an interest and even if you don’t, it’s a hell of a learning experience.  My only complaint…don’t go if you are dying of the cough…it ruins the atmosphere and everyone will hate you as your massive heaving coughs reverberate around the silence of the room.  That followed by the sickening sound of regurgitation and gagging kinda kills the sombre and respectful mood of the museum.  Sorry the poor lady who was afflicted by this horrible fate but was it too much to ask for you to leave and maybe grab some water from the reception that was just one room behind?  Or maybe just go back one room where there was talking and a larger foyer space to soak up the sound?  The little room where people silently read the emotional and anguished last letters of the holocaust victims was NOT a good place to plonk down and go for a coughing fit for a solid 20 minutes =(.

Ok, now that complaint went on for a while haha…

Anyways, we leave the holocaust museum each kinda deep in thought.  Eventually, as always, food comes to mind =P  And we head over to Nikolaiviertel at the suggestion of our German friend back on the train for some nice hearty German grog and locally brewed beer at the Georg Brauhaus!  Waiter service was weird, felt like he was challenging all the time with direct stares as if saying, "I can do this better than you!" and I’m like “are we in a competition?” haha that aside the food was good and the beer even better, a nice stout beer with plenty of flavour, mmm perfect with a nice fat piece of braised pork, potatoes (again amazing potates) and of course my favourite, sauerkraut =P.  Not the cheapest but alright value and a bargain compared to our recent Swiss meals haha.

Day 2

Am I over doing it?  I think so haha, can you tell that I really like this city? =P  Day 2 was all about the zoo at my brother’s and Brian’s insistence so off we went, and you know what, I’m glad we did =)  I ended up having a lot more fun than I thought I would, was helped by the fact that the animal enclosures/cages were a bit old school so smaller than I remember them in Melbourne.  While it was a bit disturbing it did make viewing them easier =S…mixed feelings I guess but it was better than spending 15 minutes looking for the animal and then realising that it was sleeping XD.  The variety too was quite impressive, even had kangaroos!  Though they didn’t look quite happy surrounded by snow haha.  Standouts were the wolves who were actually howling! The bird enclosures where my lens fogged up severely but oooh they were so cute =P.  Though on the other hand the eagles and the large bird enclosures were probably the most depressing since the cages while bigger were nowhere near big enough for them to fly =(.  Oooh the primate areas were really cool!  Found it especially amusing seeing these two little monkeys grooming each other for fleas with one always trying to grab the other’s leg since he wouldn’t stop moving and scratching himself =)

But no, my brother is right, some of the animals do look really sad and forlorn and it was at the big cat enclosures where this was more evident than most.  One lion kept making these long drawn out roars that clearly did  not sound happy while the other two just kept prowling up and down their cage.  The leopards just wandered around in circles while the tigers were not active at all =(.  Yes you could see them in all their majesty…never had better pictures of tigers than here! But thinking back I do feel sorry for the animals, ah wells…I’ll leave that debate to others.  Anyway overall I had a lot of fun seeing the animals out and about and despite whatever condition they may be the variety was just amazing and included both the aquarium and a MASSIVE reptile and insect house.  Complete with leaf cutter ants out in the open‼

Met up with Mark after that!  Yay!  Almost forgot until Anna gave me the timely reminder! XD.  Was a weird feeling seeing him in Berlin but he seemed well and picking up on the German lifestyle.  He even gave us a little guided tour of the place!  Well, parts of it but it was a nice bonus learning about the wall to protect the Berlin wall =P.  Caught up on things, PhD and swing (dance) and what not, was cool to learn that he had found a swing place here in Berlin, makes me wanna travel overseas and check out the swing scene around the world.  Finished up the night having currywurst (of course) and was just as good as I remembered =)…curry, tomato sauce and sausages just works!

Day 3

Day of the museums!  Oh man what a day!  Definitely one of the highlights of the entire trip and I wish we woke up earlier to see it all though we were (as always) so tired and the beds at the hostel were so comfortable.  It’s always different in hindsight I guess but we made the most of the day that we had =).  Started off in the Pergamon and it must be the most awesome museum that I’ve seen, you really need to be there to understand even the photos don’t really show how big some of the reconstructions are (even if you had a proper wide angle lens).  The Alter of Pergamon itself was impressive enough as it is, spent I think close to an hour there!  And of course, audioguide! =P.  The market gates though really took my breath away, got me thinking that if these were just the gate of a market in a port city, how grand were the entrances to Rome!?!  The size was one thing but the adornments and details that were preserved!  And how the Germans managed to assemble together??  And behind was the Ishtar gates of Babylon‼  Of Babylon!  Granted a lot of the tiles were new ones that they had remade but still…it was amazing to see it recreated (and this was just the small one).  New found respect for the people and their skills…this was THOUSANDS of years ago!  Seriously one of the best museums that I’ve been in and the audioguide was just fantastic in the explanations.   Oooh I forgot the amazing Islamic part of the museum too‼  A whole new world of Islamic and Arabian art that is overlooked all too often.  Colours, calligraphy, amazing metal and carpentry work too that was ages ahead of their European counterparts of the day.  Was inspiring to see how they used calligraphy to work around the rules of no depiction.

4 hours later and we were finally out of the museum…see why I wanted to wake up earlier now?  Anyways after a quick(ish) lunch at the Christmas market Chun Kiu and I proceeded to the German history museum, Sin Ki and Brian got a bit tired and went back to rest.  The German museum was really cool too though we only had 2 hours to look around…2 hours! =(.  Started from the Romans and Goths to the Charlemagne, to the Holy Roman Empire, Prussia, Bismark and Germany, the Weimar Republic, Rise of the Nazi Germany, WWII, the split Germany and finally, to reunification.  So as you can imagine…2 hours is barely a scratch in the museum.  I pretty much just looked at the main information panels, didn’t even wander around to all the exhibits on the side showing life during that period etc.  And I still only had just got to WWII.  *sigh* another amazing museum rushed =(  But that was alright, I was glad that at least I had got to go in and was kinda cool to see the first German parliament in Frankfurt that I had been to! (cheers to Janis).  Other highlights were the guns and suites of armour (as always), collections of art during specific periods (a particularly moving one was of a proud German soldier who had lost a leg and the expressions on the people’s face as he walked past…pity but at the same time a feeling of wanting to ward him off), oh and the propaganda posters during the Nazi times, both from the Nazis and their main political enemies of the time, the communists and socialists.

THEN we went to the very fun DDR museum =P.  Like I said, day of museums!  Very interactive and was interesting finding out about life in East Germany.  On one hand it all seemed quite normal with people going on holidays, TV, food (apparently bread was super cheap), school and the lot but at the same time there were jarring differences.  Farmers and bricklayers were paid the same as engineers and lawers, TV and radio all had meetings to make sure that they broadcasted the same government approved views, cars had waiting lists of years with almost no spare parts (Trabant)!  And everyone wanted bananas?? =P  Anyways it was an interesting trip in time to a completely different world and what fun haha.  Definitely to just have fun and play around with.  Even the Germans seemed to enjoy themselves as they tried to work out which West German word corresponded to the East German one.

So that was the day of museums, and if I should say one thing more it’s that Berlin museums are amazing, I could spend a week just looking through them all!  Serious =D

Day 4

Ok…finish line coming up, last day in this fabulous city and of course we spend it in a museum =P.  Nar, just kidding…it was only half a day in a museum ;).  Starting off seeing Checkpoint Charlie, just cos we wanted photos and to read about the whole Berlin wall and what not.  Moved on to the museum of terrors, I know what a jolly trip we’re having, to check out the reign and workings of the SS…in a word, astounding, how relaxed and normal it seemed to condemn millions of people to their deaths cos of their genetic impurity or disease.  And the thing that got me the most is that the people conducting all these crazy things did not look like super villains or the horrible degenerate people that you would imagine.  All of them seemed quite normal, some could even be said to be outstanding citizens (clean cut, well dressed, intelligent from good families)…how it all happened I have no idea but it was worrying to imagine that these everyday and quite respectable people could commit such atrocities.

Finished off our day with a trip to Potsdammer Platz to see the sights once again, the Sony Centre and Legoland! =)  Before a quick detour to the Reichsdag and finally up Unter den Linden one last time back to the hostel where we bid farewell and took another amazing night train to Copenhagen =)

And that was Berlin!  Man I’m breaking records all the time with my word count haha 2800 words and counting.  I could’ve written my confirmation 3 times over by the end of this!  So what to say about Berlin.  Hmm, as you can guess the museums played a big part =P  I’m just a sucker for them, give me 4 hours and I can easily just lose myself in one.  So considering that Berlin has a MUSEUMISLAND!  I had got to be one of my favourite.  Throw in the amazing Christmas markets (no one does it like the Germans) with gluhwein, amazing foods and potatoes…mmm potatoes were sooooo goooood‼…awesome hearty food‼  fantastic beer‼  and pretzels‼  How could you lose?  Add to that super talented buskers, a city filled with history, an amazing night life and good shopping PLUS people who are polite and can speak English well and you more than overcome the unsightly buildings that seem to fill the majority of Berlin’s districts =).  Just go and find out yourselves =D
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