Published: June 25th 2009June 24th 2009
So, I believe that I left off last time by talking about the wonderful walking sticks that are unique to Berlin and my new German buddies. My best friend in Berlin is a guy by the name of Andre that I met at the first couchsurfing event that I attended on Friday night. After hanging out with several other people until around midnight, we decided to split from the group and go check out another bar. I suggested my favorite spot a few blocks from my place where I was quickly becoming a regular. I knew that Bettina would be working from our conversation the night before and figured we might as well go to a place where the bartender knew my name! Oh, I forget to mention it earlier, but there is one negative aspect to the majority of bars in Berlin: they still allow people to smoke. This is particularly bad for travelers, such as myself, with small wardrobes and limited access to washing machines as my clothes usually smelled of smoke by the end of the night. Anyway, Andre and I parted ways at around 4am but not before I learned that he worked for the German Polizei.
I figured he would be a good guy to hang with as it’s hard to get arrested when you’re partying with the police ;) We exchanged numbers (I had purchased a cell phone, or handy as they are more commonly referred to in Germany, earlier that day) and agreed to talk the next day and go out again the following night.
I woke up the next morning at around 11am and tried calling someone I had met the night before to see if they were interested in joining me for a late breakfast. Dialing numbers can be pretty confusing in Europe and I wasn’t sure if I was doing it right because I kept on getting what I assumed to be an error message. I consulted my Rick Steves travel skills handbook (thanks Mom!) and concluded that I was in fact dialing correctly. I tried a few other numbers just to be sure that I hadn’t been given a bogus number; my ego was left intact when I received the same unintelligible German recording for numbers that I knew were correct. Could it be that the Turkish cell phone salesman that didn’t speak a word of English (the purchase
The Berlin Wall used to run along this path.
was made with the help of another Turk that happened to be in the store who spoke a little English) had sold me a faulty SIM card? I decided that I would need to enlist the help of a local so I made my way to my favorite café to kill two birds with one stone. I ordered a cappuccino from the weekend barista: a young German girl named Caro who happened to be training one of Bettina’s friends, a fellow Finn by the name of Katarina. I struck up a conversation with Caro and eventually asked if she would mind helping me with my phone. I told her that I was having trouble making calls but, with her limited English, she didn’t quite understand the specific problem I was having. I suggested that she try calling her phone (in retrospect, an excellent maneuver for collecting phone numbers :P) and listen to the error message that I had been receiving. Turns out that I just needed to decide on a voicemail access code before being allowed to make calls and after Caro completed the process for me, I was good to go.
Andre and I decided to meet up
Tell us how you really feel.
later that night but I still wanted to do a little sightseeing during the day. One of the couchsurfers from the night before had suggested a free tour of Kreuzberg, a district in Berlin famous for its May Day “celebrations.” The following is a description of these events that I pulled off another blog written by someone by the name of Andie Gilmour (gotta cite your references!). Despite the misspellings and grammar mistakes, it does a good job of briefly explaining what May Day and Kreuzberg are all about: May Day elsewhere in many parts of the world is a traditional celebration of the Struggle of the Working Class to shake off the Shackles of Capitulismus Slavery, Take-over the Means of Production, and Stamp Down on the Bourgeoisee Running-dog Traitors. Or something like that.
In East Berlin, May Day was formerly a celebration of the military might of the DDR and the SED, or more correctly the might of the Soviet military machines of occupation, with Red Army parades down Karl-Marx Allee and displays of Soviet tanks, MIG aircraft, and ICBM's.
In West Berlin, and particularly in Kreuzberg, May Day has traditonally been the day for anarchists,
eco-warriors, and anti-militarists to party. If there aren't a dozen or so Mercs and Beamers fire-bombed by the evening's out, then it hasn't been a success.
The house built in the enclaves created by the Berlin Wall.
During the time of the partition, it should be noted, West Berlin was a magnet for anti-authoritarians; mainly because as an occupied city, its youth didn't have to do the military service mandatory elsewhere. And also because Young Upwardly Mobile Professional types weren't making a good career-move to set up business in a city that lay in the centre of a Communist dictatorship and might have its borders permanently closed off to the West at any time. Kreuzberg was the Postleitzahl of choice for dissidents because it was a poor neighbourhood next to the wall.
If you want to read more about this, check out the Gilmour’s complete blog at: http://auftakt.blogspot.com/2009/05/may-day-kreuzberg-2009.html
The tour pretty much explained the above in more detail and obviously took us around the neighborhood to key sites where historical things had happened. One of the more interesting points made by the tour guide related to the Berlin Wall and the actual political boundaries between East and West Berlin; because the wall was hastily erected to prevent East
Berliners from fleeing, there were some spots where the wall did not exactly follow the border between the two states. This resulted in some East German territory ending up on the West German side of the wall and vice versa. This created small pockets of land that could not be regulated by either side and people were known to take advantage of this exceptional situation. For example, cars could be parked in these locations without being subject to normal restrictions and subsequent fines. Also, poor families were also known to set up camp in these enclaves as a result of the authorities’ inability to regulate the land. One family even built a house in one such area (see photo)! After the tour came to an end, I walked back to the flat to rest up for the evening.
Later that night, I met up with Andre at one of the U-Bahn stations and was informed that we were going to a place called Dr. Pongs, some sort of ping pong bar according to Andre. That sounded good to me; I like beer and ping pong, bring it on! I was expecting a large bar with several tables with chalkboards
In front of the Chancellor's Building...recognize the water bottle Julie?
for signups (like pool tables in American bars) but was surprised to find just one table in a rather small room. When we arrived there were two guys playing and a mix of about twenty guys and girls huddled around the table watching the game with paddles in hand. I figured it would be a long wait before I would be able to play but, with the two raps of a paddle on the ping pong table, I quickly understood that this was not the case. So here’s how the game is played: Everybody starts out circled around the table and takes turns hitting the ball while running around the table (well walking at first because there are so many people but it eventually turns into running). Players are eliminated when they fail to return the ball to the other side of the table and must exit the circle immediately. Once there are only two players remaining, they play a quick match to five points to determine the winner. Once the winner is decided, he/she taps the table twice with their paddle to signal the start of a new game. We MUST try this out at the Portal house (where
In front of the Chancellor's Building.
I lived for almost 4 years in Oakland) upon my return! As many of you know, I’m not a bad ping pong player and I thought this game would be fairly easy. However, it’s nothing like actual ping pong until you get down to the last two players and it took me several (ok, like ten) tries before I got the hang of it. I did eventually end up winning one round when I easily defeated a frizzy-haired Frenchman with my Serve of Doom.
We decided to call it a night around 4:30am after treating some random girls to a Big Mac at McDonalds. We each picked up a walking stick from an all-night market and went on our separate ways. Little did I know that my night was far from over! I ended up meeting two fellows with similar walking aides on the metro home and was invited to go out clubbing. Now, as most of you know, I pretty much hate clubbing, but I figured that I was only in Berlin for a few days so what the heck. Nothing too crazy happened that morning but we did have a great time grooving to electro techno beats
I think Andre is having me followed.
(that’s definitely not what the music is actually called but that’s what it sounded like to me) and cracking endless jokes until I finally made it home at around 10am…what a night!
I woke up to the sound of my phone ringing at 5:30pm: it was Andre reminding me that there was a big couchsurfer BBQ at Treptower Park and where the hell was I? I told him I’d be there in an hour and headed for the shower after a quick “breakfast.” I grabbed the six-pack of beer and sausages that I had purchased for the BBQ the day before and headed for the metro. The party in the park ended up being a blast: I met several more awesome individuals as well as continuing the good times with Andre and Christian, whom I have yet to formally introduce. I also met Christian my first night out in Berlin as well as at Dr. Pong’s but didn’t get to talk with him all that much until the BBQ. He is a native German that recently spent a year in the U.S. (including a trip to Burning Man) before returning to Berlin and we quickly found out that our
He LOVES armbands.
senses of humor were quite alike. Along with Andre and Christian, I spent most of my time chatting with a trio of wonderfully entertaining girls: Marlies, Julia, and Katja. We spent most of the time laughing about one thing or another and it was eventually decided that we would find a bar to hang out at later that night. We were joined by an Israeli girl, Hadas, who claimed that her sister was performing some kind of fire juggling or hula dancing thing at a Festival in Kreuzberg; we decided to check it out. We didn’t realize it until we arrived at the site of the festival, but it was almost 11pm on a Sunday and the event had long since concluded. Christian (who knows Berlin like the back of his hand) suggested a place not too far from where we were and we decided to spend the rest of our evening there. Several beers and several hours later, we called it a night; but not before I gave my address to Christian and told him to meet me at noon the next day. I had decided to go on a free tour of Berlin that I read about in
Inside the Holocaust Memorial.
my Lonely Planet guide and Christian said he had been wanting to check it out for awhile as well. Everyone said their good nights and it was off to bed!
Christian showed up right at noon on Monday morning with a basket of fresh strawberries (inside joke of the you-had-to-be-there variety). After enjoying some fruit we hit the streets of Berlin in search of knowledge of the historical variety :) The tour was led by a very knowledgeable Brazilian woman who had her Nazi history down pat. She told us about Hitler’s rise to power leading up to WW II while providing insightful commentary on all of the places and events that were discussed. We visited a huge Holocaust Memorial right in the middle of the city, the Fuhrer Bunker where Hitler committed suicide (it is now just a parking lot with no signs or plaques indicating its historical relevance), and finally ended up seeing one of the last standing remnants of the Berlin Wall. It was a great tour that I highly recommend should you ever find yourself in Berlin.
Later that night, Christian and I met up with Andre and some others to sing some Karaoke
Inside the Holocaust Memorial.
and say our goodbyes (I was leaving the next day). Andre and I performed “Fight For Your Right” by the Beastie Boys which was a lot of fun…still waiting on pics from Andre but I’ll definitely post them when they arrive! It was kind of sad to leave my new buddies after such a short time but I promised that I would be back before returning to the States. Andre threatened to put out a Europe-wide APB with instructions for my immediate return to Berlin should I be stopped by the authorities anywhere else…HAHA :)
I totally fell in love with Berlin and it will be hard for any other city to top the experiences I had there. Great people, great beer, and non-stop fun!!! Big thanks to Justin for letting stay at his flat, I’m truly grateful!
I apologize for not having any party pics but I don’t like taking my camera to the bar with me…it would likely end up lost! However, Andre took a bunch over my last few days so hopefully I’ll be able to post some good ones.
There are more photos below