Published: December 4th 2011September 30th 2011
I was very tired on arrival in Berlin's uber modern Hauptbahnhof. I jumped on the S-Bahn to where was hostel was situated by the TV tower. I had received a really good service at the train station when reserving my onward ticket to Paris but I was to wish I had never asked a waitress setting tables outside of a restaurant which direction the street was that I needed to get to. Just a simple arm gesture in a particular direction would have sufficed but no. She said "I'm busy I have no time for this" to which I replied "Oooooh I won't be coming to eat here then...bitch..." I was very tired so felt this was an acceptable response.
It turns out after asking a few people and getting sent in the wrong direction by the printed instructions the hostel was pretty close. The bitch could have just pointed. Never mind. I didn't mess about so after dumping my stuff in luggage storage I went to meet the free walking tour at Paris Square where the Brandenburg Gate is. I realised from the walk from the hostel to Paris Square that Berlin is one cool city! There are loads
of giant teddy bear sculptures dotted all around to make it seem like a friendly place and loads of monuments and sculptures and beautiful buildings everywhere.
The free walking tour was probably the best of the whole trip. The guide was a Dutch guy who had fallen in love with the city and never left. He was really knowledgeable about Berlin and very entertaining! We started in the lobby of the hotel where Michael Jackson famously dangled his baby over the balcony, or for its formal name, the MJ baby dangling hotel, before heading through the Brandenburg Gate which is one of 8 former entrances to Berlin to Berlin’s most famed attraction – the Berlin Wall – or lack thereof. It is now just raised cobbles where the wall used to be. We then moved on to the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe which was an amazing sight. It was designed by Peter Eisenmann and you could easily get lost in it. It was cleverly designed to create an uneasy and confusing atmosphere with uneven floors and each block a different height – the ones in the centre towering above you, making it easy to get a
scare from bumping into someone coming from a right angle to the direction you are walking. This I felt captured the feeling of the Holocaust really well and was so unique. Ironically, however, our guide told us that the anti-graffiti paint each block is covered in was made by a company which used to manufacture the Zyclon-B which was of course used in the gas chambers of concentration camps. This is obviously highly thought-provoking. Should a company be boycotted because it used to make something that contributed to the biggest human catastrophe in history a long time ago? After all, Hugo Boss used to provide the uniforms to the Nazis. Should that be boycotted? There will never be a definite answer to that question.
After walking through the memorial we walked to Hitler’s former bunker. You would never have known it was there as it is wholly underground and covered by an inconspicuous patch of grass with no signs at all. If it was on the tourist map it would be an extremely popular attraction but there is the real fear that the site would attract neo-nazis.
We then had a look at one of Berlins’ largest buildings
– the former Air Ministry with its creepy mural completed in 1952 which depicts the socialist idea of Eastern Germany’s people uniting and facing a bright future. I say creepy because it has an almost military undertone with forced smiles and the more recent mural on the ground outside depicts a much more different, and more realistic, picture as it is a blow up of a photograph of the 1953 protest during which many were killed, arrested and sentenced to up to 5 years in penal camps, injured or executed under martial law.
We then made our way to the cheesy Checkpoint Charlie, which was a crossing point in the Berlin Wall between East and West Berlin. There is no exciting story as to where the crossing got its name. In fact it’s so bland, it’s almost fascinating – the name Charlie simply came from the phonetic letter ‘C’.
We then stopped for lunch but I had a stinking cold and unfortunately could not taste a thing, but I’m sure the fresh chicken salad sandwich and iced mocha I was consuming was delicious.
After lunch we made our way to Gendarmenmarkt with the French and German cathedral
facing eachother from opposite sides of the square before heading to the Law Faculty of Humboldt University which featured the Nazi book burning. There I saw the second most impressive holocaust memorial – an underground room with empty bookshelves. So expressive. For a city that has seen so many abhorrent crimes against humanity, it is surprisingly repentant and upfront about its past. It really highlights the difference between Berlin's acceptance of its past and Moscow's ignorance of its past under Stalin's regime
We ended the tour on Museum Island on the steps of Altes Museum near the worlds’ largest granite bowl. Museum Island is a lovely place for a picnic on a hot day like today and it was thankfully just a few blocks away from my hostel so I went back to check in before getting a litre of orange juice to drink all in one go to try and shift this horrible cold.
I wanted to get up the TV tower before sunset which Ijust about managed to do after quite a palava. The cost of tickets is fairly expensive, but it doesn’t prevent the sheer hoards of people queuing to get to the top, so
you can’t really blame them for setting them at that price. It’s a shame they don’t have student discount though. It has an airport security style checking system whereby you have to dispose of water bottles, which I think is ridiculous. I was queuing for at least an hour and was starting to get impatient and busting for a wee. The views from the top were phenomenal though and worth the wait. I got to the top just in the nick of time before the sun set so got my pictures of Berlin in daylight, by sunset and by night which was perfect. The only thing was all the people fighting for the best viewing spot for watching the sunset. I got in there a few times though so can’t complain!
I had a row with 3 inconsiderate young German lads who came storming into our dorm at about 11pm turning the lights on making loads of noise. I told them in no uncertain terms that they had better STFU or else. They told me to stop being so aggressive and I said stop fucking waking me up then. They didn’t disturb me again…
The following day I
went to Hamburg for the day and on my return decided to stroll from Hauptbahnhoff rather than take the S-bahn back to the hostel. It was a lovely walk - along the river past a random beach bar right by the station, a statue of liberty, a party blaring happy hardcore on the riverbank. Berlin is one cool city - I'll say it before and I'll say it again and again. It's so modern and hip in a kind of unfinished way. I walked through the grounds of Parliament and took in the Parliament building which I think is awesome. I felt envious of the people walking round the massive glass dome which is its cherry. I didn’t, however, have the time to join them as you need something like a 3 day advance reservation to do that. After having been up the TV tower I felt this unnecessary as I had seen the most amazing views I was going to see in Berlin.
I joined a pub crawl that night. This was the second pub crawl of the entire trip and again wasn't great. Promised myself never again. There were some British squaddies stationed in Germany on the
crawl who were a laugh but made me kinda embarrassed as it made me realise – bloody hell don’t we English moan! Haha
The following day I was nursing quite a bad hangover. Me and Eileen who was an Aussie girl in my dorm went to grab some breakfast in Hackescher Markt right by the hostel. We ordered the Currywurst as it was only 3 euros and it was a very German choice we thought! We then went to join the free street art walking tour. The guide wasn’t quite as good as the basic tours’ guide but we saw some pretty cool stuff – most of which I have taken photos of and put up here. We ended the tour in this awesome African bar called YAAM. Here I had a great meal of traditional African food (Ghanan I think) of rice, chicken and a nutty sauce, which filled me up nicely.
I was beginning to rush because I had a night train to Paris to catch in a matter of hours and I still had a few things to see. I still hadn't been to Potzdamerplatz with the Sony Centre etc, Tiergarten with its naked people
or the original death strip at Nordbahnhoff. It was a toss up between the three as didn't have time to do all although all were top of my list. I went for the original death strip option. Me and Eileen took the U-bahn to Nordbahhof and at first we couldn't work out where this death strip was. We came out of the station and looked around and crossed the road and there was the former death strip, now called Mauerpark. There was this crazy wierd cool bar just behind the wall (see pics).
I didn't get to see everything I wanted to, so another trip to Berlin is, I feel, obligatory.
There are more photos below