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Published: August 30th 2006
I knew exactly when we crossed the border into Germany as it was a smooth ride on nice wide lanes, a far cry from the Polish infastructure. The 10 hour bus trip from Kraków to Berlin was a hellish one but we got there. I had met a girl from Melbourne and the endless talking made the trip seem to go a bit quicker.
I arrived late to my pre booked hostel in Berlin and so the plan was to get settled and head for a quick beer before bed. So you know my plans never go to plan. The hostel I stayed at had several bars and is a real party place. After 6 beers, several shots, conversations with people from Norway, Netherlands and Northampton, I stumbled to bed. As I woke, I found I had a killer headache, not from the beer but the thick clouds of smoke that clouded my lungs all night. My clothes stunk and I stunk so I took a shower.
After my baptism of fire into Berlin I headed out to find what Berlin is (sort of) famous for, Breakfast all day. It wasn't easy as Berlin is big but I did
manage to find a place and it somewhat cured my pounding headache. I had a close up view of the Fernsehturm (Television Tower) in Alexanderplatz during my breakfast/lunch so I figure a decent place to start viewing the city was from 204 metres above it.
After that I headed for the Brandenburger Tor (Brandenburg Gate) Berlin being so big, I was forced to use the train system. It is a bit hard to work out at first as they have an S-Bahn and a U-Bahn and even if they cross, it doesn't mean that there is a station there. After a few days, it all became easier and wouldn't travel around the city another way. So the Brandenburg Gate is quite a bit smaller than I thought. Being the symbol of Berlin, I've seen numerous pictures and always imagined it a little bigger than it is but I guess that happens everywhere.
I spent the next few days in Berlin seeing most of the major sights. I went up to the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp which was not as shocking as Auschwitz but still informative. I saw the Jewish Museum which is under a very unusual artistic roof embedded
into the ground.
On one of the days, I developed an obsession of walking the length of the Berlin Wall. After finding out that the wall was over 150km long, I altered the plan to walking the parts in the city centre. It is good to see for historic reference, that there is a 2 cobblestone wide strip that follows the path of where the wall once stood right through the city. I was amazed how much of the wall still exists, a tribute to the people concerned about historic rememberence. I also saw the famous Checkpoint Charlie. Little remains of the actual checkpoint itself but there is a replica of the checkpoint and the sign put in its place which is good for those touristy photos.
As most people would know, Hitler killed himself in his Führerbunker in Berlin on 30th April, 1945, the day that the two soldiers famously raised the Soviet Union flag over the Reichstag. I was all set to take a look at the bunker and see where Hitler spent his final moments. What I hadn't counted on is that, still being a touchy subject for many Berliners, the bunker is not open
...and Fernsehturm in the backround
to the public. In fact little remains of it. I went to where the bunker once was and was met by a large blue wall that surrounds the block. I did manage to put my camera over the top and sneak a picture of the remaining ruins. I imagine one day there may be a museum or something similar to what they are doing to perserve the Berlin Wall, in it's place. I think a location of such historic significance should be preserved no matter what it stood for.
One thing I loved about Berlin was the architecture (yer, there I go using that word again) but it is unlike most cities in europe. As opposed to the art nouveau or renaissance architecture in other cities, Berlin had a major boom in buildings after the fall of the wall in '89. There is a large use of glass and mirrors in avant garde styles using a lot of curves and bends. In some ways it reminded me of Dubai. Nowhere better is that style of architecture shown better than in the famous Reichstag.
The lower house of the federal legislature is a perfect example of not only the
The big pill
To celebrate Germany as the "Land of ideas"
new way but the old way of architecture. Famous for the house of paliament during the Second Reich and Weimar Republic, the building is still commonly known as the Reichstag, it's offical name however is the Bundestag. The old building gives way to the new recently finnished glass cupola at the top. The carved message on the building's façade reads "Dem Deutschen Volke" which means To The German People. This is important as there is an amazing amount of access to the general public. I lined up for just over an hour (which I thought was pretty good considering the amount of people) got through security and as I waited to get on the lift to go up to the top, I could see into where they have question time or what ever the German equivalent is. It's basically where they put forth potential new laws and discuss matters that need discussion.
Once on top of the building I am greeted by the site of the massive glass cupola. It looks like a giant glass dome with a glass twister in the middle. There are ramps that wind thier way around the side of the dome all the way
to the viewing platform at the top. It is really an amazing design and I thoroughly enjoyed the whole thing.
The night life in Berlin is famed world wide for it's greatness. Being the "gayest city in europe" I was surprised I never stumbled into a gay bar especially as I always seem to. Unlike most places I have been I have had a great taste of the night life in Berlin as I was out everynight. One night in particular night I rounded up a few people from my dorm, Juan-Manuel from Mexico plus Taylor and Heather from Canada. We went to the local Löwenbräu, had a few steins and some food before we went to what one local guide magazine called "The best club in Berlin!" The Watergate. We parted with €10 and entered the dead night club, even though it was nearly midnight. It apparently doesn't get going untill around 2am. We had paid €10 for it so we stayed and stuck it out. I handed over €3.50 for a becks and tried my hardest to enjoy it. The plus side is that is had a great view, it's right on the water near a medieval
Holocaust Memorial Site 2
The idea is that you feel trapped in between these.
bridge so it was cool. After the place finally got going it was crap so we left.
One place that usually doesn't raise much interest when travelling is the main train station. However, Berlin's Hauptbahnhof is quite a sight to see. 5 levels of shops, cafe's and train tracks of course, it was recently finnished in may this year just in time for the FIFA World Cup. It's worth just half an hour just to wander and see the massive station. It's easily the largest train station I've been in.
That was pretty much the end of my Berlin experience. It's quite simply, one of my favourtie cities ever. I had spent 5 days there and could've easily spent more, I didn't want to leave. Yet, to fulfill my "Getting back to England" plan, I had to make a move to my next and final destination for this leg of the trip, Hamburg. I never say definately these days but if I get a chance to go back to Berlin, I'll take it for sure!
Compared to Berlin, Hamburg is a small quiet town. It's one of those places that's on the rise with buildings going up
everywhere. There is a lot of exclusive shopping areas and the city sprawled out over a series of canals. I didn't really do a lot in Hamburg as I was mainly organising getting back to England but what I saw was OK. To be honest it was pretty dissapointing, not as nice as I thought. The last night in Berlin I was attacked by some sort of bed bug and had spots all over me. I was itchin like crazy so I wasn't in the greatest of moods in Hamburg but tried to make the most of it.
Idiosyncrasies: This is a new section I'm starting of things that are a little different that what I am used to. I will provide reasons for these idiosyncrasies if I find them out.
1) In Hamburg, when you approach a road you want to cross, there are two red men and just one green one. I asked a local I met who said that the only reason there is two is to emphasis the importance to stop.
2) Throughout the country, when you buy a bottle or a can of drink or even a glass of beer etc... you
usually have to pay extra for a deposit which you will get back when you return the bottle/can/glass. I don't know the actual reason but I assume for recycling reasons. If any locals could fill me in, it would be helpful.
So there you go. That concludes the first of 3 legs of my trip. If your wondering why I am travelling for so long, apart from the obvious answer, there was a technicality at work that prevented me working for 3 months so I hit the road. Looking back it's been an awesome trip. Finland was a little dissapointing but still nice enough, I can't see myself back there in a hurry. Stockholm was of course, just brilliant, right up there with one of my favourite cities ever. The Baltics were excellent but weren't as good the further south I headed, Estonia was the clear winner there. Belarus was one of those places I won't go back to but was so glad I went. Poland was the wild card being just totally surprising and thoroughly enjoyable. Berlin was the highlight and tied with Stockholm as my favourtie place on the trip. Hamburg? well I'll probably just remember it
Near the Sony Centre
Too big for the scope of this camera but it''s a real cool area with cinemas, restaurants and an awesome roof, but it's not enclosed
as a means to getting back to England. Being alone has been a bit crappy sometimes but there has been plenty of cool/interesting people to meet along the way.
Leg No. 2 is where Mum and Dad join me in England for a UK road trip over 2 weeks. I then meet up with the lads. That's a few of my mates, my cousin Matt and my brother Az (yer sorry Amanda your just collectively known as part of the lads) in London around mid September then we fly to Amsterdam where we hire a car. We're going to be in Munich for Oktoberfest (On Az's birthday!) were my cuz Tracey is going to be joining us for the celebrations and making our way back up to Paris. Where we will be in between all that remains to be seen.
Cheers for the continued support, it means a lot. Next blog from the UK somewhere. Until then...
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