Berlin, Germany

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June 8th 2012
Published: June 8th 2012
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Monday, 4 June

We caught a ferry from Denmark to Germany and drove the 400km to Berlin on the autobahn. It wasn’t raining, there were very few road works and once we started heading east to Berlin, there was hardly any traffic at all. We didn’t see the point of pushing the GW (gutless wonder) to its maximum capacity so we sat on 160kph and experienced the Autobahn as we’d first expected – stress free and fast. I shouldn’t really call it the GW because it was giving us 10.5L/100km at 160kph, which isn’t terrible.

Can I just say that German drivers are the pits! The ones who speed at 180+ are fantastic but the ones that sit on 130 or below are shocking. Every couple of kilometres we had slam on our brakes because a car doing 120 would pull out in front of us to pass another car. They can see us coming, they could slow down 5-10km and pull in behind us or speed up and pull in front of us but no – they stay the same speed and cut us off in front. Trucks are the same. If we were slowly coming up you might pull out but when they can see us coming significantly faster and still pull out, it makes me believe in road rage.

Arrived safely in Berlin despite the pillocks. Our apartment is beautiful, large and on the 4th floor with no elevator (hello more weight loss). It’s in the Praulenzer Berg district in East Berlin. Biggest downer is no washing machine, but being in the laundromat has given me an excuse to catch up on my journaling. It’s a pain but thank goodness for free wifi.

Tuesday, 5 June

Had the best sleep in our comfortable bed with our homemade latex travel pillows and whisper quiet bedroom, waking at 8am to an overcast, cool day. Caught the metro to the main square, Alexanderplatz, and wandered past Neptune’s fountain, down to the Berliner Dom (Royal church) and Museum Island (5 museums on an island). We’re going to come back here tomorrow and look through one of them.

The phrase that jumps to mind for Berlin is “under construction”. There are road works, scaffolding and cranes absolutely everywhere. I guess they have only been unified since 1989 and they are doing their best to rebuild the East, rather than give away the prime land to business buildings, so that’s commendable. They’re even trying to raise money to rebuild the Prussian Royal Palace, which survived WWII only to be completely demolished by the East German Government in 1950. It is difficult, however, trying to get good photos that do the city justice.

On our way to lunch we saw a fox in plain view in the grounds of an embassy. We were not expecting that. After about 5km of walking, we stopped for lunch at KeDeWa (pronounced keh-deh-va) Wintergarden, which is a massive department store with 7 floors like Myer or David Jones . The Wintergarden is on the top floor with a glass roof overlooking the area. We decided to eat the salad buffet at €2.89 per 100g, thinking we’d spend about 30 between us. Imagine our surprise when the till rang up €52 including drinks and desserts. It was tasty although I doubt it made it into the “Europe on a Shoestring” guide.

Expectations re communication are correct – people outside the tourist industry generally do not speak English, either because they can’t or won’t. Ask a question about this food or that way to a post office and you’ll get blank stares or responses in German.

After lunch we splurged again and bought a small African nation for the price of a half day Segway tour. I say splurged because it was a lot of money on one activity but then again it was good value for what we got. $80 for a 4hr tour is quite reasonable compared to Australia, but spending $160 in one hit still feels decadent.

However, it was awesome! Our British guide, Marriette, was a Berlin guru and wheeling around the city was wonderful after our walk in the morning. We saw the square and memorial where the Nazis burned 22,000 priceless books in 1933 from the Prussian Royal Library (now Humboldt University). The memorial was very cool, with a glass window in the ground looking down to a massive space of stark white, empty bookshelves. It represents that what is lost cannot be replaced. We also drove past Stasi headquarters, German and French cathedrals, Hitler’s bunker where he committed suicide, Holocaust Memorial, the Wall, Checkpoint Charlie, Brandenburg Gate and Reichstag (Parliament).

We’ve never done a Segway tour in any city and we’re not likely to again, given the expense, but it was a memory that will become one of my favourites for Berlin.

Wednesday, 6 June

There are a lot of body piercings in Berlin, more than I’ve seen in any other part of Europe.

We started back at the Reichstag and Brandenburg Gate to get better photos and then walked to the Holocaust Memorial and Museum (although it’s called “The memorial to the murdered Jews”, no reference to Holocaust). The memorial is made up of 2711 blocks of concrete, every single piece a different size, laid out on undulating terrain. It’s supposed to symbolise people starting out together and one by one you become separated and uneasy as you enter the maze-like structure and it’s uneven flooring, eventually feeling alone and unsure what or who is around the next corner. The Information Centre under the memorial is a chilling reminder of human atrocity and survival against an impossible predator. It’s also one of the best equipped tourist attractions we’ve encountered. Each staff member speaks at least 3 languages and they run it like a machine so it’s extremely easy to get in, move through and get out with little confusion. We discovered in Amsterdam that Anne Frank and many other Jews sought refuge in the US, UK, Australia and South America during WWII, but were denied and ended up perishing in concentration camps. This museum also made us question how guilty those governments are, including my own, knowing their refusal condemned those families to death?

We wanted to see the flip side of the coin at the Topography of Terror, which is one of very few museums about the perpetrators and not the victims. However, we did not have time so moved on to the Wall. There are many sections of the Wall still standing today but scattered across many suburbs. The East Side Gallery is the most famous one with all the artistic walls, although I thought the Checkpoint Charlie wall had more interesting information on how it was built and came down.

Finally we ended up at the Pergamon Museum – one of five on Museum Island. This was one has an amazing collection of huge structures from history and when we entered, it did not disappoint. As we walked in, we were greeted by a 15m high, U shape, columned portico with frescos and statues from Pergamon. This has been excavated, bought to Berlin and the reconstructed using all the original pieces. Walking up the giant slab stairs and weaving in between the columns knowing John wrote a letter to these guys (Revelation) totally spun me out. The next room had even higher columns from Athena’s temple and they were MASSIVE. I just can’t comprehend that these original pieces were a) mined by hand, b) carved and assembled without hydraulics and c) still intact thousands of years later. The 3rd room was mind blowing and I can’t even describe the intricate, fully intact structures in there. And not just structures you could look at – these are things you are walking up, under and climbing on. I’m talking balconies that you could go up on and overlook the room below.

Once we’d left Pergamon and Rome, we entered the Babylonian display. They have a smaller gate from King Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylon – it was 15m tall with elaborate tiles in bright colours. Apparently they couldn’t fit the larger gate in the museum. We then walked the road that led up to his gate, which in Babylon was 24m wide – almost as wide as the hall in the museum representing it, was long! We spent almost 3 hours in there just being a fly on some very large antique walls!

We wanted to do night pictures of Berlin after the Museum closed but unfortunately it was raining when we came out and with all the construction, it wasn’t worth waiting around.

Berlin makes me feel like I’ve fallen into a half-finished painting with old and new pieces that don’t quite fit together yet. Or maybe it’s a Picasso and will never really fit. It’s not pretty or small or cute or grand, but it’s awkward like a teenager still trying to find its identity yet brimming with hope and enthusiasm.

We have both decided that future trips will have a new “4 night City” rule. Three nights is not enough.


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