A Travellerspoint blog

Notes from Berlin continued

Sunday and Monday

sunny 28 °C


Time to stretch the legs for a reasonably long walk to find the gallery devoted to Surrealist art, right across the road from Queen Charlotte's palace. We strolled down the bridle path used by the royals to duck between palaces back in the day. Couples strolled arm in arm around us, couples of all persuasions possible, all seemingly very intent on having a pleasant day.

The surrealist gallery boasted an array of arresting images guaranteed to increase the bizareness level of dreaming travellers. Dali was just about the straight guy in the party. Bonus was an enormous Egyptian temple entrance that was 'gifted' by that country before its site was flooded for the Aswan Dam.

Having exhausted our heads, we headed to a bright cluster of gaudy tents set up in front of the palace. We had stumbled upon what we discovered was the Duckstein Beer Festival. Simply, a promotional occasion for marketing certain beers, wines, and the inevitable profusion of bratwurst, currywurst, and many other meaty munchies beloved by the populace.


Our genial hotelier suggested we could use public transport tickets (only 6.8 Euros for an all day Carte) to check out some of the greenery a little further out. Armed with my old but trusty analog compass (no GPS as no local SIM card in hand yet), we ventured out via the M29 bus. We were assisted by a lady who kindly took us in hand and walked us to the right bus stop and told us which bus to get. A number of times, while we stood around looking puzzled in a range of circumstances, Berliners volunteered their advice without being asked, which was very helpful and appreciated.

On the south western fringe of Berlin, the Grunewald is a forested area that extends for a number of kilometres, with paths frequented by cyclists and serious walkers with walking sticks in both hands. After fortifying ourselves with a tuna pizza (never seen those in Melbourne!) and the fluffy, long glasses of coffee that are called Latte Machiatos here, we strolled along a path starting from the Grunwald Railway station, behind a tennis teaching area marked on the map as the Steffi Graf Stadium where kids were earnestly swinging their rackets in the sunshine. Soon we were trailing the edge of a pleasant lake, with luxurious houses on the far side including some intriguing metallic sculptures, one like DNA and one angular and rotating in the breeze.

The trees were plentiful yet predominantly slender. The reason, we found out, was that after the war the starving population was kept alive partially by clearing this area and growing potatoes. Now nature proceeds to reclaim and sweeten the land with the scent of fir and pine. That was also the case with the Tiergarten, the mix of casual forest and formal areas in the heart of Berlin.

Cracking the whip again, I suggested we continue on to Potsdam to check out the home of Frederick the Great. Why not, there's every chance my great grandfather Freidrich was named after him, just like the English have their Georges and Harrys. Potsdam has kept a lot of its medieval feel, as you jump off the bus having glimped the signpost to Sans Souci, the king's palace.
With sausages to the left of us and gelatis to the right we slowly progressed through the gauntlet of shops and vendors till reaching the beginnings of Freddy's park. The park has, oh, about seven or so castles in it, but we only wanted to check our the main event. Sans Souci,literally No Worries, was supposed to be somewhere to live without a care in the world.
Given that Freddy's Dad was known to beat him publicly and insist on Fred kissing his boots in front of the servants and all, it comes as no surprise that he was keen to just chill out a little with his close boon companions.

The building is monolithic and bursting with rococo splendour, but the grapevines trellised in front of the house, rising up the slope across the whole breadth of the building, are equally impressive.

The building itself was closed (a Monday thing) but if you imagine Franco Cozzo style furnishings only with taste and dripping with real gold leaf you get the picture.

On the way to Sans Souci the bus drives past a bland building where in 1942 Heydrich, Eichmann and others presented to Himmler their recommendations on how to bring the Jewish question to a final solution. It seems a number of those present, who were supposed to destroy their notes of the meeting, failed to do so, enabling many convictions at Nuremburg. Berlin is like this: in the midst of ordinariness, you suddenly get hit in the guts with the horror of the events of not so long ago. We bring our suitcases: Berlin keeps its baggage.

Posted by piepers 15:03 Archived in Germany Comments (0)

Visit to the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe


sunny 32 °C

The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe extends over a whole city block of Berlin, just around the corner from the Brandenburg Gate, itself a grand and historic symbol of German might. On first site, it appears as a grid of rectangular, dark grey concrete blocks of various heights, that rise and fall with the contour of the ground. You approach it from the street, stepping around a world-travellers suitcase-bedecked BMW motorcycle spangled with mementos of its owners travels, while its corpulent owner sits back relaxing and hoping for donations from curious tourists to continue his journey. You walk between the blocks, venturing into the narrow lanes formed by the meeting of the shapes. Alone at first, you walk quietly, respectfully, thinking of those whose pain and loss is given literally concrete form here. Then you hear children's laughter and the clatter of their feet. You see a child briefly illuminated by a shaft of sunlight, and straight away she disappears. Other children pop into view, and again vanish. Among the forest of flattened slabs, the shadows move as the sun makes its way across the sky, changing your sense of where you are, and making it impossible to see where the playful ones have come from, or where they have gone.

And then you realise. For the Jews of Europe, their moment of being in the light of life was snatched so brutally, so deceptively, so bureaucratically, and for them no protective parents hovering nearby waiting for the game to finish, with a cold drink and perhaps an ice cream to follow. For so many, their every trace eliminated, they were thrown into the shadowlands of death, torn from all the light-filled moments of the lives they should have had. As you walk on, and the land rises again, you see here and there that there actually scores of other people walking just like you, hidden in the narrow gaps, popping into visibility and quickly vanishing again.

For anyone who has lost a loved one, whether from war, accident, illness, old age, or any reason at all, this is a deeply poignant memorial, and its universality built from such simple elements is most impressive.

Later, on walks in the streets of Berlin, we notice small brass plates mounted in the footpath, inscribed with the names of former residents, the dates they were taken by the Nazis, and the date of their death. Simple but touching reminders that they too belong to Berlin and Berlin belongs to them.

Posted by piepers 15:02 Archived in Germany Comments (0)

Berlin notes

Random responses to things encountered along the way

sunny 29 °C

Visit to the Wall and Checkpoint Charlie

Berlin is still actively working through how to close the wound left behind after the tearing down of the Wall. There are two remaining sections to view: one where the hammering and chipping away of countless "woodpeckers" - ordinary citizens taking to the reinforced concrete of the outer wall and taking it down in innumerable small concrete fragments - has made little windows through which the sun shines again; and the second, more intact, but now forming the longest public art gallery in the world, where artists from all over the world have created murals ranging from the hopeful to the ironic or the bitterly polemic. Some of crude, graffiti like appearance, others intricately painted. Paradoxically, the Wall is now being protected by restricting the visitor to walkways with lots of plexiglass to stop them getting too close.

A chronological display of the events surrounding the overnight installation of the initial barbed wire fence by the Russians, and extensive displays of the faces of those shot by the Russians as they tried to make it to the West and to freedom stands near the reproduction of the Checkpoint Charlie sentry box. Two "guards" dressed in US Army uniforms pose with giggling girls for a euro or two. One has a long ponytail, the other looks to be of Turkish origin.
"You are now leaving the American Sector", proclaims a "reproduction" of the origina sign.

In the shops opposite the building where would be escapees where supported and assisted, small chips of concrete complete with splashes of paint claim to be authentic pieces of the wall. Elsewhere, one reads reports that following the tumbling of the wall, the East German authorities immediately manufactured lots of spare 'wall' to sell to the naive in order to raise much needed money. Where is the truth? Buried with the dead somewhere, no doubt.

Posted by piepers 15:02 Archived in Germany Tagged berlin Comments (0)


Getting to know Berlin

sunny 22 °C

In a land where you don't know more than a few words of the local tongue, it pays to look very closely at maps, guides, and travel documents you have been given. The answer to what is baffling you as you look around a new and strange place is in there somewhere; usually, it's better to first check through your stuff calmly, before puzzling passers-by with your clumsy attempts at communication. Case in point: the simple task of finding out where and how to jump on the Hop On Hop Off Bus to get an intro to Berlin's layout and key features.

We stand at on bus stop - the HOHO bus slows, pulls towards the kerb - and dashes by. Hmpf. We spot another bus stop in the distance some way down Kurfurstandammstrasse. Walk. Step up onto a random bus and ask the driver where you get the tour bus. A shrug is all the reply.
At last look again on the map that is part of the HOHO bus promotional material. In small print it says you must start your journey at a cerain number in Kurfurstandamm, the very street we had been up and down several times already. Once this light bulb moment had occurred, we were soon ensconced on the upper deck of a bright yellow bus and taking in about 21 points of interest around town. With the addition of an extra 10 euros we also got a boat ride on the river Spee through the centre of town.

Travel purists may scoff, but there's nothing wrong with the tourist bus circuits to help you get a quick sense of the geography, topography, and major landmarks. Especially with a 2 day ticket, enabling you to pick your preferred targets for a closer look on day 2.

We drive by a 3 metre high giraffe made from Lego standing proudly on the broad footpath of Kurfurstendamm, more commonly known here as Ku'damm. It's a fitting emblem, almost as fitting as the common bear symbol that we start seeing everywhere: even in the marks on the wall of our hotel room. Like a box of Lego, Berlin seems to have been constantly being torn down by events and rebuilding itself with an irrepressible drive towards newness, clean architectural lines, and innovative design.

Compared to many other European cities, Berlin is young, 'officially' guestimated at about 1246 AD, although traces of human occupation from as much as 40,000 years ago have been found. And just as in the case of London, there were people living from the plentiful fish in the local rivers long before anyone started recording 'history'.

Eighty percent of the city was levelled by the end of the war. From this utter devastation, many of the grand historically significant buildings were put together again, much like a Lego structure that had been dashed to the ground by a naughty brat - and the more you see of this city and hear of what it's people have suffered, the more you understand the look of constant worry on the faces of anyone over the age of 60. In some cases, the remaining shards of war-ravaged buildings have been absorbed and built around by the new, with renewed gold leaf work, all cleaned and polished and looking as good as new. These reborn landmarks give a sense of gravitas and continuity despite the fact that so much of what you now see has not been around for all that long.

In my next post I will speak of some of the places we were able to see for ourselves, more of that tomorrow.

Posted by piepers 14:50 Archived in Germany Comments (0)

On the way

Melbourne - Singapore - Frankfurt - Berline

semi-overcast 21 °C

Thanks to the prompt intervention of my brother Brian, (thanks Bro) we made it to Melbourne Airport in time for our first flight. In the tradition of Murphy's law, our usually very reliable but venerable BMW 318i decided to hit the red line on the temperature gauge as we cruised down Dandenong Rd, North Caulfield. Suddenly my mechanic's suggestion that there seemed to be a small intermittent leak in the cooling system came back with a rush. The RACV yellow van and Brian's little red car arrived simultaneously and the wiry, wizened visage of the RACV man glanced up darkly from a radiator that had only a small quantity of coolant remaining.

With little choice but to continue - can't leave a car parked on the streets of Melbourne for weeks at the mercy of every passing loon - we continued to Brian's place, fortunately with the engine temperature staying within range. Relieved, we left the beemer and went on with our chauffeured drive.

The upside of this little delay was that there was little time to go through pre-travel anxiety. A mid-afternoon departure is ideal for a long haul
flight because the stress is all in the getting there on time. Compared to, say, a three AM departure which has been a previous experience that leaves you wiped out for days.

Although we expected crowded travel conditions with the Olympics about to start, the rear end of the plane was peppered with vacant seats, so that many people were taking advantage and catching a few zzzzs stretched out across multiple seats.

Our first leg from Melbourne to Singapore was in the giant A380: as you look at it through the terminal windows you have to question whether the thing could conceivably get up in the air, and if it did, how it could possibly stay up and then come down in any kind of graceful way. Once on board, it soon becomes apparent why the term "cattle class" has become a commonplace description of "Economy". The "cattle" are herded into minute pens and instructed that they will be fed shortly.

Perhaps the cattle metaphor is too generous to the airlines. Now it is more like the space allocated to battery hens.
Like the unfortunate slaves whose lives are spent cranking out eggs, the economy passenger too has insufficient space to even place their limbs in a position of any comfort. It seems the allocated space per passenger has shrunk yet again, and it comes as no surprise that the number of 'passenger rage' incidents appears to be on the rise.

Presently the packaged meals begin their slow journey down the aisles, blocking the way to the 'conveniences' for a substantial time.
Who knows how the stewards keep their smiles about them through the ministration of these evil chunks of supposed edible nature?
Within the hour one begins to suffer the agonies of the damned as one insides begin to bubble and froth with the fermenting evil of pre-prepared airline catering. Sure, the recipes have improved somewhat, but on every long haul flight I have ever been on, the explosive bloating that results from ingesting such morsels has resulted in painful fart suppression over many, many dark hours. The constant long queues at the toilets as up to a dozen people at a time waited there turn suggests this is an all too common sensation. Why can't the airlines find a safe and suitable food regime to offer the public when it has
them captive in a metal tube at 40000 feet? Curious indeed.

After the Long March through Changi Airport with only well cryptic guidance cunningly concealed in flight documentation, we made it to our connecting Lufthansa flight for the next leg to Frankfurt.

For once, no delays with security scans, indicating we have now officially reached old fogey status and don't attract much attention from the Holders of the Ionising Wand. Settling in for the longest leg, Lufthansa seem to have a policy of keeping the main lights in the cabin on until about 3am, as well as regularly trundling trolleys down the aisle to chip bits of bone from passengers whohave drifted off for a few moments with their limbs akimbo over the edge of their seat.

Now the seats seemed to shrink even closer around one's cramping muscles, so administration of 'courtesy' alcohol was deemed essential to getting any kind of shut-eye.

And so to Frankfurt, hot dog! We're getting closer.

With boarding passes for the final Frankfurt to Berlin leg already in hand, the switch to the final plan was like flying with an old friend, the smaller but more comfortable domestic style craft, 737?
Our legs permitted to stretched a little, twitching in anticipation of the final release from the air to terra firma.
Even though we had now been in transit for about 28 hours, it was only 8:45 in Berlin, and somehow the brain kicks into morning activity even without the benefit of more than a few splintered shards of sleep.

The moment of release, where you emerge in the bright light of a brand new country where you have never been before, dragging your baggage behind you,is a time when your senses swoon a little as you try to make sense of a thousand new impressions at the same time.
Somehow you follow the signs to find the bus stop, and after mistakenly waiting at the wrong end, change to the other end, waiting on the 109 bus that the illuminated sign promises. Somehow you have retained this bus route number in your head... or was it 190 (nervous shudder). No matter. The driver has no idea or interest in where your longed-for hotel is located, of course. So, wrack the brain again for a landmark within reach of where we want to go.

Scouring the mental image of the Google Map of Berlin somehow retained from a brief study, recall the name Adenaeurplatz, named for the first chancellor of the free German republic. That's enough to confirm we are en route, landing within a five minute walk of Bregenzer Strasse,
where our hotel awaits. An instructive point for young players: the more you focus on the minute details of your concerns,
the less other people are able to help you. Be aware of the perspective of those around you, and give them the right context to be able to understand you a little. Big picture before little picture.

On arrival at Bregenzer Strasse 5, we are greeted by Christian, whose face is already known to me from the positive reviews of the place on TripAdvisor.
With a relaxed few minutes of signing in, we are quickly settled in a comfortable room with a balcony overlooking the quiet residences of Bregenzer Strasse. Jet lagged and dehydrated, inflated with
gas from more than a day of living on airline food, we restrict ourselves to a small exploration of the neighbourhood.

In this predominantly 4 or 5 storey residential sector of West Berlin, there seems to be a cafe or other eatery on nearly every corner, as well as here and there along the street. Christian points out that there's no need to go far now if you want something to eat. A choice of two Italian places, Greek, and Vietnamese is available just by walking around the block.

By the way, if like myself you always find you need a few items from the equivalent of the corner shop, tea bags, milk, bottled water and so on, the Kaiser Minisupermarket two minutes walk away has everything you need, and if you have a half euro spare you can grab a tasty Czech beer as well. Just bring your own backpack, as no plastic bags will be given unless paid for.

(Even at festive occasions such as a promo event for Duckstein Beer - I kid you not, it's real - you eat from a real dinner plate with real cutlery, after paying an extra refundable two euros on top
of the cost of the food. Makes sure the dish and knife and fork come back and all the waste is collected and recycled wherever possible. Come on Aussie, we should be doing it too, right now.)

And so to bed, to catch up on those z's that changing time zones deplete. Time enough tomorrow to start the holiday in earnest.

Posted by piepers 22:34 Archived in Germany Comments (0)

(Entries 16 - 20 of 21) « Page 1 2 3 [4] 5 »