Achtung! Wiener! Schnitzel!.. Just three of the many common words to be seen on signs and shop fronts around Berlin, which for some reason it is almost impossible not to repeat out loud in (an attempt at) a German accent, and smile. Amazingly, aside from general words that sound amusing to our ignorant foreign ears, Berlin had even more to offer…
Before we get to Berlin, It’s worth just mentioning the journey there. In the last post I was papping on about how amazing train travel is in Europe, which it is… However… At our change over in Brussels, we left the train to be immediately engulfed in what I can only describe as, a massive riot. The whole of the train station (which is huge) was overrun by people wearing either red or green coats. There were people chanting and hammering signs, with loud bangs that sounded like gunshots going off everywhere, and small groups of Police occasionally running towards the (still unknown) source of the bangs. Amy has a real phobia of fireworks and the like, and was almost in tears. As if this wasn’t enough, I was wearing a big green coat, and Amy a big red coat… We initially thought there must have been a football match, and were worried that we might both get lynched for fraternization with the enemy. After the sight of a large group all wearing blue coats, we thought shit was about to go really crazy, until we soon realised that all the different colours of people were actually on the same side. After some further investigation we found out that they were civil servants protesting against budget and salary cuts. Anyway, we eventually made it out alive…
Our hostel (Hostel PLUS) was in a great location, right next to the Warschauer Strasse U-Bahn station, on the edge of the up and coming, apparently hip and happening Friedrichshain/Kreuzberg districts. These areas are poor but are habitat to a vast amount of young, arty, alternative types. The area is genuinely buzzing – the streets seem packed 24 hours a day and it always appears that there’s something is going on just around the corner (at different times we saw a rap music video and a documentary being filmed on the streets).
The hostel was absolutely massive, with I think about 500 rooms. Its not the sort of cosy intimate place where you’re going to sing songs around the fire with new friends – but that’s kind of appropriate for Berlin. The rooms were large and clean – and amazingly for a hostel, there was even a swimming pool and sauna, but we didn’t use them. It did the job and I would recommend it for the location alone. Plus the actual building itself was pretty mint – Apparently a 100 year old neo-gothic building (maybe a hospital or factory) with large stone staircases and corridors – all decorated by local artists…
East Berlin as a whole is fucking cool. You have to say fucking, because cool just isn’t enough (And the Germans love to say fucking – a lot). It’s also beautiful – in the way that the peaceful death of a relative after many years of suffering could be considered beautiful. Or a bulldog. It looks like a sprawling post apocalyptic waste land, where society is just starting to rise again from the ashes. Every single available surface is full of graffiti or posters, or graffiti on posters. Despite the above description, and the general feel of lawlessness – Berlin never felt threatening or unsafe – even late at night. It just feels genuinely buzzing.
Central and west Berlin is also very impressive – partly just for the sheer scale of everything from the streets to the buildings. On our first full day in Berlin we did the obligatory walk through Mitte – along Unter Den Linden – taking in the centre of the city and all the most famous sights – from Alexanderplatz and the TV tower, to the Brandenburg Gate and the Reichstag, and various things in between. We finished of with a mooch and some dicking about in the impressive Tier Garten (Park).
Next day we visited the East Side Gallery (right near the hostel) which is the largest preserved section of the Berlin wall and is covered in graffiti paintings from international artists. At the end of this stretch of wall we found what is possibly the coolest bar of all time – YAAMAICA! This reggae bar is a little ramshackle hut in the middle of a colourfully graffitied courtyard – playing top notch reggae. In the courtyard there are toilets which also double as a shop – selling munchies and rizzlas, and a hut selling jerk chicken. What more could you want? There’s also a stage area for concerts, 5 aside, and a kids play area. Apparently Yaamaica is not just a bar – but a genuine community hub, operating its different functions according to the relevant time of day or week. (Yaamaica is the whole set up, it turns out that the bar within is actually called the cool runnings bar – which was even more appropriate as we were sheltering from a blizzard).
This night we had a good few drinks out in East Berlin and ended up chatting to a couple of young British lads who were also currently travelling Europe. I think they’d just come from Nuremberg, and as their next destination was Salzburg, they expressed a concern that their trip was unnervingly starting to look like a Nazi tour (It definitely wasn’t). Anyway – All the best Alex(I think) and mate (sorry, shit with names and was a little wobbly anyway) and have a good time in the states.
…We stayed in Berlin a total of 4 nights…
Other things we learned about Berlin:
– The Holocaust memorial is inappropriate – hang on, I’ll explain. It’s basically a huge expanse of steps increasing in height from the edges to the middle – which creates a kind of maze of corridors around the centre. Our issue is that the piece as a whole encourages physical engagement – jumping from step to step, running and hiding through the maze. (It’s full of people doing this, and them pretending to look solemn when they run into other people who are doing the exact same thing). This would be perfectly fine – if it wasn’t a memorial to millions of murdered human beings. Its an ace sculpture – maybe not fit for purpose though. It is great how Berlin openly acknowledges and discuss the past – and is looking firmly to the future. In my opinion the Neue Wache (Memorial to sufferers of War and Tyranny) is much more powerful – A large satue of Kathe Kollwitz’s Mother with her dead son, sits in the large empty expance of the Neue Wache – lit by a single hole in the roof. Seriously eerie, sad, and thought provoking.
– Berliners HATE milk. We couldn’t get anything other than UHT type stuff. What’s all that about?
– All the food in Berlin is incredible. We only ate from junk food places and street stalls but its all in a different class – Even the Kebaps.
– Currywursts are not disgusting. The specialty street dish of Berlin seems to be the currywurst – smoked sausage chopped up and smothered in ketchup and curry powder. Sounds disgusting? It’s not, its well nice – along with all other street food.
– Like the Amsterdam(ians?) – the Berliners love a good sausage dog – they are everywhere. Just hopefully not in the sausages.
Just realised how long this one is – oh well, apologies for the piffle – hopefully there’s sumet in there worth a goose.