Monday, October 10, 2005


We took advantage of the cheapo flights from Gatwick to Berlin with Easyjet to have a long weekend there. I’ve never been to Germany before, but have recently been watching a few documentaries about Berlin; it played such a big role in the events of the last century that thought it would be an interesting place to visit, plus the fact that Joanne is a fluent speaker is a bonus.

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We took the flight out to Berlin after work on Thursday, then taking the double decker airport express train into the centre. Our hostel was on the former east side, not far from Alexanderplatz, which is where we started our tour on Friday morning. We began the day’s long walk by the TV tower and continued past Marx Engels Platz where there stands a large statue to these 2 fathers of communism.

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Continuing west we past the Berliner Dom & Palast der Republik – they knocked down a palace to build this ugly orange glass building as a parliament for the GDR, very strange. Right by here is the “Museum Island”, where there are several very grand museums, fronted by Roman style pillars, most of which still show extensive damage from the war. We visited the Pergamon museum, the centrepiece of which is not a giant statue of Pikachu, but the giant Greek Pergamon alter, as well as the giant Babylonian market gates.

We continued our walk down Unter den Linden, the main route road in East Berlin, which leads to the Brandenburg gate, and walked across Bebel Platz, the square where the Nazis burnt books and stopped to look at the GendarmenMarkt (2 French & German matching cathedrals/doms, don’t understand why they went to the trouble of constructing 2 near identical buildings myself). We arrived at the Brandenburg gate and had a very strange meal, where we had a view across to the Hotel Adlon, where Michael Jackson had famously dangled his baby out of the window.

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The Reichstag was just a hop skip and jump away so we had a look at that, we wanted to go in and inspect the famous new glass dome up close, but the queue was long and our patience was short. Instead we went to have a look at the Checkpoint Charlie Museum, located just by the aforementioned checkpoint on the West of the country, it’s a somewhat eccentric museum, which in the main seems to have expanded rather organically from the time it was set up, when the wall was still very much there, to now. Which means, that whilst there is a lot there of interest, it is rather sprawling without much sense of direction to the museum.

By this point our poor feet were tired and we went back to the hostel for a powernap. I had thought about going on a nightlife tour and sampling some of that German beer, but feeling worn out, and not relishing the idea of a full day exploring Berlin hungover, we decided instead to have dinner in the revolving restaurant at the top of the TV Tower. Which was the right decision, I think. Personally, I think revolving restaurants at the top of towers are ace, having already been to one in Sydney, and this one was great too. The restaurant is a popular one, and serves good affordable food. I enjoyed a nice meal, and drink of Berliner Beer looking over the night views of East Berlin, as an elderly gent played a nice blend of elevator style music on his electric keyboard.

On Saturday, to preserve our sore feet we decided to make a bit more use of our travelcards on the Underground U-Bahn system. We started of by taking a look at the Haekescher Hoefe and Synagogue at the Scheunen Viertel (Jewish quarter), before going to KaDeWe (Kaufhaus Des Westens), an incredible Selfridges style department store. The highlights there were trying out the massage chair, and taking in the smells of the food hall. Next we zipped west to Charlottenburg Palace, before shooting back for a power snooze. Jo wanted to experience a German spa, so we headed out to the impressive looking Liqiudrom spa, which was alas closed for renovation. To get there we passed the Anhalter Bahnhof, a grand old station which was destroyed during the war, but the front only of the train station is still standing. As a contingency plan we headed back to the Reichstag at 10pm and we were able to just get in before the building stopped its tours for the night. The newly constructed glass dome is quite a spectacle, with a spiral ramp taking you up and around to the top, where you can look down onto the parliament floor, or out and across the city.

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As we headed back home via the Brandenburg gate, we noticed a group of gimps in tight shiny rubber outfits having their photo taken with the gate as a backdrop. Naturally Jo decided to take a snapshot, all the while one of the gimps was shouting “no photos, no photos”, with Jo pretending not to hear.

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Berlin used to have one centre in the East, one in the West, with the wall in the middle. With the wall down, there were efforts to fill this gap and create a new centre - Potsdamer Platz was the result, and we went to have a look on Sunday morning. There are cinemas, and shopping centres there, but the centrepiece is the tent-like Sony Centre, which looks interesting, but there isn’t much there to be honest. We went to the shopping centre but is this backward land shops still shut on a Sunday. So used to shops opening on a Sunday, that it seems weird that they didn’t in Berlin. After an ice cream cafĂ© break, we head off in search of another Spa bath for Jo. When we get there I overhear them talking about “naket swimmen” or some such, and I decide that we had best give it a miss. Either the place would be full of fat minging German business men and grotesque Bubbles style women letting it all hang loose, or at the other extreme lots of pert young things, in which case I’m sure I’d end up on the wrong side of an ear bashing from Jo.

We stopped at the Ku'damm (the Oxford Street of West Berlin) and Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, bombed out during the war, which serves as a memorial. To finish the day off before we headed back home we took the underground to the West to the Olypic Stadium, which was contructed for the controversial 1936 Olympics, but updated with a new roof for the upcoming World Cup final next year.

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I enjoyed our trip to Berlin, although it is at times a strange place, and the East and West are still very different places, it is funny to see some of the German Sterotypes, dodgy mullets and moustaches, Gimps in front of the Brandenburg gate, and a food hall devoted almost entirely to every different type of sausage under the sun.

One thing that made a big impact on me as the method of ticket inspecting on the U-Bahn. The doors would close, then 2 imposing undercover ticket inspectors would announce themselves and work through the carriage checking tickets. We encountered a few of these inspections and it was quite something to see, and a big contrast to the British system. Sure enough, as we got the train home from Gatwick the sole ticket inspector who worked his way through the train was a middle aged portly fellow, and hardly the most intimidating figure. When he encountered a group of louts at the end of the train, he of course didn't challenge them. If it had been Berlin, I'm sure those same flock of chavs would have pooped their pants.

To see the rest of our photos, click here.