To Begin in Berlin

After booking a short break to Berlin and then leaving for said destination not more than 32 hours later, there was little time to do much except pack and leave a short note to you estimable readers.  As a consequence my vast knowledge of the German language (zwei – which it turns out is pronounced with a ‘T’ at the beginning – and danke shöen) came in very handy.  In a sense that freedom is both delightfully intimidating and extremely liberating, as who wants to have an identikit holiday to all the other tourists?

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Why I love Germany! I really hope Richard Dean Anderson (of Stargate and MacGyver fame) went to that club to deliver a lecture on the subject.

Before hitting the city Tom and I found ourselves at the unmanned airport railway station that expects everybody to not only know where they are going but to handle the unfamiliar ticket machine interface at speed as the queues are massive and the commuters impatient.  Our station wasn’t anywhere to be found of course but eventually after fruitless wanderings we happened across a machine that had a relevant sticker on it telling us what to get for our area of the city.

All this wouldn’t have been so bad had the directions to the hostel not been so shockingly vague but it was worth it, I find that it’s the adversity which makes conquering obstacles that much sweeter.  Interestingly despite buying tickets nobody ever asked to see them, making me wonder if the entire rail network is paid for by gullible tourists, the trains were really good though and ridiculously frequent so we still won.

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Morning view from a decent coffee house

The part of the city we called home was away for the touristy areas and had nice wide quiet streets with plenty of street art from the local talent, this was also in evidence as we left the station along with two huge wire mesh men fighting on a river like something out of Jason and the Argonauts.  The main streets on the other hand were something to get used to (and quickly) for the newcomer, there are cycle lanes on the pavements but they aren’t really signposted expect at major junctions when they also run into the road near traffic lights, so you need to stand further back from the road than usual.

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A nice bit of street

This wouldn’t be too bad but keeping an eye on errant cyclists and then crossing roads in which cars and bikes take every advantage to turn despite the green man (who sports a jaunty hat) being on, it’s like a more mercenary American system.  Horns constantly go off everywhere and its amazing that it’s not carnage on the roads.  High-powered taxis are a strange and welcome sight and nothing like the clanking Hackney cabs from back home.

The second day with adjusting done and rules learned, I took the time to look around – and up – more and found it fascinating to see that the city seemed to be being built, or rebuilt everywhere.  It’s a strange juxtaposition of old and new rising, squeezed together as if the city is trying to force a new identity or perhaps shake off its recent past whilst at the same time respect it as an important lesson for all.

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Buildings at Potsdamer Platz

You won’t be surprised to read all the new buildings seem to be the glass and steel structures so beloved of architects and people with no sense of context, that don’t lend to any cities heritage or character.   The building feel jarring, modern in a city that blighted by its troubles struggles to reinvent its identity, it may be a healing move in some respects but their seems to be little in the way of an overall vision.

There is the feel of a small city here, teeming with many nationalities but with easy transport links and plenty of restaurants, historical buildings, tours and such it meant that even for just the three days that we had, you can fill your time or just mooch around and see the unexpected.  souvenirs seemed in short supply but I was amused by the postcards purposefully wrote in bad English, who says Germans don’t have a sense of humour!

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Altes Stadthaus, currently used by the senate, not that I had a clue at the time but it looked photo worthy.

tick around for some historical sites and sights coming up in what will probably be a further five or six posts, with odd stop for a book review should the fancy take me and it will be doing so.  More immediately though, next stop is your blogs tomorrow.

56 Replies to “To Begin in Berlin”

  1. They do have plain clothes ticket inspectors about – at least they did have when I lived in Cologne 20 or so years ago! Zwei mal bier bitte – (literally) “two times beer please” is how you order, if I have remembered correctly…

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    1. That would make sense, I suppose we looked clueless enough to be left alone. I shall remember the ordering for next time, luckily I came armed with two fingers to underline my point and that worked well even without the correct pronunciation of zwei. Being outside the tourist bit a lot of the time, I think the locals were taken aback by our lack of preparation for the whole excursion.

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    1. Last minute booking is the way to go! It’s the first time I have left the county in two years so it was nice to see somewhere new.

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  2. Thanks for all the photos, Ste J! I haven’t been in Europe since 1974, and I didn’t get to go to Germany then (went to Spain, France, one day in Italy, and England). Keep those photos coming.

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    1. Plenty more coming your way, saw some really good historical stuff as you would expect. You’ve travelled a lot, I’ve now done four countries (The Netherlands, Italy, and the US being the others), hopefully I can inspire you to pop on over again.

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  3. I’d be tempted to research any literary connections beforehand. Alexanderplatz is the only one I know offhand, and even then, I’ll bet the place is entirely reconfigured after allied bombing.
    It’s a pity you don’t appreciate the architecture. I should think there’s plenty of resurgent Bauhaus influence everywhere.
    What have you got in your upcoming posts? Give us a taster!

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    1. I sauntered through Alexanderplatz, the 302 foot TV tower acted as a sort of marker whilst we got our bearings. I don’t know enough about architecture yet and with so little time to get involved in research, it is my one regret. Did Bauhaus do that chair? I read something about a German chair once.

      It is interesting the city building up, looking at the aftermath of the damage in photos, it really was awesome destruction that reigned down. Coming up I have a museum, a wall, some gate and a big thing on a roundabout with a golden bird (not the flappy kind) on top.

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        1. I believe those are the chairs and once again, another book to add to the wishlist. I have spent an inordinate amount of time comparing bombed out Berlin to the modern version, fascinating.

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      1. Are you talking about the Brandenburg Gate? I would recommend giving a quick look to a website such as the one by Rick Steves the next time you want to go somewhere. Many things such as passes to museums and railway are actually considerably cheaper to buy online ahead of time (and consequently, no waiting). 🙂 Look forward to your next posts.

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        1. I am indeed talking about said gate, got some nice photos, although being at night they aren’t all as good and detailed as they could be. I’ve never heard of Rick Steves but I’m always up for cheap stuff so will have a look next time I head off somewhere, sooner rather than later would be nice as well!

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    1. They were a little disappointing, no women in those outfits, mainly bottled and generic tasting and only one big glass from which I could really swill.

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  4. So you ended up buying two of everything, then? Mad Martha had a short stopover in Frankfurt once and tried to use her extensive knowledge of German to order a sandwich with cheese (mit Kase, bitte!) but the serving girl just looked at her like she had zwei heads and she ended up with a buttery roll with only a limp shred of lettuce to adorn it.

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    1. I found that some of the natives are standoffish unless they get repeat business, then they seem friendlier. I did attempt to order two beers for myself but my ninja hiding skills couldn’t beat my pal Tom’s seeing skills. The sandwichs are a bit grim over there but they do Red Bull coke which was nice.

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  5. Did they have decent cake to go with the decent coffee? Rating the coffee is the only way to rate a cafe. Did you at least buy a book while you were over there Ste?

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    1. I tended to have coffee in the morning but we did have some cake in the German Harrods…it was so sweet I couldn’t finish it. I didn’t get to any books, in fact I only briefly saw some shops but I had the latest Irene Nemirovsky book to read so I was happy with that!

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  6. Why all the glass buildings in all our cities? But glad to see some of the old and I love the wide streets, reminiscent of those in California which I miss when trying to cram my car into the tiniest of parking slots here. So Berlin it is, how wonderful! I’ve been to Germany but not this esteemed city, so I am very much looking forward to your other posts. And please, if you have one, I would love to see a photo of the Green Man in a jaunty hat. Welcome back my friend.

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    1. Due to the chaos that is the road system I didn’t snap a photo as I feared for my safety and sanity more than anything lol. No doubt there are plenty around your favourite search engine. I found it interesting that there are no car parking markings, people are just trusted to park correctly, I can’t imagine that over here. Modern buildings are rubbish, I would prefer building that were modern yet seemed an evolution on the older styles, that would fit much, much better.

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      1. Oh dear, that sounds dangerous! That surprises me about the car park markings, I thought they would have been strict about that sort of thing. I remember when I went to Hamburg, everything was spotless and orderly. Yes, this modern obsession with tall, glass buildings is not attractive is it? And everywhere is starting to look the same. It’s very strange…

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        1. Maybe being outside the tourist areas, they assume things will be more orderly, I didn’t tend to go to the back streets much apart from to a nice bar which had some mighty strong cocktails. It is strange that all the cities seem to want to be identikit, hopefully there will be a backlash against this sort of thing and people will embrace their culture again.

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  7. I have always wanted to go to Germany, especially as my dad’s German, but while relatives are all well and good, the fact the green man wears a hat is something I really have to see, and will start to save in earnest.

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    1. The red man looks like he is Icarus viewed from below. It was worth the trip for that alone, a pleasant surprise. If you are lucky a man will demand five euros for food I didn’t know I wanted, it was awesome! Get yourself over there for that as an added bonus.

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  8. Berlin is a city I’d love to visit – the architecture, art, and literature, not to mention the fabulous mid 70s Bowie/Eno collaboration that would have me wearing a jaunty hat and dodgy shades for the duration of my stay. I really admire your carefree spontaneity – I’d have to book about a year ahead so i could read all the novels beforehand in order to bore my family with sufficient rigour. 🙂

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    1. Cheapness was a factor, it was about £170 for flights and accom for three nights but I do love to go places and just criss cross my own tracks and learn the area and go where the fancy takes me. A bit more research next time will aid things greatly. If you are going for the music, there is also a Ramones museum and plenty of David Hasselhoff in briefs postcards to entertain you.

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  9. I sense you were just a little disappointed with Berlin. I have never been there and would love to go just to see Unter den Linden and the Brandenburg Gate. My brother went (some years ago) with his friends from the rugby club but didn’t see daylight as he spent most of the time in a Bierkeller. We found the same difficulty as you did in crossing the road when we went to Hamburg and never quite knew where to walk on the pavement because of the speeding cyclists. Munich was easier to cope with as we found lots of parks and the centre of the city is pedestrianised. We ate in a restaurant with stag’s horns on the walls and a section ‘for locals only’ which we dared not go near! The waitresses were extremely muscular and sneered a bit when we ordered our drinks. Richard had a stein of beer that must have been about 2 foot tall and I wanted a white wine spritze and got it in a litre glass. We surprised them by not only drinking all we were given but eating all the food we had too. They became quite friendly by the time we left. We had obviously passed the test! I think I like Cologne the best out of all the German cities I have visited. Good photos of the street life and architecture. I understand your dislike of the glass and steel buildings. All cities are beginning to look alike.

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    1. I think we do have a reputation for our drinking culture, I felt the same when ordering beers, as if they were thinking ‘here we go again’ but we were the least raucous people ever, it does feel like a test or just scrutiny sometimes. They still smoke in bars over there, it took me back a few years when I first encountered that one.

      I wasn’t disappointed, I think I didn’t have enough time to study the city as I would have liked, to learn more about its pre 20th century history and to find some obscure places to write in, it is worth a visit and I will go back again at some point, I think my biggest shock was all the new buildings that jar with the older architecture. I want character when I go away, not to see things that remind me of home.

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      1. I am glad you weren’t disappointed. I remember going on holiday to Ireland in 2005. We hadn’t banned smoking in pubs/restaurants then but Ireland had (they had also stopped supplying plastic carrier bags back then too). We wondered at the time if it would happen here and what would happen to the pubs if no-one was allowed to smoke. Each bar in Ireland had about 10 people standing outside on the pavement smoking and dropping their ash etc in a heap by the door. I wonder if Europe as a whole will eventually ban smoking in bars as we have.

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        1. Germany is one of the only countries in Europe that doesn’t have any sort of smoking ban at all which is strange as they normally seem so progressive as a nation in most areas. It seems a world away since we accepted smoky pubs and restaurants as the norm, my coat smelled of smoke and coming back home it was really noticeable, its strange that this was how it used to be…

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  10. Ste J, I love the architecture of buildings such as Altes Stadthaus. They have so much personality that is lacking in steel and glass.

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  11. Those spontaneous trips are the best for wandering around and getting lost. That’s funny that they expected you to know where you were going at the railway station.

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    1. You would think near an airport, there would be some sort of help desk but no, just a station and plenty of queues. Next time I will know where I want to go and to even out the early madness, the rail tickets are cheap, less than seven euros for an all day ticket. I do love a random wander and I delight in the comedy value of awkward situations because they are fun to retell for you guys and gals.

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  12. Sounds like you had a fun trip. Strangely enough, I once almost got a ticket (the bad kind) for not having a ticket (the good kind) until I remembered that I did in fact have a ticket (again, the good kind) in my back pocket that I had purchased earlier in the day. Needless to say, I was happy to leave the bad ticket and the transit officer behind and board a new train with my all important good ticket.

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  13. I love reading your insights as I’ve never been there but have friends who lived there and loved it. How wonderful that you stayed in a non-touristy spot. I’m fascinated by the different architecture as, for some reason, I imagined it less modern, like many of the other cities I’m more familiar with in Europe. Looking forward to reading more about it!

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    1. The modern seems to be towering up from old communist looking tower blocks and the less austere more fancy buildings you would expect. The only problem with the non touristy spots is that with menus all in German I have no idea what they actually offer and being a miser I went to the Indian near the hostel.

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  14. That was a delightful read, Ste 😀 I think you should travel more and write more about places, honestly 🙂

    I would have been panicked in a position where I have no idea as how to use an unmanned ticket vending machine 😛 But, yes, discovering a new city on our own has its thrill and excitement.

    “Interestingly despite buying tickets nobody ever asked to see them…” This happens at some railways stations in my country, too 😀

    Loved the photographs..especially the third one… 🙂

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    1. I’m not sure what attracted me to that bit of street in the third photo, it just looked nice, a bit like the seaside places back home, the weather was similar too!

      I would love to travel more often, I will have to make some time, even if it just to different local places, although the language barrier always makes for a more interesting trip abroad.

      Strangely there were British people behind us and in front of us in the queue so we exchanged stress stories and watched each other tackle the machines but then again a bit of research would have helped us out there haha. There’s nothing like a bit of drama in life.

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