Berlin, Part 1

April 6th 2014, 4:17:00 pm

Once I'd gotten into Berlin and checked into my hostel I got in contact with my friend Erin, an American who I met in South Africa who lives in Berlin on a semi-regular basis. We arranged to meet up for dinner and she offered to give me an introductory tour of the city. It was pretty lucky timing as Erin was leaving Berlin for a month just a few days after I arrived.

We walked all around the city, past the museum island, Potsdamer Platz, Brandenburger Tor, The Jewish Memorial, and loads of other sites around the city. It was quite the whirlwind introduction to the city, we even visited a small Christmas market that was up and runing very early and got to have some gluhwein! Delicious spiced wine served hot, perfect for the cold nights leading up to Christmas. It was lovely to see Erin again and it felt like a really nice way to get to know the city being shown around by someone who obviously loves the place.

I feel a bit bad about having zero photos with Erin or the places we went to go with this part of the post, but at times while travelling I've been hit by "photo sorting fatigue", which leaves me in a state where I think to myself "if I don't take any photos I wont have to sort them!", which leads to gaps like we have here.

We met up again the next day to go and visit Tempelhof Park, an old airfield that has been turned into a public park, but still has all the runways and stuff there. It's kind of surreal to be wandering around on what quite obviously was once an immense airfield, with people jogging past or cycling on bikes. These days there's a community garden there and areas dedicated for having BBQs and stuff. It seems like it would be a lovely place to spend some afternoons at in the summertime, and would make a stellar venue for a music festival.

We went out and ate pizza that night with Erin's housemates, Nicole and Nicole, as a chance to meet each other and see how we got along, and to see about the possibility of me moving into Erin's room while she was away. The two Nicoles were both lovely and I thought it would be neat to live in a typical German apartment for at least some of my stay in Berlin. They were happy to have me take the room, so I got to move in a few days after Erin left.

In my last few days staying in the hostel I met a Dutch guy named Harmen who was a bit of a history buff and seemed like a nice fellow, so we decided to explore some of the city together. We went to the Holocaust Museum, which was very interesting but there was just too much information there to process it all, so by 3/4 of the way through I was skipping reading 90% of the text and was pretty well museum-fatigued.

To combat that we went into a nearby bar for a rest and a few beers. We got talking with the bartender, a girl from Birmingham named Carley, who gave us some good tips for some neighbourhoods to go exploring later in the evening.

After we felt able to tackle another museum we headed to the Topography of Terror museum, which is built right next to the foundations of the headquarters of the Secret State Police, the SS and the Reich Security Main Office of the Third Reich. Its also coincidentally right next to a long segment of the Berlin wall that was still in original condition and position, complete with some large holes smashed in the concrete presumably during the reunification.

It was great having Harmen there to fill in the massive gaps in my knowledge about German history. I remember we covered the World Wars in high school, but I don't think we ever even touched on the Cold War (I guess because Australia played no part in it, and our history classes seemed to have been very biased towards things that Australia took part in, rather than important events that shaped the world as it is today.

I never really enjoyed history at school, but I now looking back I think that was largely because of the incredibly narrow focus that my small rural high school had in its classes. The stuff I've learned about while travelling about the history in a bunch of other countries has been fascinating. Far more interesting than hearing about Australians being slaughtered at Gallipoli for the hundredth time.

The Topography of Terror museum was another really good museum, covering the various groups involved in carrying out the atrocities of WWII. It focused a lot more on the "who" and what they did. There were some very interesting perspectives there, but again too much information to take it all in in only one visit.

Harmen and I then went to Kottbusser Tor, the suburb recommended to us by Carley earlier in the day, and found that although it seemed like an interesting suburb with a lot of cool street art, there seemed to be nothing but Turkish Restaurants around. If you've read my post about Turkey, you'll know I adore Turkish food, but being newly in Germany we were really wanting to try some German food and it honestly felt a bit disheartening that a single culture had so completely squeezed out all others in the food scene in this part of the city.

I'm would think there's a saturation point for number of kebab shops you really need on any one street, and I'm pretty sure the streets of Kottbusser tor crossed that point long ago.

We ended up caving in and getting Turkish food since there seemed like there was no other option, and it was quite frankly disappointing. Overpriced and dry, leaving me even more confused how such an average restaurant can survive in the face of so much competition?

After dinner we went to a nearby tapas bar for a while to soak in the bohemian/hipster vibe they had going on there, before heading over the bridge near Warschauer Straße station into a district of old warehouses that had been converted into bars, skate parks, climbing centres and all kinds stuff, all very decorated on the outside with loads and loads of awesome graffiti.

We found a nice little bar in what seemed to be a bit of a multi-purpose building. At various times I saw through different open doors and I'm sure I saw 2-3 different bars, a room that looked to be some sort of music recording studio, and what I think might have been a juggling studio up stairs. Quite an eclectic mix.

They had some live music happening in the bar, initially a single guy alternating between playing a pan flute and a ukulele, then more musicians little crank at one end, and the original guy switched over to playing something that appeared to be a bag pipe, but with inoffensive tuning. For serious, a bag pipe without the piercing pitch, it actually sounded pleasant! Then two of them started doing some folk dancing. It was quite the cool little show. Brunswick hipsters, eat your heart out.

Another day I went an walked along Karl-Marx Allee, a monumental boulevard built by the GDR/DDR, I guess to try and show off how great communism is. It is lined with lots of massive buildings built during the early years of the Cold War.

There are some interesting communist advertising on top of a few buildings. Interesting because being communist meant there wasn't really a need for any advertising since there was no competition between companies, but there were ads for stuff in West Berlin and didn't want to be outdone by them.

There was also a small model of Sputnik on top of a cafe, because space exploration... or something.

But the highlight for me, completely unrelated to it's socialist past, was the epic video game museum. It contained pretty much every console imaginable and loads of classic games, and a number of classic arcade machines too. The place brought out a tremendous amount of nostalgia in me, so many fond memories from younger years.

Some pieces of note included the original Sega Master System, my first ever console,

A virtual reality machine that I have memories of paying way too much to have a turn of at a video game arcade somewhere in Queensland when I was a kid,

An Apple II, signed by the brains behind the machine, Steve Wozniak,

And this very unique arcade machine called the PainStation, which was a multi player game that physically electrocuted, burnt and whipped the players while they played a video game, and whoever flinched away first lost.Seriously. Sadly it wasn't switched on so I can't say how bad the pain really was.