Berlin, Part 2
I did a huge amount of exploration around Berlin appreciating the street art, probably at least 4-5 days whole days worth in total if you added it all up. I did a few "self guided" walking tours (as in I had an itinerary or stuff to look for that I found somewhere online), A ton of randomly wandering after spotting a cool piece by chance, and a "Real Berlin" free walking tour that turned out to be quite heavily street art focused.
On one of my many aimless explorations I stumbled upon some buskers playing in the street who were drawing quite a crowd. A band called The Trouble Notes. One guy planing an electric violin, one guy finger picking the heck out of a guitar while also using it as a percussion instrument, and another dude sitting on a unique drum that was just kind of a square box. They had a very beautiful sound and were so damn good I stopped and listened to them for probably an hour. I even bought a CD to support them, even though I have nothing to play it in. I also got a flyer for a show later in the month in a very obscure warehouse venue.
I moved in to the Nicoles' place on the day of a "crafternoon" that was still in progress when I arrived. I hung out and tried to make an origami animal that had been stumping everyone all afternoon (damned if I can remember what the animal was now, a whale maybe?), but we struggled with it for a very long time before discovering there were instruction in the front of the book explaining the meaning of all the different fold-arrows. With this Nicole A was finally able to successfully make the animal! I thought only men didn't read instructions, but now I know better :P
I spent an entire day exploring the street art around Warschauer Straße Station, in and amongst the converted warehouse along Revaler Straße. This area oozes creativity, with nearly every surface being covered in colourful murals and most of the people around there looked like the sorts of folk my dad would look at disapprovingly as dirty hippies. My kind of people! :)
I walked along the nearby East Side Gallery, a 1.3km long section of the Berlin Wall that is now used as an open air art gallery. There over 100 painting, all of them enormous. There was also a whole row of Trabants, the car of East Germany, parked along the side the wall.
I walked the whole length of the wall and then along some of the backside as well and was lucky enough to come upon a bunch of artists spending their Sunday afternoon painting the back of the wall and having a few beers. Art in progress :D
Another day I went on a "Real Berlin Walking Tour", as recommended by another friend who lived in Berlin briefly and highly recommended it. The tour had a strong focus on graffiti and street art, which I didn't know about beforehand and meant we went to several places I'd already checked out. It was great to have a knowledgeable guide there to point specific artists works and styles, and then start recognising their stuff all around the city.
It seemed like our guide must have been well connected in with the street art community based on how much he seemed to know about individual artists, techniques, etc. I almost suspect he may have actually been one of the artists, although he denied it when I asked him directly.
On the tour I learned some more about the Berlin wall and the Cold War. One interesting titbit I picked up was that West Berlin was the only part of West Germany that didn't have conscription, which led to many of the liberals migrating there, which could very well explain the very liberal culture that exists there today.
I also learned how property developers have been permitted to start developing along the lovely green strip behind the long strip of wall that makes up the East Side Gallery. What a complete fuck up! I thought that the one building that was in progress was a horribly inconvenient eye sore, meaning you could no longer walk along the full length of both sides of the wall. To find out they're now planning on building along most of that strip, including a section currently occupied by an African Youth support centre who are being evicted, is terrible. Wikipedia even tells me they're going to knock down extensive segments of the gallery.
Another day I visited the Deutsches Technikmuseum, the German Museum of Technology. I love science and technology museums as a rule, although this one had such a heavy focus on trains and planes that you could be forgiven for thinking it was just a transport museum.
I especially liked this jet engine that was opened up so I could poke my head right inside and get an idea of what the insides of one of those things looks like and how the "reverse thrust" thing planes do to stop actually works. I've since tried to look out the window on a flight as we landed to try see this in action but the wing gets in the way. :(
There were some other smaller sections about old bicycles, medicine, photography, old mechanical computers and televisions.
Some of the old televisions had Cathode Ray tubes so long that they would orient them with the screen facing the ceiling, and then use a 45º mirror to flip the image so a sitting viewer could watch it. To think today there are 2+ metre televisions that are only a few cm thick... The progress of technology is awesome!
There was also a historical brewery, complete with shiny copper mash & lauter tun and boiler.
One evening while I was still staying with the two Nicoles, I went and saw The Trouble Notes do a live show, with the two of them and a friend of theirs. The venue was an old building hidden down a very dark alley, surrounded by building that felt like they were largely abandoned. It felt like the kind of place you went down to get stabbed, but it turned out fine for us. The Trouble Notes put on very good show, even if the support act was a bit too emo and the venue was super smoky. It really feels like I got in a time machine and went back 20 years to be back in a place where you can smoke in public venues.
I spent a couple of days exploring the various museums on the Museum Island. First up was the Pergamon museum, which has in it's collection a giant Babylonian gate, and an ancient temple plundered from turkey.
I read up and learnt that the Babylonian gate on display is actually the smaller, rear-side of the entrance way. The front must have been absolutely epic!
The New Museum was great, I found the building itself to be very interesting, with each room styled differently and quite uniquely. Much of it has been reconstructed since the war. It's funny, the place felt way too old to be calling it "the new museum".
I also went to the Old Museum which looks really majestic from the outside, but I felt the inside of the building lacked any real character and was rather dull and sterile.
One morning I booked in to visit the Reichstag Building (the German Parliament), a building with an impressive glass dome on top of it, which you can go up for a nice view. It's free but you have to book online in advance.
Surprise track work meant that I was pretty late, I'd left home cutting things pretty fine according to Google maps estimations, but then there were no trains running on the line I needed to change to, so I had to go to another station on a different line, then practically run to try and get there near the time I was scheduled to, all the while being mobbed by supposedly deaf street collectors.
The collectors hand you a card with a little statement in a bunch of languages asking you to sign their clipboard (petition? I cant remember), then if you don't read that clipboard you suddenly find you've signed up to make a donation. Call me a cynic, but those deaf collectors look just like the gypsies in every other city in Europe. I suspect they've just come up with a new way of extracting money from people without having to know a word of any language in particular.
Anyway, the Reichstag was a very impressive building, the inside of the dome contains a system of mirrors which collect and reflect light down into the parliament, lessening the need for artificial lighting. Really clever stuff.
There was a ramp spiralling up around the dome, with an audio guide that is automatically activated as you walk around, giving you a nice (but hard to photograph) view of the city in all directions.
One place I had hesitations about visiting the was Checkpoint Charlie Museum, because the street outside makes the whole area feel like an awful tourist trap. Inside it turned out to be nothing of the sort and was way better than I expected.
It contained lots of interesting stories about the many successful and unsuccessful attempts to escape from East Germany to flee to the west. There were stories about escapes hidden in the modified car engine bays, secret compartments in large welding machines, one woman who hid in a pair of connected suitcases side by side on the luggage rack of a train, hot air balloons, gliders, even some attempts in homemade submarines in the Baltic sea. The museum was actually quite large, but I think the layout means a lot of people miss half of it. I pretty much had the place to myself in that section.