Berlin, Part 3

April 23rd 2014, 3:05:00 pm

One very cold a miserable morning I went to see Sachsenhausen concentration camp, out at Oranienburg. The camp was about a two kilometre walk from the station in literally freezing cold mist.

This camp had been used by the Nazis during the war, but also used by the Russians around 1945-50 after the war ended, who continued to the use the camp to kill those who opposed the Russian control of East Germany after the war. There was lots of info about individual prisoners accounts and that sort of thing, but it was all just small fragments so I left without a very good picture of what things were like during that later period.

The foundations of the buildings containing the gas chambers and the oven were all that is left of that structure. The building also contained the neck-shot room, in which they would tell the prisoners they were going to measure their height against a tape measure on the wall, but then a person in the adjoining room would fire a shot through a slit in the wall straight into their neck, killing them. The Nazis were not nice people at all.

The exhibition in the infirmary had mention of there being a brothel on site, where some females prisoners were forced to work, being raped by soldiers and selected prisoners as a means of rewarding them. Really messed up stuff.

It was cold enough the day I was there that most water on the ground had frozen solid, and the misty rain that started again as the sun was setting was unpleasantly cold, but strangely appropriate for the setting. It really helped imagine how hard it would have been being a new prisoner arriving in the winter, being given only summer clothes and made to stand out in the yard for 24 hours, not being allowed to move. I'm not surprised by how many died on their first night there.

After leaving the camp I walked past a gluhwein seller not far down the road who was an absolute lifesaver. There's nothing like a hot, alcoholic beverage to warm your chilled bones.

It was about this time that I had to move out from the Nicoles place as they had a friend coming to stay for Thanksgiving. I was sad to be leaving, they're both really lovely people. They made me feel right at home while I was there with them, so welcoming and friendly.

Random fact about Nicole and Nicole is they like tea, and own enough of it to build a tea-fort.

I moved to a hostel which had great reviews online, but turned out was almost solely inhabited by very blokey Australian guys, aside from the one staff member there who was English I think and very camp. I felt pretty out of place to put it nicely.

I went and had a look at an erotic museum, part of the oldest sex shop in the world: Beate Uhse. It seemed like there was a lot of potential to have been a very interesting museum but I found the place sort of dull. One of the two floors was almost solely about the woman who owned it, and the other floor was full of drawings and things that you could have told me were kitsch holiday souvenirs and I wouldn't have blinked.

Having only just left the Nicoles place, I was invited back the next night to take part in their Thanksgivukah celebrations, combining Thanksgiving and Hanukkah. My first exposure to either holiday :D The food was delicious, mostly vegetarian or vegan, and the deserts were sickeningly sweet! It was nice to meet some of their friends, one of whom was an Australian girl who was also born in Wagga Wagga (the amusingly named town I was born in), and also moved away at a very young age. What are the odds?

I got a message from Harmen that he was back in Berlin again so we met up and visited the DDR museum, a museum about how things were in East Germany during the communist era. It was a great exhibition, but it's crying out for a bigger space. The exhibition is overflowing with so much stuff to show that half of it is hidden behind little flaps you open or in drawers that you pull out, which isn't really compatible with having the place so packed full of people that there's no room to open the exhibitions. Hopefully the popularity will lead to them thinking about a bigger venue.

One really neat thing there was the recreation of the inside of an East German apartment, complete with hidden bugs that you could listen to from another room in the museum.

After the museum we went to to a brew pub called Brew Baker, that I'd been told had an amazing pumpkin ale on a special brew, a style of beer that I'd never tried before. The pumpkin ale was alright, but the IPA and a super sweet dark beer they also had were my favourites. It was located inside a really nice looking little indoor market.

It was around this time I went and spent a day exploring Spreepark, an old abandoned theme park in a pretty derelict state that I blogged about earlier here. Just recently I saw this articlesaying that the city of Berlin has now bought the park, so I may have gotten in just in time to see it before it gets redeveloped into something else.

One morning I tried to go and see Schloss Charlottenburg, a huge palace now used as a museum, but I didn't think about the fact it was Monday so the building was closed. I did get to explore the gardens though, which were really beautiful.

There was a lovely light frosting on the certain parts of the very neatly manicured garden which gave a lovely effect.

I spent my last few evenings in Berlin venturing around to various Christmas markets. At home I've felt jaded about Christmas for many years, but there was something about Christmas in Berlin that got through to me.

For once it didn't feel like a giant event organised by big companies to sell more shit you don't really need. There was great food, tasty beverages, rides and amusements and most importantly there were jolly people having a good time. This is quite a contrast that to my image of Christmas back home: overcrowded shopping malls full of grumpy people who don't want to be there, and it's easy to see why I prefer the way Berlin does it.

The first market I went to explore was the huge one set up near Alexanderplatz, which was kind of like a big show in a country town. There were loads of places selling gluhwein; you could get the regular stuff, optionally with a shot of spirits or schnapps, or eierpunsch, which is yellow and creamy like eggnog, super sweet and with whipped cream on top. They even had gluhbier, spiced beer served warm that was rich and a little sweet. Naturally I had to try all of them. Some of them more than once.

I had some tasty shredded pork stuff for dinner, and a bag of "donut hole" type things for desert, and boy did I feel sick afterwards from eating all that sweet stuff.

I spent my last day at the Berlin Wall memorial. There are fragments of the multiple layers of wall, and there is a street that the wall still crosses which is the last street still cut off by the wall today.

There's also a section that has been rebuilt to have both complete walls, a guard tower and lights, giving you a much better feeling how it would have really felt to be trapped in East Germany during the Soviet era.

There's also a viewing tower built nearby so you can get a more elevated view of the whole thing.

There were some interesting stories about buildings that were right along the border, that had doors opening both into East and West Berlin, allowing the owners access to both sides. Eventually the West German side was bricked up to stop people escaping via these houses, then the people were evicted, and finally the buildings were torn down.

West Berlin also had the underground train network, parts of which passed through under East Berlin city centre, but to stop people escaping through the metro tunnels the stations in East Berlin were bricked up and abandoned. Bernauer Straße station was one such station, but you wouldn't know it today.

I snuck in an amazing last lunch at a nice little place not far from the heart of the city, and ate this amazingly good pork knuckle. The meat was so tender it just fell apart; I could have eaten it with just a fork.

My bill came and it was mysteriously discounted by 20%, and I was so happy with the meal I tipped the 20% right back to them. :D

My last night in Berlin I hit a few more of the more traditional style Christmas markets at PrenzlauerBerg and Charlottenburg. These ones were far less fun-park like and had even more variety in food and handicrafts.

PrenzlauerBerg had a strong showing of Swedish and Finnish stalls with their own takes on Gluhwein. There was also some huge BBQs where the grill was suspended by chains above the coals, slowly swinging and turning. I'm not sure if it had a functional purpose but it looked cool!

The Charlottenburg markets were out the front of Charlottenburg Palace, with lots and lots of food places. I had myself an epic roast dinner, then a huge Hungarian donut thing before stumbling home to my hostel to get ready for my flight the next morning to Spain.