Travel to Berlin, Germany

Ghana VS Brazil…these are the sounds I hear behind me as the tv is blaring screaming, cheering and general sport excitement in my little Berlin hostel in the woods. Today I left Kobenhaven on the 7 hour train to Berlin via Hamburg. The train left the main station and headed south to the main port where the train got right onto a ferry and spent one hour crashing against the waves towards the northern German coastline. I sat with a Swiss businessman on the train ride and he ended up buying me a cup of coffee and roast beef smorbrod on the ferry (roast beef, horseradish, pickles, curry and onion ring).

The waves were insane, I was on the top floor of the ship (that is the 6th level) and the waves actually slammed against the viewing glass as if we were going under Niagara Falls! I walked through the infamous Scandinavian Ferry duty free (similar to a no tax Holt Renfrew with a giant candy store and LCBO all in one). I bought 3 Ritter sport chocolate bars (to start off my German taste buds) for 85 cents each (dark chocolate, praline and hazelnut). As the ferry landed on German soil we took a 2 hour trip to Hamburg through beautiful green farmland. Two things stuck out on this trip: huge power windmills and many horse farms. As I arrived in Hamburg I saw a huge sign overhead that read “Hamburg welcomes the World, FIFA World Cup 2006. I took a very fast high speed train from Hamburg to Berlin which reached speeds of 200 km/h! I arrived in Berlin at the Hauptbahnhof which just opened a month ago, and to date is the largest train station in Europe! The place is immense and looks like a gigantic airport! I lugged my pack all around the place trying to find tourism information points and got some help taking the five transfers from the subway to the bus station to my little cozy hostel in the forest. I obviously realized that I had defiantly not chosen a well situated hostel in Berlin. It takes about 30-40 minutes to get into the city center (which doesn’t really exist anyhow since the city has no real center!) I got off the last bus station and walked down a long street which was clearly a very well to do suburban area of town (the Swedish embassy is located on the street across from several mansions). At the end of the street Berlins huge National Park begins and I turned left into a huge wooded area with gravel roads. At the very end of the road situated under shady Maple Trees I found my little JetPack Berlin Hostel.

For the evening I found myself having another unexpected adventure. I walked out of the forest down the Beverly Hills Avenue (as the local’s call it, mansions like you can’t imagine). Once I hit the main street I had to walk 30 minutes to get to the main part of town which had a cluster of restaurants. I asked a few people if they spoke English and tried to get some assistance regarding recommended German restaurants in the area. I finally found a lady with somewhat of a clue. She had just come out of a bank and talked to me for a bit trying to explain how to get to this German restaurant that she loves. At the end of the conversation she just threw up her hands and beckoned me into her car. I had a one way ticket to a great German restaurant, courtesy of an authentic German lady! I got a bit worried after she drove over 20 minutes in and out of many rural streets (I was thinking to myself, even if I do eat here, how will I ever find my way home!). Arriving at the restaurant I bid my lovely German chauffeur goodbye and almost fell flat on my back after looking at the prices. The cheapest main was 85 euros and the restaurant wasn’t even German it was Austrian! What was that lady thinking! As if she thinks Austria and Germany are one and the same…despicable! If I wanted to go to Austria I would go to Austria (which I will in late July!). I could not lower my standards and weaken myself to simply eating at this overpriced posh restaurant. So, I waddled in and out of several streets until I made my way back to the main plaza. Here I found an excellent Greek restaurant which proved to satisfy (even though it wasn’t German, I was tired, hungry and at least I drank German beer!). For 10 euros I had a huge plate of bacon wrapped chicken souvlaki with rice, salad and zaziki. I sat with two local kids who helped me through the menu and we watched the France VS Spain match (which France unfortunately won, angering every German in the place.) The best part of the meal was my two towering Warsteiner beers which were only 1.75 euros each as it was Crazy Hour. This restaurant has a hilarious drink wheel on the back of their menu. The wheel is marked by the hours in the day and shaded in based on three categories: 3 hours of the day are allotted a Normal price (3.20 for a beer), another 3 hours of the day are allotted Crazy Hour prices (1.50 euros a beer), the other 8 hours of the day are happy hour (2 euros a beer). The two lovely younglings I sat beside told me that the area I was living in is the most posh spot in the city and of all of Germany (which didn’t surprise me). Along the streets the restaurant lanes are full of BMW’s and Mercedes. There is a huge resort hotel with a beautiful water fountain on the main street just three minutes from the forest and apparently the German football team stays there whenever they are playing FIFA in Berlin. Therefore I may see them on Friday lounging around before playing Argentina (not likely). I left the restaurant at 11:20pm after my courtesy shot of Ouzo.

The streets were pitch black and I was defiantly feeling looser than usually. I turned on my ipod and blasted Hung Up, by Madonna, on repeat, all the way home. On the way I stopped by a revolving advertising board and got a picture by a Dolce and Gabanna underwear ad. As I walked the darker streets toward the forests I danced and pranced to my hearts delight (as time goes by so slowly…). To my utter astonishment and horror I saw a looming black figure in the woods to my right. I was absolutely terrified and stopped to get a look at what it was. At first I thought it was a black bear and then realized it was a Wild Boar of all things, with tusks and snarling snout! The boar was the size of a large black bear and ended up following me all the way back to the hostel. The creepy sound of its small hoofs and huffing breath will never escape me. Forever I will associate Berlin and Ouzo with scary stalker Boars!

I was up and at’em at 9am this morning and walked through the back of the forests to my bus 115 stop into the city. I asked an elderly lady with a very thick accent if I was taking the right bus and she was elated when I told her I was from Canada (she gave me a big smile and thumbs up). I arrived at Unter den Linden and walked to Pariser Platz where several streets and the square are blocked off to traffic. In the center of the square is a giant soccer ball and walking under the Brandenburg Gate you can see FIFA World Cup posters everywhere. On my walk west I arrived at Tiergarten which houses the famous German Parliament called the Reichstag on the Spree River. Across from the Parliament is a huge stadium with posters of famous football players such as David Beckham plastered onto the exterior walls. There were many ticket booths in front of the stadium and even more tourists snapping a million pictures a second. The city planned well for the tourist influx as there are FIFA info centers throughout the city. I asked a young gentlemen about the stadium and he said it isn’t actually the one the games are played at. He said that the stadium was built for the world cup, to those who were unable to get live tickets. Inside the stadium they create a communal exciting atmosphere for fans who watch the game on huge tv screens!

I walked south down Erbertstrabe and arrived at the Holocaust Memorial. The memorial is huge and took four years to build. The entire plaza contains rectangular pillars about 3 feet in diameter. The actually memorial is an optical illusion and is meant to make you think and ponder the events of WWII. Bellow the plaza is a Holocaust museum which contains many artifacts and 10 videotaped testimonies from Jewish survivors from Berlin. I enjoyed taking many pictures through the huge maze of black columns. The architect of the memorial is a genius, in the center of the memorial all of the columns are very tall (about 15 feet or so) and the footpath is flat and linear. On the sides of this main street are rolling artificial hills, so if you zig zag across the memorial you walk up and down waves of land with huge columns surrounding you 360 degrees. An amazing artistic achievement and beautiful memorial.

Next stop was Check Point Charlie. I was really excited when I actually saw the Berlin Wall. The remains of it are right before you arrive at the check point and are somewhat of a museum of their own now. You can see the graffiti sprawled across the cement and can still make out words such as MADNESS, which stare you right in the face. On the other side of the wall is a very interesting outdoor museum called the Topography of Terror. This used to be the headquarters for the SS and since its demolition has been transformed into an information media center regarding how the Nazi regime was punished and put on trial after the war. Along the Berlin wall are pictures and audio guides which explain the Nuremberg trials and all of the post war politics that took place after Germany surrendered. Just one block north is Check Point Charlie which is ridiculously commercialized. Along the street many vendors sell army fatigues and Soviet gear. The actual Check Point had two “actors” wearing American army uniforms holding the Star Spangled Banner. Along the streets that head due south from the Check Point you can see large 2 foot chunks of the Berlin Wall mounted on the sides of buildings. The Berlin Wall symbolized so much oppression but is also remembered as a time of artistic backlash and rebellion. The graffiti art on the wall was incredible and today the local people of Berlin (I assume the municipal government) have put up these art show pieces of the wall as a remembrance of what has happened in the past.

The Jewish Museum of Germany, Berlin is located about 10 minutes walk south of the Berlin Wall memorial and describes two millennia of Jewish German history. The Museum is probably one of the most successful I have come across with regards to attempting to communicate with visitors. The huge three floor structure is ultra modern and the famed Jewish architect (who’s name escapes me at the moment) created many symbolic areas within. You start your journey at the bottom of the museum in which there is a maze of halls that form the shape of the Star of David. On these walls are enclosed artifacts and the names of cities all over the world in which large Jewish populations reside. Berlin, Jerusalem, Hollywood, Moscow, Sydney etc… the names act to remind us that the Jewish faith is a global religion. At two of the tips of the Jewish Star of David are interesting symbolic sites meant to move you simply through situation and surroundings. The first is called the Garden of Exile. As you walk out onto a plaza you realize that your feet are entirely unstable as the entire garden is uneven so as you walk forward you have to get your bearings. The actual garden is similar to the Holocaust Memorial as it is made up of several huge tall square columns that you can stumble through. At the top of each of these towers sits an olive tree, many of which are found in Jerusalem and symbolize the faith of the Jews sprouting out of an unstable floor. The other interesting spot on the bottom floor is the Holocaust Tower. Pulling back the door you enter a completely black room. As your eyes adjust you realize there are many other people in the room along the cement walls. The tower is actually rather small and creates a humbling optical illusion. Since the room is so dark you can’t actually see that the top of the tower and the ceiling actually meet at a point where a small slit window is located letting in a small ray of light that actually creates a glow within the room. The Tower is a magnificent structural masterpiece as the observer really feels humbled in the small space and the light above symbolizes a ray of hope and peace. The two floors above consist of an excellent chronological history of the Jews of Germany. The story starts pre Medieval when Jews immigrated for the first time into the German cities of Worm and Mainz (where the first synagogue was erected in 1012). An amazing 3D movie depicts the first thousand years of Jewish life in Germany and the walk continues along the top floor to areas such as Tradition and Change, In the Bosom of the Family and German and Jewish at the Same Time. As you walk down the stairs to the last floor of the exhibit you experience Modernity and Urbanism (a tribute to Jewish German painters, actors and musicians). Following this section is East/West, World War I and the humbling Persecution, Resistance, Extermination. The final area is simply titled The Present and uses pictures and video to show the many Jews in Germany that are making a difference in the Arts, Politics, Religion and Scientific fields. I was very impressed by the museum as it thoroughly explains the history of Jews in Europe and above all things centers on the supreme qualities of hope, faith and forgiveness. Within the Holocaust rooms I was happy to see that many examples of German resistance (Jewish or non Jewish) were represented. Some very heroic stories indeed.

I left the Museum at 1pm and spent two hours walking the streets in search of an excellent affordable lunch. I walked up the main street Friedrichstrabe and came across some interesting sites before I sat down to eat. At the Bebelplatz (the square is surrounded by the National Library and University) there is a huge amazing outdoor international art exhibit. Arriving at the square you can see a huge circle of 198 bears! Each bear has been decorated by a famous artist from a different country. The place is so fabulous as each bear has a plaque at its foot with the name of the country, artist and flag. It is so cool to see how each country expresses itself through the simple decoration of a bear statue! The Canadian statue was actually horrific (it was a mosaic of broken English tea cups…boring and defiantly not a good way to canvas our country). I took so many pictures for all of my artsy friends to show when I get home. Walking north I crossed the bridge to finally set foot onto the Markisches Museum (Museum Island). It is convenient that all the major national museums are located on this one island in the middle of the city. I walked past the huge (and dirty) Berliner Dome (a domed emerald green cathedral that could use a soap scrub). At this point I was famished and happy to find a nice Italian restaurant with a lovely outdoor patio overlooking a very comical interactive fountain (the fountain is the shape of a square and in the center has laser sensors which can detect when you come close to the fountain. When this happens the actual water where you are standing stops shooting up into the air so you can enter into the center of the fountain). I ordered a very large glass of Herforder beer and was served a plate of fresh bread with marinated olives. The pizza was gigantic and topped with spicy German sausage, olives and a magical cheese from Northern Germany (it looks like feta but has the texture of cream cheese and tastes spicy!) As I ate my last bite (prior to exploding) I realized how much I appreciated the cheep food and beer here in Germany. Two weeks in Scandinavia will make for many sober moments, this is a nice change!

In the late afternoon after lunch I made my way to the Alte Nationalgalerie (German National Gallery specializing in 19th century German art and famed French Impressionists). The building is a beautiful three floor, colourfully tiled, masterpiece. I enjoyed the German landscapes most as well as the humorous scenes of Bavarian jolly parties. One of the funniest paintings was entitled Wine Tasting and had four very out of place fat Bavarian men from Munich sitting trying to smell and sip glasses of wine, they clearly prefer the Beer Gardens. A short overview of the famed art that can be seen here: Courbet, Menzel, Max Beckmann, Bocklin, Manet, Roudin, Cezanne, Monet, Gaugan, Casper David Friedrich, Christian Gottlieb Schick, Anselm Feuerbach, Hillip Oto Runge and Schinkel. As I stood staring at the last few paintings on the ground floor my feet became unsteady and I realized that I had just walked across half of Berlin (probably over 80 km in 7 hours). As if a sign from God, to the right of the exit is the river with an out door pub and hundreds of hammock like chairs to relax in. I sat for about thirty minutes taking a much needed rest listening to the sounds of a live jazz band down the street. My final stop of the day was to Hackescher Market which is the famous Berlin second hand and boutique clothing area. I went in and out of some very funky shops and finally made my way back to the tram stop to take the thirty minute subway, bus and walk back to my hostel. A long day of productive tourism needs its rewards. So I bought dinner, a well balanced diet of: Berliner Beer (the local brew with black bear as its mascot), a tub of German dark chocolate cream gelato and a basket of fresh strawberries from a farmers market just before I entered the forest.

My last day in Berlin was a little less hectic than my whirl wind walking tour the day before. I took the bus and S-Bann to the German History Museum which knocked my socks off. Germany continues to impress me with their well organized and educational museums and art galleries. As you enter the museum you walk right in front of a huge topographical map of Europe which glows every 5 seconds with a new date and boundary of Germany (showing how over time the country has increased in size). Right now there is a summer promotion courtesy of the German tourism board entitled 100 Masterminds of Tomorrow. Surrounding the lobby are 100 life sized posters of famous Germans who are worth giving a pat on the back. I was elated to see my two favorite German actors represented (from Goodbye Lenin and the Edukators). The owner of Adidas (I didn’t even know that Adidas was German, does that make me ignorant?) and several supermodels (Heidi Klum), designers, architects, researchers and artists/dancers/musicians. As you walk up the grand stair case you enter the first room which starts at Pre-Medieval Times. The story of the Germanic peoples immigrating from Rome is told and many artifacts are available to see behind big glass cases. I was most impressed (note:my jaw dropped) when I reached the Reformation area and saw Martin Luther’s actual first published book fighting against Indulgence radical practice courtesy of the Catholic Church. Along the main hall was an incredibly vast Germanic Bible collection. It was a bit odd knowing I was staring at one of the first translations of the early Christian Bible as we know it today. One of the most interesting items creped me out entirely. It was Oliver Cromwell’s death mask (when he died they plastered his face to get an impression). All I can say is that Oliver was not attractive and kind of looks like a zombie. As I walked through the 1700’s section I laughed out loud as I came across a small porcelain statuette entitled Discord in Marriage (the husband is sitting on a bench with broken bottles by his feet and his wife has her hand in the air about to throttle him). In the interest of time and to avoid rambling I will list a few of the room titles to give you an idea of how the museum progresses through time: Napoleon Destroys German Holy Roman States, Congress of Vienna and the Age of Metternich, Bismark followed by the Industrial Revolution, WWI the assassination on 25th of June 1914, Socialist Party Propaganda, The Rise of the Nazi Regime, Norway and Denmark Fight Back, Post War Shame and Reparations, Soviet Russia and the Berlin Wall, The Munich Olympics. The most moving installation was a huge replica of Auschwitz Concentration camp modeled by a famous Jewish architect which visually explains what went on. As always, after leaving the Museum I took a moment to sit and reflect with all that I had seen. My underlying thought was Thank God We Live In a Free Country!

Scooting across town on the tram, over the Spree river to stop at the glorious Hamburger Bahnhof Museum of Contemporary Art Berlin (and they don’t sell hamburgers). Fortunately I arrived just as the gallery became free for 3 hours! My lucky score. I enjoyed the Historic Hall which houses interactive art by Richard Long (his art uses nature, predominately slate stone and creates interesting objects such as huge circles on the floor, stone bookshelves and even a fighter plane!) A long corridor had several gigantic Andy Warhol’s which you are probably all familiar with (Elvis with his cowboy gun and Emperor Mao of China). On the top floor were many German artists I had never heard of but I find these seem to be the most intriguing as they are fresh and new. A small room was dedicated to Roy Liechtenstein and the floor plan was somewhat of a maze with walls painted with thick bright red oil paint. My favorite piece by far was the huge display case entitled VOID. After taking a closer look you realize that within the case on the many little shelves are thousands of pills. The piece made me laugh out loud as I believe this artist must have had some sort hook ups at the Pharmacy to have access to so many different drugs.

I left the gallery and walked to the huge train station Hauptbahnhof. The Spree river curves right in front of the station and you can instantly tell that the city had prepared for the surge in tourists for the World Cup. Huge soccer shoes and soccer balls the size of houses can be seen across the station. Along the streets (which used to be grassy park areas) artificial beaches can be found. The city filled all of the side streets with beach sand, volleyball nets, pools and even four poster beds for tourists to hang out and grab a beer and do a bit of dancing and cheer. The station was packed with people as they are all arriving today and tomorrow for Friday’s huge game here in Berlin featuring Germany VS Argentina! I have become somewhat of a World Cup addict and can’t wait to see that game. I took the tram to Zoologischer Garten and was amazed to find an immense street party going on. The space (one of the busiest squares in Berlin) has been turned into a party for all football fans and tourists alike. The streets are lined with buskers, tents that advertise 1/2 meter sausage, beer gardens and Chinese/Turkish food stands. I bought my first German Sausage (very excited about that). The lunch was grand and consisted of a foot long Rostabratwurst, French fries with curried ketchup and a half liter of Maisel’s Weise beer. I sat on the bench looking over the street party (which is actually 3 blocks long so just imagine a REALLY big party in both directions and you’ll get the general idea) and enjoyed listening to the German rock and folk music blasting into the air as well as watching the many Argentinean fans getting verbally abused by German locals.

I spent my last 3 hours in Berlin sobering up after the delicious lunch along the shopping boardwalk. In the middle of Zoo is a famous cathedral which stands out like a sore thumb. The cathedral is from before World War II and was left untouched after the war. It was bombed heavily and you can see the general structure of the church but the steeple is gone and you can see the sky when inside the church looking up into the heavens. I think it is really interesting that the government decided not to rebuild everything. This church has become a symbol of the destruction of war right in the middle of the city. I found the neatest German Department store and I am happy to announce that a solid purchase has been made. The shop is two blocks long and seems like the size of the Eaton’s Center. Two floors are dedicated to men’s cloths (score again). The bottom floor which is the size of an indoor football stadium is filled with tables covered in graphic shirts and specialty boutique corners. I ended up buying three items after much deliberation. I got a black knit hoody with painted gold headphones, a black t-shirt with brightly coloured polka dots and the caption Monster Disco, and finally my first pair of tight Euro ankle snug jeans. The jeans need to be hemmed just a little bit but they are dark black Diesel’s which I purchased for an undisclosed amount: splurge and get the tax refund, my motto of the day.

Berlin has so much to offer. I only saw a small fraction of the over 60 museums and art galleries in the city. This metropolitan area has been under construction for the last 10 years in order to properly prepare for the World Cup. I came here the perfect time, excitement in the air and plenty of international food grub to be gobbled up. Tomorrow morning I dart out of this little German cottage in the forest and hope to catch the early train to Amsterdam. All hail Heineken!


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