Travel Tips Part 8: Berlin, Germany

Finally you’re in Berlin, the city you’ll be staying in for the next week. You’re soon to discover that this week is just not long enough; Berlin is overflowing with things to do and see and unfortunately for you, you just don’t have the time to see it all.

 

Your German family live in Berlin, and they have graciously allowed you to stay with them for as long as you need. Your uncle picks you up from the station with a bewildered look on his face: the last time he saw you, you were a chubby 15 year old with long red hair and a mean temper. Given that your temper hasn’t exactly gotten better, you’ve certainly changed in many ways since then. He embraces you with open arms and says, “Hello Cassie! You are my family! You are my daughter, yes? Okay.” And heads off to find the parking lot – it’s soon clear that he’s English isn’t the best. The next 20 minutes in the car is spent with you holding on for dear life as he speeds through the motorways and traffic lights, managing to stall the car only once.

You’re at your new accommodation, and after staying in hostels for the past month, your own bed and shower is absolute paradise. Uncle Wolfgang asks if you’re hungry, which of course, you are. You have the world’s best shower then go back downstairs to find the kitchen table covered with a plethora of food: boiled potatoes, creamy vegetables, salads, cheese galore and the most bread you’ve ever seen. There’s also cake, chocolate and a gigantic mug of earl grey tea – your favourite. Seeing as you’ve been living off MacDonald’s chips and candy for the past month, the vegetables are a refreshing change, and you instantly feel more human again. You spend the next hour chatting with your uncle, which proves difficult because when he can’t think of the right word in English he instead says it in German followed by a confirmation of, “Ja?”

Your aunty Gundel comes home from work, and although tired from a day of teaching, she takes you into town to check out the famous Berlin Christmas markets. You look at the tube map and feel completely overwhelmed by how huge Berlin is, and after changing trains twice you eventually get into the centre of town. The Christmas markets are somewhat commercialised with the array of overpriced markety crap, but the smell of roasted almonds and nutella-covered crepes are enough to make your head spin.

When you get home you manage to fall asleep at 1 even though you had only 3 hours sleep the previous night. The next day you join a late walking tour of Berlin, where you meet a lovely girl from Manchester who manages to make you look like a proper lady when eating or attempting to do two things at once. After splashing olive oil all over a café table then accidently spilling gluhwein down herself, it’s clear that you and Zena are kindred souls of the uncoordinated and awkward kind.

The free walking tour of Berlin covers an extensive, depressing history of Berlin, where you visit top sights such as the Brandenburg gate and Hitler’s bunker. (i)

(i)                  Which – incidentally – is in an unmarked, boring parking lot. You’d never know!

After the tour you visit another Christmas market which has ponies and an ice-skating rink that plays Disney soundtracks while tourists uneasily skate their way around the park. You meet up with Zena’s friend Fiona for drinks, and without getting too pissed; you manage to make it home at a reasonable hour.

The next morning you wake up to find the breakfast table covered with bread, cheese, nutella, and about six different kinds of jam. After a hearty breakfast of bread and jam you set off in search for some vintage shops you found recommended online. You arrive at what looks like the dodgy end of Berlin and walk around avoiding eye contact until you reach ‘Garage,’ a second-hand shop where you can fill a basket of clothes up to a kilo and pay only 15 Euros. (ii)

(ii)                I only bought a top and a scarf – after trying on about 10 pairs of jeans I left ‘cause it was just too damn depressing.

After your shopping binge you take the S-Bahn up to Orianienburg* where you start off on the alternative walking tour of Berlin. The tour takes you about the trendy streets of Berlin which are covered in political street art and littered with mohawked youth. You visit Tachelles – a run-down building housing determined artists, who are squatting there to stop the local council from turning the beautiful building into a bank or a Starbucks. At the break, you walk into a dingy bagel shop and order what you think is a vegetarian meal, only to find you have to sit there picking off the oily ham from the bread.

Friday morning you wake up nice and late and rush into town to catch up with Zena and Fiona for yet more drinks. You take a stroll around the oh-so-chic area of Kroezburg*, and visit the east-side gallery. When the weather turns dreary and cold, you find shelter in a nearby café, and decide to spend the rest of the evening going on a “café crawl” of Berlin – they’re all pretty much the same. Come dinner time, you find yourself in a rickety, old second-hand book shop stinking of cigarettes and red wine. The owners of the cluttered shop had organised a home-cooked dinner and bottles of wine for guests for only 10 Euros, so as you walk down the narrow staircase, you’re greeted with the delicious aroma of roast dinner and about ten thousand sci-fi and fantasy novels.

After dinner you find a seriously vintage photo booth where you pay 2 Euros for surprised looking shots of three squashed girls pulling hideous faces – a nice memento from the lovely Berlin. The next day you check out some art galleries then meet the girls later for drinks. You walk back into Kroezburg and find yourselves in a cool bar that serves hot gluhwein – a must have for a winter’s day. After the second gluhwein you start to notice odd things about the seemingly ordinary pub: the cocktails look awfully fancy, Kylie Minogue seems to be on repeat, and the two middle-aged women sitting across from you are starting to get startlingly close to one another. The quiet disco ball in the corner of the room confirms your suspicions: you’ve stumbled across your first gay bar in Berlin. Upon closer inspection you notice how clean and polished all the men are and how rough all the women look; the rainbow banner outside that you somehow didn’t notice should have been a dead giveaway. Despite your straight tendencies, you decide to stay longer as the drinks are nice and the cheesy 80s/90s music is fantastic, although bordering on cringe-worthy.

It’s 11pm so time to head to the next non-gay club. After a 20 minute walk (and one nutella-crepe) you walk into Lido; an alternative club that closes at 8am! (iii)

(iii)               Coming from Perth, this is a BIG DEAL.

You buy yourself a smooth Southern Comfort and lemonade and join the dance-floor to watch the funky, soul band belt out sexy tunes on stage. After the band heads off, the DJ plays nothing but motown which pleases you immensely. Realising you’re running out of money you instead opt for a Lucky Strike cig – breaking your no-more-smoking rule. (iv)

(iv)              Fuck it – I’m on my jollies! (Bad influence, Fi!)

At 3am you decide you’re in no way drunk enough to party until 8 in the morning, so you head off on the long journey home, stumbling through the door at 5am.

You wake up the next day at 1 in the afternoon and have Sunday dinner with your family. Pleased that you can finally catch up with your cousins, you’re grateful for the easy conversation and hearty amount of carbohydrates on the table. After lunch, your cousins take you out to a smaller part of town to find a part of the Berlin wall not surrounded by loud American tourists. You break off your own piece of the wall (bit illegal) and slip it in your pocket for another authentic souvenir.

That evening you visit some small-town Christmas markets where you have your new drink of choice – gluhwein with a shot of amaretto. Later on you take the train to the O2 stadium where you stand in the mosh-pit and watch Foals and Red Hot Chilli Peppers. Being more excited to see Foals, you are disappointed when absolutely no-one else in the audience knows who they are. Despite this, they play a brilliant gig – even if you were the only one dancing and singing along. The Chilli Peppers come on and play a great show mixing old classics as well with new songs that no-one knew nor did they care to hear.

The next night, you go out with your cousin where he takes you out for an authentic German dinner (donor kebabs – they’re claiming that it’s somehow German) and a few beers. After he tells you that democracy clearly doesn’t work, that the country needs a dictator (umm?) and after he expresses his middle-class anxieties about Muslims and the Chinese; it’s somewhat clear that you’re on different wavelengths. Despite your opposing views, he still has a good heart and a warm sense of humour, so you’re able to enjoy the night without any illogical arguments.

The next day you wake up early and your cousin and his girlfriend pick you up and take you on a trip to his girlfriend’s farm to visit her pony! Despite the fact that you are fucking terrified of horses, (v)

(v)                Side story: when I was about 6 I went on a kids trip to the country to ride a horse etc. We were all trotting on in a safe line when my horse just snapped, freaked out and started galloping away at great speed away from the group. Frightened the shit out of me.  Also horses killed Superman – ask me about this later.

you figure that a pony is harmless and only a metre high, so you get to ride your very first pony!

That night you catch up with Fi and have the best curry you’ve had in a long time – it tasted all the more better because it was so damn cheap! With a belly full of delicious food you head off in search of a smoking-pub – you eventually find a trendy, cobweb ridden pub, and spend the next few hours chain-smoking, drinking red wine and talking about men.

Come midnight, you panic a trifle when you realise you have a short amount of time to catch the last train home. After running about various underground stations in search for your line, you realise you’ve missed the last train. Luckily there is a night bus running to your station, so you’re not completely screwed even though this is a horrible option. Your bus driver doesn’t speak the best English, and being paranoid that you’ve taken the wrong bus, you ask him a mere three times if it goes to your station, to which he eventually responds with; “Ja! JA!”

You’re home, you’re asleep, you’re awake, and now – Prague.

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