Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Berlin

And where was I during Pfingst? We were in Berlin. Unfortunately, so was most of Leverkusen, and the rest of the World. Friday saw me racing off to the Hauptbahnhof to catch the ICE to Berlin.. which was full of Leverkusen fans. It didn't help that the train itself wasn't exactly the most modern of DB's stock, and had the lovely habit of wafting the smell of the toilet up the train every time someone opened the door. Mind you, this has its advantages, as you can drop a silent one and blame it on the toilet.

A four-hour journey left us a little short-tempered, but fortunately we found our hotel, the Best Western in Spittalmarkt, quite quickly. It's not very far from the U-Bahn, and, because it's in what used to be the Eastern section, tends to be very quiet after 9pm at night.. probably because old habits die hard. It's a typical Best Western, so it doesn't have much in the way of social utilities, like bars. You're expected to buy your drinks at reception and drink yourself into a stupor in your room.

Still, Monday morning, and after a fairly good breakfast (note that breakfast is extra at Best Western) we charged off do do some "Einkaufsbummeln". This seems to be some sort of strange ritual where you go into all the department stores that you have at home and attempt to find if they have anything different in stock.

They didn't.

Ah well, only half a day wasted on that.

Next up, a nose round Potsdamer Platz, which was surprisingly quiet in some areas. Almost nothing exists of the former Berlin Wall, which once passed directly through Potsdamer Platz. A line marks where it used to be, and some slabs of the wall form a commemorative monument. This isn't exactly representative of the Wall, which was actually two walls separated by an empty patch of ground, known as the "Death Strip". No prizes for guessing why. Ironically, the Death strip acted as a nature reserve, and there are plans afoot to try and preserve the green path left by the former wall through the city. Meanwhile, after eating at one of the cafes in Hackesischer Markt , we walked down toward Friedrichstr via Oranienburger str. It rained cats and dogs and so we took shelter in a cafe next to the Synagogue.

The evening was spent (slowly steaming) at the Alexander Theater, watching "The Producers". I used to use "Springtime for Hitler" to irritate my first Boss in Germany, and I can't help but feel that when I can watch this in a theatre in the former East Berlin, then something has come full circle and stopped with a shudder. On our way back to the Hotel it was obvious, by the amount of long-faced Leverkusen fans, what the football results were.

The next day was spent amongst the museums on the Museuminsel, where we managed to see the famous bust of Nefertiti, along with the Gates of Babylon and other classical treasures. Something I couldn't help but notice is the irritating proliferation of digital cameras, with everyone flashing away, even though both notices and museum guards repeatedly told everyone not to. It seems as though everyone is in such a hurry that they take pictures rather than just sit and take the time to examine things first-hand. I mean, if I wanted to look at a photo of Nefertiti, I can do that at anytime. Haring through the museum photographing everything for later seems to be missing the point of the visit, as well as irritating those of us who want to sit and admire things first-hand.

After a while we decided to leave, to allow our eyes to recover, and went over to the "Karnival of Kultur", which was really crowded, but fun. Unfortunately, it began to rain, so we made our way back to the U-Bahn, to find it was so crowded, it was practically impossible to get in. Eventually we did, and went back to the Hotel, before going out to the Gendarmerie square to eat. Be warned, this is where all the expensive places to eat are.

Monday was spent at the Brandenburger Tor, and in the Reichstag. Tip for you all : there are actually two queues at the Reichstag - the one to go up to the dome, which takes about two hours queuing, and the one for a tour in German. The second one allows you into the viewing gallery of the assembly room itself, where you get a talk (in german) on the building. It's also a lot quicker to get in than the first queue, and you get to go up to the dome as well.

In the afternoon, we flew home, which took only 20 minutes, compared to the agonizing 4 hours by DB.

Photos to follow.