Last Thursday I fled England and the pressing threat of becoming a real adult by hopping on a plane to Berlin to start a life of travel writing. The scheme – City Travel Review – was one I had stumbled upon last Christmas on my university careers page, and offered young people the chance to make their own travel guide, with lessons in writing and German thrown in too. The opportunity was too tempting for me to turn down, and so here I am, sitting in the sweltering heat of Germany’s capital city having completed my first week of lessons and first two reviews. I’ll probably do a review of the course itself for anyone interested in it at the end of the month with a bit more information, but for anyone eager to know more now check out their website here.
Aside from the more formal reviews I will be doing for my guide, I thought I would keep a more informal blog going about my experience in Berlin. Living abroad is extremely exciting and nerve-wracking at the same time, especially for someone who cannot really speak the language nor any idea of the transport system. So here’s what I’ve been up to in my last week.
Arriving in Berlin was exhausting. I had had an early flight out of London without the foresight to have drunk a million cups of coffee on my way to the airport, which resulted in me falling asleep on the poor unsuspecting man next to me during the flight. As disoriented as I was being awoken by the rough landing on a total stranger, I was glad to see the woman from the company at the other end ready to help me back to my flat for the next month. Despite the woman having lived in Berlin the previous year, we ended up on the wrong tram line and bundled into a cab on the angry cursing’s that the tram had once again changed its routes (apparently this is quite a common thing so if you’ve travelled to Berlin in the past year re-check all transport routes). I had never been so thankful to be in my own apartment; another glorious treat after living in a student house for the past three years. I felt like an adult. An exhausted adult. So I did the adult thing and had a nap.
The next day I met the rest of the team who I would be working with, many of whom lived in the same building as me or a few doors down. The project was explained a bit more to us and we were all rather excited and eager to start writing. They gave us a quick tour of the main city: The Brandenburg Gate, Holocaust memorial, Hitler’s Car Park (That’s right, Richard III was just jumping on the bandwagon), and the Berlin Wall. As a history nut, I was obviously in my element. For such a modern city the scars of its history as still so visible in everyday life. I can tell mostly when I pass from East Berlin into West Berlin based on the types of building – East Berlin (and actually where I am staying) is much more practical and ‘Soviet’ than the West with its wider avenues and boulevards. It reminded me just how recent the fall of the Wall and in fact the USSR actually was – only 27 years ago were the two halves united with one another again and it took years for there to be any form of government in the East. It gives the whole city a unique feel I can’t really explain. Pride, perhaps, is the closest. Pride in their individual identities which they strive to maintain, but pride also for having come through the whole ordeal on the other side as a functioning, beautiful and amazing city. Berliners stride with their heads held high and they deserve to.
Quick Key to Transport:
- U-Bahn; the underground
- S-Bahn; Trains
- Trams; which, I’ve been told, can slice your foot off if it runs it over!
- Buses; The 100 and 200 follow the same route as sightseeing buses so is a good way to see the city cheaper.
It is true you could travel for free – nobody checks your tickets when you get on transport. However, ticket inspectors randomly jump on your bus/tram/bahn and demand to see your tickets. Not having one will result in a fine of up to 80€ so PLEASE buy one. You can get day passes (7€), week passes (30€), month passes (80€) and many others. All tickets are valid for all forms of transport.
Places I would recommend visiting:
At the weekend we were left to our own devices and decided to adventure to one of these
‘Lakes’ we had been told about. My god, do I wish we had more of these in England. We visited Schlachtensee which is in the South-West of the city. It is an amazing fresh water lake where Berliners swim, have a BBQ or hire these amazing things called Paddle boats, which kind of look like a surf board but you row along on it instead. One of the girls who I was with was teaching us all kinds of fun tricks and jumps to do on them. If these lakes existed in England they would be rammed pack, but in Berlin where this lake was just one of three within walking distance of each other, and one of many when looking at a map of Berlin, it was pleasantly empty for much of the day.
We topped our lovely day of sunshine off with a trip to a beer garden on the roof of a car park. It was a hip little gem of a place called Klunckerkranich boasting entirely Vegan food, live music and good cheap beer. I had found it a bit odd I needed to walk through a multi-storey car park to get there but I was told that was what gave it it’s odd charm and made it a local favourite. I thoroughly enjoyed it, especially as it gave me a fantastic view of the whole of Berlin. As the sun set we watched a single cloud rain over a small part of Berlin in the distance. It was rather magical, and is a great place to chat with people from all over the world. We met a great group of Australians and the chef told me all about his favourite beer.
Sunday we embraced as a lazy day and headed to an ice cream festival called Eis, Eis, Baby! Where we were given free samples of ice creams and some of Berlin’s most famous deserts. My own personal favourite was the warm waffle with hot spiced cherries and cream. For any food lovers, let me assure you the rumours are true and that Germans are very generous with their portions of food. We then ventured to Mauerpark where we were delighted to discover Berliners gather every Sunday for a fleamarket and to sing karaoke. There were some real bargains in the fleamarket with vintage suitcases, clothes, local artist works, photos from when the Wall was still up, and a myriad of different local food stands. It was a rather lovely end to the weekend sitting in the sun listening to tourists sing the current big anthems of their countries.
The Badeschiff was one of our last minute night time adventures. It is a swimming pool
made out of an old barge that floats on the river that runs through Berlin. It was probably a lot warmer during the day (and packed too) but it wasn’t unpleasant when we went at around 9pm and it was definitely quieter. The place has a Tiki bar feel to it, serving fabulous cocktails, a small make-shift beach and deck chairs facing the river. It is a great place for people to relax with friends and just chat – very different to the usual bars and clubs in the rest of Berlin. Plus, who doesn’t like having a swim at sunset?
Later on in the week I also visited the Stasi Museum. When you walk into the little cul-de-
sac the building is situated it seems to think such a happy place harboured such a dark building. The Stasi were the secret police in East Berlin who kept order and arrested all those who posed as a threat to the new form of government. The museum explains how the secret police was founded by the German Communist party out of necessity and that it was East Berliners striving to keep order who begged the USSR for their permission to have a secret police formed. The museum has a lot of interviews, speeches, photos and relics from when the building was occupied by the secret police, including rooms that have been left set out in the style they were abandoned in. As a medieval historian I felt really uneasy at just how recent the whole situation felt. I could almost see Erich Mielke sitting in his chair on the phone to Moscow in his sunny top floor rooms. For anyone interested in the darker history of Berlin I would really recommend this museum, especially as it’s only 4€ when you flash your student card.
The rest of the week was much more structured with German lessons 10 – 12 and writing courses or excursions from 12:30 to the late afternoon.
Learning German has been really interesting. Our offices are right next to this lovely cafe called Ella and when we first went in he looked rather alarmed at so many clueless English-speakers attempting to order with hand gestures and terrible accented English. However today, I would like to proudly announce, I was able to order all of my food in German and the owners gave me a small clap for my efforts. I’ve found that Germans are really helpful and also delighted when you are attempting to speak to them in their own language. I’ve picked up most of what I know from just listening to or trying and asking people I meet. Some of my key phrases for a beginner in Berlin would be:
-> Entschuldigung; Which means ‘sorry’ but is kind of used like our excuse me. If you bump into someone this is what they are usually saying. It’s also a great way to catch someone’s attention if you want to ask them a question.
-> Wo ist der … ?; Trust me, you’re going to get lost in Berlin. The Trams, S-bahn, U-bahn and such are just crazy to navigate and you will need to ask someone at some point. Wo ist der is asking Where is the…? The der is masculine but they won’t mind if your noun is feminine or neutral when they can clearly see you are looking very confused.
-> Danke, Bitte; ‘Thank you’ and ‘Please’ though Bitte will also be used as ‘You’re welcome’ after you’ve said Danke. Sometimes you can add Schone onto the end to say ‘very much’.
-> Kanne Ich habe…; Can I have…? this is again great to use when ordering over the counter and really shows you are trying!
I hope these tips are helpful for anyone wanting to visit Berlin and the next installation of my adventures will be posted around the same time next week.
With Love, Berlin.