Berlin has absolutely captured my heart and soul.
Firstly, getting around everywhere is so easy. There are none of those god awful waiting times like in London, everything is on time, and if for some reason a Tram has broken down there are announcements put on the message boards at stops. This week however I came in contact with the darker side of Berlin transport. You’ll be safe if you have a valid ticket, but if not beware the Ticket Master. In my last post I mentioned these guys and how they randomly do a spot check; fine, nothing seem’s that scary right? But last Sunday I witnessed some brave lass try to make a run for the platform when she spotted the ticket masters heading onto the train. Now, the ticket master was neither young nor fit, but my god was she fast. That ticket master rugby tackled that young woman and nobody but tourists on the train seemed to be gawking at such a sceptical. This young woman was shouting and using a lot of effort to try and get free whilst the ticket master calmly requested someone phone the police. Scary as hell. When I later asked our project leader he simply laughed and said “yeah, that’s how we do it out here.” What?!
Secondly, it is one of the cleanest cities I have ever had the pleasure of visiting. The Germans have something called the Ordnungspolizei which literally translates to “Order Police” who randomly appear as if lurking in the bushes when you drop a bit of litter and insist you pick it up. Recycling is encouraged, and you even get money back for returning bottles – if you have a party the money you get back can often pay for the next round of beers. It makes visiting the many city parks a pleasure rather than a hazard, and you can see their pride in their city because of it.
Thirdly, they love dogs. Dogs are everywhere in Berlin and they are welcome too. Dog bowls are set outside every restaurant and biergarten, Tram drivers affectionately pat their heads when they climb on board, and mostly they walk off their leads attentively at their owner’s heels in the streets. I have had so many cuddles off of curious pooches that in all honesty, I think it is going to be the hardest thing about going back to England.
Recommended places to visit:
This week as been super busy which is why I didn’t manage to get a post to you guys on Thursday but here is a quick rundown of the places I would really recommend visiting this week based on where I have been.
Charlottenburg Palace, which is on the Western side of Berlin and is thus quite a trek for me over in the East, was an absolutely stunning palace to visit. It opened in 1699 and was one of the biggest palaces in actual Berlin – most of the grander palaces are in Sanssouci Park or in the outskirts of Berlin. At the moment it’s under construction so we didn’t get the full force of its beauty, but it is still easy to see it was once a commanding and authoritative space. The palace itself costs 9 euros to visit all the little sections – there are different wings and outer buildings which will otherwise charge you if you don’t get the full ticket. However, the gardens are open for public use and my boyfriend and I spent a few hours just enjoying laying in the grass surrounded by roses and bubbling brook.
** I have noticed throughout my stay here and visits to the numerous museums and such, that the quality of audio guide here is far greater than the ones in London. There is a dry and sometimes dark humour to the voice overs which has often led to me opting for looking like a weirdo with my earphones rather than following one of the expert guides around the rooms. **
I’ve been feeling a little bit like a fish out of water with so much modern history everywhere, even though the lure of Russians is tampering the shock to the system. However, I have found the small part of Berlin that was part of the old 12th century town Albert the Bear first wrote about when he claimed it for the Holy Roman Emperor. Nikolaiviertel is right next to the busy Alexanderplatz and it is quite jarring walking from one suddenly to the other. Alexanderplatz for example is more like a modern, busy city center. There’s Primark and phone shops, and buskers on every corner. Nikolaiviertel however is all cobbled streets and small alleyways, with hidden churches and a functioning water pump residents still use. Everything is so calm and quiet here, and I was delighted to find out every shop is an independent, local trade shop. There are some really unusual souvenirs you can pick up instead of the typical I Love Berlin tops. I am currently eyeing up a rather beautiful bit of artwork to bring back.
Fun Fact: Albert the Bear is the reason why Berlin is covered in statues and symbols of bears. When he declared Berlin its own city and free, he gifted the Berliners with their own coat of arms: a rampart bear.
I cannot escape modern history in such a young country though, so I went to visit perhaps one of the most chilling sites in Berlin: The Topography of Terror. It doesn’t look like much, just a glass wall with information and photos dotted along it. I would advice starting on the far end and working back down to the entrance so you do WW2 in order. I’ve studied WW2 to death, I am rather bored of it frankly: it’s what you get for having a very military family whose favourite thing at family gatherings is to tell you their bloodiest stories. I had heard many people tell me how it would make me cry, but I scoffed. I was way too deadened to the horrors of this war to let it bother me. The Boy in the Stripped Pyjama’s and Anne Frank don’t so much as move this stone cold heart. But by the end of this exhibition I found myself sat on one of the benches I can only assume they set out at the end for this very reason, and I was close to tears. An elderly man next to me was freely sobbing his heart out. It took me a moment to actually regain my thoughts and get them in order, and the whole way home I kept seeing this little girl, who was murdered in the gas chambers because she had epilepsy, in my mind. The doctors had called it ‘idiocy’ and decided she didn’t have a real illness, she was simply a ‘bad gene’. Her parents had willingly handed her over to monsters. It’s definitely worth a visit but be prepared to go for a lie down after, or many stiff drinks.
I clearly hadn’t learnt my lesson for I went and watched a documentary about photography in Berlin’s Outdoor Cinema. I had mainly gone to enjoy a retro film screening, hadn’t really asked much about the film other than what it was about. A documentary about photo’s hadn’t raised any alarm bells though. There are a wide range of films shown from French Noir, to German horrors, to English comedies to the American classics like Godfather. We saw the saddest film of a political photographer which was just the cherry on top after my experience at Topography of Terror. I would recommend the cinema though, it is set in a lovely park (Volkspark Friedrichshain) which is home also to the Fairy tale Fountain – a beautiful water feature with statues from the original Grimm tales.
Opposite the Fairy tale Fountain is the cocktail bar, Fairy tale. You almost walk past it because it looks like a house: you even have to ring a doorbell. But it an absolutely wonderful place to visit. All the cocktails are named after fairy tales, and the menus are old Grimm books: I would recommend the Cinderella because you drink from an actual glass slipper. When you open it butterflies fly out – don’t tell your friends because their reactions are hilarious – and at the back of the book is a vile with a sample cocktail in and a little ginger cake. The bar staff are all dressed up in costumes as well. It is a lovely atmosphere and the service is fantastic. Definitely worth a visit.
The last big thing I did this week was to attempt the Museum Island challenge. Museum Island used to be a small town in itself but it now home to five museums, which are considered the most important in Berlin. There is a ticket you can get for 9 euros which allows you entry into all of the museums but only for a day. Usually the cost per museum will be around 9 – 12 euros so this was a real bargain for me. I thought, I like history, five museums will be easy, right? Wrong. No, I’m joking, it wasn’t too bad actually. I thought it was going to be worse despite my cocky nature around my friends. The Alte and Neue Museums are both on Egyptian, Greek and Roman history so you can do the both without having too much new information thrown at you other than what you choose to read on specific artefacts. The Alte museum is also home to the Nefertiti statue which is well worth a study – it is absolutely beautiful. The Pergamon Museum was my favourite – it is all about the East and Islamic art. It was something new which is probably why I enjoyed it so much, but it really put the subtle roman and greek work to shame. I probably spent the most time here despite it being the smallest of the five. I’m not a fan of art galleries to the gallery which classes as a museum was easy enough to glide through appreciating the statues and paintings that the Prussians had stolen from across Europe. The last one – the Bode museum – is about Byzantine and the early medieval period under Charlemagne. This was also fun and new for me so I lingered here a bit longer than the others. I would definitely recommend it if you are faced with a rainy day in Berlin – it is sadly not always sunny even in summer. I thoroughly enjoyed it but I was exhausted afterwards from all the information, so just be prepared to go home and collapse with some good TV.
Just like in England there seem to be strange rules in Germany that everyone is expected to know. I didn’t pick up on them in the first week but I’ve noticed it more this week so here are some things to watch out for:
You won’t always get in the club: It’s not like in England where you queue and you get in depending on your place inline. It can depend on what you’re wearing (one club has a black only rule), if you are in a big group (they don’t seem to like groups of more than three), your age (Watergate won’t let in under 21s) and sometimes it just seems to be based on whether the bouncer likes you or not. It can often mean you’ll be wondering around waiting for a club to let you in for hours. But don’t worry, the typical Berliner will stay out clubbing till it shuts. At 7:30 am.
Staring Competitions: I thought I was just being paranoid on my first week but it turns out this is actually a thing. German people stare at you for an uncomfortable amount of time. My project manager laughed and said they do it deliberately to unnerve tourists, so I tested his theory and stared right back at the next German who challenged me. We didn’t break eye contact for what felt like hours, but in the end he brought me a drink and apparently I passed this weird ‘tourist test’.
Bikes: This is pretty similar to England – bikes have no care where they are meant to be and where they actually go. They’ll go from pavement to road as happy as a lamb. However it is encouraged in Germany to shout at cyclists who do not stick to their proper place. This is much more fun than at home where we grumble or make a passive aggressive loud comment the cyclist probably never hears.
Cars: More of a warning, but if you see the green man on the traffic light this does not always mean you are safe to cross. Drivers here don’t give a care what the light says, if they think they can whizz over without being hit they will do so. This will often mean you are crossing a road and a car will beep loudly at you as it flies around a bend. You’re not going mad, the man is green, and it is your right of way. Germans just tend to ignore the drivers or give them a dark look, a hobbit I have happily joined in with.
That’s all this week! If you are visiting Berlin and have recommendations for places to visit please do let me know.
With love, Berlin.