Beautiful Berlin, perfect Paris

An enormous and spacious AirBnb, some attempted German whilst ordering breakfast, a wonderful walking tour of the centre of the city (the Brandenburg Gate, the Reichstag, the memorial to the murdered Jews of Europe, the site of Hitler’s bunker, the Luftwaffe HQ, the Topographie des Terrors, and Checkpoint Charlie), a cheese pretzel, a crowded demonstration in Bebelplatz, and an enormous dinner of traditional German food filled our first day in lovely Berlin. And we got sunburnt.

A bookstore jaunt, a kebab, an ‘alternative city tour’ (street art [including the Stumbling Stones that we had found outside our apartment], squats, and the gorgeous Baumhaus an der Maeur), a downpour of rain that has probably given me pneumonia, a stroll down the East Side Gallery, and an explore around East Berlin filled the second.

On our last day it was a day for museums – the boys to the Deutsches Technikmuseum Berlin, the girls back to the Topographie des Terrors. After a strudel and a schnitzel for lunch, we headed to the German Resistance Memorial Centre before walking back along the Tiergarten and heading home to pack.

An early morning, a bright sunny flight, and we were in Paris. Shakespeare & Company is beautiful as ever. Our flat overlooks a sunny square (under construction, but it’s the ambience that matters!). We are staying next door to where Ernest Hemingway lives.

Another walking tour in brilliant sunshine. French onion soup and exquisite meals in a tiny wee bistro before a cruise along the Seine at night.  Cheeky midnight crepes to finish.

Notre Dame and Sainte-Chapelle are even better than I remember. Pere Lachaise weaves its magic once more while we walk its cobbled lanes. It rains today, and we stop for lunch – a croque madame for me! – before heading home for a quieter night.

I finally see Montmartre from the inside of a rickety little train that takes us all the way up the hill to Sacre Coeur. We wander down through the Place du Tertre until we find some lunch – one of the best burgers I have ever had, and a speculoos crepe to finish. We quickly stop past the Arc de Triomphe for a stickybeak at the dreadful traffic. More sunburn. Eurovision is played too quietly in a tiny, sweaty bar, surrounded by enthusiasts. Hooray for Portugal!

Our last day is quiet – for me at least. An amazing breakfast, a walk through the Jardin des Plantes, and then an afternoon spent resting and catching up on reading while we wait for the plane home. It is midnight and we are here at last.

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Final day in Berlin

Last night we partook in amazing salad and pasta with zucchini sauce. It was extremely delicious, and we then had a very chilled night chatting to people and eating chocolate. This morning after a failed Skype attempt, we went to Hauptbahnhof to double-check we could get to Prague tomorrow and then Cara headed to the Kennedy museum and Sean, Alfie and I went to the German Historical Museum. Our tour guide the other day had told us it was his favourite museum in Berlin and we had good reports from people at our hostel who had been yesterday. For 6 euro, you get access to their permanent exhibition as well as their temporary exhibitions, and it is easily the sort of place you could spend the entire day. We only had a portion of the afternoon, and therefore only had the time to walk through the permanent exhibition. It pretty much runs through every single aspect of German history you can think of, from pre-medieval times to about 1994. They have all sorts of cool artefacts, films, documents and photographs, and most of the descriptions are in German and English, so it is clear what you are looking at. I was quite tired, and I don’t feel as though I appreciated it as much as I could have if I were feeling more sprightly, but I’m glad I went. We had loosely planned to meet up at Spreepark with some people from our hostel. Spreepark is an abandoned amusement park in East Berlin that you can jump the fence and see all the old attractions. But by the time we left the Historical Museum, it was getting pretty cold and dark so we headed home. We will probably go and buy some ingredients for dinner tonight, and I don’t think we’ll go out. We need to be up and packed tomorrow to head to Prague! It seems a pity to be leaving Berlin; it’s definitely a place I could stay in much longer to drink in more history. And the food and alcohol is so cheap! But we have heard wonderful things about Prague, so I am looking forward to that too.

Tschuss!

Pubs and memorials

Soooo, I ended up doing the pub crawl last night. I am so glad I did, we had stacks of fun. The cold wasn’t even very bothersome, because all the pubs were very warm and we walked quickly between them. It’s called the ‘alternative pub crawl’ and boasts that it takes you to the hidden pubs/clubs of Berlin ie, those off the tourist circuit. And alternative they were. We started at ‘Yesterday’, a tiny little pub near the hostel with cute stuff hanging from the ceiling, very dim, red lights, a Jim Morrison mural and the walls covered in scribbled notebooks and other cool paintings. Sean and I bought a beer and a Strongbow for 2.50 euro each. Alcohol here is incredibly, incredibly cheap. The pub crawl itself cost 10 euro and for that price you get entry into 5 or 6 places and 6 shots. After that we headed to a gothic horror bar, of which I have forgotten the name. The sweetest, nicest goth bartender you ever did see gave me great advice on which absinthe I should try, having never tried it before. The bar had coffins for tables and big iron chandeliers hanging from the ceilings. It had skulls and horns everywhere, and spiders and skeletons painted on the walls, but they were so friendly. A lot of the places we ended up were really not very busy. The tour itself was made up of only people from our hostel – Sean and I, Benny from Newcastle, a couple from Turkey, and 4 boys from Bath who all study together. The tour guide, Sarah, was from Lancaster and was totally sweet. We had amazing DnM’s while I was sobering up from the absinthe. After the gothic horror bar we went to Dr Pong, which is a bar where you can rent paddles for 5 euro and play ping pong. None of our group did because we were on a schedule and the table was quite full. But it was great fun to watch. And there was a random Jack Russell chilling in the bar with us. Next we went to an absinthe bar called, funnily enough, The Absinthe Bar. There were shots of cannabis absinthe for 4 euro. I did not partake – I was still full of the first absinthe – but it was a fun bar all the same. The next and final place they were going was a club, pretty much an old warehouse where they hold raves and stuff. Sean and I aren’t really into clubbing, and if we left after the absinthe bar we could sneak onto a night bus and not have to buy another ticket. If we went to the club we would have had to pay for a cab home. So at 1am we bid adieu to the tour and jumped on a short bus ride back to Senefelder Platz. I tried very hard not to wake Cara and Alfie and ended up reading for a bit before falling asleep. Sean stayed up and played drinking games with some French people, then proceeded to repeatedly wake me as he got in and out of bed for the rest of the night. Nah, it wasn’t that bad. We had an awesome night, and are really glad we went.

This morning we slept until about 11.30. Our first sleep-in since we arrived and it was AMAZING. We dragged ourselves into showers and downstairs for breakfast and had a very leisurely start to the day. Alfie felt ill, so she stayed at the hostel, but Cara, Sean and I decided to go back to the memorial for the murdered Jews of Europe and go to the free museum underneath. It was completely soul-crushing. I definitely recommend it – it is an unbelievably beautiful and respectful tribute to all the lost lives – but bring tissues and don’t go on a day when you are feeling fragile. It got to the point where I actually had to stop reading and looking and listening. It all got too much and Cara and I used up all our tissues and had to buy more. Everyone knows about the Holocaust and most Australian kids learn about it in school, but I didn’t anticipate the sheer weight of sadness that descends upon you when you read stories and letters and see pictures of what happened. Not only does it make you dreadfully sad, but I was getting more and more furious at the injustice. Imagining my own family being split up and persecuted was more than I could handle. When we finally emerged into the sunshine again, we all felt extremely drained. That being said, I’m glad I went. Like I said, it’s a wonderful tribute. But I don’t think I could do it again any time soon.

We made our way back through the metro, stopping to buy sandwiches and chips and currywurst, and are sitting at the hostel chilling out. We are all still really tired, but it’s so nice to not have anything to rush off for. The hostel is providing another free dinner tonight, so I think we’ll help prepare that, and then I plan to stay in tonight and chat to more people.

Auf weidersehn!

Freezing my giblets off

I don’t think I have ever been colder in my life than I was for most of today. We were told it was going to be minus 11, but it apparently only got to minus 5. I can’t even possibly imagine what minus 11 feels like. We were talking to a girl from Canada where it gets to minus 44 in the winter. Really. Well. I must say I don’t believe her. I don’t know how you can support human life at that temperature after what we felt today. I have now bought ANOTHER hat (my second new hat) and more gloves. Sean has bought another jumper. The good news was, it was a sunny day. We had beautiful blue skies and partway through the day I went to take a swig from my drinkbottle and discovered it had frozen inside. So picture standing inside the coldest freezer ever, all day, and that’s pretty much the sensation we experienced. Thankfully, our hostel is warm and comfy. We started the day very leisurely, using the laundry service and eating heaps of breakfast and sorting out photos etc. Then we rugged up and headed to the Brandenburg Gate to meet another Sandeman’s tour. A bunch of people from our hostel came as well which was fun. Our guide, Chris, didn’t at first seem quite as enthused as our guides for Paris and Amsterdam, but we all warmed to him during the tour, which turned out to be incredibly interesting and enjoyable. Berlin, in comparison to Paris and Amsterdam, is not the prettiest city, but it is so rich with history, recent and relevant history. So the tour was great, but the cold was a serious distraction. I was unable to stand still, because it just crept into your bones if you didn’t keep moving, so there was a lot of jigging around on one foot while the guide was explaining about certain locations.

After the Brandenburg Gate, we saw the Reichstag and the memorial to the murdered Jews of Europe. This was amazing. For those who don’t know, its a park filled with cement blocks, all different shapes and sizes. The ground beneath them is hilly and gets deeper and shallower in certain areas. The architect has been famously tight-lipped about his reasons for it’s design because he wants people to form their own ideas about what it might represent. Some people think the hills and stones look like the Jewish cemetery in Prague so they think of gravestones. Some people think the blocks look like train cars, like the ones to the concentration camps. Some people can see a bar graph in the silhouette of the stones, depicting the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe. I like to think the blocks are all different because it represents that the Jews were all individuals with independent character, not an identical group to be wiped out. There are 2711 blocks, but no one knows what that number represents either. We then headed further down the street to a carpark that sits directly over the site of Hitler’s bunker. It was enormous, and he hid in it for most of the last month of his life. He married Eva Braun there (her wedding dress was black) and the two of them took cyanide capsules two days later. And good riddance. The bunker was blown up in the 80’s and all that remains is a heap of scrap metal buried deep beneath our feet.

We saw one of the only Nazi buildings spared by the Allied bombings, complete with Soviet shells and bullet holes. We also visited the site of an enormous march (and subsequent massacre) of East Berlin citizens against the Communist regime. We saw the headquarters of the Luftwaffe, right next to a still-standing stretch of Berlin Wall. Then we walked down to Checkpoint Charlie, site of many innovative escapes into West Berlin, including a guy who hid his girlfriend in the trunk of a very low sports car, then drove the car under the barrier and ducked. Another guy bought a cow, killed it, emptied it, and wore its skin around him on a truck of cows headed to a West Berlin market. We stopped for a coffee break, but I was frozen, so I got a cup of broccoli soup with some lovely bread and it was just about the greatest thing I’ve ever eaten. We then saw a French cathedral, built for the Hugenots who came to Berlin from France where they faced terrible persecution. They did wonderful things for Berlin, so Berlin built them a church. Right near this is a German cathedral and a concert hall. We then saw the first Catholic church built in Germany, St Hedwig’s (ARGH, HARRYPOTTER!) and the bank from Run Lola, Run!! That was way cool. Very close to that is a famous university whose name escapes me, but Lenin, Marx and Engels studied there, and Albert Einstein was a professor there. Luckily, he escaped to Germany before the breakout of the Holocaust. This university library was the site for the enormous Nazi book-burning. They burnt over 20,000 books, deemed ‘inappropriate’ because their authors were Jewish, Communist, homosexual etc. There is a beautiful memorial there which is a sealed room underground with a clear roof. It is full of empty shelves, enough to hold the 20,000 burned books. It was beautiful to stand in the square and see this memorial.

We then saw the memorial for all the victims of war and tyranny. The sculpture was placed there in the 90’s, and depicts a weeping woman holding a child. She lost her son in WW1 and her grandson in WW2. It’s incredibly moving. However, the memorial was built much earlier and used to be a memorial for the victims of WW1. When Hitler came to power he made it a memorial to the victims of Bolshevism. When the Soviets invaded after Hitler fell, they made it a memorial to the victims of fascism. And it stayed this way until the 90’s when it became the memorial to the victims of war and tyranny. We then saw a beautiful domed cathedral and walked into the Museum Island where the tour finished. We were so, unbelievably cold, so we found kebabs, bought more warm clothes and headed back to the hostel, where I have been ever since! We wanted to do a pub crawl tonight, but I am so cold, I don’t think I can bring myself to go out again. We shall see!

xxxxx

Ja!

In Berlin!! YAY!! Our day started with SNOW. SNOWY SNOWSNOW EVERYWHERE!!!!! We walked out onto the top deck of the boat and all along the pier and the harbour was a blanket of snow. It was amazing. And freezing. But amazing. We ate our awesome breakfast and departed, crunching along the SNOW(!) to Amsterdam Centraal, where we jumped on a train to Hilversum. The trip only took about 25 minutes, and then we jumped on a train to Berlin, and that trip took about 5-6 hours. It is strangely tiring, sitting on a train all day. I think its because you are carrying everything with you. We had to move seats a couple of times. But we sat opposite some really adorable kids who just babbled to us in German for ages and were really cheeky and cute. I managed to sleep a little as well. Then we got into Berlin Hauptbahnhof and had to take an S-Bahn train to Alexanderplatz and then a U-Bahn train to Senefelder Platz. This process sounds tiresome, but it didn’t turn out to be too bad. The we reached the EastSeven Berlin Hostel and it is BRILLIANT. Firstly, the bathrooms are amazing. Thank goodness. That shower was the best thing that’s ever happened to me. Secondly, we arrived at 6.20 and every Monday and Wednesday night they cook a free dinner for all the guests. You can pitch in and help at 7, or just show up for the free meal at 8. We went down to the kitchens and got chatting as we cut up vegetables. There are so many different people here. It’s insane. We’ve been sitting in the lounge drinking since we arrived and people are only heading out now (midnight). I’m not going because I am absolutely knackered, but gosh, I’ve had the best night. We spoke to stacks of other Australians as well as Brits, Norwegians, Albanians and some really lovely people from Canada and Turkey. Dinner was also excellent. It was totally vegetarian. Awesome orange salad with walnuts and balsamic sauce, vegetable soup, and this rice, chickpea and vegetable dish. AMAZING. Everyone can use the kitchens and the storage facilities, so everyone just sits around after dinner drinking the Happy Hour beers for 1 euro and talking about the different places they are from. It’s fascinating, and I’m really looking forward to spending the rest of the week here. I’m so tired though! So I’m off to bed now. We’ll enjoy our snow, while ya’ll enjoy your heatwave.

xxxxx