Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Back to the Future

Well I’m afraid to say that there isn’t too much exciting stuff to report in this edition! Sunday was a wasted day – pathetic, I know, how often am I in Berlin? But seeing as we haven’t had a day of doing nothing for 8 and a half weeks, we decided to have a day of doing nothing. So we sat in the hotel room all day, mostly youtubing. I have always been terrible at youtubing, which I have never understood, people seem to spend hours and hours and hours on it looking at random videos. When it comes to the crunch I can never think of anything to look up, but I actually did quite well!

We emerged to go to Macdonald’s for our afternoon meal, because at this late stage we are requiring cheap foods to consume, and it was nice Maccasish. The staff spoke English, which has been the experience all over Berlin. I always try German to start with, but they seem to be able to guess that I don’t speak German and just respond in English – I have no idea how they can tell...

We had big plans to go to the Brandenburg Gate in the evening to watch the Euros, England versus Italy. However walking past a window on our way to the hotel lift we noticed it was pouring. So we went back to our room to grab brollies, and thought we should check they were actually showing the game at the Tor. A quick google search showed that they weren’t – only German games until the semi-final round, so disappointed we watched it on the tellie in our room. It was tough to pick a side, while the Italian team is much more attractive we are in London for the semi-finals and it would be fun to watch the English semi in a pub or something. So I went for England, and they lost. But it was the most boring 2+ hours of my life and I was reminded of why I don’t watch Fussball: 90 minutes no one scored. So they decided to play on for another 30 minutes (why!? They’ve been doing that for 90 minutes and it didn’t work! Try something else!) before finally Italy took out the game in the penalty shoot-out. TORTURE!!

Yiew! That's totally us... 

My annoyingly attractive and photogenic sister watching the hopeless football game.

Anyway, Monday was a much better day. After playing the check-out store-luggage game once again – much more difficult than usual this time as the hotel lobby was absolutely swarming with Italian men who’d just arrived for a conference of some kind – we wandered back into Berlin to find some wall. And find it we did, at Potsdamer Platz. This trip has gotten me really in to graffiti, I have to say. I just really like the colours and the layering, and the remaining segments of the Berlin Wall are covered in it. And I have to say that I was quite underwhelmed by the wall itself: it was basically just looked like sections of a temporary, thin concrete partition – I’d expected it to be somewhat thicker and more imposing...

A lego giraffe! Discovered on our wanderings

The Berlin wall

Graffiti on the wall. I love it!

We kept walking back up to the Brandenburg Gate, then down the shopping strip we discovered off Unter den Linden the other day and came across Checkpoint Charlie, the former US checkpoint at the border between East and West Berlin. Naturally the first thing you see when crossing from what was formerly part of the Soviet Union into the American sector is a Macdonalds – so in we went for lunch (again, cheap and easy), and it was cool to ponder the fact that the history of the Cold War, the history of the Berlin Wall, is so incredibly recent that there were people in that Macdonalds that would remember a divided Berlin. And I guess that’s one of the things I liked best about Germany. I am a total history nerd – generally ancient history is my thing, so of course I was mad about Italy and most of Europe for its Roman ruins and artefacts. But that stuff is so far gone, no one remains who really knows anything about it: we just have to look at the scant evidence that is left and interpret it, and guess what was going on and what things were used for and what it was like to be there. It’s so interesting to think of the important history that has been in Germany within a lifetime. Stuff we look back on as if it were so long ago – like the Nazis, like the Berlin Wall - compared to Roman and Greek and Egyptian history it really only happened yesterday. It’s a very cool experience.

Brandenburg Tor

The return of the pink coat! It was a little wet and chilly in Berlin.

Checkpoint Charlie

Welcome to the American Sector!! Macdonald's at Checkpoint Charlie

There’s a lot more of Berlin that I would love to see, but we were out of time folks! So we headed back to the hotel to get our luggage and grab a taxi, this time to the airport. We checked our luggage (Ryan Ignatius came in at 22.8kgs. So, so, so lucky, the limit for our flight was 23!!!) and found a spot in which to hang out: Tegal airport isn’t that great, there’s not really anything to do or anywhere to eat or sit except in these little waiting areas that have grills to sit on over the top of heaters. I believe they’re getting a new airport but it isn’t finished yet. I was happy to finally get a stamp in my passport and after the plane was late we had a pretty uneventful flight. I never really like flying – I am more than happy being a land mammal and I like my feet planted firmly on solid ground thank you very much! But I did quite well. We flew with British Midlands International, sitting just behind the ‘business class’ section: they had exactly the same seats as us, but there was a moveable curtain partition between them and the plebs and they got food. Funnily enough when we were landing the partition was apparently not locked in place, so it moved quite a way forward over their heads and voila! They were in cattle class too!!

Fluffy clouds over Germany (I guess...)

Into our taxi from Heathrow, Mads was pretty dang excited to be back in her adopted homeland. We’re staying at the same holiday flat in Walthamstow so for me it is a bit anticlimactic: it feels like Europe never happened!! So basically I’m ready to head back to Paris and start over – would anyone like to fund a perpetual holiday for me?? Mind you, it is very nice being able to speak the same language as everyone else here: no more vacant smiles, I can actually be polite to people and have conversations, and we can understand signs and announcements! AND I love British comedy television: a bit of InBetweeners to get myself settled back in. Fabulous!

Today we got ourselves all settled in to the flat: I went to the shops to get food etc (heaven! I can read the supermarket signs that tell you what is down each aisle!), then Mads and I went and got the rest of my stuff out of her storage locker – there’s not nearly as much as I thought there would be, I reckon I’ll be under the 30kgs limit for my flight back to Aus! Huzzah! I 'cooked' dinner - and I have to say that after eating from restaurants/takeaway/cafes I have lost all practice in preparing meals. Trying to think of what to cook was impossible - I need a menu with options that require only telling someone what you want and then out it comes a short time later, all prepared for you! So we had these pre-prepared crumbed chicken things with roasted potatoes, also pre-prepared. And that is about it! Probably head in to the city tomorrow for some good old fashioned sightseeing (nope, haven’t done enough yet!) – surely it’ll be fourth time lucky for Westminster Abbey. Surely!

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Ich bin ein Berliner

On Thursday we had to be a bit organised, as we were getting an early train from Regensburg to Nuremberg (when I say early, I mean 10.30am...). It was a nice trip, only a short distance to Nuremberg, and when we got to our hotel to leave our stuff while we went exploring the lady at reception said our room was ready and we could go upstairs! Tops! The room was pretty cool, like a little apartment with a kitchenette and the bed in this weird little cubby-area behind a wardrobe (not that I’m complaining, I’ve always loved a good cubby!). But the annoying thing was that there were housekeeping people ringing the bell and walking in all the time. I mean, all the time! Even the next morning before checkout! Super annoying.

Anyway we had a nap before heading out into Nuremberg, once the propaganda centre of Nazi Germany. The main part of the city is surrounded by a wall – this was a bit hard to find, I asked at reception for a map and the receptionist put a cross where the hotel was. That cross was nowhere near where the hotel was – in fact the hotel’s location wasn’t even on the map! So we spent a while wandering around in circles trying to find a street that was on the map to get our bearings, in the meantime being asked by a couple of teenagers to buy them tobacco for their shisha. We declined, and finally found the city wall! Hooray!

A tower on the city wall. Hooray we found it!!

A tor. Aka gate.

So in we went and wandered around, as we typically do. Nuremberg is pretty cool, it feels like a really old, medieval town, which I guess it sort of is, but it was pretty much flattened after the war so it’s hard to tell what’s been rebuilt. I felt like the place had kind of a weird vibe (Mads disagreed), could be something to do with the weird statues and fountains dotted around the place: like the one that has two corpses wrestling on the back of a giant iguana. I’m sure it means something very poetic and deep or whatever, but I don’t get it...

Wandering in Nuremberg

An old-looking tower

Tower gate.

The weird fountain with fighting corpses on giant iguana. Creepy and super weird.

You’ll never guess what we stopped to eat: ice cream!! There was a gelato place selling Amarena so we had to get some – disappointingly not as good as the Italian stuff, but still pretty yummy. I really do hope that Italy hasn’t ruined ice cream for me. Oh well, guess I’ll just have to go back there all the time to eat gelato. What a shame...

Anyway, we wandered across the Pegnitz river, which was very pretty, up cobbled streets (I have to say, cobble streets are overrated. Sure they look pretty, but being the klutz I am I have nearly tripped over about a million times! If only I had a Euro for every time that has happened!) and in to a market square where there was a market, as well as a pointy gold sculpture thing and Frauenkirche, into which we headed. Apparently this square and church was built on what was the Jewish area of Nuremberg back in the 13th or 14th Century: the Jews who lived here were driven out, and hundreds of them burned so the square could be built. So sad! I wonder why the Jews have faced so much persecution throughout history...

Nuremberg city skyline

A whole shop of coloured pencils!! Heaven!! 

The Pegnitz River

Outside of Frauenkirche

Gold sculpture thingy in market square outside Frauenkirche.

Frauenkirche is pretty small, but it’s quite nice and there is a medieval fresco on one of the walls that was discovered when the organ was moved a while ago. It’s very worn, so you can’t really tell what it’s depicting, but it’s pretty cool all the same. We then went to the St Sebald church, which is older than Frauenkirche, another big gothic cathedral. I know we’ve been to a lot of churches, but they are very impressive buildings, with a lot of history and they’re generally free! Anyway, while wandering around the church a fellow asked us if it was our first time in St Sebald’s. As it was, we replied in the affirmative, and he then proceeded to give us a guided tour, showing us an original painting by a famous artist from the 1500s, other paintings that were done showing family trees of wealthy Nuremberg families, the stained glass windows, various sculptures done by one particular artist who depicted moving cloth in ear shapes on all his sculptures, as well as the big reliquary in the front of the church which holds St Sebald’s bones. It was all a bit odd, but he seemed to know what he was talking about. Having just been in Italy, of course, I was waiting for him to hold out his hand for Euros, but he just asked us if we would like to go to the castle across the road, and when we declined he lost interest and just sort of showed us the exit and walked off back in to the church. Okie dokes. Whatevs.

Medieval fresco in Frauenkirche

Cool window, Frauenkirche

The back of St Sebald's

A very German-looking doorway

St Sebald's

Inside St Sebalds

Cool street in Nuremberg

Mads wanted to be back at the hotel by 6 to watch Water for Elephants on TV (she’s been very happy to find a channel that plays English movies), so we started back to the hotel, grabbing some maccas on the way for dinner. Once we got there, however, she discovered she’d been looking at the wrong day in the TV guide, so instead of Water for Elephants we watched probably the worst films in the history of the planet: Supernova 2012, in which a supernova threatens earth and they have to figure out how to use missiles to protect the world (yeah, likely!), then Masked and Anonymous starring Bob Dylan and a few other usually really good actors that didn’t really make sense, followed by Foxy Brown, an awful, awful 70s movie about... I don’t know what. But it was top quality.

Anyway, up and packed again the next day, we stored our luggage and went to see the Nuremberg Trial Memorial at Nuremberg’s Palace of Justice. The exhibition is located in the East Wing of the courts, around courtroom 600 which is, of course, where the Nazi party big-wigs were tried for conspiracy, crimes against peace, war crimes and crimes against humanity by the victorious allies. There wasn’t much actual stuff in the exhibition, they had a box in which documentary evidence was transported in, two of the benches on which the defendants sat during the trial, and copies of the minutes of the trial as well as files used at the time. But there was a lot of audio guide material and it was a really interesting exhibition. You can go into Courtroom 600, it’s still a working courtroom, so it looks different to how it did during the Nuremberg Trial, but there are features that are still recognisable from the photos and videos: the door through which the defendants were brought into the courtroom, the wooden panelling on the walls.

On the way to the Palace of Justice

The East Wing, where Courtroom 600 is located, home of the Nuremberg Trial

Box used to transport documentary evidence against the Nazis.

Benches on which the defendants sat in the exhibition.

The bottom shelves of this cabinet hold the minutes of the trial as well as files used in the trial

Windows in Courtroom 600. During the trial the judges from each of the Victorious nations sat in front of these windows.

In this corner is where the defendants were seated. The small door to the right of the main entrance is where they were led in to the courtroom.

The witness stand was by the door on the right.

Those men were just so evil! It’s so vile and disgusting what they did and what they stood for, and then it’s weird to go outside again, into Nuremberg, into Germany and think that it wasn’t all that long ago that the people of this country, people I’ll walk past in the street, or their parents or their grandparents, allowed indescribable atrocities to occur in return for their own comfort and wellbeing. Don’t get me wrong, I really like the Germans I’ve come across– they’re so nice and friendly and helpful; but it’s incredible to think about what ordinary people, people like you and me, are capable of doing or even capable of allowing under certain circumstances. And that’s why it’s so important to never forget.

I would have liked to have gone to the Nazi’s rally ground, which is also in Nuremberg, but we ran out of time – it’s a pretty fair toddle from the Palace of Justice. After getting some lunch in a pretty flash KFC it was off to the train station once again to catch the train to Berlin! I was really looking forward to getting to Berlin, I’ve heard very excellent things about it. Also very excited because Germany was playing Greece in the quarter finals of the Euros. Unfortunately our train was getting in too late to go to the Brandenburg Gate to watch the game, but the bar in our hotel was showing it so we went down to watch the last half hour or however long it was. GERMANY WON!!! Mads didn’t think I was doing a very good job of being enthusiastic. I thought I was doing well: I said ‘oh’ at the right moments and cheered when something good happened to Germany, like scoring. And I was outraged by a Greek flopper. Okay, okay fine, so Fussball isn’t my thing. I like Rugby Union personally, and other sports where points are actually made. But it was still kind of fun... Maybe if I move to Europe I will get into soccer. I mean Football.

Pretty flowers on the table in KFC! La di daa!

I just thought this church was cute, on the way back to the hotel in Nuremberg.

Boy oh boy our bed is so comfy here! Hooray for not moving on anywhere for the next few days! We slept like logs, and late. I tried to have a morning bath, but the plug in the bath doesn’t seem to do anything to stop the water from draining out – super disappointing. Anyway we slowly got ready and headed out into Berlin to see some of the more famous sights! Wandering through a really nice office area, with lots of fancy glassy buildings and water features and greenery, we managed to make it to the city without too many dramas to find that we were in the midst of another gay parade! Seriously guys, two weekends in a row you have hampered my sightseeing efforts. What is the deal?

Anyway we stumbled upon the holocaust memorial, a huge area full of concrete blocks of varying heights and sizes. It was really cool – sombre and peaceful but not too intensely so. A nice place for reflection and wandering. I don’t know the theory behind it, what it’s meant to represent or illustrate, but to me it did seem appropriately large scale for such a large scale event.

How hilarious is this sign! In the lift of our hotel. I'm not really sure what collywobbles is supposed to mean. So I guess I will be using the lift anyway...

The Spree River in Berlin

Fancy pants office building (and I think some residential too), sort of near Potsdamer Platz

In the holocaust memorial.

The holocaust memorial

We went to the Brandenburg gate, which was surrounded by parade-attendees and stuff set up for Euros-viewing, but it was still quite impressive. Then to the impressive and beautiful Reichstag building, with its classical architecture and huge glass dome. We had our afternoon meal next at a cafe with super slow service. Mads didn’t mind, she likes to sit. But I like to move around and do not like to just sit without having anything to do. I had spaghetti and Mads had Schweineschnitzel (pork schnitzel), then we waited for aaaages, then I had apfel strudel and Mads had a mousse cake, then we waited for aaaaages for the bill. Finally we got out of there and wandered along Unter den Linden looking for Bebelplatz and the book-burning memorial. We were somewhat confused when we arrived: no signs telling us if we were at Bebelplatz, and for a while we couldn’t find the memorial. Idiots, you may think, but it’s just a glass window in the pavement looking down onto a white room with empty bookshelves outside the Humboldt University, commemorating the day in May 1933 when the Nazis burned a whole heap of books in the Bebelplatz.

The Brandenburg Gate, formerly on the east-west divide.

I think this is the Fernsehturm, a TV tower

Outside the Reichstag

A statue on Unter den Linden


The Humboldt University

If you look carefully you can see the empty bookshelves under the glass.

Sights around Berlin

We decided to try and find our way back to the hotel, at first getting lost as Potsdamer Platz has twin entrances to the train station on opposite sides of the road. Tricky!! But we made it back, stopping in to get some conditioner from a shopping centre in the fancy pants office district. First impressions: I really like Berlin! Can't wait to explore some more in the next couple of days!