Pork knuckle, clanging pots and freezingness!

Trip Start Aug 09, 2009
Trip End Oct 28, 2009

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Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Day 1 – Tuesday 14th October – We arrived in Berlin at about 6pm and followed the directions I had copied from the internet to our accommodation.

The directions took us to a metro and then we were instructed to walk straight down the street of our accommodation and we would find it on the right after a couple of blocks.

Can you sense another 'Kimmy and Witek Get Lost' story? Hmmm….

So we headed straight down the street (as per instructions) and searched for the accommodation called ‘Itowe Gallery’ by checking the names on every door seeing as I hadn’t written down the street number and we were staying at a B&B within and apartment. Whoops. Stupidly, my thinking was that the directions were so clear that I wouldn’t need the number. We got about four blocks and almost to the next metro station without seeing our accommodation. We thought it best to turn around at this point!

Back to the original metro station we went and this time we checked out the street signs. We had been heading down the wrong street altogether! We scoured the street signs leading off of this street and found our street all the way back behind the exit from the metro station. Hmph!

We headed down this street looking on the right, checking all of the names on all of the doors again. Not an easy task!

After almost another four blocks we figured something was wrong. I had seen a graffiti (artwork?) covered door on the left and about a block behind us that rang a bell from what I had seen online, so Witek waited with the bags while I ran back to check if that was it.

As I walked up to the door I silently hoped that this door that smelled faintly of urine wouldn’t be ours, but no such luck. Ah well, at least we had found it!

I ran back to Witek and we lugged our bags back to this door on the left hand side and rang the bell. The guy let us in and we opened the door with more than a little apprehension.

The place had been described online as ‘arty’ and ‘well decorated’ and basically led me to believe that despite being within a graffiti covered property, it would be a virtual paradise inside. Actually, I think the word paradise was even used in one of the ads! It did have really good reviews……..

We did not find paradise.

We found ourselves in an entrance hallway that resembled the entrance to a seedy underground nightclub. There was more graffiti on the walls as well as posters advertising various types of upcoming bands. We heard a Texan accented voice above us asking us to ‘Come on up’ (y’all!).

We climbed the equally graffiti covered stairs up one flight, admiring the ‘artwork’ on the way. Our personal favourite was the one liner at the top of the stairs that simply recommended that we ‘Kill More Cops’. Noted.

At the top of the flight of stairs we found Greg. Greg would be our host for the next few days. Greg is Texan and he is very, very camp with the hand gestures and all! I have never seen or heard a camp Texan and it was interesting. Picture a lot of sighing and hands on hips, teamed with a southern drawl and a camp lisp. He was lovely but a tad flakey!

He showed us to our room and basically the set up was that our room and the bathroom were accessed from the entrance hallway. Also in the hallway was the door to the main part of the apartment which I saw had a kitchen, living area and I assume his bedroom.

Our room was ok, it wasn’t a modern masterpiece but it was comfortable and very big. I was a little relieved to find no traces of graffiti!

Greg sat with us for a little while to fill us in on what was nearby and how to get around. He wanted us to feel at home and told us that we shouldn’t be concerned about anyone in the neighbourhood that we came across, everyone’s a bit strange apparently and ‘it’s always Halloween here, if y’all get what I’m saying?’ But if we had any problems while out and about we could call him as he had plenty of doctors and lawyers at his disposal!

He gave us directions to the nearby restaurant precinct which was only about five minutes away on foot, so we settled in then moseyed on down there.

We didn’t see any people that looked like they were in early preparations for Halloween but we could tell we were in Berlin’s equivalent of west end Adelaide. The main street of restaurants and such was quite nice but you could tell that on a Friday or Saturday night it could get a bit rowdy.

We found a pub that was actually kind of Mexican, but in a modern way, not a tacky sombrero hat and pińata kind of way, and decided to eat there. It was very busy which is always a good sign.

Our waiter was very cute, he didn’t speak the best English but he really tried and was pretty good and you could tell that he really wanted to help us.

We ordered our meals and some beer and wine, I wanted a cocktail of course but we had sworn we would save them for the Greek islands seeing as it was cold here. They did look really nice though…….

I ordered fajitas and Witek got a burrito and they were both absolutely delicious. After our meal, as a compromise on the cocktails we each got an Irish coffee which kept me happy!

It was back to our accommodation after this, it had been an extremely long day and it was already well after 11pm so we grabbed a couple of roadies from the local bottle shop and went back to our room to chill out and watch a dvd while I mapped out our plans for the next day.

Day 2 – Wednesday 15th October – I was awoken at about 5am this morning by what sounded like a bunch of people throwing pots and pans at around a room. It sounded like it was coming from our apartment but I knew that Greg wouldn’t make so much noise knowing that we were sleeping next door, would he?

The noise eventually stopped, only to start again at about 8am. We gave up and decided to get out of bed and go downstairs for breakfast. Greg owned the small café downstairs and had told us to come down there for brekky when we were ready in the morning.

Bleary eyed we wandered downstairs and into the café where we found Greg. His hair was all over the place and he looked, well, a little high strung yet half asleep at the same time if that makes sense? Hard to explain. I guess he looked like he had just got out of bed but hadn’t yet quite worked out where he was yet but was desperate to work it out.

He immediately started fussing around behind the bar as we pulled up a bar stool each. He served us warm rolls, muesli and yoghurt as well as juice and coffee of course.

As he was fussing about he was making small talk with us, telling us stories about people he knows and about Berlin. Apparently Greg doesn’t go anywhere that isn’t walking distance from his apartment, yet he considers himself something of an expert on Berlin. Hmmmm. He was in constant shock that we would travel by plane for more than 20 hours to get to Europe from Australia.

Then the best comment came out. ‘I hope I didn’t wake y’all this morning with my baking and such. I just get going in that kitchen and I get in my own little world. Some people say the noise bothers them but I don’t even notice.’ I was too flabbergasted to comment, I couldn’t believe that was him making all that noise! I seriously almost choked on my breakfast. But then as fast as I recovered he had changed the subject again.

Don’t get me wrong, Greg is a lovely guy and I’m sure nothing he said or does is intended to be malicious, but really, thee noise he was making sounded like he had given a three year old the contents of his pots and pans cupboard to form his own one man band with. How any reasonable person could think that wouldn’t bother your guests in the next room at 5am is beyond me. I was tongue tied though, I just didn’t know what to say!!

We finished our breakfast and went upstairs to get organised. There was some debate about how warmly we should dress as it was only supposed to be about 6 degrees that day. We figured if we wore a couple of layers each then we would be ok, as long as we took our wet weather gear as well, just in case.

We made our way to the metro and found our platform. We were immediately approached by a guy trying to sell us a magazine for charity, like their version of The Big Issue I guess. It was in German so we explained that we wouldn’t need one as we don’t speak German, but he wouldn’t let up! He stood in front of us for at least two or three minutes trying to convince us to buy a magazine we couldn’t read! In the end we just gave him 2 euro to get rid of him. Good tactic I guess.

Our first stop was the Brandenburg Gate which I guess would be the most famous landmark in Berlin next to the wall.

We found it quite easily and the square in front of it was full of tourists. We hung out there for a little while taking it all in and checking out a couple of buskers.

We ventured into the tourist info shop next to the gate hoping to find a map, and this would have to be the most packed tourist place I had been in so far. Everyone was shoulder to shoulder! It wasn’t so much because of the number of people, but more because of the size of the place. For such a central information shop, it was tiny.

Anyway, we squeezed through and found our way to the counter to purchase our  map and then walked down the street to our next stop, the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe.

This place is huge. It is 4.7 acres of 2711 of these concrete slabs of different heights on sloping land. The slabs do not symbolise anything, however I still found it quite haunting. There are kids running around playing hide and seek amongst the pillars and some people have criticised this and said that it is disrespectful. I think it actually serves as a reminder that not so long ago children like this were running and hiding, but not for fun, they were trying to save their own lives. I liked that this memorial will stand for ever, in a very prominent place in Berlin so that future generations will never forget.

We spent some time walking through the memorial and then went looking for the Information Centre.

It is actually quite hard to find but we eventually came across it. Entry is free as they want to encourage everyone to come in, and the line up wasn’t very long. You have to go through a security check on the way in too which is fair enough I suppose.

Inside there is a photographic history and timeline of the Holocaust which takes you quite a while to get through. Even with all our WWII overexposure in Europe I still learned things I didn’t know here.

The next room has correspondence on display that was sent from Jewish people in the concentration camps to their families on the outside and also from Jewish people about to be captured. It really helped you to put yourself in their shoes to read what they were thinking and feeling. On the wall in this same room there was the names of all the countries that lost Jewish people in the Holocaust, and the number that they lost printed underneath. Some of the numbers were in the millions, and these were just the Jewish people and didn’t include the other victims. Unbelievable.

The next room had several boards displaying photos of Jewish families and their histories and then what became of them all in the Holocaust.

You then enter a room with several benches and projectors. The projectors display photos of victims one by one, while a recording reads out the stories of each one as they are displayed.

The next room has photos of the concentration camps and a map showing the location of all of them during the war. Next to each photo there is a description of the camp and it’s history.

The final room has a few computers set up where you can search for family members and find out what happened to them.

As with most things WWII related, this place knocks you around for a bit afterwards. The huge scale of what occurred is just phenomenal and you constantly question where people’s heads were at to have allowed this to carry on for so long. It’s very hard to understand. You think about murderers and stuff these days and you are safe in the thought that they are the distinct minority of people who are capable of such things. Here was an entire army with the vast majority of them capable of carrying out cold blooded murder. It’s just baffling.

Anyway, from here we went and found some lunch at a nearby shop which was kind of like a kebab shop. They had plenty of room to sit down so we got some food and shared a beer and made ourselves comfortable for a bit.

Our next step was to find some of the remains of the Berlin wall. I’d found the closest one was next to the Topography of Terror, yet another museum relating to WWII.

The Topography of Terror is built on the spot that used to have the Gestapo and SS Headquarters which were all but destroyed at the end of WWII. They had excavated the cellar a few years ago and incorporated it into an open air museum but it has since been demolished. From what I can understand there has been a fair bit of public debate about the design of the new museum and it has even been started and then demolished once or twice. Apparently they have now decided on the new design but it is yet to be constructed. What is there now is similar to a construction site office housing some computers detailing the Nuremberg trials and aerial shots of the Berlin wall. There is then an open air path with temporary fencing running the length of it and displaying photos and historical information about individuals involved in WWII, mostly SS and Gestapo people who resisted and the stories about what happened to them, whether successful or not.

We started from the wrong end of the display so we were actually reading backwards but it didn’t really matter. What mattered was that the gorgeous sun we had experienced as we left the Memorial had decided that it had had enough and disappeared behind the clouds. It had then sent its mate the wind out to drop the temperature a few degrees for us. We were FREEZING!!

I told Witek that I was struggling and I was going to skip some stuff and get to the end as quickly as possible.

We were there about half an hour to forty five minutes when we rounded a bend and saw that we weren’t even halfway through. We couldn’t handle it anymore and we bailed, running as fast as we could out of there and up the road to the first restaurant we saw!

We weren’t hungry but we both ordered a hot bowl of soup and a red wine to warm us up as quickly as possible!!

This place was actually more of a bar than a restaurant and it had a bit of character. The people who worked there were what I can only describe as a bit redneck, but they were nice enough.

Once we were toasty warm it was time to brave the elements once again and visit our next stop, Checkpoint Charlie. Checkpoint Charlie was the most famous gate in the Berlin Wall between East and West Germany during the Cold War and has now been basically turned into a tourist destination. The original booth isn’t even there anymore, it is in a museum in a suburb of Berlin. The one that is there is a reconstruction surrounded by people dressed as military police hoping you will pay them to pose for a photograph, much like the gladiators at the Colosseum.

We didn’t stay long, it was still freezing and not much there to see really.

After this we went to find the memorial to the Nazi Book Burning. Greg had told us that it was amazing, but afterwards I wondered if he had ever actually seen it. It was beyond walking distance from his apartment after all.

We caught the metro to the nearest stop but it was still a freezing five minute walk from there. We arrived at the square where it was supposed to be and saw nothing. While we wandered around a tour on Segways turned up and they just seemed to hang out in the middle of the square and didn’t appear to be looking at anything really, so that didn’t help.

We thought we must have been in the wrong spot, so we went to the square next door as well as the library across the road. Still nothing.

We went back to the square we had started with to have another look and finally we found it. All the memorial was, was a hole in the ground with four white bookshelves arranged in a square and then covered with a glass panel so we could see down there. That was it. Yes, it’s a good memorial, but not the amazing thing that Greg had led us to believe it would be. Ah well, it was at least one more thing ticked off the list!

Our next stop was Hitler’s bunker. The metro station near the bunker was only one stop away and maybe 400m walk from the one we were getting on at, but we didn’t care. We were so freezing cold by now we would take the metro 50m if it meant less time in the cold!

We pretty much ran from the station to the spot where the bunker was and quickly read the information sign. That is all that’s there to indicate the bunker was ever there because they didn’t want to have something there that the Nazis could essentially turn into a shrine. The sign is very plain and simply has the facts regarding the history of the bunker, that’s it. Where the bunker used to be is actually a block of plain old Cold War style apartments and an adjoining carpark. As it should be I think.

The last place we wanted to visit for the day was Potsdamer Platz, the biggest shopping area in Berlin which also contained the Sony Centre. This is a massive building constructed in 2000 and contains a massive cinema complex, shops, apartments and restaurants. The architecture of the building itself is actually quite spectacular with a beautiful sort of glass dome shaped roof.

We arrived there and had a look around and read up on the place on the timeline displayed in the corridor from the metro station. Apparently this is where all the big movies premiere in Berlin and the stars come to walk the red carpet. I was most impressed that the Sex and the City girls had been there!

We didn’t want to go back outside in a hurry so we decided we would go and catch a movie. We were so over the cold so we went and checked out our options and decided on District 9, bought tickets then went and got some dinner.

They actually had an Australian themed restaurant full of didgeridoos, boomerangs and koala and kangaroo motifs on the wall. We thought it worth checking out as we hadn’t seen an Aussie restaurant before. Aussie pubs, yes. Aussie restaurants, this was the first!! I was curious what they would serve!

They had kangaroo, crocodile and lots of steak and chicken basically. Witek got some calamari and I ordered the kangaroo salad, it had been a while since I had kangaroo obviously! We eat it all the time at home but it’s not that common in Europe. Where you do see it, it is very expensive. I think it was thirty something euro a kilo in one supermarket I saw (from memory).

I was a little apprehensive as the salad wasn’t all that expensive, so I thought that I wouldn’t be getting very much meat. I was wrong. There was plenty of meat but I would lay good money on half of it being beef and half of it kangaroo. There were definitely two types of meat in that salad! Ah well, how do you prove that? I did appreciate being able to enjoy a glass of Aussie red at least!

We made our way to the cinema after dinner and were pleasantly surprised to learn we could take beverages in with us, so we grabbed some red wine and headed on in. This was turning out ok after all!

The movie was awesome and by the time it finished we were ready to turn in. We caught the metro back to Greg’s paradise and crashed out.

Day 3, Thursday 16th October - We were awoken once again by Greg’s bakeware orchestra and moseyed down to our breakfast at about 8:30am.

Back up in our room we took our time getting organized and by the time we eventually got moving it was almost lunchtime! We had both layered up to keep warm, if we were flying home that day our luggage would have been 10kg lighter as we were wearing most of it!

We were yet to try this pork knuckle we had seen everywhere in eastern Europe and Greg swore that the restaurant near the metro station had awesome food, so we decided to stop in there and have some lunch and attempt the pork knuckle. Witek was smart enough to decline and order the soup.

The waitress brought out the meals and went to put the pork knuckle down in front of Witek and he told her it was mine. She looked at me and laughed and asked if I was sure. I cast a glance at Witek and told her yes. When she put it down I saw why - it was HUGE!! There was no way I was going to finish that thing. Even the customers at the tables next to us had a giggle,

We tucked in and as expected I could not finish it, despite it being awesome!! We ended up sharing the meals but both were fabulous. I think I actually waddled out of the restaurant instead of walked and suspect that lunch is where most of the 10kg I gained in Europe came from.

It was off to the Soviet memorial gardens after lunch. This was a memorial built in honour of the Soviet soldiers who fought to defeat the Nazis in Berlin at the end of WWII. We caught the train there and set of on the hike to the park.

We got there and I couldn’t believe how big it was. There were several memorial monuments lined up either side of a wide path leading to the feature 12m tall statue of a Soviet soldier holding a lowered sword over a shattered swastika and holding a rescued child. It was raining constantly but I still found that I could ignore that and was actually quite moved by this. Apparently there are 7000 Soviet soldiers buried at this memorial so it was hard not to be.

I must admit, despite being moved by the place, I was still freezing and not 100% happy about it! We walked the path of the memorial and checked out all the monuments, but we didn’t hang around for too long. We had a 5-10 min walk back to the metro and we still wanted to stop and check out the possibility of a river cruise on the way back.

The river cruise was a no go as they had finished them all for the day. I know this is terrible but we were both over the cold and the rain by now, so we decided to head back to the Sony Centre for dinner and a movie. I know, I know…but you don’t understand how COLD it was there!

We got the tram to Sony Centre and headed straight to the cinemas to select our movie for the night. We decided on Inglorious Bastards, I guess we wanted to stick to the WWII theme and to experience that movie in Berlin would probably be something interesting we thought.

We had time for dinner so we went over to a German themed restaurant we had eyed off the night before. We perused the menu and selected our fatty German meals before Witek wandered off to the loo. On the walk he discovered many photos of various famous people posing for photos in the premises, It was quite entertaining!

So, we both got to experience some very good German fare before venturing over to the cinemas, stocking ourselves up with red wine and watching Inglorious Bastards. Though I found it disgusting in parts I did enjoy it and wished the war had perhaps ended that way. That said, it was interesting to watch this movie surrounded by Germans and to find us laughing in parts of the movie that no one else did!

Once the movie was done we found our way to the train home and jumped on. Some discussion ensued as to whether we were going to go straight home or check out the ‘arty’ area Greg had told us about the previous night.  We figured we should check out the arty area as Greg had made it out to be like a mini-fringe festival.

We disembarked the train and were surprised to be greeted with several stands selling various alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages. We each grabbed a beer and headed on our way.

There was some discussion as to which way we should go. Obviously our sense of direction hasn’t been the most remarkable until now, so we were keen to make the right directional decision!

After a few minutes examining the view from the bridge we determined the right way to go and headed to the ‘arty’ area.

So, ‘arty’ area discovered, we found ourselves walking through a graffiti and gig poster covered tunnel (kinda reminded us of our accommodation!) and into a large courtyard which kind of resembled the ghettos you see in the US films. I started to feel a touch nervous given that I couldn’t see anyone else or any sign of life at all for that matter.

At the rear of the courtyard there were some stairs leading to what looked like some kind of club, so we went over to take a peek, all the while checking behind us for potential serial killers.

Once we got to the stairs we realized that we were in fact alone, so we turned around and went back to accommodation. I was very, very happy to be exiting that courtyard with my head still attached to my body!

Friday 17th October – On the way to Athens!!! We were up and ready to go with plenty of time and after saying our farewells to Greg, we got to the train with no worries (for once!!).

At the airport there was a MASSIVE line at the check in counter! After Olympic Air had some trouble in the months before we left, I had changed our flight from a direct flight on Olympic to Lufthansa where we had to fly to Munich to get a connecting flight to Athens. After 15 mins waiting in line with little progression in the queue I started to question whether I had made the right decision.

We finally checked in and cleared security only to be advised that our flight had been delayed! We were stuck in the boarding lounge and advised we had at least a 45 minute delay which made me a little nervous about making our connecting flight. So I did what anyone in my situation would do and got us a couple of beers! I needed something after learning that the reason our flight was delayed was because our plane was coming from Munich where it was so cold that the engine had iced over!! Eeeeek!!

We ended up departing pretty much exactly 45 mins late and we were due to arrive in Munich at almost the exact same time our flight to Athens was departing. I have never checked my watch so much during a flight! We did start to look at the bright side though when the air hostess told us that the next flight to Athens would be 5 hours later and we started pondering the idea of visiting our Munich friends and seeing how Obelix was doing.

Fortunately we made our flight JUST! We actually had to run off of our plane, through the gate, and about 100m to the gate for our connecting flight. The crew on our last flight and called through to say we were coming and they were good enough to hold the flight for us. Whew!! Our luggage wasn’t as fortunate though……..
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