The Energizer Bunny of Berlin

Trip Start Sep 15, 2006
Trip End Oct 10, 2006

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Monday, September 18, 2006

MOOD: Achey but happy (for now)
SONG STUCK IN MY HEAD: "Laisse Tomber les Filles" by France Gall & Serge Gainsbourg
PLACE: Generator Hostel, Room 724, Landsberger Allee, Berlin
LAST FOOD CONSUMED: A supermarket counter sandwich of some unknown meat that was very tasty, a liter of "blut orange" (blood orange juice), a hazlenut wafer bar and a bottle of Berliner Pilsner.

It's 12:45am, I'm utterly drained and I ache all over, but I'm putting off sleep because there's nobody else in this dorm room of eight beds at the moment. Which means the kids that I'm sharing this room are all downstairs getting wasted at the hostel bar and they'll not bother to be quiet or leave the room dark when retiring. I'm already planning to use my earplugs and night mask, but maybe I should take a sleeping pill, too. Except I might not wake up at a reasonable hour, and since I might need to get on a train at 9:42am, that would be a problem. (More on that later.)

Last night I slept alright, but I kept waking up and checking my wristwatch as I didn't want to miss the walking tour that leaves here at 10:15. And wouldn't you know it, not only did I miss that one, but I missed my backup, a free biking tour at 11 from Alexanderplatz, because I didn't bring the exact location.

So instead I did my own walking tour, from Alexanderplatz to The Church of St. Mary(where a very nice postcard salesman inside helped me with directions) to a beautiful Italianate fountain to statues of Marx and Engles that people were molesting while getting their pictures taken to the Berliner Dom (Cathedral) to Brandenburg Gate, discovering along the way the Berlin Guggenheim Museum, which only contained one piece -- a hundred or so life-like wolves flying through the air and cascading down upon themselves -- but it was free as it was Monday. I also found an auto mall, the Automobilforum, where Bugati, Volkswagen and other car makers show off their latest models. As there was a cafe there, I rested and ate currywurst, which is a local dish that Peer suggested I try. It was a biiiig sausage covered in sweet ketchup and dashed with curry powder. It was very nice, but perhaps a bit fancy at 4.90 Euros, and I'm going to have to compare it to the 1.50 currywursts I've seen advertised.

At Brandenburg Gate there was a large protest in support of the Tamil Tiger rebels of Sri Lanka. There was a stage wit music and dancers and speeches in the Sri Lankan language of Sinhala (I believe) and German and English and I could hear it for at least two hours while I walked on.

There was also a man in a teddy bear suit standing near the gate, so of course I filmed him but he had his buddy wave a finger at me not to. How are you going to dress as a big teddy bear and not expect people to videotape you? I don't get it.

Being able to just mosey through Brandenburg, this symbol of division and strife, was remarkable, especially when I saw the pictures displayed across the street of the barriers set up during the Cold War.

The Gate is at one end of a long street that the Victory Column (Siegessäule), one of my big sightseeing goals for Berlin, is in the middle of. Along either side of this street is the Tiergarten, the largest park here. And it's big. And I walked through it. All of it. I just kept going. And going. Sometimes I'd veer off to the left, and then I'd see something else and head over to the right, or double back and then around.... I was like Woodstock, meandering around, taking pictures everywhere. And there was a lot to see. A pond with a nude statue, two of the Russian tanks that were first on the scene when the Nazis were chased from Berlin, thus ending WWII, a building that is dedicated to modern art performances (apparently), with a reflecting pool that a woman was tossing a large stick into so her puppy could go get it, a black stone belltower, a large river with a bike path, small little trails, a playground, people barbequing even though there's signs not to....

And then there was the main attraction, the Reichstag (though I don't think it's technically part of the Tiergarten). There was actually a whole slew of government buildings that were interesting architecturally, even one designed by Frank Gehry. But I kept it to the Reichstag, the house of Parliament for Germany that was more or less destroyed during the war but was rebuilt with very modern touches. The facade of the building was fairly intact, but the dome burnt down, so they rebuilt it as this glass and mirrored dome representing how the new post-unification government would be open and visible to the people. Inside the dome is an escalating walkway you can take to the top. Though I was enthralled by the design and the incredible picture and video-taking opportunities afforded by all the angles and reflections and shadows and plays of light, that was one fucking hot dome! Forget visible government. How 'bout government burning under the sun's rays directed through a magnifying glass??

When I finally found the Victory Column I was elated. I wanted to see it because of its prominence in Wim Wender's Wings of Desire. But since that movie was shot in black and white, seeing its gold exterior in person was phenomenal, especially since I got lucky and arrived near sunset, so the light was extraordinary.

As the monument is in the middle of a traffic circle, there's a tunnel one must use to cross under the street. I was a little sketched out as the tunnel was long and not well-lit and there was graffiti everywhere. But I had little to worry about, and under the monument I made another in my series of auto-timer self portraits where I'm standing under a tall pointy thing. I'll have to collect those together at some point.

At that point I was pretty wiped, but as there is no subway stop near the Victory Column and the buses are confusing, I kept walking to the Tiergarten stop, where I got on a train intending to go to Potsdammer Platz where I heard I could buy a USB cable for my camera so I could download pictures (this is the second time I've bought a camera the night before a trip and wasn't able to get the pictures off the thing), but I got distracted by the sight of a partially destroyed church steeple visible from the Ring S-bahn (mostly above-ground train). So I got off and went and checked it out and it turns out to be Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, which was bombed during the war but they left it as a memorial. However, the clock was repaired and I was there at 7pm when it chimed. It was nice.

On the way back to the train station I found a supermarket, and since I always like checking out supermarkets in various countries, I decided to do dinner on the cheap. The aforementioned sandwich, juice and chocolate bar was just 3.75 Euros, with the beer only .70. I ate it while sitting on the train platform. While there I noticed a hostel was located right across from the platform, and since I was only able to book two nights at the Generator, I went back down to the street to check it out. But they too are full tomorrow night. So I talked to some folks, got my beer opened (gotta remember to bring my Swiss army knife with me tomorrow), and drank it while walking back to the train. I believe that it's legal to have an open container in Berlin. At least I saw plenty of guys walking around with them. Maybe it's just not enforced.

Speaking of not enforced, right now there's a large group of drunk idiots chanting and singing in German (or Dutch or Danish) down below. They're really, really loud, and I'm now quite glad that I haven't been trying to sleep as they've been going on for a good 40 minutes, though not this loudly. As there's an actual hotel right next to the Generator, I'm surprised it's been allowed to go on this long. The hostel staff must get complaints up the ass.

Also speaking of not enforced, I've found absolutely no evidence that there's a need to buy transport fare in Berlin. At the airport I paid 1.25 for a bus which took me to the Ring S-Bahn, the train the circles the city, and the machine offered a tourist pass, which I try to get most places I go. It was 20 Euros for 72 hours, and there were also discounts on museum entrances. Through it did save me 3 Euros at the Dom and 2 at the Radio Tower yesterday, it's otherwise been a waste of money. The fine for not having a valid ticket is 40 Euros, but it seems worth the risk, especially since I could just play the dumb tourist. However, knowing I can hop on any form of public transportation at will and not worry about getting caught is good peace of mind, and believe me -- I've ridden around on every S train and U train and tram I could find. Despite having walked four 8 hours straight today.

Which brings me back to tonight. I got to the Sony Center at Potsdammer Platz at 8:45, thinking they'd still be open, but no such luck. However, I as glad to see the place as it's quite modern. In fact, all of the areas of the East Berlin sector are marked by new construction, making it a fascinating place, and I think I much prefer the Eastern areas to the Western.

I was all set to call it a night when I saw another one of my must-sees for Berlin, sections of the Berlin Wall set up along the old demarcation line. There was a history of the wall in English as well as German, and by reading it I discovered that Checkpoint Charlie was nearby. And thinking it was walking distance close, I... again... set off walking for blocks upon blocks. But I took some of my favorite photos and videos of the trip during that walk, so no complaints here.

The area around Checkpoint Charlie has a distinct vibe to it, similar to the other Eastern areas with their musty aroma of Communist rule, but more concentrated. As I discovered a neat flash setting on the new still camera, I took a bad-ass picture of the old checkpoint with a car going past. So as to avoid the crush of people, I really like going to tourist traps at night, provided that they're not ones that require admission. And even though there's a Checkpoint Charlie Museum (founded by one of the leaders of the 60s/70s protest movement in East Berlin, apparently), there's a large plot of land bordered by a well-written (again in German and English) brief history, which was more than enough for me.

I was told by Tamra, a coworker of Anthony's, to look into hotels in that area, and I did, but they too are full. So just as Checkpoint Charlie was the last stop on one bigtime Blitzkrieg of a sightseeing day, I think I better make tomorrow my last day in Berlin, unfortunately. I'm pretty nervous about where I'm going (Prague is my goal), how I'm getting there (the train would be the logical choice, but I'm up for a cheap last minute flight crapshoot at the airport) and where I'm staying when I arrive (I've got a list of hostels but no idea how to get to them. But that's what tourist offices are for).

Okay, it's 2:09. The hostel bar must have closed, and soon this room will fill up with drunken Brits. Can't wait. I'm getting too old for hostels.

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