Berlin (Part Two), Germany
Of course Danny couldn't go through a city without stopping at a market, so while he wandered through the smelly dead carcasses, I used the free WiFi at a sports bar to stream the Carlton game on radio. (Sorry about all the Australian football references to any non-Australians reading this – it's finals time and the excitement is building). Just reaching the bar required four trains - nothing is easy in Berlin, it seemed. Danny met me there not long after I arrived, losing interest in the market quickly. On the TV was a rugby game between Ireland and Australia, and I think there were ten times more Irish at the pub than Aussies. As I don't really care for rugby, this didn't bother me in the slightest. In the end the footy was extremely disappointing, and that's all I want to say about that. At least the cider was good.
On a positive note we received a reply to our email about the Reichstag. To our surprise we had been allocated a time tomorrow afternoon, which fit in perfectly with our schedule.
From the bar we made our way the TV Tower, a huge structure that dominates the skyline, but the line was ridiculously long so we left without seeing the view from the top. Instead we checked out the East Side Gallery, a one kilometre section of the old Berlin Wall covered in a variety of paintings. Only the east side contained artwork (hence the name); the west side was just graffiti. There was a large range of styles on show, with each painting being distinct from the rest, and it captured our attention for a large chunk of time. At least something useful could come from the Wall.
Next was the Jewish quarter, full of restaurants of every nationality. The most interesting part, however, was a series of eight interconnected courtyards lined with tiny cafes and contemporary art galleries. Each courtyard was slightly different in design, with a variety of patterns adorning the walls and a multitude of trees and plants giving a leafy, peaceful vibe. We didn't have time to stop for a drink but it looked like an ideal place to get away from the traffic and hoards of tourists. We also walked through a small market offering all types of food. As soon as I found a vendor selling dips, I didn't care about the rest of the stalls. In our travels we hardly ever come across any type of dip, so I was stoked to see a huge range all in one place. I settled on a spinach yoghurt dip, which was not what I was expecting but it still satisfied the dip craving.
We tried the TV tower again but found the wait time was an hour, so we gave up.
On our way back to the van we passed by Bebelplatz, which was mostly under construction (something always is wherever we go). In the centre of the square a glass window had been placed in the ground, providing a view down into a white room with empty bookshelves. A plaque nearby, in German, stated that it was a memorial to the book burning events that occurred under the Nazis. There is no escaping the past in this city.
Another three trains back to the car. Can't say I'm a huge fan of this train system.
It rained most of the night and the following day, so it seemed like a good idea to visit museums. First up was the Checkpoint Charlie Museum, which contained about 20 rooms overloaded with information on the Berlin Wall. There wasn't an inch of space that didn't have information, pictures or objects crammed into it. This meant there wasn't a lot of room to move around, making the whole experience stuffy and uncomfortable. It was impossible to read everything, but most plaques appeared to describe different escape measures used by individuals to flee from East Berlin. Several of these were ingenious (if they went to plan). There was also a large, comprehensive section on American and Russian politics throughout the Cold War, but by this stage I was too overwhelmed to take in any more details.
The verdict on currywurst: I don't like tomato sauce in general so I was never going to love it, however the curry part was alright. Danny wasn't blown away either. Not in a hurry for another one.
Danny was over museums by this stage (after visiting one), so he disappeared to stroll the streets aimlessly. Next on my hit list was the Topography of Terror Museum, located on the site of the former Nazi headquarters. It was one of the few museums to cover both Nazis/WWII and the period of the Berlin Wall. I skipped over much of the information as I had read about the events numerous times in the past few days, but some panels covered smaller, not-so-well known events such as the book burnings and the German Olympics.
My final museum was the Deutsche Guggenheim. I presumed it would be like other Guggenheims, filled with mostly modern/contemporary art, but I was only half-right. It was contemporary, but it consisted solely of videos. There were a handful small rooms, enough to seat roughly six people each, all showing recently made amateurish films. Once I accepted that there were no paintings on the walls to admire, I settled down to watch most of the videos (I couldn't sit through one of a woman spinning in circles around a dining room the entire time). To my amazement I actually enjoyed a couple of them.
I caught up with Danny at the Reichstag for our allocated viewing time. After numerous security checks we were whisked up to the glass dome, where we walked along a ramp winding its way around the inside edge. Free audioguides were provided, which usually I'm not a fan of but this one was more interesting than most. It described the views we could see in all directions over the city, and pointed out modern features of the Reichstag building that we never would have noticed. Annoyingly we couldn't take any photos through the glass because rain drops were covering them, distorting the scene. Our only photo opportunity was at the bottom of the dome where we could walk outside, but it was only about six storeys up here so the views were average. Overall, it was a stunning building, and I was glad I had sent the email.
At this point Danny was exhausted so he headed back to the van, while I ventured over to the Victory Column. Dedicated to victories in three wars a few hundred years ago, it was basically a tall pillar in the middle of a roundabout with a golden angel perched on the apex. At the bottom was a display of the great monumental buildings of the world, which I skipped through as I was just there to reach the top. Almost 300 steps and some muscle burn later I made it, where I gazed straight down a road bisected by the Brandenburg Gate. If it wasn't such a miserable day it might have been an impressive sight, although it was a little far away from the centre of the city. On the upside it was a lot cheaper and quicker than the TV Tower.
We decided to make the drive to Potsdam tonight, as it was only half an hour away. Once there Danny made a beautiful Tom Yum-flavoured curry soup, paired with a German red wine (a Pfalz, which neither of us had heard of before). We spent the night reflecting on Berlin, with both of us rating our time there highly. I couldn't recall the last city we were in that felt more business-focussed (like London or Paris) rather than tourist-centred. It was a welcome reminder of home.