Sunday, May 20, 2007


When I arrived in Berlin, I headed straight for yet another pay phone - but this time with the intention of calling Frederick. Apparently I'd just missed him, and as Mr & Mrs Bamberg didn't seem to know who I was (and I didn't want to invite myself over as such), I just said I'd call in the morning, and went and checked into the City Stay hostel in Mitte - right near the famous Fernsehturm (TV tower) in East Berlin. I also signed up for the pubcrawl, and am actually really glad I ended up staying in the city. Though some of the pubs were fairly unexceptional, some were a little more historic (one with an East German car from the 70s in the front window), and it was a fun night filled with German beer, Jaegermeister and a fair bit of dancing.

[everybody say "Jaegermeister"]

After a fun evening, I'm grateful for two things - the TV tower which acted as a beacon, shining the light on my direction home, and the huge amount of water I drank before going to bed.

Though I woke up early the next morning, I woke up only a little dopey with no hangover - it could only be a good day! First things first - to call Mum. And, lo and behonld, she was there! Though she hung up on me the first time ("I thought it was India calling"), I was finally able to wish her a happy belated Mother's Day!

I woke up my Canadian dorm-mates Jesse and Andrew, and though they only had a few minutes to get ready, were hurrying down Unter den Linden with me on the way to the Free Berlin tour. Apparently there are free tours in many cities in Europe - something I'm looking forward to taking advantage of. Our tour guide was fantastic, and we saw so much in the four-and-a-half hour tour: The Brandenburger Tor, a line in the road where the Berlin Wall used to stand, the amazing memorial to the victims of the holocaust, the site of Hitler's bunker (as the tour guide pointed out, now a car park and small section of grass perfect for big piles of dog poo), Checkopint Charlie, past an old section of the wall and the Topography of Terror (the foundations of an old SS building), the Bebelplatz (where the first Nazi book burning took place in 1933), to a monument to victims of war (very, very moving), and finally to Museum Island - Berliners certainly love their museums. She told us so many historical facts and pointed out some great random bits and pieces. I hadn't noticed them until she pointed out the bullet holes in "The Big Dish" at the front of the New Museum. I also lvoed the story of the removal of all crosses from churches in Berlin, only to have the TV Tower built which, due to the shiney sphere at its top, looks like a big cross on a sunny day.

[where the Wall used to stand]

[Holocaust Memorial]

[Hitler's Bunker]

[the Wall at the Topography of Terror]


This was but a prelude. Where books are burnt, human beings will be burnt in the end.
- Heinrich Hein

[Memorial for those killed in war]

[Museum Island and TV Tower]

[bullet holes in "the Big Bowl"]

I'd managed to get in touch with Frederick, so got my backpack and, as per his instructions, took the S-Bahn to Rathaus Steglitz. He met me at the train station - it was so good to see a familiar face, even if his months scuba diving in WA have given him blond hair! We took the bus back to his flat - where he has lived since he was two - and I briefly met his mum. She apologised for not speaking English, I apologised for not speaking German, and Frederick interperated. After a dinner of fantastic German bread ("not like that white, fluffy stuff in Australia") and Swiss cheese, Frederick and I headed back into town to meet his brother at a pub in the trendy, turkish-oriented part of town - once wedged in a corner of West Berlin.

Simon (pronounced much more softly than I would in Australia - one of few less harsh-sounding names, as pointed out by Frederick) and his mates are apparently very big fans of, and quite good at table soccer ("fooseball" sounds too similar to the German word for soccer - "fussball"). They were very good and very competitive with other players on the two tables in one of many small, cosy pubs in the area (the "White Dove"). Unfortunately, I was literally falling asleep (quite embarrassing, actually), so after a couple of beers, Frederick and I headed home through the rain.

Before I go further, I have to comment on how cool Berlin is. Not only are there dedicated bike paths all over the city, bikes are allowed on trains! And though the sight of people walking around with open beers everywhere, and dogs on public transport at first kind of surprised me, I now just add it to the reasons Berlin is such a great city. And Germany - simply for how it does breakfast - is quickly becoming one of my favourite countries.

Frederick and I had more great bread, cheese and jams with green tea for breakfast, while the sheep at the nearby high school bleated. This led to a conversation about the intricacies of German schooling - how at 12 you're put into a ranked high school, and how most people don't graduate 'til they're 19 (or sometimes 21, 21!). When we were heading out the door, Frederick looked at me in my thongs and said "it's okay to wear socks with your sandals in Germany, you know." Too funny (and NOT A CHANCE!). Though I regretted my lack of shoes later in the day, I had well and truely run out of socks, so didn't really have an option.

We took the train (S-Bahn, U-Bahn, I'm not really sure) to the Deutsches Historiches Museum, back on Unter den Linden. On the way, Frederick told me how three stations on the line we were on used to be part of East Berlin, so while the wall was up, the stations were unused, and after 30 years had to be cleaned festidiously and are back in use again, as if nothing happened. He also pointed out a great anti-nuclear protest on a block of flats.

The museum was really informative and managed to solidify many things in my mind. My knowledge of German and European history is slowly improving.I stuck to the twentieth century stuff, while Frederick ventured further inside the mammoth museum. Once we were filled with history to our eyeballs, we went to just near Friedrichstrasse S-Bahn station for the biggest falafel pita I've ever seen. It was quite funny - as we were eating, Frederick pointed out that he'd ordered in English, but was confused when the guy at the counter had responded in English. Frederick had thought he was speaking German. I guess that's what 18 months in Australia will do to you.

We then went our separate ways - he headed home, and I went to do some more sightseeing. I returned to a couple of the places we'd passed the previous day, wanting to get a closer look and take some photos. I also returned to the place we'd had lunch on the tour so that I could abuse their free internet.

[Checkpoint Charlie]

The Topography of Terror was very interesting - there was some information on the Nuremberg Trials, as well as the remains of the Gestapo buildings. The site itself had had a colourful history of late, also - due to funding problems, a proper museum had been in the pipeline for years!

Under the Holocaust Memorial is a museum, which is - like the memorial above it - very moving, and a very important place for tourists to Berlin to visit. Again, it was very educational and - with excerpts from letters and journals of victims - very moving.

I walked past the Brandenburg Gate again and was going to climb to the top of the Reichstag, but was deterred by the long line of tourists. All I could think while looking at it was "and we thought the Parliament House in Canberra was funny looking!"

[Brandenburg Gate]


I took bus 100 past the Siegessaule with its prematurely-placed fourth tier, celebrating Hitler's victory in the second world war, and got off the bus near Zoo station and stopped to admire the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedachtniskirche - a war-torn church left unrepaired as a memorial. I mentioned later to Frederick that I was surprised how clean the breaks were on the roof, and he quite rightly pointed out that if you're going to leave a broken roof for sixty years, you're going to make sure there are no loose pieces!

[The Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedachtniskirche]

From Zoo Station (and their obsession with the local "icebear" Knut) I accidentally took the wrong sort of train and ended up south of Rathaus Steglitz. Who knew - as well as the S-Bahn and U-Bahn there is a D-Bahn!I eventually made it back to the Bambergs' just in time to see Felix's (the eldest) wife Alina in a short film being shown on local TV. Next stop, Hollywood!

Frederick, Simon and I ended the evening by watching "Stranger Than Fiction." I was pleasantly surprised.

When I walked into the kitchen on Wednesday morning, Mrs Bamberg jokingly exclaimed "Summer!" I quickly went and got changed into something warmer.

After yet another fantastic breakfast on the balcony (where Frederick and Simon slipped in and out of English as I entered and exited the room), I was off on the train again, headed for Oranienburg and the nearby concentration camp - Sachsenhausen. Like at the Anne Frank House, I couldn't help thinking how surprisingly large the area was. Then, of course, I realised that though there looked to be acres of open space, there were actually rock slabs every few metres representing distroyed barracks.

[the prison building at Sachsenhausen]

The history behind the camp was, I guess like any concentration camp, pretty horrific. It was built in 1936, in the shadows of the Olympic Games. It was one of the first, and used as a model for later concentration camps. The Oranienburg camp, long since distroyed, was used between 1933 and 1934 to house political prisoners - enabling Hitler to gain more and more power.

[memorial for those killed at Sachsenhausen]

[memorial, behind shooting pit and mortuary]

The most horrific sight was, of course, the gas chamber. There was also a room where prisoners were taken and a sniper shot them in the back of the head. Gutless. Horrible.

[gas chamber/cremetorium]

I took a long, pensive train ride out of East Germany back into Berlin and was at the Bambergs' just in time for dinner. I love home cooking!

At around 9pm, Simon, Frederick and I headed back into town to meet Felix for a "quiet beer." Though the weather was miserable and Frederick was suffering from a cold, it was a really nice, and unexpectedly long night. The pub we were at was a cute little hole-in-the-wall with only low lighting and dark reddy-brown walls. As the following day was a public holiday, it was still very busy when Frederick and I left at about 1:30, but he assures me that on any given night, it could be just as busy. Germans and their beer, hey?

It took quite a while to get home and I was finally - and thankfully - in bed by 3am.

I joined the Bambergs for breakfast in my pyjamas as most of my clothes were being washed and it was a better alternative to the running clothes I'd first emerged wearing (I decided I'd best run later).

Horst - Mr Bamberg - told a great story over breakfast about the local fete (which Frederick and I would be attending that evening) and how he won a prize for a very excited 8-year-old Simon.

After washing up I showered, dressed, caught up on my diary and once I was sure my food was not sitting right in my stomach, went for a long-awaited jog. It was such a pretty route - just near Frederick's house is a canal and many people were running, riding and walking along its shadowy path.

I spent the afternoon sorting out my back pack (clean clothes - so exciting), reading up a little on Prague, and then helping Frederick make dinner. After dinner we went to the fete, which was far more impressive than any old school fair. He had a go at one of those tin-knocking games, I tried some ball-hurling target game, and we both went on "The Octopus." Me being me, I'm embarrassed to say I was actually a little scared at times!

[Frederick and I on "The Octopus"]

We watched a documentary on the German football team before bed. A football documentary would've been an effort to sit through - the fact that it was in German kept me on my toes.

Frederick saw me off at the bus stop - despite my objections that he shouldn't be up so early on my account. I got back to the City Stay at 7:30 - winging it at one stage and miraculously finding myself on the right train! I was surprised to see Dave there - turned out he hadn't been able to get on the previous bus out of Berlin. Busabout is far less flexible than they claim!

Next up: the Czech Republic - Prague and Cesky Krumlov...