The brand new historic city
22.08.2007 - 24.08.2007 23 °C
After dropping off our luggage and repacking at our apartment in Mannheim we took the train to Berlin, Germany.
As soon as we stepped off the train we could tell that this city would be totally different from London. The atmosphere was lively even though it was 10 pm, the people were smiling and best of all: it was warm! After some stressed wandering we found our hostel, and it turned out to be HUGE! It's called the Generator, and had seven floors of about a 75 rooms each, with a happening bar on the ground floor, a large cafe-sitting area, a travel necessities store and of course the necessities like internet, information and such. if anyone wants to go to Berlin, I definitely recommend the Generator!
That night we went to the bar for awhile, but due to my tooth infection medication I couldn't drink anything, so I just had a lemonade. All of a sudden there was broken glass all over Kyle and I, and Kyle's hand was bleeding like mad. He had had the bright idea to see if he could break a beer glass in one hand...and well, it broke and ended up cutting his hand pretty badly. He probably needed stitches for at least one of the cuts, but he decided to tough it out and just get it bandaged up.
We saw a flyer for a free 'Alternative' walking tour of Berlin, so we decided to do that the next day. It was a great choice and a great day to do it on; the weather was abosultely beauitful. From 10am to 6pm that day we saw one amazing thing after another. Our tour guide was an Aussie that had lived in Berlin for 7 years, and he was quite the character. He brought along his alter ego, 'Pink Rat', which is exactly that: a hot pink stuffed rat. Pink Rat also had a hot-water bottle type pouch, which he used for hiding vodka, and supposedly he would get our guide in all sorts of trouble. The first place he took our group (about 10 ppl, all young, but from all different genres) was on a walk through his favourite neighbourhood. The apartment buildings had all been beautifully restored, and cute little cafes and shops spilled out into the streets. He said that because so much restoration and construction was happening in Berlin, the city was pretty much broke, and there were more than 300 000 empty apartments, so rent was extremely cheap. Totally made me think about moving there.
We checked a really neat clothing store called FUCK clothing; some eccentric vintage stores, like the 'Orange' one, which had predominantly orange vintage items; a metal-bakery, where the walls were decorated with metal music posters, and all the people who worked there were covered in tattoos; a cemetery that doubled as a bizarre playground for little children; and a shop that had no prices on any of the food – people just paid what they thought it was worth. We also saw a beautiful man-made waterfall, and climbed the tower
He took us to a ton of famous graffiti murals, some of them world-famous. One place had a series of real faces, famous and non-famous, painted onto the walls in vibrant colors and full of emotion. It was great to see all of the different painting styles. A bombed out building, that was saved from demolition by squatters had the largest mural in Europe on it, and the two guys that did it finished it in one night! You could still see all of the bullet holes in the walls. This building also housed a free art gallery for emerging artists and I bought a print from one of them. The guy that sold it to me was a little creepy though; he insisted on giving me his phone number, so that he would have a contact in Canada!
My favourite part was when he brought us to an abandoned factory. We snuck through a broken fence and walked around the buildings and even got to go in on. It was very dark, scary, and eerily empty. We saw the longest remaining part of the Berlin Wall, which is covered in great graffiti, and the beach bars behind the wall. All four of them have a beach flair, with sand on the floor, and no ceiling, but they were completely different. One was Jamaican, with reggae music, volleyball, basketball and badminton courts, graffiti, painted cars and hammocks; one was like a beer garden, with long tables, and colorful banners; one was very classy, with red tents, white couches, and a marble bar; and one was a bohemian dance bar, with palm trees, lanterns, a broken down double-decker bus that housed the great DJs, a fountain in the middle, and flowers everywhere.
The last place we went to was a skate park, which was actually a huge complex of abandoned warehouses. One warehouse held tons of graffiti and there were three guys doing a huge piece right when we were there. The other warehouse held the skate park, which looked pretty sweet. Outside there was a huge climbing wall, and a beer garden. Nearby there’s a walled in forest where huge rave parties take place, and the entrance to the forest is through the backdoor of a PortaPotty!
Overall it was a super day and we both had a great time, but at the same time it was very tiring, so we didn’t do much when we got back to the hostel.
The next day we decided to do a free bike tour around Berlin, and it proved to be a great contrast with the alternative tour. Our guide was English and studied history at Berlin University, so he knew all about all of the historic areas. We rode city bikes all through the city and after a very informative history lesson, we went to go see most of the important historic sites. We rode to Museum Island, then to the Nazi headquarters, which is a hateful looking building that escaped all the bombing, and today houses the Berlin tax office. On the wall of the building a mural shows the perfect socialism world, and then on the ground in front of the building a photograph, the exact same size as the mural, shows what socialism is really like: an angry protest. The place where Hitler’s bunker was was just a patch of grass, because the Soviets had blown up the actual bunker. We learned that the first thing Hitler’s guards did after he died was light a cigarette because they were never allowed to that in the Bunker.
We also saw the Holocaust memorial, which is a full city block of large concrete blocks, which are all the same size, but appear to be very different because they are set into the ground at different depths, and at different angles. It is a very thought provoking memorial, and also hugely controversial because many people don’t think that Berlin should have a holocaust memorial.
For a break we went to a beer garden and Kyle and I had some great meals. While we were there it started pouring, so we waited around for it to let up. When we left it was still drizzling, but totally bearable. We saw the victory tower, with all of the gold victory rings, including the one that Hitler added before the victory he never claimed. We drove to the Berlin Opera house that was rebuilt three times due to the bombing. Between the Opera house and the Berlin Library there was the square where the huge book burning of May 1933 happened. Socialist students burned the works of any philosophers, writers, and researchers that wrote against socialism. We also went to the famous Checkpoint Charlie, were the US army and the Soviets spied on each other everyday. Nearby stands the oldest part of the Berlin Wall and it’s surprisingly low. There are crazy escape stories that are too detailed to mention here, but they are so risky that it’s hard to believe them.
This tour turned out to be just as good as yesterday’s, but for totally different reasons. We had experienced the rough, artsy part of the city, as well as learned all about the totally recent history of Berlin. We both enjoyed ourselves immensely and definitely want to go back.