Berlin – Bear Patrol

Berlin is huge. I liked it because it actually felt like I was visiting a real city for the first time this trip. I’ll split the trip up by destinations instead of blow-by-blow. You should get through a beer and/or coffee while reading this.

Brandenburger Tor

The Brandenburger Tor sits in the middle of Berlin (more or less), and overlooks Pariser Platz. It is a monolithic structure, featuring a statue atop a series of columns. It attracts tourists and beggars like flies to sh-… honey. The Berlin Wall ran right past when it still stood. I visited the Brandenburger Tor a number of times as it was quite close and worth just strolling past on the way to somewhere else.

The Reichstag

Woo politics. The Reichstag is the German equivalent of Parliament House. Besides being huge and architecturally old, there wasn’t much interesting about it. It burned down in 1933, and was bombed to pieces in 1945. Retaining mostly the same design, it’s back. Maybe that was a good reason to visit.

Schloss Charlottenburg

The Palace at Charlottenburg was originally the home of a German big-wig, but now houses a Porcelain museum (yeah, I know), so the only thing worth taking a look at were the sculptures and architecture. Normally, there is a huge garden behind the Palace, but – yep, you guessed it – there was nothing to see in Winter. Plus, they charged you the princely sum of 12€ for the privilege. No thanks, I’ll just stick to the outside. It was worth the ten or fifteen minutes spent there.

Rotes Rathaus

Despite the name, the Rathaus doesn’t actually contain Rats, it contains Councillors. Yes, yes, I know. Apparently Berlin’s Rathaus is special because it’s made from that god-awful red-brick that the 80s loved so much. Not my cup of tea, but the Berliners are proud of it.

Tiergarten

Ok, now I know that I’m visiting during Winter. That’s fine. But when I’m on a tour bus, and the “picturesque” Tiergarten is on my right, I’d at least like to see something resembling life. The Tiergarten was originally the King’s personal hunting ground, smack-dab in the middle of Berlin city. Now, it’s a huge public park (I mean really big) with all manner of ponds and plant-life. At least, that’s what I presume it’s like in Summer. Nevertheless, I think the photos are nice, and strolling through a forest of sticks was relaxing and much better than getting buffeted by icy winds on my way to the other places in the city.

Fernsehturm

Berlin’s Fernsehturm (TV Tower) can be seen from a lot of places in the city, and is one of the tallest structures in the world. For an arm and a leg, you can take the lift to the viewing platform, and for the other arm and leg, you can eat in the revolving restaurant (great food, though), 300 metres or so above the ground. You could feel your ears pop as the lift shot you into the sky. No pictures from the tower, as it was night when I visited the lookout.

Berliner Dom

What’s this? Another Church? Yes, please! No, just kidding. Everything pales in comparison to the Kölner Dom, which I still have nightmares about. Sure, it’s big, and it wasn’t hideous on the inside like the Frauenkirche, but it’s really just another building where Kings could show everyone how great they were. That being said, I swore out loud when I saw one of the sarcophagi had a sculpted figure of Death writing the occupant’s name into his book. Creepy as hell.

Holocaust Mahnmal

The Holocaust Mahnmal (memorial) is a series of grey stone blocks of various heights. It’s hard to describe more than that. No names, just blocks. It was weird walking through, as the ground is unexpectedly uneven, and unbeknownst to me at the time, about 40 kids were running up and down along the narrow paths. Who knew a memorial could be fun?

Neue Nationalgalerie

Supposedly a “new” art gallery (mix of modern and contemporary, if I recall correctly). The most of the building was either undergoing renovation, or was closed due to the setting up of new exhibitions. This took the grand total of available works in the gallery to: 1. The main (only) room is a huge open space with glass walls. In the centre hung a chandelier. The artwork? The carpet. What’s worse, is that it looked like it was blown up from a mobile phone picture and printed at Harvey Norman onto some cheap carpet. I laughed twice – once, because the work was just really horrible; and twice because the security guard looked embarrassed whenever someone walked in, looked around, and walked straight back out. They were gracious enough to waive the entry fee to the gallery.

Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtniskirche

This fragment of a church is supposedly a reminder that war sucks. It was originally a large church built in Charlottenburg by – you guessed it – Kaiser Wilhelm. It was partially destroyed by bombs like everything else in Berlin in 1945. Part of it remained standing though, so instead of rebuilding it, they secured the ruins and called it a memorial. What they should’ve called it is the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Würstekirche, because there were eight wurst stalls at the foot of the church, surrounded by an equal number of souvenir shops. War – what is it good for? Profits, apparently.

Bauhaus Archiv

After already trekking for 4km once to look for this place and finding it closed, I was keen to go back when it was actually open for business. The Bauhaus school was a design school in the early 20th century that focused on simplicity of colour and form (mainly in object design and architecture). You know you’ve reached the pinnacle of success when your designs are so simplistic that your design museum sucks. I can’t hate the Bauhaus, because I love what they’ve produced, – “tubular chairs” and current modern “desk lamps” are just two prolific designs to come out of the school. I think it reminded me too much of my classes in University. Nevertheless, I’d be kicking myself if I’d never visited. My favourite part of the museum was the temporary exhibit featuring current Japanese simplicity in design.

Gendarmenmarkt

The Gendarmenmarkt is a square that features the Konzerthaus, flanked by the Deutscher Dom on the left and Französicher Dom on the right. Individually, the buildings are moderately impressive, but the fact they are all set together makes the whole square look really impressive.

Jüdisches Museum

I called this the “Jew Museum” to a friend and immediately got an icy reply. Ok, so the Jewish Museum in Berlin is a museum dedicated to all Jewish history (as opposed to just the treatment in the war). Upon walking in, I had to empty my bag, my pockets, go through a body scanner, and was wanded over before a guard decided to pat me down. I packed myself back together, only to be forced to check my bag and jacket at the coat room (it was freezing in the museum by-the-by). I put the criminal treatment behind me (as well as the 200,000 multi-national students milling about in all corners) and head into the museum proper. The architecture was… interesting to say the least. Angles, corners, jags, voids, darkness – everywhere. There was a big justification spiel for the design, but honestly I don’t remember it (something about a fragmented Star of David). The museum featured a timeline of Jewish history from about 990 CE to the present day. The focus was on their persecution throughout history, and how awesome it is/was to be Jewish. I wish there was another way to describe it, but this is the impression that one gets after visiting. Despite being new, this museum was no better or worse than any of the others I’ve visited (and believe me, that’s been a few).

Siegessäule

The Siegessäule – translated by the tourist board as “Victory Column” – is a tall column with a golden statue on top, erected to commemorate victories in wars against the Dutch. Yeah, the Dutch had an army; although apparently not a very good one. Anyway, you can normally go through an underground passage and take a long trip up the stairwell to a lookout on the tower. Except right now – it’s under restoration for Summer. It was impressive in any case, and I’d definitely bid on it if I saw it on eBay with 10 minutes left. AAAAA++++++++++

Museum für Naturkunde

Oh, come on, I’m a geek, ok. It’s the natural science museum, and apparently one of the largest collections in the world, with over one million specimens. After seeing some of the “collection”, though, that’s less than it seems. (Referring to the tray of aphids presented. Maybe 100 in a 20cm square area). The exhibits were much of a muchness, but they do have the largest (mounted) Brachiosaurus skeleton on the planet, and also the Archaeopteryx fossil. I think maybe 2 people reading this will know what I mean and share my excitement. I was embarrassed for them when they featured a couple Australian animals, though – the “Koala Bear”, and the “Tasmanian Wolf”. Shudder.

Dalí Museum

They should reserve the word “museum” for places that would bore most people, but I don’t think “The Dalí House of FUCK YES” would fit on their sign board. The “museum” was great – there were sculptures, lithographs, videos, paintings, step-by-step litho prints, biographies, commissioned works – everything. The best part was that the work was not only really strange (in the typical Dalí way), but the artistic skill could also easily be seen (as opposed to the questionable ability of some contemporary artists). There was so much detail in even the mundane sketches that you could easily spend a long time studying the works. Worth visiting for anyone even half-way interested in art history, or anyone who likes to giggle at scribbles of penises on desks.

Typographie des Terrors

Ok, let this be a lesson to anyone sightseeing in an unknown city – research your destination. My travel book and city-map from the hotel both listed “Typographie des Terrors” as being an exhibit about Nazi history. In reality, the “exhibit” doesn’t exist yet (not until later in 2010), so they’ve erected a walkway with a series of information boards along the construction site. It was really interesting, but there’s something about reading Nazi history in freezing temperatures that doesn’t do it for me. I think the twenty or so others near me thought the same thing.

Checkpoint Charlie

Seeing Checkpoint Charlie left me a little speechless, to be honest. I’ve seen historical photos of the checkpoint (and others like it), including buildings nearby and various “highlights” involving tanks and citizens. To see the location in person was very strange. We ventured into the Checkpoint Charlie museum and spent a while reading about the things that actually happened between the East and West, and the ramifications that the wall had on political tensions. The strangest story (to pick just one) is the story of a five year old who drowned in the river. His family watched him die because to jump in would mean being executed by the border patrol on the opposite side. The entire history of the wall is filled with these types of stories. There are a number of cool pieces of history at Checkpoint Charlie, including the “last” Kremlin flag in Berlin, the Checkpoint box itself, and (in the museum) the fragmented piece of concrete with the white painted stripe signifying the border between the sectors (as they said in the museum “tanks used to face off on either side of this line.”)

Two things here made me groan out loud, though. As a bit of comic relief, the Tzechisches Zentrum (Czech Center) is based at Checkpoint Charlie. They’ve nicknamed their office “Czech Point.” Oh, it gets worse. Next door is a small shop selling food, with a signboard above it labelled “Snackpoint Charlie.” What was war good for again?

Madame Tussaud’s

I should preface this with the fact that I had no intention of going. That is, until I saw their Oliver Khan in the advert (German goalkeeper). It was *really* good. So I took my ticket and strolled on in past Marilyn and JFK, although I didn’t recognise him at first with the top of his head still intact. First of all, I was greeted with a sign, something along the lines of: “We have a Hitler model. Please don’t pose or take pictures.” Of course, everyone was sneaking in pictures – surveillance be damned. It’s a truly surreal experience being in the museum. They look /way/ too real, so when you bump into them, it’s habit to say “oh sorry” and then feel instantly stupid as the waxy face smiles back at you. There were dozens of people inside, all kissing and hugging the myriad figures. I should also note at this point that most of the celebrities were German, with a few US stars thrown in for good measure. The Pope and Johnny Depp were both really good, although no pics of the Deppster due to hundreds of fawning girls. I’ll probably take a trip to the Sydney museum when I return.

Berliner Mauer Gallery

There are a few locations where the Berlin Wall still stands, and it’s a lot thinner and smaller than you would imagine a wall separating a city to be. However, one of the locations has been opened up to artists as a mural gallery. Just… wow. Words are useless here, look at the pics.

As for Berlin in general – I love it. It’s a busy, modern city that I could easily work in given the opportunity (more so than Leipzig). The shopping centres were really good (both the Prole and the Bourgeois ones), and there was always a place to eat or get a coffee close by. I visited a couple of bars and had dinner at a couple of good places, but I’d like to spend more time getting to know the other nightlife. I’ll put it on the list for when I come back.

Highlight: Wow, it’s hard to pick one. I’m going to cheat and say the first day when I was sightseeing on the tour bus. We saw the most, the weather was good, and then to finish, we ate at the top of the Fernsehturm overlooking Berlin. Win.