Europe | Germany | Berlin – …then we take Berlin!
Speeding up my travels in Europe due to the inevitable shortening of time, the train from Amsterdam arrives at just after 5 p.m. in the former West Berlin’s Zoo station. Heading down the main boulevard toward Europe’s largest hostel with over 800 beds, and after passing through the Brandenburg Gate into the former East Berlin, I just happen to cruise through dozens of large art installations that are part of Museum night. Many of the art installations have massive sound and light systems to accentuate the billowing smoke from the fog machines, making a very surreal arrival even more so. My hostel (The Generator) on the east side of the city, is all blue neon lights and chrome furniture, but I am very happy with my ensuite private room that includes breakfast for just 25 euros a night.
The first order of business, is signing up on an ‘Insider’ pub crawl that includes all the vodka you want – or so they claim. We start at I don’t know where and end at the Matrix, but I become quite sidetracked at the Cafe Zapata when I find out that five minutes after we are to leave, there is a Chilean SkaPunk band coming on that is one of the rarest of acts to actually be booked into the club for four nights in a row. So I stay and dance the night away with the instantly packed house. I do catch up with the tour eventually and feel immensily damaged the next afternoon when I finally get up. I find it’s rare to find German people who speak English, but when you do, they are inevitably quite friendly. Coming home on the train takes quite some time because, quite frankly, we are drunk and keep going back and forth from train to train. At least I think that’s what we are doing. I try to convince our self-appointed leader to catch a taxi, but it has become a ‘point of honour’ for him to actually get us home, having got us somewhat hopelessly lost.
The next day – Yes – I mean NO – I can’t/couldn’t do anything else that “day after” except watch the Olympics – the next day I need to change some train tickets, and end up also signing up for a walking tour of Berlin. It seemed to make sense since it was Monday and many museums are closed. So Sarah, our guide from New York with a degree in German history, takes us on a whirlwind drive-by – I mean walk-by tour of Berlin. Did you know that the little traffic men on the walk signs and tram lines are unique to the ‘former’ East Berlin? Or that Check Point Charlie is a complete re-creation? Or that there is a concious decision to not mark Hitler’s bunker where he committed suicide with his housekeeper of 12 years and bride of one day, to avoid any gathering place or place of honour for modern day neo-nazis? And that both the Nazi Gestapo and SS headquarters are side by side with the only remaining piece of the Communist Berlin Wall in the center of the city? The larger one kilometer section is outside the center. And finally, did you know that Berlin is one gigantic Architect’s playground, with the hundred mile former death strip running throughout the city just ripe for new developments? Al in all – very educational! And I watched a huge demonstration against the new proposed cutbacks, as well as visited the Reichstag and it’s impressive modern dome.
The next day, I visit the Helmut Newton photographic Museum, walk the old larger section of the wall, see a few more sites, eat some more Bratwurst, and then it’s time to get ready for Prague. The bike is going to have a few extra days in Berlin without me.