I know it’s hard to believe, but we’re leaving Germany this Sunday! It’s absolutely amazing how fast time flies, it doesn’t feel that long ago that we were in India, but that was now almost three months ago. To make the most of our final full weekend here, we thought we’d take a trip to Berlin. We wanted to go to Berlin for several reasons, one obviously being to see the Wall, plus I have friends there.
I have learnt over the years that you really know nothing about a place until you spend some time there, case in point: Berlin. I’m not sure if I’m alone here, but whenever I heard the name “Berlin”, the first thing that came to mind was David Hasselhoff performing at the fall of the Berlin Wall (right). I also pictured it to be cold and grey, but now I have a different view. From now on I’ll envision a really cool city full of artists and cafes, secret lane-ways with pop-up bars and art installations, a city much like my home, Melbourne, Australia.
On this particular journey we decided to fly rather than take the train, because the flight was only 50 minutes, as opposed to five hours on a train (not factoring in delays) and we really didn’t have a lot of time. Our Friday afternoon routine was similar to every other weekend; Anna came home from work, packed, we jumped on a bus to the Bonn Hauptbahnhof, but then we caught another bus to Köln/Bonn airport. We were due to depart at 6:55pm, but, thanks to German efficiency, our plane was ground-bound for about half an hour so we arrived in Berlin at about 8:30pm. Upon arrival we caught a cab straight to our hotel, which was situated in the former West German section of Berlin. Why does this matter? Let Wikipedia show you why:
West Germany is the common English name for the Federal Republic of Germany or FRG in the period between its creation on 23 May 1949 to German reunification on 3 October 1990. This period is also referred to as the Bonn Republic by academic historians.
During the 40 years of separation some divergence occurred in the cultural life of the two parts of the severed nation. Both West Germany and East Germany followed along traditional paths of the common German culture, but West Germany, being obviously more affected by influences from western Europe and North America, became more cosmopolitan. Conversely, East Germany, while remaining more conservative than West Germany in its adherence to some aspects of the received tradition, was strongly moulded by the dictates of a state socialist ideology of predominantly Soviet inspiration. On the non-political level, East Germany was also influenced by the Eastern Bloc’s Slavic cultures that manifested in art, culinary scene, and sports. Nevertheless, young East Germans were also fascinated by Western and particularly American culture, which they had a degree of access to in a variety of ways, not least through West German television and radio, whose broadcasts reached many parts of the country.
For the majority of Germans in present-day Germany who lived in pre-reunification West Germany, there has been minimal change in daily life stemming from German reunification as the reunified country is essentially West Germany incorporating East Germany on a West German base. In contrast, for East Germans the scale of change has been sweeping in all aspects of life from that before die Wende. Although movements like Ostalgia exist attempting to celebrate and preserve parts of the GDR culture, since reunification the former East Germany has been converging towards the western part of the country in most parts of daily life.
In West Germany, most of the political agencies and buildings were located in Bonn, while the German Stock Market was located in Frankfurt am Main, which became the economic center.
So, what this meant was that we had traveled from the former capital of West Germany and were staying in the part of Berlin that didn’t suffer the ravages of communism as badly as the East.
Most of our weekend would be spent wandering around flea-markets, but Friday night was a low key affair, sitting in a pop-up bar in the bottom of our hotel that served great craft beers and played awesome music.
On Saturday morning we headed to a small market by the river. We were a little shocked when we got to the first stall and saw that it was selling old gas masks, but we found out later that these things were available everywhere in Berlin. I was really surprised, however, when I was looking through a box of old records and found some of what appeared to be Adolf Hitler and Joseph Goebbels’ speeches. They were in extremely good condition so I think they must have been reissues (this page suggests they were from 1975) and I was tempted to buy one as a souvenir, but there is no way that owning something like that could be construed in a good way, so I decided against it. Plus, it would be in German, so I’d have no idea what it said
After the flea market it was time for some lunch. We ate, went to pay the bill, but there was a problem with our credit card, which meant I had to try and find an ATM. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as I stumbled upon a beautiful part of the city that we had no intentions of visiting. We sorted out our bill and then I took Anna to show her what I had found:
This was all nice, but we prefer to see the areas that are off the beaten track. Anna loves shopping, but she prefers independent designers and stores, so she had planned to visit the area around Scheunenviertel and Spandauer Vorstadt. This was definitely a great move, because we kept finding small alleys and hidden enclaves full of artists doing everything a creative mind can come up with. The sketch at the top of this page was a giant mural on a wall, we saw the same guy doing another one in a bar. Instead of trying to describe it all I’ll just add more pictures:
We did a lot more shopping, walked around all afternoon and then went back to our hotel room for an hour or so to get off our feet. We were going to meet up with my old friend that I hadn’t seen in about 10 years, Sean Elleman. He’s been working as a tattooist in Berlin for the last few years, so we thought we’d take the oppourtunity to catch up for some drinks. He also had some other friends coming over from Melbourne that were meeting up with him, so it was going to be a good night.
Sean lives in a part of Berlin that is in what was the former East Germany and even until today there is a stark contrast, however, it also seems to be a Mecca for hipsters, too. During our taxi ride out there we got to see a lot of what remains of the Berlin Wall, all of the amazing murals and graffiti. To be honest, the wall was nowhere near as high as I expected it to be.
It turned out to be a pretty big night, beginning at a bar until a storm hit. Then we made our way to a great Mexican restaurant for dinner, followed by a pub for many more drinks. Good times were had by all.
We had grand plans for Sunday, but they didn’t really come to fruition. Our day started out at a remaining portion of the Berlin Wall (below, right) in the City Centre. We would need to travel to a completely different part of the city to see the main part of the wall, so we planned to save that for the afternoon.
Next, we went to another flea market, this one was enormous and had everything. Heaps more gas masks, beer steins and, for some reason I’ll never know, large, empty bottles of chloroform. We spent a few hours there, then it was on to see the rest of the wall.
I’ve mentioned this before, but one thing I can’t comprehend about Germany is that nothing, except for bars and some restaurants, open on Sundays. Even Subway was closed. Initially, we thought this might just be the case in Bonn, because it isn’t really that big, but it’s also how things work in the nation’s capital. Even in small, country towns in Australia the supermarkets open on a Sunday, but not in good ol’ Deutschland. I guess it’s a similar situation for taxis, too, because it was almost impossible for us to get one. We saw plenty of empty ones parked on the side of the road, but we had to walk for several hours to find one that was operating and by that time it was too late to go see the rest of the Wall, because we needed to leave for the airport at about 5:00pm.
We caught our flight back to Bonn and stopped off at the Wirtshaus Salvator for one final pork knuckle of our stay here and it was possibly the biggest one I’ve seen! Remember, I’m a pretty large guy, so I’d love to know how big this pig was:
Overall, we absolutely loved Berlin and would love to come back when we have more time to do it properly, as opposed to walking 20km a day to see as much as we can.
Oh, and if you are in Berlin and want to get tattooed, drop into Straight Ink Tattoo and pay Sean a visit.