26
Dec

Hitting the Amsterdam Streets (i.e the Canals)

By: muttler
cruising amsterdam

cruising amsterdam

 

Amsterdam! A new city for Kate and like Berlin, a place I had not been in 15 years. Last time was also a whistle-stop visit, so having a week here this time was something I was really looking forward to. Unlike Berlin, we felt we would be a little less rushed here too which would be cool.

So where should we start? Why not orient ourselves by hitting the Amsterdam streets? Good idea! To do that properly though you also have to hit those other “streets” of Amsterdam… the canals! So off we headed, wandering the streets back towards the main train station where most the canal boats departed from too.

 

faile!

faile!

 

Around Amsterdam is a bit of cool street art and on our first day I was lucky to walk by and notice a Faile! Yes! I had seen this image before as one of their screenprints so it was cool to see it in the flesh direct from the crew themselves. And don’t worry… it was not just slap bang on a building, rather in a discreet location. Very cool.

 

so many bikes!

so many bikes!

 

We reached the main station area and I saw a glorious sight. A massive multi-story parking lot. A parking lot? Yep! But for bikes! So great to be in a city where bikes are what you have to worry about rather than cars. And boy do you have to keep an eye out. Many many times Kate or I would squeeze the others hand as a “woah there! watch out!” when walking.

There were a few canal cruise boats to choose from that were all pretty similar so we jumped on one and headed off on tour with Captain Louie. Captain Louie was a very affable Dutch dude who delighted in talking about himself in the 3rd person which made me laugh.

 

 

IMG_2848

 

IMG_2868

 

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bike parking is at a premium

bike parking is at a premium

 

Over the next hour and a bit we saw the sights of Amsterdam from water level. Lots of canals that blended into each other a bit, but past all the sights like the opera house, Rembrandt’s House, the Hermitage, amongst others. It was good to get a bit of an idea of the layout (although I got a bit disoriented to be honest) and just start to experience the city. It was a delight to see all the narrow houses lining the canals, a stark difference from the streets of Paris and Berlin.

With a number of museums to experience in the city as well, we decided to get a museum card that would let us get into almost all the museums in the city and let us do it at our leisure over the next week (actually the next year if we wanted to!). Because of that we decided to visit bits of the museums at a time to not get overwhelmed by it all. So we decided to start at the biggest.

 

visiting the rijksmuseum

visiting the rijksmuseum

 

The Rijksmuseum is one of the most important museums in the world. While it houses art from all over the globe, given the importance of Dutch work, that is obviously where its focus lies and how it establishes itself as one of the key museums of the world.

We decided just to visit some of the more important works to ease into it, so it was off to the second floor to visit some Dutch masters. And that means Rembrandt and Vermeer (amongst others).

 

vermeer

vermeer

 

There were three gorgeous Vermeers in the collection. While Kate like The Milkmaid, was drawn to the Woman In Blue Reading A Letter (and even The Love Letter was just exquisite too).

 

rembrandt

rembrandt

 

The Rembrandts were another highlight. I had seen a bunch of his work in the past, but here there seemed to be works of a different nature that I hadn’t associated with his style. The large one above in particular was incredible… the colours just beautiful and a style I hadn’t seen from the Dutch master before.

 

a bit hard to play

a bit hard to play

 

Kate was also happy to chance upon some Delft pieces in the collection too. I forsee quite a bit of Delft-ware in our future, so stay tuned.

The museum had hit closing time so we decided to rest a little at the hotel. While chilling we decided to investigate visiting the Anne Frank house, and as it turned out we could book ourselves some tickets for the late night visit later on that evening. Why not?! Given it is one of the most popular places to visit in the city and waiting to get in can be hours we decided to take that opportunity.

So off we headed to visit the historic house. It was nice to arrive and not be greeted with hoards of tourists, rather only those select few that had pre-booked. So we were able to enjoy (I use that term a bit loosely here) it without being shoulder to shoulder with hundreds of others.

There are no photos allowed in the museum. While I clearly like taking pics in the places we go, I also don’t mind when we can’t. Here I think it is respectful but also keeps people moving along, especially important when dealing with the narrow staircases and small rooms.

The museum is the house/warehouse where the Frank family as well as 4 others hid during WW2. They were in hiding for about 2 years before eventually being ratted out by person/s unknown. Using Anne’s diary as the narrative to pull it all together it is one of those places that you are experiencing but then it will hit you what REALLY was going down in the places you are standing. Things like this have an element of the surreal about them… no matter how much you read or see, it is sometimes difficult to wrap your head around everything that took place.

 

amsterdam by moonlight

amsterdam by moonlight

 

We finished up at about closing time and took the casual stroll back to our hotel, enjoying the almost full moon guiding us along.

 

wereldberoemd apparently

wereldberoemd apparently

 

We were a bit peckish so took an easy option for some food… Maccas. I like to give it a go in each country and eat whatever is different on the menu. So here? McCroquet! It was fine… just what you think a croquet in a bun would taste like.

So that was the first full day in Amsterdam. Canals, Rembrandt and Vermeer, Anne Frank and McCroquets. Ha.

 

23
Dec

I See Windmills!

By: muttler

Hi everyone!

Just a quick entry for today (December 23rd). Nothing really to report except that we have arrived safe and sound in Amsterdam! Our train ride was nice and smooth (no wi-fi though this time) and got us into Amsterdam smack bang on time. I must say I have loved this train travel.

We arrived into our hotel in the museum area at about 4pm, so we really just freshened up and have gone out for a bite to eat. Not much exploring yet… we have a whole week here so no rush. Just a quiet night with some good food and some relaxing before Amsterdam shenanigans starting tomorrow! Woot!

23
Dec

The Many Faces of Berlin

By: muttler
an ugly mug

a goofy looking dude… and a painting

 

Our last day in Berlin… things had flown by so quickly. We felt like we had both been here for ages and only just arrived. So today was a case of filling in some gaps before saying goodbye and heading out of town tomorrow.

My previous post, detailing our cycling trip around the city, hinted at some of the things we were getting up to. Our first destination had been booked before we left since we needed to meet the necessarily security checks and pre-reqs. Yep, it was off to visit the German parliament.

We got to the Reichstag and duly passed through the strict security checks. Outside of dropping off backpacks into lockers at museums, we had had to deal with very little security to speak of our whole time in Berlin. Unlike Paris where we had checks even going into supermarkets, it was nice to be somewhere where we weren’t continually emptying pockets and bags.

 

that's a big snowglobe!

that’s a big snowglobe!

 

After going through, it was into the building proper. Security was tight as our small group went through one security checkpoint after the next, but eventually we were up in the elevator to the huge glassed dome.

 

winding our way up

winding our way up

 

At this point the general public were allowed to wander unaccompanied. With audio guide hand, we wandered about the rooftop and up the screw thread path around the inside of the dome.

The dome offered great views over the Berlin cityscape. The building itself was as much of a focal point as the city views outside. The glass dome, the curling path, the giant sunshade… it was very impressive. At the top was actually a 10m open hole, explaining why the inside of the dome was so chilly. Apparently when it rains and snows it all funnels down through a chute and conveniently out of sight.

 

peering down

peering down

 

From the top you could peer all the way down and see into the actual rooms of parliament. The whole thing is designed to get maximum natural sunlight into the room, and even has the giant sunshade if it is a bit bright. Pretty clever! By that point it had been an hour or so,  so it was time to wander back down, keep moving and move on to more Berlin.

 

another of the many memorials

another of the many memorials

 

Our next destination was the Jewish memorial we had visited yesterday. On our way we passed a memorial to some that had fallen during the days of the wall and in attempts to escape the east. As Kate remarked on seeing the flowers that these people would be the parents, uncles and aunts, or people that continue to live in Berlin. So surreal to think about how recent it all really is.

 

the less photographed side of the Brandenburg Gate

the less photographed side of the Brandenburg Gate

 

as haunting as ever

as haunting as ever

 

Back past the Brandenburg Gate one last time and we were at the memorial. We spent a bit more time to just soak it all up and wander through the concrete blocks. At every angle it appeared different. It really is a great memorial as also shown by the many people wandering about.

Rather than go into the attached museum, we decided to keep walking and head to the one last museum we had on our list, the Topographies of Terror. We were not expecting a good time, but it was one we wanted to visit.

 

big ampelmann

big ampelmann

 

ampelmann says stop!

ampelmann says stop!

 

ampelmann says go!

ampelmann says go!

 

On our way we saw a big Ampelmann in a small park. Who is Ampelmann I hear you ask? He is the ubiquitous red and green man that greets you at every set of traffic lights in Berlin. I did a quick bit of reading and it turns out that he is a beloved remnant of East Germany… so much so that when they started changing the crossing sign to a more traditional figure in the early 2000’s, public outcry was such that they returned Ampelmann to his former glory. Every now and then we would see an older set of traffic lights with a more typical red and green signal, but in most cases our cue to cross the street was the green silhouette of Ampelmann. So we wouldn’t miss him to much we got some magnets to adorn our fridge from a nearby store.

 

home of the terrors

home of the terrors

 

plotting my escape

plotting my escape

 

In no time we reached the museum. As mentioned yesterday it was on the site of the former Gestapo and part of the wall, and detailed the horrors of the early to mid parts of the 20th century. In full detail, and with many many photos and documents, it described the rise to power of the Hitler and the atrocities. It was hard work. Amazingly important it must be said, but every now and then you would see a heartbreaking or gut punching photo that made it all hit home.

It was mid afternoon and Kate was flagging. A busy week was taking its toll. I only had one more place I wanted to visit before we left, the most famous part of the wall still standing. So back on to the S-Bahn, and off to Ostbahnhopf station to visit the East Side Gallery.

 

welcome to the east side gallery

welcome to the east side gallery

 

The East Side Gallery is a 2km stretch of the wall that has been turned in to a perpetual gallery of street art. Both side of the wall are covered in colourful paint. One side is much more of a free-for-all, that seems to be graffiti’ed by people on a regular occasion. The other side appear to be a more regulated side, with fencing covering part of it and more “legitimate” works done.

 

the less interesting graffiti covered side

the less interesting, but not fenced off, graffiti covered side

 

Strolling along checking out the works, it was interesting to see what was adorning the wall. In many respects it was not as amazing as I expected, given the amount of people that visit and how (in)famous it now is. Two main works stood out among them all.

 

cool faces!

cool faces!

 

The first was the faces of Thierry Noir, that I wrote about on our first day. A dozen bright faces covered one early stretch of the wall and for me were easily the highlight. They were bright and distinct and really gave it some character.

 

raunchy!

raunchy!

 

The other artwork is one that you also see advertised around Berlin, a great representation of a famous photo showing Brezhnev and Honecker in a warmer than usual greeting. When you see the original photos it is crazy to see that the painting is not really an exaggeration at all! It was easily the best piece on the wall.

The rest were fairly generic pieces of street art that were OK, but not too awe-inspiring. Great to see, and especially to see more of the wall, but I would love to see a more curated aspect to the “gallery”.

The sun was setting as I got back to the hotel. Kate was well rested so given we had a big day of travelling the next day we opted for one more quick trip out to finish they day ice and early. What did we do? Dinner at a Christmas market obviously!

 

i'll miss you christmas markets

i’ll miss you christmas markets

 

We went back to a market at Alexanderplatz that we had not really visited properly. I couldn’t help but finish my visit to Berlin with a Bratwurst, a Gluhwein, and a chocolate pretzel as big as my head.

Goodbye Berlin… I’ll miss you heaps.

23
Dec

Berlin on 2 Wheels

By: muttler
black sabbath!

black sabbath!

 

We had been in Berlin for about 5 days or so and I was still having a little trouble wrapping my head around the layout of the city. That’s what happens when you mostly use the S and U Bahn to get about. So I was super excited for today’s activity… seeing Berlin on bike.

We had the Berlin Fat Bike tours recommended to us and as you can expect I was keen to spend a day on a bike exploring the city. So at mid-morning we headed to Alexanderplatz to meet up with the Fat Bike crew.

 

kate ready for action

kate ready for action

 

Seems these are pretty popular as there ended up being about 50 people that were split up across 4 groups to spend 4+ hours exploring the city. Walid, an ex-pat Brit, was our guide and once we had broken up into our groups got a quick intro. It turned out that the group needed someone to take on a key role in the group. Ass man. Yep. Someone to be designated at the back of the group that our leader could keep an eye on to know he had the whole group. Thanks to my yellow beanie, I decided to offer to take the role. Why not?

So with my trusty steed, “Black Sabbath” (all the bikes were given random names related to no consistent theme… Kate had “Ngorongoro Crater”), off we went.

While we were going to be visiting some places we had already been to, the idea of the tour was to understand the city, its geography and history, better. For me, it was also just about seeing a city by bike.

Ah, the liberation of riding without a helmet! Don’t get me wrong… I wouldn’t do it at home. But there is something very nice about the opportunity to ride with the wind through the hair (or the beanie as it were).

 

berliner dom

berliner dom

 

From Alexanderplatz we headed to nearby Museum Island, where we were given a rundown of the history of the island as well as the Berliner Dom, the big church also located on the island. It was now that Walid put his finger on one of the things that makes Berlin quite compelling… that while we seem to be looking at buildings centuries old, the reality is most things are only a few decades of age, rebuilt to resemble their destroyed counterparts. So that poses a fascinating question of whether you rebuild to resemble the past or forge a new direction. Berlin indeed seems to have a foot in both camps, wrestling with the outcomes of the past half century.

 

empty library

empty library

 

Next was one of the courtyards of Humbolt University, home to many many Nobel prize winners (including one Albert Einstein). It was here that was one of the more notorious moments in Berlin history, a mass burning of approximately 20,000 books. To recognise this, the courtyard is home to a very subtle memorial… a window down into an empty library. If you didn’t know it was there you would likely walk over the top. Seems Berlin is full of memorials, many subtle in nature like this.

 

goodbye east, hello west!

goodbye east, hello west!

 

We stopped by Checkpoint Charlie next. It was much busier than the previous night and bustling with tourists and faux soldiers.

 

friendly local

friendly local

 

After a quick selfie with one of the ubiquitous Berlin bears, we hit the road again.

 

dividing east and west

dividing east and west

 

Just nearby were two remnants from the past decades. The first was a 200m stretch of the Berlin Wall, part of the Topographies of Terror museum. What makes this museum quite amazing is that it is located on the site of the Gestapo buildings, which apparently was not know for sure until relatively recently. It was suspected but not full known, which made the stretch of wall and nearby government buildings all the more spooky. We would be revisiting this museum in the next day or so.

 

lone tower

lone tower

 

Also close down a nondescript street was the last remaining guard tower from the Wall era. No sign, plaque,or anything. Just a lonely tower still standing. No one else was around, which I found fascinating that it was still standing and not part of the tourist trail. Super haunting.

 

discreet

discreet and respectful

 

Speaking of haunting, we also visited an even more chilling location, that you would only know its history from one sign in the middle of a footpath in a street full of apartments. Below our feet was the infamous Fuhrerbunker, where Hitler bunkered down and eventually committed suicide. Walid explained why only a simple sign existed, that after attempting to destroy it unsuccessfully, the Berlin government did not want to make the bunker a memorial, so just filled it up and left it at that. Given the cities acknowledgement of everything else, I think this was probably for the best.

 

haunting

haunting

 

Next up was something else haunting but for all different reasons, the memorial for the fallen Jews. This is one that description really doesn’t do it justice. Thousands of concrete blocks of varying heights, put together in a really disorienting manner for the visitors wandering between them. With an undulating ground beneath your feet, wandering through them means you go from seeing above, surrounded by the blocks, to being in the middle, towered over by the concrete.

 

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We only had 10 minutes to wander through but we knew we would have to return.

 

hello to the gate again!

hello to the gate again!

 

The day was quickly approaching lunchtime, and with a quick burn past the Brandenburg Gate, it was into the Tiergarten, the massive parkland in the centre of Berlin. Hunting grounds for the previous aristocracy it is now home to cyclists and beer gardens and the towering Victory Column at its centre.

 

kate causing havoc

kate causing havoc

 

It was now it was really hitting home how different Berlin was to when I first visited all those years ago. Last time, also in mid December, this park was covered in a foot of snow. Today… nothing at all. I mentioned this to Walid, and he too was totally thrown by the fact there was no snow in Berlin. By now they expected the city to be covered. While it made getting around nice and easy, I have to say I was really disappointed not to encounter a snowy Berlin with white gardens and Christmas markets.

 

hi victoria!

hi victoria!

 

After riding by the Victoria perched on her Victory column, we reached a beer garden nestled in the gardens for some lunch and a brew. Mmmm…. a super tasty winter salad and a big beer and I was filled with sustenance for the rest of ride.

 

impressive

impressive

 

Which was not much actually. It was approaching 3pm and the light was starting to dim. From the garden we stopped by the Reichstag, the main government building in the city and home to the German parliament. The building is home to the well known huge glass dome that looks out over Berlin. We held tickets to visit the next morning so the fleeting visit in the fading light was OK.

 

sun sets over victoria

sun sets over victoria

 

And with that, our day on the bikes came to an end. Almost 5 hours of freewheeling around Berlin was so much fun, and Walid was an excellent guide.I finally felt all the pieces of Berlin were coming together.

Kate and I were pretty tired by our day of freewheeling, so decided that we didn’t need to do too much more for the day. But we were right next to the TV tower, so we thought now would be a good chance to head up and gaze out over Berlin as the sun was fading. We had a better idea of the layout of the city, so once we oriented ourselves we could spy all the different landmarks.

 

more markets!

more markets!

 

ferris wheel!

ferris wheel!

 

Were we done yet? Well, since we were next to a couple of Christmas markets, how could we not pop in for a bit?!

 

yum!

yum!

 

Rather than another bratwurst I opted for a tasty roast pork roll. I could eat at these markets for ever.

With full bellies, we wandered back past the TV tower, on the S-Bahn to the hotel and a well earned nights sleep.

22
Dec

Bundesliga!

By: muttler
go herta berlin!

go herta berlin!

 

Before leaving home, I always check up what gigs and sport might be happening where I’m travelling to. The first thing I thought when we planned Berlin was “Bundesliga!”… i.e the national German Football competition. But when I looked I didn’t see any games in Berlin. Doh!

Well, as it turned out I was all wrong. Lucky for me! As we made our way about on our first day I found out that Herta Berlin were indeed playing and at home on Sunday afternoon no less! Win!

But before we get to that, I will fill in the first part of our Sunday. We had done part of Museum Island, but still had a number of museums to visit. We were starting to be a bit museum’ed out, but there was one main one that we were keen to visit, so we headed off to visit.

 

local gang sign

local gang sign

 

I finally took a picture of the giant hand just outside of hotel (and outside our window). It is very cool but in some respects I thought we’d be seeing much more street art around the city than we had been. Maybe I just wasn’t looking in the right locations.

 

inside the bode

inside the bode

 

So in no time we were at Museum Island. First one we popped into was the Bode Museum. This was home to a strange collection, including sculpture and coins. More so than the Neues museum which we had visited earlier, this museum seemed pretty lacking. We weren’t sure if it was because we had seen so much amazing stuff in Paris, or if indeed the collection just wasn’t amazing, but we had the real sense that the past century in Berlin had meant that the collection was just a shadow of what it used to be.

 

one of the few cool things greeting us

one of the few cool things greeting us

 

As a result we worked through a good portion of the museum fairly quickly and then hightailed it to the main one we wanted to visit.

The Pergamon Museum is probably the highlight of Museum Island. This museum is home to a number of massive reconstructed architectural works, including the Pergamon Altar. Sadly, with all the renovations going on on Museum Island, the Pergamon was in a state with about half of the museum closed. Sadly, that meant the Pergamon Altar was off limits (until 2019!).

We could however get to see their two other most significant pieces, the Ishtar Gate and the Market Gate of Miletus.

 

ishtar panorama

ishtar panorama

 

The Ishtar Gate was a gate to the inner city of Babylon, and was excavated in the early 20th century and reconstructed here in the Pergamon. And it was HUGE. Something the size of the Brandenburg Gate inside a museum!

 

close up of one of the cool details

close up of one of the cool details

 

The blue of the tiles was incredible. To think it is literally 1000’s of years old is hard to comprehend. The colour of the tiles was just like they were made yesterday.

On the other side of the Ishtar Gate was another reconstruction, this time the Market Gate of Miletus. And this was even bigger!

 

market gate

market gate

 

Not quite as old as the Ishtar Gate (this being only just under 2000 years old), this marble gate was also excavated in the early 1900’s, but it has a bit more of a chequered past. This was in many pieces and while it has been kept as original as possible, there are some pieces that are not original. But when something is that old (and was also damaged during WW2) you can cut them some slack.

Much of the rest of the museum was closed so we decided to head off. Rather than visit the remaining couple of museums on Museum Island, we decided to visit the German History Museum. We both felt we had some gaps in our understanding of everything that had taken place, so we decided to bone up on that part of our history.

 

for deutschland!

for deutschland!

 

This museum as pretty great actually. It was split into two parts… basically everything pre WW1 and then everything up to the fall of the wall.

I enjoyed this quite a bit more than the museums on Museum Island in many ways. This seemed like a huge and important collection that had not suffered like the others had. While the first part was interesting, I found the more recent history fascinating.

 

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one trillion!

one trillion!

 

It seemed to strike a balance between acknowledging what had taken place in the first half of the 1900’s, while not showing off too much. I especially found it interesting to see that they had experienced their own case of the Zimbabwe dollar… the Deutsche Mark reached one trillion before it was devalued back to just one! Not sure I will ever see a one trillion dollar note again.

We spent a good couple of hours in there before it was time for Kate and I to part company for a few hours. Yep, it was Bundesliga time!

Local team Herta Berlin were scheduled to play Mainz 05, out at the Olympiastadion. This was super exciting. Not only would it be my first Bundesliga game, but also a trip to the old Olympic Stadium, built for the 1936 olympics.

 

respect

respect

 

arriving at olympiastadion

arriving at olympiastadion

 

On arriving I was greeted by a different type of stadium to what I expected. I guess I didn’t know what to expect but not sure this was it! Unlike most other stadiums I had visited around the world, this was very bare bones… much more like a colosseum than a modern sports stadium. By this I mean that the entry to the stadium is via a main security gate into which you enter the stadium grounds. The stadium itself has no facilities in it! It is literally just basic stairways and seating, where stairs downward took you to the ground level seating and stairs up into the top tier. A super efficient way to hold 75,000 people!

It meant that getting in and out of the stadium was super quick and easy. It also meant that food vendors were all around the outside of the stadium, so I could bratwurst and pretzel it up nice and easy 🙂

 

80 years old!

home of the controversial  1936 olympics

 

lone survivor of the bell tower

lone survivor of the bell tower

 

Outside the stadium were some reminders of the original purpose of the ground. The Olympic Rings still presided over the ground, while an Olympic Bell stood in the ground. Apparently the bell tower was the only thing destroyed during the war, with the crack in the bell the only scar on show.

 

the fans are getting ready!

the fans are getting ready!

 

It was getting close to kick off so I went inside the stadium. There was a crowd of about 50,000 amassed for the game and the active supporter end was going crazy! It was continual songs and chanting and it was deafening in the stadium. Ah, just like back at home with my beloved Melbourne Victory and the north end. It felt like home 🙂

Before the game kicked off, the crowd burst into song (just like we have embraced Stand By Me back at home for Victory games). This was VERY strange though. I couldn’t understand the words, but the tune was “Sailing” by Rod Stewart! How bizarre! (*Note, I have since read up and found out it is their Herta Berlin hymn called “Nur Nach Hause”. I still need to find out why Rod Stweart!).

Then the whistle blew and we were off!

I would love to say it was one of the best games I had ever been to, but it was just a really good, solid game. It lacked the thrills as Herta Berlin never really let Mainz get a look in. It was 1-0 at half time and could easily have been more. Berlin just dominated the game.

 

a happy ending

a happy ending

 

The second half was the same story… controlled by Berlin from the kick off, and another well executed goal meant 2-0 was the result. It should have been 3-0 thanks to a wrongly called offside (I was with the locals on that one), but everyone was happy in the stadium. While I say it was just an alright game, it was magic to see 2 goals scored and see the passionate Berliner fans loving it. I was up out of my seat as well… this is what the world game is all about. I got to experience a crazy happy crowd in (arguably) the biggest football league in the world. Totally awesome.

 

happy fan

happy fan

 

Everyone started to exit the ground and head back on the train. How awesome it was to be surrounded by all the happy fans in good spirits (as well as a stadium that takes 1 minute to get out of and a train that arrives every few minutes).

It was well dark by this point when I got back to the hotel. Kate had been kicking back and was keen to get out and about a bit. So without further adieu, I was back out the door!

Being after 6pm on a Sunday our choices were partly limited (well, we had many Christmas markets still!), but we decided to head to Checkpoint Charlie to visit the museum there.

 

thankfully i left my weapons back at the hotel

thankfully i left my weapons back at the hotel

 

note the authentic mcdonalds there too

note the authentic mcdonalds there too

 

a welcome to the east

a welcome to the east

 

... and a welcome to the west

… and a welcome to the west

 

Most people know about this infamous checkpoint between East and West Berlin, so there is not too much need to talk about it in much detail. Today it still has a hut set up that is perpetually manned by dressed “guards” waiting for tourist photos, and there is a good collection of outdoor information about the decades when the wall was up.

The museum was open so we decided to pay it a visit. I had been 15 years earlier, and it is no exaggeration to say that it looked as though the museum had not been changed at all in that time. Everything looked as though it probably hadn’t changed in decades.

 

not much room to hide under the hood

not much room to hide under the hood

 

some ordinary suitcases?

some ordinary suitcases?

 

... not at all!

… not at all!

 

It is an absolutely fascinating museum. The stories of escape are amazing and it actually houses a really impressive collection of escape objects, such as cars, suitcases, light aircraft and all kinds of crazy things. This is incredible to see. If only they could find the time and money to update the displays and make it a bit more modern, it could be a world-class presentation of a fascinating part of history. As it stands it is still fascinating, just pretty rough around the edges. But I guess that might be the point in a way.

It actually took us a bit of time to make our way around, taking our time to read all the incredible stories (some of which seemed straight out of spy or Bond novels). It was getting late, so on to the U-Bahn it was and back to the hotel to call it a day.

19
Dec

Pretzels, Christmas, Currywurst, Palaces, Gluhwein

By: muttler
riding high at charlottenberg

riding high at charlottenberg

 

While we had heaps that we wanted to do in Berlin in our week here, we didn’t feel we needed to be out the door every morning super early. So this morning it was after 10am before we decided to get out and explore some more. So I grabbed a pretzel from the cafe and off we went.

We were playing today on the fly, with our first destination a store in the Berlin suburbs that specialised in figurines, in particular military and Christmas ornaments. Kate was up for some Christmas shopping!

What we found was a very cool small store with a lovely guy running it who was keen to help. While their main focus was on small metal hand painted military figurines (or which there much have been thousands), Kate was mostly there for the metal Christmas ornaments. They were the ones she knew she wanted and while we had found some at the Christmas markets, had done her research to find where we could check out a bigger selection.

Kate was loving it and hating it all at one. Loving the ornaments which were exactly what she wanted… hating it because she had to decide. I thought it was funny as she was just like me when trying to decide what to order for dinner… paralysed by choice. In the end she didn’t go overboard… buying us a few as well as some gifts. They were very cool and would be a great reminder of our trip to Berlin.

Another reason for being in this neighbourhood was that we were quite close to two other things. First was more Christmas markets (although I now don’t think you can go 500m without visiting some) but mostly it was to visit the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, one of the most photographed places in Berlin. A church is one of the most photographed places? I hear you ask. That is because it is one of the most visible reminders of the bombings that happened back in the early 1940’s.

 

a sad reminder of the past

a sad reminder of the past

 

What remains is about a quarter of the original church. Rather than demolish completely or rebuild exactly as it was, it was decided to leave part and rebuild a new church around it. So what you get is a shell and a new, very contrasting, new building.

I couldn’t really capture the new building in the photo with the old, as the “new” part (still 50 years old) was behind scaffolding. But they bombed part was a chilling reminder of yesteryear. What remained inside was some preserved mosaic work which was quite stunning. But alas, there was not much to see that was left standing.

 

a very different vibe

a very different vibe

 

We also went into one of the new parts and it was a huge contrast. This was very dark and brooding inside… all dark blue stained glass. A very dramatic statue looked down on us too.

 

currywurst!

currywurst!

 

With that it was time for some lunch at the nearby Christmas market. No wine for lunch, but of course there was some wurst… currywurst this time. Mmm…

We hadn’t really planned our afternoon. We originally thought we would head back to Museum Island to visit the other museums we hadn’t seen, but instead the glorious Berlin day led us to think we should stay outdoors for a bit. So given we were close-ish, Kate suggested we pay Charlottenburg Palace a visit.

 

charlottenburg

charlottenburg

 

Kate had a couple of palaces on her list, this and Schloss Sanssoucci in nearby Potsdam. We thought about doing both, but given all the bustling around we were doing, we thought maybe Charlottenburg might be the place to visit first.

 

the rebuilt splendour

the rebuilt splendour

 

hello!

hello!

 

This was an interesting place to visit, as much of Berlin is. A 17th century palace for King Friedrich, the palace was heavily hit during WW2. So what we were visiting was, in many respects, a faithful reproduction of the original. As much original material was kept as possible, but at times were were looking at restored, or repainted, or rebuilt palace.

 

still very impressive

still very impressive

 

... but not as impressive as this moustache

… but not as impressive as this moustache

 

So for this reason while it was still quite a sight to behold, it was not as impressive as say a Versailles that was a more pure time capsule.

But this is what Berlin has to manage… preserving the past after the devastation of the past century. It is what makes it so fascinating for me.

 

exploring the gardens

exploring the gardens

 

a serious pic...

a serious pic…

 

... and not so serious

… and not so serious

 

So over the next few hours, we wandered through the new palace and the old, as well as out into the gardens. Time was our enemy though as the sunsets in Berlin at about 3:45pm, meaning our wandering in the gardens was a little more brisk than usual.

But you know what that meant? We got to their Christmas market even sooner than expected! Yep, another market!

 

more markets!

more markets!

 

By this stage, all the stalls were starting to blur into each other from the other markets. But what we loved is that we could rely on being able to get tasty food and wine for dinner. I was going to make the most of it!

 

more potato goodness!

more potato goodness!

 

and a lot more wine!

and a lot more wine!

 

With sausage and potato pancakes and gluhwein under our belts we wandered about, soaking up the Christmasy vibes until it was time to jump back on the S-Bahn and chill out back at the hotel for the rest of the evening. Tomorrow was going to be another day full of shenanigans of which I was very excited about.

 

18
Dec

Going Deeper

By: muttler
strange tour guides around here

strange tour guides around here

 

To this point in the trip there had been a lot of museums. A LOT. Given we were in Berlin, there was going to be quite a few more. But we decided to start our day with a different kind of museum.

While painting and sculpture and ancient antiquities are important, it is also important to experience as much of the history of your location as you can. So Kate found a great way for us to do that… by visiting a set of old WW2 bunkers that had been preserved.

 

the doors to the underground

the doors to the underground

 

So off we headed to visit Berliner Underwelten… a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to preserving this part of Berlin’s history. I was really keen to hear the locals take on some of the events of WW2 and this was a perfect way to do it.

Carsten was our guide, a very funny and affable local (with odd Irish inflections in his voice that he told us was from hanging out in pubs with Irish and Brits too much) that ended up being the perfect guide.

He led us down into what he said was the only real preserved bunker from WW2. The reason it was so well preserved was only due to its proximity to the subway station, meaning it was not in the best interest for it to be destroyed at the end of the war. That was great news for us, as it meant all the painting, signage and the like was all original.

Apologies for the lack of photos, however they were not permitted below the surface. So I will try and describe for you.

The tour was a great history lesson, using the number of rooms we made our way through. Carsten told us all about what it would have been like to be in Berlin at the time, with a very sly sense of humour. He explained that many Berliners shared a similar sense of humour, mostly as a mechanism to deal with everything that had happened in the past. I’m not sure I would be too comfortable cracking some of the jokes he did, and I’m not sure it would be appropriate, but I loved hearing the way locals talk about the past and share their, and mostly importantly their parents and grandparents, experiences. It is not that he was disrespectful. Almost the opposite. Too brutally honest maybe.

It was crazy to imagine the thousands of people that would make their way down almost every night and the conditions they experienced. One great trick Carsten showed us was how all the walls were painted with a glow in the dark paint that still held its glowing properties to this day. He got one tour member to make a pose and he flashed a very bright camera flash… and the resulting shadow on the wall was incredible!

For almost 2 hours he guided us through, telling stories. This was a such a good find by Kate, I can’t recommend it enough.

 

on museum island

on museum island

 

It was after lunch by now, so we decided to head to our next destination and find somewhere to eat on the way. We were headed to Museuminsel. Museum Island is home to 5 of the most important museums in Berlin. These are predominantly museums for ancient artefacts more so than paintings (although the Alte Nationalgalerie fills this gap).

 

 

wandering the island

wandering the island

 

There was a lot of work going on on the island, which made it difficult to get a sense of where everything was. In fact the whole island was part of the Soviet side, and as a result had endured tough times. By all accounts their collections had also been dispersed to some degree after all of the events of the past century.

 

that's a big hat

that’s a big hat

 

We decided to start in the Neues Museum (New Museum), home to ancient Egyptian antiquities amongst others. We made our way to the top and started our way down. On our travels we found this crazy gold hat. Yep, it was a hat made of gold alright.

 

everyone's interested in nefertiti sorry man

everyone’s interested in nefertiti sorry man

 

This museum was most famous however for its bust of Queen Nefertiti. Photos were off limits of this, however I was able to snap one of her husband. I love that she has ended up being the most famous of the two of them. Her bust is quite spectacular and in pretty amazing shape given its age, and can only imagine how it captured her beauty.

We wandered the rest of the museum, and thought about popping into another, but decided against it. We had a number of days to visit them with our museum pass so decided to have a break from museums and chill out for a bit at the hotel.

By 6pm though we were getting hungry. Hungry for Christmas food! So we chose another Christmas market from the list and hopped to the metro station to Alexanderplatz.

 

christmas in alexanderplatz

christmas in alexanderplatz

 

This one was considered one of the bigger ones and when we got there it was certainly bigger than the other two we had been to. Maybe not as much food as the first night, but more stalls, including one huge ornament seller. Score for Kate!

 

so delicious!

so delicious!

 

washing it down with some gluhwein

washing it down with some gluhwein

 

We started with food though, this time bypassing the usual bratwurst for a hue potato cake type thing covered with sour cream, cheese and tomato. Yes, it was as delicious as it sounds! We both got stuck into that and in no time at all it was in our bellies. I washed it down also with some gluhwein, this time with one of their cool glass mugs. I could get used to this.

 

i wash partial to the king kong ornament

i wash partial to the king kong ornament

 

So buzzed on food and wine we wandered about. Kate was in her element checking out all the Christmas ornaments, choosing just a couple on this visit. We had scoped out a few markets now, so Kate was formulating her purchases in her head. If it meant more food and wine for me, I was happy.

 

quarkballchen?

quarkballchen?

 

Speaking of food, we decided to get some dessert for our walk back to the train. How could we go past Quarkballchen? What on earth are they I hear you ask!

 

quarkballchen!

quarkballchen!

 

Well, you could probably guess. Basically warm doughy balls covered in icing sugar. What else would they be at a chrissy market?! Mmm… what a sweet end to another fun day.

18
Dec

Das Erwachen Der Macht!

By: muttler
woo hoo!!!!

woo hoo!!!!

 

This day had both arrived so amazingly quickly, and yet also taken forever.

You mean how long it had taken me to come back to Berlin?

Nope… new Star Wars!!!!

Everyone knows I love my Star Wars. I’m a child of Star Wars, and I have probably watched the original trilogy 100’s of times each (without exaggeration). Empire Strikes Back is quite possibly my favourite movie of all time. And like everyone else, I was burned by the prequels. I’m not going to bang on about those, but to hear that Star Wars was coming back, with JJ Abrams at the helm, I was a bit excited to say the least. Some people had been laughing at me the past few months that I was so excited… “don’t you remember how you were burned by Phantom Menace?!” I have been asked constantly. Sure I do, but that was even more reason to be excited by this.

So when we had booked our holiday and I knew we would be away when it opened, I had to work out the plan. Berlin IMAX seemed to be the best bet for getting an original language version, and when tickets went on sale, I jumped. Opening day! Yes!

On our first proper day in Berlin, the big day had arrived. We jumped on the train and headed toward our first landmark… the Brandenburg Gate.

 

the brandenburg gate

the brandenburg gate

 

Eiffel Tower. Big Ben. Statue of Liberty. The Brandenburg Gate fits in to these as the quintessential sight for the city. You know you have been to Berlin when you have seen this landmark. As it turns out I had never seen it. When I was in Berlin, it was covered in scaffolding being cleaned, so this was exciting.

 

obligatory

obligatory

 

close ups

close ups

 

It was actually really quite quiet around the location, so we had lots of time to snap some pics. The lack of people in some ways made it feel less like the important landmark that it is, but it was still a buzz to finally see it. Given its location we knew we would be seeing it a bit more in our time here in Berlin.

From there we headed into Potsdamer Platz (the location of the cinema) a bit early to wander and check out the area. Another Christmas market was conveniently located there, so we had a wander about, however it was obviously way too early, as there were few people around, not much food, and mostly just a bunch of stall holders selling not-that-interesting Christmasy items.

In the area as well we started to get our first tastes of Berlin history. Small bits of the wall were about, as were some details about the area and its history.

 

eeww

eeww

 

One piece was covered in old chewing gum, capturing the disdain the local people had for the wall and what it represented. I didn’t really have to resist too much the urge for a wacky photo with that.

 

ubiquitous faces

ubiquitous faces

 

There was also a piece with the now iconic heads of Thierry Noir painted on them too. We knew we would see lots more of these in our travels around Berlin, but was a kick to start gazing on the wall and its art works.

 

aaarrrggghhh!

aaarrrggghhh!

 

Enough mucking around though. It was time!!!

 

come on!!!

come on!!!

 

Into Berlin IMAX we went. It was comforting to be surrounded by fellow Star Wars fans… the many t-shirts, hoodies and beanies giving it away. We grabbed our glasses and in we went.

The lights went down… the familiar Lucasfilms logo appeared… and then… the music! It was happening!

I’m not going to say anymore about the movie. I really don’t want to spoil the experience for anyone who is going. But the one question you probably all want to know is what did I think? I LOVED it. Kate needed to think more about it, but I was sold.

Buzzed, we wandered out of the cinema into the 4pm darkness. It was still early, so we decided to visit one of the key museums in Berlin, the Gemäldegalerie. This houses classic art works from 13th-18th century European masters. That was appealing, but what was the main reason for our visit was the current temporary exhibition, one on my favourite renaissance artist, Botticelli.

I had really only probably seen a dozen Bottecelli’s in my time. Those in the Louvre, the National Gallery in London, and the Uffizi in Florence being the main ones. This exhibition, while housing many contemporary works that riffed on Botticelli, also collected over 50 works by the master.

On entering… BOOM! We were greeted by an amazing gorgeous Venus standing there in all her glory. It really was jaw dropping. The renaissance masters are not my favourite artists, but for whatever reason I adore Botticelli. And this just reinforced this.

Sadly, we could not take photos in the exhibition, but you can see all about it here. That was OK… it just meant we needed to spend a little more time to soak it all up.  The early part of the exhibition also had many contemporary works that played on the popular notions of Botticelli and it was kind of interesting. To see Warhol amongst others placed aside the master put an interesting spin on things.

 

stunning canaletto

stunning canaletto

 

We finished off our visit to the museum with a whizz through the main collection. Having just spent much time in museums in Paris, we didn’t feel the need to stay too long, but we did get to visit some of Kate’s favourites such as Vermeer and Canaletto. But we were fast reaching a point where it was just all washing over us.

Conveniently we needed to return back to Potsdamer Platz to get to the metro station, so I took the opportunity to grab another bratwurst and a crepe for our trip back to the hotel.

What a day. New Star Wars. Botticelli. Bratwurst. Damn, life is awesome.

18
Dec

‘Tis the Season to be Jolly

By: muttler
time to get our christmas markets on!

time to get our christmas markets on!

 

When I left you last Kate and I were speeding our way to Berlin on the fast train which cracked well over 200km/h, getting us to our destination in (relatively) no time at all.

Our hotel was super conveniently just 10 minutes walk from the main train station and was a warm greeting for us. Super friendly staff and a mini-bar full of water and soft drinks that was free and restocked each day for us. Now that I hadn’t had before! I think we had made another great choice of hotel for our stay.

We dumped our bags and were about to settle in to relax a little when we thought otherwise. Why not head to a Christmas market?!

Even more conveniently another smaller metro station was only 1 minute away from our hotel, so on we jumped and headed to the first of what would be a few Christmas markets, Gendarmenmarkt.

 

oh! the food that awaits!

oh! the food that awaits!

 

This was considered one of the most popular markets and indeed it was well packed when we arrived. I had only been to some Christmas markets in Austria many years ago, so only had a rough idea of what I was expecting. In some respects I thought it may have been bigger with many more stalls. Rather this was fairly modest, with much more food and drink. But I was happy with that 🙂

 

first bratwurst of the season

first bratwurst of the season

 

As soon as we arrived it was priorities… bratwurst! Mmmm. We both loaded up with a delicious sausage and started wandering about.

 

mmm... gluhwein

mmm… gluhwein

 

Even though it wasn’t huge, we still spent quite a bit of time wandering about. Kate was keen to check out the different stalls, especially the decorations. Me, I was all about eating and drinking. I grabbed a gluhwein (warm wine) to accompany me as we wandered. Yum! I saw many more of these in my future.

 

um, what?!

um, what?!

 

A big stage was set up with a revolving cast of acts, and at one point we were transfixed by a very strange clown type act happening. We couldn’t really make any sense of it, but absurdist comedy seems to transcend language.

With a big pretzel in hand we wandered the rest of the markets. Kate got a sense of what would be about to buy at a later date, and we decided to head back to the hotel to rest up for our first day proper in Berlin (and THE big event of the holiday).

16
Dec

176 km/h

By: muttler
speeding through Germany

speeding through Germany

 

Hi everyone!

A flurry of posts today. How come? Well, we are on a fast train, travelling from Paris to Berlin. Thanks to a first class train ticket (that was only about 10 euro more than the 2nd class thanks to early booking), we have lots of leg room and free wi-fi!

This means I can catch up on some blog entries, email, and whatnot. Doing everything I can from reading Star Wars reviews that have just come out 🙂

We got out of France quite quickly, went through Belgium (even stopping in Brussels briefly), and then into Germany. A quick stop and change of trains at Cologne, and it was off to our next destination.

Next posts from Berlin. Will try and keep them up in a somewhat timely manner!