02.05.15 – 08.05.15
I was so excited to visit Germany for the first time, especially Berlin. History was one of my favourite subjects in high school and we spent a lot of time learning and talking about Berlin throughout various periods of the past. Nerd alert.
We are staying at Wombats Hostel, which is quite close to the city centre of Berlin, and we’re only a few metres away from a metro stop (Rosa Luxemburg). The hostel is on the side formerly known as East Berlin, and we are very close to the famous square Alexanderplatz. Wombats is a chain of hostels across Europe, and ours is quite nice. It’s probably the most ‘hotel-ish’ hostel we’ve stayed at, no the rooms aren’t luxurious and don’t have TVs, but there’s a lift, each dorm has it’s own bathroom and as an added ‘bonus’ there’s not much ambience to the place. So the facilities are all fine, and it’s a definite luxury to only have to share a bathroom with three other people, but the whole huge hostel is lacking in a bit of life and energy.
Not every hostel for months on end can be amazing though, and it just proves that you can have the comfiest beds or cleanest bathrooms but if your staff don’t engage with guests or you don’t get along with the people in your dorm, it’s just not going to be as great of an experience as you hoped. We definitely didn’t get on with the person who was in our dorm the most during our five-day stay. I can’t remember his name, but he was an unusual German man from Munich who was about 45-50 years old, and said he was visiting Berlin on business for his theatre company. I’m not being ageist, because I think even 20 years ago he still would have been an unusual man that we probably wouldn’t have clicked with, although maybe 20 years ago he wouldn’t have farted in his sleep so much.
This week was the week of walking tours. We did three in total, two free tours (tip based), which were a good introduction to the city. Berlin is such a huge city that you really need to do at least one tour so you can orientate yourself. On our first day we did a very general one (run by Sandemans), where they touched on everything from the Kaisers to Hitler and the ongoing gentrification of the city. They also took us to a car park; which apparently is on top of the bunker where Hitler and his wife killed themselves during the end of World War II –eerie stuff. The second free tour we did the next day was run by the company Alternative Berlin and promised to take us to non-touristy spots and tell us about why Berlin has become such a hipster haven. This tour was really interesting, to be shown the alternative side to the city which has grown as a result of all of this really unique history –which we had gotten a good understanding of the day before. Berlin is completely saturated in street art, but we were taken to some of the best spots in the city –one of the best being a protected alleyway next to the Otto Weit museum. We also went out to the district of Kreuzberg, the most alternative area of Berlin. It’s also the home of the Doner Kebab, on account of all of the Turkish immigrants who came there post World War II.
Berlin (mainly Kreuzberg) has the highest concentration of Turkish people outside of Istanbul, and it also wouldn’t surprise me if it had the highest concentration of hipsters outside of Williamsburg, NY or Brunswick, Melbourne. Their double-denim-snapback-selves seem to love it here. And it’s not hard to see why, the party scene here is something else, infinite hidden bars –whether underground or down alleyways or a single door on a busy street you would have otherwise walked past. One of our favourites was a bar called Dr Pong, a dark and dingy place with a small bar but the focal point is a ping pong table. Basically you hire a bat and everyone (sometimes 20+ people) form a circle around the table and you start playing ‘around the world’. So the circle keeps moving, but slowly getting smaller because if you miss then you’re out. Eventually you get down to three people who are sprinting round the table, and then two people who face off for eternal glory. It’s so addictive; you could keep playing for hours. There’s another complex, part of where the club Cassiopeia is, where there’s a huge beer garden, a skate park plus a rock-climbing wall. Being spoiled for choice is a common theme of Berlin.
The third walking tour we did a few days later was also run by Sandemans and was their ‘Third Reich Tour’ –focusing only on Berlin under the Nazis. It started at the Brandenburg Gate and it ended… well it ended with us feeling really depressed. But it was completely fascinating and interesting to spend a few hours learning just how the Nazis came to power and almost a decade of terror they unleashed on Germany and greater Europe. When you walk around Berlin for near three hours learning about this stuff, you do get a new appreciation for just how amazing it is that the city now is a hub of energy and creativity, with people of all backgrounds and beliefs now able to call Berlin home –a city which was survived two world wars and a cold one too.
Apart from the World War II heavy activities, the divisions between East and West from the Cold War are still worth exploring. Germany has only been reunited since the early 90s, something which for some reason struck a chord with me when we were sitting in a pub in Friedrichshain and on another table were a group of about six older German men sitting, drinking and having a good time together. All of these men would have completely grown up in a divided Berlin or Germany. Who knows whether they would have been East or West, whether they all grew up on the same side of the wall, or whether they could have been separated for 40 years while the wall was up. The presence of the Berlin wall is still felt throughout the city, and the longest section still standing is the East Side Gallery. It runs 1.3km and the wall facing east is completely covered in street art and graffiti, a constant reminder of modern freedom. There’s beautiful murals dedicated to the end of the Cold War but then there’s also people just taking to it with a black sharpie to etch their name on it.
Five days in Berlin wasn’t long enough, and nor was this blog post to convey just how cool and interesting Berlin is. It has such a unique and complicated history, but this is has contributed immensely to the place it is now.
Now we head east to Czech out Prague.