Berlin 2009 – Day 6 – Tue 10th Nov

16 11 2009

Today Alice had planned to visit the huge department store for some research for her self-elected project.  I wanted to go to the Jewish Museum.  I had a late breakfast with Lauren who was suffering from a late night combined with a nasty chesty cough, then headed out on foot.  The Jewish Museum isn’t that far away from the hotel so I thought I’d take in some of the local area and get some photos along the way.

Hotel Transit - basic but good

The Hotel Transit, where we were staying, looked dreadful from the outside, especially as we arrived at night when the grille was down between the road and the main entrance.  However, inside was a different matter.  The dining/communal area was bright and clean with friendly staff, and the rooms were basic but very clean and comfortable.  Most rooms were for five sharing but there were only three of us in our room.  It was also in a great location for transport and there were lots of shops nearby and places like Checkpoint Charlie are in reasonable walking distance if you fancy it.  I would certainly recommend it if you’re travelling to Berlin in a group.  Single rooms are also available I believe (the staff who came with us must have paid extra for these!).  Breakfast comes with the package and they’re quite happy for you to bring takeaways in and eat at the tables.  They do drinks and coffees etc 24 hours a day and you can get soup and other light meals too.

Curry 36 - always doing a roaring trade

Just along the road (which I think is called Mehringdamm, as is the u-bahn station) is Curry 36.  We saw this as soon as we came off the u-bahn on the first night and it was packed.  They do all sorts of fast food, but mostly of the sausage variety.  Apparently their currywursts are ‘legendary’.  They must be because I never saw it without at least a small queue of people – day and night.  I was only able to sample their chips (I might have tried a bit of currywurst but I’d had a dodgy stomach for a few days so wasn’t going to risk it with alien food, being a vegetarian and all) which were very tasty, dusted with curry powder and lavished with fresh tomato sauce.  A great snack.  They also sold their own merchandise!

Exterior wall of Begraebnissplatz der Jerusalems und Neuen Kirche

After passing both Mehringdahm u-ban station exits I turned right into Baruther Straße and walked along the outside wall of a large cemetery.  Tempted though I was to go in and have a look around, I knew this would take up a lot of time and I’d not get to the Jewish Museum at a reasonable time, so I contented myself with photographing the extensive graffiti along the walls.  I was struck by the large rooftops and structures I could see that were attached to the fabric of this wall.  They looked as though they might have been large tombs – but so many of them and such sizes.  I decided I’d have to go inside another day.  Click the photo for a closeup of some graffiti.

Jüdusches Museum - Libeskind Building

Finally, after a little detour towards Gneisenaustraße for a look around, I got to the Jewish Museum.  I’d heard about the amazing building and seen a few photos but it was quite something to see for real.  However, inside was even more interesting.  After going through a lot of security once again, I first visited the permanent exhibition down a large staircase.  Here the floors, walls and ceilings were distorted and I felt a bit like Alice after the mushroom walking up one long corridor and getting taller by the moment.  Along the walls were everyday items – photographs, crockery, suitcases, parcels, letters, etc – belonging to people who had either fled Germany during the Nazi regime, or who had died because of it.  These items and the stories that went with them had been donated to the museum by the people themselves, or their relatives.  I find such personal histories much more interesting than the big political stories.  It was the best part of the whole museum for me.  The rest of the exhibitions on the other floors explored a few individual stories alongside national and international contexts and once again there was a lot of reading to do.  The unusal shape of the building and the layout of the spaces meant I had to check that I’d not missed anything before ascending to the next floor up the huge staircase.  There were also areas put in by the architect to allow for reflection and to experience a profound sense of something or another.  Art’s like that.

The Brandenburg Gate

I got back to the hotel and gradually we graphics students found one another.  We decided to pay a night-time visit to the Reichstag.  We got the u-bahn to Potsdamer Platz and walked along the route where the dominoes had been the previous night – stacks of barriers still lingering, along with various vehicles.  This time we were able to get up close to the Brandenburg Gate which seemed very peaceful this night, in comparison to the night before.  We needed to get to the Reichstag before the 10pm cutoff for visits and did so, standing in the cold queuing for some time before being let in.  Once again much security before being taken up into the magnificent dome with audio tour headphones attached.

Inside the dome of the Reichstag

It’s difficult to describe the impact of entering the glass dome which sits atop the 19th century building of the German Empire.  The building was heavily damaged before and during the Second World War and this modern construction was added in the 1990s.  The dome sits above the Plenary Hall where government doings take place.  The view is of all of Berlin – described by our audio tour guides as we walked up the spiral towards the top of the dome.  I would love to visit again in the daytime for a different perspective.



Finally, very hungry and a little cold, we headed back along Ebertstraße to Potsdamer Platz and the Vapiano restaurant there.  Having had such a good experience in the outlet near the Zoo on Sunday we were keen to visit again and we weren’t disappointed.  Different layout in this one, and smaller, but the food was just as good.  I have since discovered that there is one Vapiano restaurant in the UK – in London – so I’m determined to go there when I’m next in the city.

Looking down at the Bundestag Eagle and the Plenary Chamber from the Reichstag dome.

Berlin 2009 – Day 5 – Mon 9th Nov

15 11 2009

Another lazy morning with a decent lie-in.  Alice and I took a wander along to the local shops in search of a few bits and pieces to take home for others.  I just wanted a little something for my daughter which I found in a lovely little fair trade/world goods shop.  Also picked up some interesting drawer handles (both different) for an old chest of drawers I want to revamp (with mis-matching handles).  I was glad we weren’t going far as I wasn’t feeling too well – a bit dizzy and nauseous.  Not impressed at all.

Potsdamer Platz

Luckily that passed and at 4pm we and the other students set off for Potsdamer Platz.  We managed to lose the other students almost immediately!  It was already drizzling quite heavily and we were at least two hours early for the start of the celebrations so we thought we’d better keep moving as it was already quite cold.  Alice and I walked along the line of the dominoes on the west side of Ebertstraße towards the Brandenburg Gate.  When we neared that area there were security checks and glass was not permitted beyond that point, so we doubled back while we decided what to do with the schnapps Alice had brought along.  After dumping a glass soda bottle she decided that as they weren’t searching more than people’s bags, her back pocket would be a good place for the drink.

Crowds gathering for the celebrations

We took in the atmosphere as we walked along and stopped for some chips and a visit to the portaloos (much the same as the ones I’ve experienced at festivals though the first set had the pan in the corner which made the interior more roomy).  We also picked up a copy each of the souvenir book detailing most of the dominoes – only €5.  There were lots of stalls lining the way back to the Brandenburg Gate.

After passing through the security barriers we carried on through the thickening crowds until we reached an impasse.  Here the media was in full force with a high-rise stand festooned with wires and cables.  We could see the silhouettes of camera operators and their journalist subjects with their backs to the brightly lit Brandenburg Gate.  At this point we had to make a detour along Straße des 17 Juni to get to the other side of the line of dominoes and beyond.  The rain was quite heavy at this point but the view of the gate and the searchlights from a distance was worth the walk.

View of Brandenburg Gate from Straße des 17 Juni

We carried on, stopping under the cover of the magnificent Reichstag building for a little while, to get some respite from the rain which was now very heavy.  My boots had been soaked through for some time but my thick wool and fleece jacket was holding up well – my domino book tucked underneath it and my scarf covering my handbag and my camera.

Having walked to the other end of the line of dominoes, across the river, we moved over to the East side of the line of dominoes.  It was ironic that during this festival you could not cross the line of the Berlin Wall (apart from at the two ends of the dominoes).  Another detour brought us back to the dominoes via Dorotheenstraße.  This area was less crowded.  We had a good view of the dominoes and a screen.  We were standing directly opposite the Reichstag.  The crowds on the West side were much deeper than where we were.  I suppose the only disadvantage we had was that we weren’t surrounded by people to keep us warm.  My toes were frozen and we had to jiggle about quite a bit to keep warm.

The rain, highlighted by a floodlamp. Dominoes seen across the river.

Once the festivities began the rain eased a little, but never really stopped.  We watched a lot of talking on the screens, not understanding much of it at all.  The golden-locked presenter was great – like something out of the 1980s with a big cheesy grin.  Gordon Brown and Hillary Clinton spoke but we couldn’t catch all they said because of the voiceover by the translator.  There were rumblings of dissent from French people near us when their president spoke.  The highlight for me, even though I didn’t understand a word he or the translator said during the interview, was seeing Lech Walesa on the screen.  He pushed over the first domino which symbolised his early influence on the changes in Europe that led to the fall of the Berlin Wall.  That first fall of dominoes went past where we stood and ended just before the Brandenburg Gate – at a big white piano.  There was more talking on screen (including an interview with Mikhail Gorbachev) before the dominoes were pushed from the other end – Potsdamer Platz – and then again the final stretch in front of the Brandenburg Gate.  If you didn’t see the coverage on TV, check out this YouTube video.

And then it was done.  The firework display started up in the light drizzle – we couldn’t see it too well from where we were – and the crowds cheered.  There was a wonderful atmosphere there and by this time I’d almost forgotten about my frozen toes.  There was no mad crush of the crowd as we left, though it was busy, and we decided to walk east to a station rather than try to get back to Potsdamer Platz where we knew it would be ridiculously congested.  We walked, toes warming all the time, to Oranienburger Tor u-bahn station and got on the train that took us straight ‘home’.

Back at the hotel it was time for a quick change of clothes and a couple of coffees laced with rum (just to warm me up you understand) while everyone appeared a few at a time to discuss the evening’s events.  Thoroughly enjoyed the evening and would not have missed it for the world.  Having watched the wall breached and removed (on TV) back in 1989 it was a thrilling experience for me to have been there for this anniversary.

Berlin 2009 – Day 4 – Sun 8th Nov

14 11 2009

We’d had quite a bit of death and destruction on Saturday so Alice and I decided to pay a visit to Berlin Zoo.  We took the S-Bahn out to the Zoologischer Garten station where we’d gone on the Friday to go to the Helmut Newton exhibition.  On that day we’d spotted a ruined church and of course I’d wanted to go and photograph it.

The visitor centre in the ruined old church

The Kaiser Wilhelm Gedächtniskirche was badly damaged by bombing during WW2 and the tower now stands as a memorial and a visitor centre.  The mosaics on the ceilings and walls were truly fabulous.  They shimmered and sparkeld, with lots of gold and the detail was very intricate.  So much to look at in what was a very small space.  The floors too were highly decorative and this provided strong contrast to the bare stone walls, stairways and plain windows.  The modern ‘furniture’ sat well with the older style and the only real problem in this free to enter exhibition was a lack of space.

I can only imagine what impact the place would have had when it was intact.

The Christ figure made from tombac

The new church alongside this one was built in the early 1960s and from the outside is a rather ugly concrete octagonal tower with small ‘blobs’ of blue glass embedded in the walls.  Inside was quite a different picture.  The blue stained-glass is everywhere and such vivid blues at that.  Over 20,000 small ‘windows’.  Above the altar is a huge gold Christ figure (with no cross) that dominates the view and provides a stunning colour contrast to the windows.

Both buildings were fascinating in such different ways.  We saw another, much  smaller building built in the same style as the new church and headed over to investigate.  We found inside it a small gift shop which seemed to have no connection with either church apart from its architecture.  The shop sold fair trade and ‘world’ goods including the inevitable incense sticks, astrology books, ornaments, bags, hats, etc.  A lovely little shop – perhaps the proceeds went to the church, perhaps it was only the rent they collected.  There was nothing to say one way or the other.  I bought two little stars for my collection (I don’t do Christmas decorations but I buy one or two stars every year to add to the curly ironwork on the side of my stairs at home – they remain in place all year round).

Knut, the famous polar bear.

Next it was zoo time.  We were too late in the day to fit in the aquarium but were told that we could pay for that separately if we felt we wanted to visit that too.  I only have London Zoo to compare it with (in recent years anyway) and it seemed a little more tatty around the edges, but for that it was actually nicer.  It was good to see some areas just left to ‘be’, rather than being subject to this need to manicure every available space.  There also wasn’t the constant demands to purchase from attention-grabbing signs and shops.  The only real exception to this was the little kiosk next to the polar bear enclosure.  Their young polar bear, Knut, is a bit of a celebrity, being the first polar bear to be born at the zoo in more than 30 years.  He was rejected by his mother and was hand reared at the zoo amidst great controversy.  The kiosk sells Knut merchandise, mostly focusing on images of him when he was a cub.

Feeding time for the big cats

Time passes differently in a zoo.  We wandered through the labrynth taking in all manner of creatures along the way.  As we passed through the big cat area it was feeding time.  Lots of crowds and people moving from one viewpoint to another as the keepers threw in the raw meat.  I stuck around by the tiger and was rewarded when this beauty looked straight at my camera.

Soon it was closing time so Alice and I went off in search of something to eat.  We spotted a pasta & pizza place on the corner of a very busy crossroads.  Initially it looked a little out of our price range but a glance at the menu told us we could afford to eat there after all.  Vapiano is a little different.  We were each given a plastic swipe card as we went in and were told that we should hand this in at each ‘station’ when we ordered food.  We went to the pasta station and watched our chosen meal being prepared in front of us – the fresh pasta was cooked in a little basket into boiling water, and the sauce was prepared in a big wok.  Both were soon combined and served with a few chunks of fresh bread.  There were stations for pizza, salad and desserts, as well as a bar, but we were able to get our soft drinks from our chefs.  The food was delicious and we just loved everything about the place.  When it came to paying we just handed in our swipe cards and paid.  No fuss, no sorting out who’d had what and how much each thing was.  Brilliant.

After that we headed back to the hotel and went to a local bar with the other Graphics students.  Table service and a bill just for drinks seemed a little odd and caused the above mentioned hassle when it came to pay and I think a combination of tiredness and the lack of a pub atmosphere drove us back to the hotel with some bottles bought in an off licence to finish off the night.  A good and busy day

Window detail at the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church

Berlin 2009 – Day 3 – Sat 7th Nov

13 11 2009

Geared up for tourism

No alarms this morning, and no intention of joining the group for whatever it was they had planned.  Had a lovely long lie-in and a leisurely getting ready.  Alice and I headed out to Checkpoint Charlie.  I hadn’t really known what to expect but was not particularly surprised by what I saw.  The ‘checkpoint’ (a replica) was there with two ‘guards’ with whom some of the tourists were having their photographs taken.  Along the streets were small stalls with people selling GDR and Soviet memorabilia – mostly hats and badges.

You could hire these but I had enough problems crossing the road.

We turned off and discovered a huge hot air balloon (tethered to the ground) from which you could get a view of probably all of Berlin, and a business hiring out Trabants – the little East German cars almost everyone used during the days of the GDR.  What a noise they made!  I was very tempted to have a go but I was having quite a few problems just crossing the road with the cars being on the ‘wrong’ side, so thought it probably unwise to take to the roads in a vehicle.

We carried on until we reached the only remaining part of the Berlin Wall still standing (of any size).  There wasn’t much graffiti on it, unlike many of the sections we’d seen so much of in photographs, and it wasn’t as high as I thought it would be.  I suppose it didn’t need to be very high.  It was quite difficult to take photographs too – one side of the wall was inaccessible and the other was on the shady side of the street (at that time of day) with no pavement and behind a fence.

A gap in the stretch of the Berlin Wall still standing, near Checkpoint Charlie. You can see the Martin Gropius Bau in the background.

At the other end of this stretch of wall was the Martin Gropius Bau.  We were tempted by the Futurist Exhibition but misread the sign and thought we had missed it so settled for a coffee and a pineapple torte (would have been rude not to) before setting off again.

Alongside the gallery was the Topography of Terror exhibition which detailed events in that area which had been the site of the Gestapo and SS offices.  The exhibition was outdoors and consisted of huge display boards with many photographs and lots to read.  Unfortunately we entered on the ‘wrong’ side and saw the exhibition backwards, with details becoming more horrific as we went along – starting with current plans to create a permanent exhibition building on the site, going backwards through WW2 and ending with the coming to power of the Nazis.  It was also very cold as we weren’t walking very quickly.  It was, however, a fascinating exhibiton.

After that Alice and I went back to Checkpoint Charlie and decided to go to the exhibition in the Haus Am Checkpoint Charlie.  Fascinating stories of escape attempts – some successful, some fatal.  A whole range of emotions in this very human and often very personal document of the years of the Berlin Wall.  Such ordinary people doing such extraordinary things, and taking unbelievable risks.

We decided to check out a restaurant in the east that Alice had spotted in the in-flight magazine while looking for decent vegetarian food.  The Frittiersalon was very busy when we went past and looked like a British chippy from outside, with mums and puschairs, and a chipshop style counter.  We walked along the street, which had lots of restaurants, but didn’t find anything that really grabbed us so we walked back and found that there was now space at the Frittiersalon so, having made an effort to get out there and find it, we went in.

Alice at the Frittiersalon

The food was great and the service was friendly.  Quite a mixture of people in there too.  After our walk along the street we’d discovered that this was quite an ‘arty’ area.  We’d found a little theatre which was about to put on a production (we were told this in broken English by a charming old gentleman with a fantastic moustache).  It must have been a church at some point in its history but was now covered in graffiti and paste-ups (one of Gary Coleman!).  It would have been nice to have gone to see the show, but hunger prevailed.

I had a halloumi burger with fries and a bottle of AfriCola.  I don’t normally buy any cola that’s not Coke or Pepsi because I’ve yet to like the taste of any of them, but I risked it and wasn’t disappointed.  I think if we’d had time we might have gone back there.  Certainly one on the list for next time I go.

Finally we headed back to Mehringdamm and the hotel before going out for a drink in a local bar with the other Graphics students – just seven of us in total, three from Level 3 and four from Level 2, the rest of the group comprising Photography students.  We got back to the hotel cafe/bar to find some of the Photography students had been having quite a drinking session and soon the noise drove us to our rooms, though it was a very late night for all of us.

Checkpoint Charlie - now a major tourist attraction

Berlin 2009 – Day 2 – Fri 6th Nov

8 11 2009

We were meant to meet at 9.30am for info on the day’s planned activities but … well, we didn’t quite make it. However, I was still keen to see the Photography Museum and we were able to find out where to go and set out about half an hour after the others.

I was impressed with the information people at the station (the Zoo station) – when we asked how to get to the musem (which wasn’t far away), they didn’t just give us directions, one of the women took us through the station as far as a place where she could actually point to the building. Brilliant!

Outside the Helmut Newton Foundation

What I hadn’t realised was that the museum was the Helmut Newton Foundation museum and there was a permanent exhibition of his “private property” (as billed) – notebooks, letters, a car, clothes on mannequins, lock of his hair, all sorts of things. Most fascinating. The main exhibition was also of his work – all the images from his Sumo book. What a treat! I love Helmut Newton.

We had to check in our coats and bags before we went in, and put our stuff into lockers. A bit odd, but it was nice not to have to lug my bags around as I was not going to be able to take photos anyway.

Thoroughly enjoyed the exhibition but it was tiring walking around in the quiet. I was struck by the number of ‘security guards’ around the place. We’re somewhat used to seeing a few people dotted around, maybe seated or standing near doorways in museums, but here they were ‘patrolling’ and looked rather stern. Not sure what they thought we were going to do.

After the exhibition we headed over to Hackescher Markt for some browsing through the shops. This was near(ish) to the TV Tower. You could certainly see it from almost everywhere in that area. There had been a trip planned to go up it but I would prefer to view a city from up high when I am familiar with it, not before I’ve had a chance to explore. Otherwise it would be like looking at a map.

The TV Tower - a huge landmark in the East

We had a good look at the shops along the way. Lots of designerish/arty shops but the prices were quite high compared with the UK – particularly as we’d not got a very good exchange rate on the Euro (almost one for one).
On the way there we popped in to a little alleyway that Alberto had visited when he’d been to Berlin before. The delapidated walls were covered in fly posters, stickers, graffiti, paste-ups and anything else they could cram on there. There were a few proper murals and brightly painted ‘street furniture’. Walking further in we came to a courtyard area with a dimly lit bar and a huge metal sculpture. The whole place looked both like a work in progress and an established artist’s commune. At the end of the courtyard was a stairway plastered in posters, stickers and graffiti, which led to a wonderful little bookshop.

Part of the stairway to the bookshop

Luckily most of the books were in German – otherwise I’d have bought loads and spent too much money. I settled for a handful of postcards to send home. Needless to say there are a lot of photographs of this place.
After this and the shops, Alice, Alberto, Martin and I went in search of food and found a little Italian restaurant, run by Germans, playing Spanish music (which Alberto – who is Spanish – said was very cheesy and something his grandparents might have liked). The food was good though. My pasta was unusual (gorgonzola cheese sauce with broccoli – quite a strong flavour) but tasty, and we got free starters of a noodle soup.
We’d been tired before heading out so we headed back to the hotel for a half-hour nap then set off to the Supalife Kiosk for a launch of a book. The book was ‘Graphic Europe’ and I’d wanted to see it because I’m doing mapping for my self-elected project. I ended up buying a copy and got it signed by the women who designed the Berlin and London pages, and by the publisher.
It was quite odd in the little bookshop – occasionally it felt as though the floor was moving, as if you were on a boat. We decided that it must have been because of vibrations from the trams or the U-Bahn below. A little disconcerting all the same.
We were entertained on the way home by a drunken Polish guy who wouldn’t stop talking to us and tried to follow us ‘home’ after we left the train. Despite being a little annoying, he was quite amiable. Drunks are drunks, wherever you go. Back at the hotel we sat and had a drink and a chat with everyone before crashing out. A long but very enjoyable day.

I added one of my Moo stickers to the many covering the walls in the alleyway

Berlin 2009 – Day 1 – Thurs 5th Nov

8 11 2009

Alberto and Alice on the train to Gatwick

The one-year anniversary of my giving up smoking saw me heading for Berlin on a uni organised visit. The trip usually runs in February but was brought forward this year to coincide with the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. As I remember that time very well (though I wasn’t in Berlin at the time), I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to go.

I went to uni as usual in the morning as it was almost on the way. After a morning tutorial and lunch with a friend, I headed off to the train station and met up with my fellow students, Alice and Alberto, along the route to Gatwick airport. In previous years this has been a Graphic Design organised trip but because the tutor who usually runs it had had an illness in the summer, one of the photography lecturers t0ok on the task. The only students from Graphics were us three from the third year and four from the second year. The rest were photography students.

Bit of a mixup at the airport – we weren’t quite sure where to meet etc, but eventually found the lecturer and checked in.  Of course I set the alarm off as I walked through the barrier.  Not sure what caused it – I still had my belt on and I have a steel pin in my ankle.  Got frisked and passed through only to have to wait for my bag which the scanner couldn’t see through because it was so jam packed with stuff that they had to take everything out and run a detector thing over it all.  It was full of cameras mostly and all ok in the end.

We flew at 6pm and Alice and I checked out some things to do and see, including some places to get some decent veggie grub.  Wearrived in Germany around 9pm local time, getting to the hotel about 11pm.  The Hotel Transit is very basic but very clean and the people are great – welcoming and friendly.  Alice and I shared a room with the only other Graphics girl – Lauren, from the 2nd year.

Me on the train - taken with the QuadCamera app on the iPhone

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