MonthMay 2011

Berlin

Day 139

Here is my next travel blog entry about my visit to Berlin. In a short three days, we managed hit up quite a few places in the city, especially the historical areas about the Cold War and the Second World War. I would have liked to have posted this sooner, but my computer refused to cooperate.

Massive Train Delay

I was always under the impression that the Deutsche Bahn was always on time, but I guess that’s not true anymore. The City Night Line was supposed to leave at 12 AM from Mannheim and arrive in Berlin at around 7:30, but due to a train crash causing a chemical spill in Switzerland, our train took a detour. It arrived three and a half hours late. At first it was supposed to only be a 170 minute delay, but as time went on, the delay went longer and longer. To pass the time, we walked around Mannheim late at night, and pretty much saw the entire city, AKA the schloss, in about an hour. We spent the rest of the time just moping around the station. It was cold at night too and I never expected to be waiting so long so I ended up freezing when I was outside. I tried sleeping on the benches, but that didn’t really work for me, and instead ended up sitting there eating snacks until the train came. Maybe we should have chilled at a bar instead. Because of the long wait for the train, I didn’t sleep too well. It also didn’t help that I forgot to reserve a spot that had a bed, and I instead reserved a reclining seat instead. Because of the late train, the conductors handed out a giant form in pure German for people to fill out to get part of their money back.


Berlin Hauptbahnhof

We arrived in Berlin at about 10:30 in the morning, 3 hours later than scheduled. We all got off the train, still super tired, and started our journey in Berlin. The Berlin main station was the biggest station I’d seen so far. It had a really modern look using glass everywhere they could. Its sheer size allowed for a lot of businesses to open inside the station. The station had three floors with two floors used as train platforms. Coincidentally, it was also the station’s fifth birthday. When we got outside, we could see the German Reichstag within a walkable distance.


German Reichstag

Seeing that we could already see the Reichstag when we walked out of the Hauptbahnhof, we proceeded there first. Since I played so many World War II games, I already knew what the Reichstag looked like. Over the years, the Reichstag underwent a few renovations such as the glass dome that was added after the war. The rest of the building looked so similar to what I had seen in video games and historical photos that as I walked up the stairs, it briefly reminded of me of the guy with the flamethrower in the cut-scene in Call of Duty 5. I also remembered some of the iconic photographs I’d seen such as the soldier waving the flag of the Soviet Union on the roof.

Prior to going to Berlin, I had reserved spots for the roof terrace and the dome (according to their website, people couldn’t go up there without a reservation). Before going in, I had to put my stuff through their X-Ray machine (maybe they’re afraid of terrorists or something). They had confiscated my Swiss Army Knife for the duration that I was up there. At the roof terrace, the staff issued audio guides to every guest. While walking to different areas of the dome, the audio guide would automatically begin talking about parts of the city that one could see from that part of the dome. I didn’t really pay attention to the boring voice of the audio guide and the information that it had wasn’t all that interesting (it really didn’t matter to me if I knew how many rooms were in a particular building or the land area it took up).


Brandenburg Gate

From the top of the Reichstag, we could see the one of the symbols of Germany, the Brandenburg Gate. It is located at one end of the street Unter den Linden, and was used as a sign of peace during the Prussian Empire. Since it is also one of the most famous landmarks in Europe, there were naturally a lot of tourists here. So much so that there were people dressed up in weird costumes to earn money from people taking pictures with them. There were a few people holding American and USSR flags and even people dressed up as Star Wars characters. Near the gate were also a embassies of various countries such as France and the United States. One of the buildings even proudly waved the flag of Quebec (I don’t know why and it wasn’t the Canadian embassy either).


Eastener Hostel

By now, we were already super tired from the lack of sleep and from carrying our bags around all day. We took the city train to our hostel for a quick rest and to drop off some of our stuff. The man at the hostel was super thorough in explaining the rules of the hostel (with his East German accent) and even took the time to give us a map and point of the major tourist destinations on it. Using this map, we were able to find all the places we wanted to go to. By the end of the trip, the map had tears in several places and random folds here and there, clearly showing how intensely I used it.

Ampelmann

While walking around the city, I noticed that the pedestrian traffic light signals had a different design than the rest of Germany. Apparently, the traffic light man used in some places in Berlin were based off of the design used in former East Germany. I thought this Ampelmann guy was pretty cool.

The Remains of the Berlin Wall near Nordbahnhof

One of the locations that the map pointed us to were to some of the remnants of the Berlin Wall. Before coming to Berlin, I had a thought of posing at the wall with a hammer, but I never got one and I don’t think the people would have been very happy with me doing that. The segments of the wall here showed a lot of graffiti along its entire length. The city also preserved the guard tower and showed some of the methods of preventing escapes. Also in the area was a memorial for those who died while trying to flee to West Germany.


East German Cars

One of the peculiar things about Berlin was the fact that tourists can still take rides in cars (known as a Trabant or Trabi for short) that the GDR once used. I looked inside one of them and it just seemed so old and run down. I figure the only reason that these cars are still around are because of their historical/moneymaking value.

Really Cool Old-Style German Font

When I walked through some of the old train stations, I came across a really cool looking vintage font that I felt was so characteristic of Germany. Maybe I watched too many documentaries or something.

Checkpoint Charlie

Taking the train from Nordbahnhof, we made our way to Checkpoint Charlie, one of the border crossings once used before the unification of East and West Germany. The old border crossing booth and the sign telling people they’re leaving the American Sector still remains today. Standing outside are also two people holding American flags. Near the border booth, there is a giant sign with an American soldier on it and on the reverse side, there is a Soviet soldier. On the street, street vendors sold random things like fur hats with the logo of the Soviet Union on it, gas masks, and flags of the GDR and USSR.


Haus am Checkpoint Charlie

Adjacent to the border crossing, there was a museum dedicated to the documenting the border security between East and West Germany. The museum documented various methods of escape such as hiding people inside the hood of a car and using a hot air balloon. Also displayed were tools that people used to escape like special wall climbing footwear and stories of escapes. Seeing all these different methods made me realize how smart these people were. I would have never thought of something like that. Sadly, I was already super tired while walking through this museum and I was ready to just go back to the hostel and sleep. It was still light out at the time. Unfortunately, we weren’t allowed to take photographs in this museum.

DFB Cup Final

While in Berlin, we saw a lot of people walking around wearing stuff from football teams and apparently the DFB Cup Final was to be played in the Berlin Olympic Stadium. To catch the football game, we went to a bar to tune in. While at this bar, I got to try Berlin-style wheat beer. Theirs was different than the wheat beer I usually drink because here, they had beer cocktails. I tried the red and green Berliner wheat beer. The red one had a raspberry flavour while the green one had a woodruff flavour.

The Fernsehturm

The Fernsehturm is the TV tower where people can go up to see a view of the city. It is also one of the tallest buildings in the European Union. We didn’t go here since we didn’t really care so much about the view and we went to see other landmarks instead.

Potsdamer Platz at Night

According to my boss at work, Potsdamer Platz was a must see at night, and after seeing it for myself, I totally agree with him. The beauty of this place was the architecture that looked so beautiful in the night, especially the Sony Center. The roof of the Sony Center was shaped like an umbrella and its color would gradually change between blue and purple.


Französische Straße

Located on this street were the Französischer Dom, Berlin Concert House, and Deutscher Dom. Each of these three buildings have quite a bit of history and are all have amazing architecture. This place is definitely the place to be to see old-style architecture in Berlin.


Fassbender & Rausch Chocolatiers

This chocolatier is quite well known and their store is frequently visited by tourists. What makes it so special is that they built many of the landmarks in Berlin out of chocolate. Anything made of chocolate is cool. The longer I stayed in this store, the bigger craving for chocolate I had.


Führerbunker

During the Battle of Berlin, Hitler stayed in his bunker beneath his New Reich Chancellery. I went to the location of where the bunker once was only to find the area replaced by pretty regular things like shops and apartments. The side of the street here had plaques explaining the history of this area and its use for Hitler’s Bunker.

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

Near Hitler’s Bunker was a memorial for the Jewish victims of the holocaust. The memorial had thousands of concrete blocks, or stelae, of varying heights arranged in a grid pattern. According to one of the designers of the memorial, Peter Eisenman, he stated that “the stelae are designed to produce an uneasy, confusing atmosphere, and the whole sculpture aims to represent a supposedly ordered system that has lost touch with human reason.” Walking through the memorial reminded me so much of Bomberman. The memorial had the grid pattern just like in the game. It would probably also be really fun jumping from one block to the next, but it would have been really disrespectful.


Potsdamer Platz during the Day

To take a break and relax during the day, we went back to Potsdamer Platz for a beer. Now I understand why my boss told me to come here at night instead of during the day. It doesn’t look as nice at this hour.

Victory Column

Similar to the Arc de Triomphe on Avenue des Champs-Élysées in Paris, the Victory column stands in the end of the street Unter den Linden and is similarly surrounded by a giant roundabout. The column serves to commemorate the Prussian victories in the Danish-Prussian War, Austro-Prussian War, and the Franco-Prussian War. Surrounding the column are other smaller statues. One of the statues, I thought I saw my last name on it, but looking more closely, I realized it said “Roon” instead of “Poon”. What a bummer.


Schloss Bellevue

Located in the Tiergarten District of Berlin is the official residence of the President of Germany. We sat on the grass outside the residence to take a rest and to admire the beauty of the schloss and to watch the bike race that was happening just on the adjacent road.

Soviet War Memorial

Built using stone from the Reich Chancellery not long after the end of the Second World War, this memorial remembers the war dead of the Soviet Union, particularly the 80 000 soldiers who died in the Battle of Berlin. The memorial is of a statue of a Soviet soldier and on its left and right sides are two 152 mm Howitzer artillery pieces and two T-34 tanks (for some reason, birds like to go inside the barrel of the tank’s main gun). When I looked at the artillery piece, I tried to open the chamber for where the rounds go and tried to change the angle of the gun, but none of that worked. I’m pretty sure they didn’t want people messing with it. Behind the building is a small museum documenting the memorial’s construction and the Battle of Berlin. The memorial used to be guarded by Soviet troops during the Cold War even though it was in the British zone of occupation and now it is managed by the city.


Hackesche Höfe

One of my friends suggested that we go here since this place is known for its beautiful courtyards. It had eight interconnected courtyards, each with its own unique design. Some of the courtyards had tables for people to relax with coffee or beer while others had gardens.

Berliner Dom

Located on Museum Island, the Berliner Dom is a cathedral that belongs to the Evangelical Church. What was weird was that when we arrived there, we saw a group of people there having a cosplay party. There was one guy waving around a flag of the Empire of Japan. I never knew Anime was that big in Germany. Even weirder is that some of these kids were frolicking in the fountain in front of the Dom.

Museum Island

Another well known landmark in Berlin is Museum Island, which is an area with five internationally well known museums. They are the Altes Museum, Neues Museum, Alte Nationalgalerie, Bode Museum, and Pergamon Museum. We didn’t go in any of these museums since none of us were that interested in what the museums had to offer. The Alte Nationalgalerie had a look that seemed to have been inspired by the Greek Parthenon (but I’m not sure). While we were there, the sky started raining for about 15 minutes. It was quite refreshing since it was really hot earlier in the day.


Food

Although we didn’t try any food that were unique to Berlin (such as currywurst), we did splurge for one of our meals, and I found the food we had to be really delicious. Since Berlin is a lot closer to the coast than Stuttgart, I got to enjoy better quality seafood.


New Synagogue

Prior to the Second World War, the synagogue was badly damaged during Kristallnacht and the synagogue could no longer hold any services. Since the war, the synagogue was reconstruct and it is now the main synagogue for the Jewish community in Berlin.

Olympic Stadium

The current stadium was originally built for the 1936 Summer Olympics. Since the stadium was built during the Nazi period, the architecture of the building follows the Nazi style. Apparently, it was at these Olympic games that the tradition of the torch marathon began.

Potsdamer Platz for the Third Time

On our second night in Berlin, we went back to the Sony Center to relax for a little bit again. This time I got to try new kinds of beer such as mango and passion fruit flavoured wheat beer. It had an interesting flavour, but I thought the regular kind tasted a little better.

The Brandenburg Gate and the Reichstag at Night

When we arrived here at night, we found this place to be deserted even though the landmarks here looked amazing in the night. It was a good thing for us since there weren’t any tourists around. It allowed me to get really clear shots of these places.

The East Side Gallery

This area contains a continuous segment of the Berlin Wall that is 1.3 km in length. Along the wall are paintings from artists around the world to promote freedom in the world. The gallery also features the iconic political painting of Leonid Brezhnev and Erich Honecker kissing during the days of the GDR. There was also a souvenir shop here that stamped people’s passports with the GDR stamp for one euro. I thought that was a cool gimmick.

The Topography of Terror

To document the terrible deeds that the Nazi regime and the SS perpetrated between 1933 and 1945, an open-air museum was set up at the site of an old SS installation. It talked about how the Nazi’s transported people from conquered areas to the concentration and extermination camps set up across the continent. There was even a special exhibit just on the war crimes perpetrated by Adolf Eichmann. Near the museum were also SS buildings that have been converted to government offices.


Going Home

After three days of travelling in Berlin, we were all very tired and we were ready to go home. We went to our train platform for the ICE Sprinter about five minutes before the departure to find out that our train wasn’t there. We had no idea were it was and we didn’t want to miss the train. Apparently, some arsonists damaged some parts of the railway so the train ended up stopping on a different platform. Luckily, we found out in time and we managed to get on before it left. On the way back, I got to see some fantastic scenery of the German country side.


Souvenirs

I found that it was this trip that I spent the most money on souvenirs. I ended up buying Ampelmann themed cell phone accessories and a full sized flag of the USSR (not that I’m a communist or anything).

Euro Coinage

Day 136

Since I had no computer, I started randomly taking pictures and one of them are of the different coinage designs I had on me at the time…

In order as if reading normally:

1. One Euro: France
2. One Euro: Germany
3. One Euro: Italy
4. Two Euros: Italy
5. Dime: Spain
6. Dime: The Netherlands
7. 50c: Italy
8. Dime: Germany

My Laptop is Kaput

Day 136

After almost four years of using my Inspiron 1520, its age finally caught up with it and its light literally went out.  The backlight refuses to turn on now.  I came back from Berlin last Monday and found my computer in this state.  I left it off during that time too.  During this time, I had trouble doing any blogging and uploading any photos.

Google told me that the problem lay with either a loose connection, the inverter or the lamp.  I tried to check this out myself and open the computer case, but the screws refused to budge.  People online somehow got theirs open, but I couldn’t.

Unfortunately, my warranty expired so I’d have to pay to get this computer fixed.  I looked at my options on the Dell site and the North American Dell Support refused to help me and kept referring me to the European side even though I bought my computer in Canada (I really don’t know what these guys at the call centers are doing).  After about three calls to the support line, I finally found someone helpful and she told me that I had to change my laptop registration such that it showed a European location before I could get it fixed.  An alternative option would have been to send the computer back to Canada to get it fixed.

What I did instead was just buy a new laptop.  My laptop is already super old and already can’t really keep up with my tasks anyway, so I suppose it’s time for an upgrade.  What surprised me was that laptops in Germany (from their Best Buy/Future Shop equivalents anyway) cost so much more than in North America.  In fact, it was cheaper for me to buy my computer in Canada and get my parents to ship it to me rather than buying it locally.  I’m sure there are cheaper places, but I don’t exactly know how to look through all these German websites.  Another added advantage in buying from Canada is that I’d have a computer with the US Keyboard layout rather than the German one.  And in the future when my laptop needs repairs, it’ll be easy.

In the meantime, I’m using a 17 inch LCD screen that I borrowed from a friend.  This will suffice until my new computer arrives.  No more shining a lamp at my computer screen and squinting my eyes to see the screen anymore.  I also don’t need to be using my phone to go on the internet at home either.

Speaking in Deutsch

Day 128

After being here for quite a while, I noticed my German skills improved quite a lot.  Although I don’t take a German class, I picked up quite a bit from listening to Pimsleur, asking questions, some online lessons, using a translator and just living in the country.  I still don’t understand anything when people talk in a conversation unless they talk really slowly using really simple words.  I also don’t practice this language very often since all my communication with others is in English.  Plenty of opportunities exist for practicing this language though.

The other day I went to the pharmacy to buy allergy medicine and I decided that I should try talking to the pharmacist there in German.  Although my friend who already knew German was with me at the time, I insisted on trying myself instead of relying on him to say it for me.  I already knew what to say (I had looked up how to say words like “hay fever” beforehand).  I went up to the counter and asked if they had allergy medicine and she asked if it was for my eyes, nose, throat, etc. and I just said “everything”.  Afterward she started saying some more stuff and I had no idea what she said.  I looked at my friend with a “help me!” expression and he stepped in, but other than that, everything went well.  Not so bad for my first real conversation in German considering the fact that I don’t really focus a lot of energy learning this language.

3:10 to Yuma (2007)

3:10 to Yuma (2007)

As a movie with an Old West theme, 3:10 to Yuma tells a story of how the law enforcement at the time brought outlaws to justice. The main character, Dan Evans (played by Christian Bale), involves himself with the whole ordeal to desperately make money for his family. The movie focuses on the group of people trying to send the outlaw gang leader, Ben Wade (played by Russell Crowe), to Yuma Territorial Prison while the rest of Wade’s gang chase them. Along the journey, Wade uses carefully crafted dialogue to play mind games on the others. The movie explores the ideas of human nature involving how people can make their own choices in life in order to lead a life of honesty or a life of crime.

I recommend this movie to anybody who likes movies dealing with human nature or movies with an Old West setting.

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