Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Berlin weekend trip, day one: We Did Not Eat the Very Wurst Curry

As Yannick and I had left New Zealand for our travels in June 2015, it's understandable that I was missing my family and friends, and vice-versa. My dad took advantage of some very reasonably-priced airline tickets to come and visit us in the UK. It would be a double-whammy trip: to see Yannick and me, but also to explore Europe a little as he had never been before.
Working full time, Yannick only had weekends available in which to travel, so we decided that a couple of whirlwind weekend trips were just the ticket! Paris was a must, as dad wanted to visit the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre, so we scheduled that in for the end of November. I picked Berlin as our first European jaunt because my dad is half-German, and it was a city that I had been intending to visit for quite some time.

Berlin, Germany (Berlin, Deutschland)
19 November 2016
The most sensible way for us to arrive in the Land of Deutsch was by air - though in order to catch our early morning flight we were rendered insensible.
Needing to make up as much sleep as possible, I assumed the fly-catching position in my plane seat and dozed until the wheels touched down in Germany's capital city.

We quickly found the train station where dad sampled his first German bretzel, and we set off for our hotel to drop off our cumbersome bags. Dad enjoyed the ride, as we were able to look out over some lovely sights from the window (such as the river and the Berliner Dom) and were regaled with jolly songs from a number of buskers. An unusual sight for all of us was several passengers who had brought beers on the train and were proceeding to drink them before noon! Alcohol on public transport sounds like a recipe for disaster and destruction to public property to me. 

The area in which we were accommodating was in close proximity to the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtnis-Kirche, a church that had been heavily damaged in WWII. Though mostly restored, the spire was left in its ruined state as a reminder of the war. The church was surrounded by a Christmas market that was still being set up. A month after leaving Berlin, I read a news story (by which date the market was fully operational and very popular) in which a lorry driver ploughed through the market, leaving twelve people dead and numerous injured. It's terrifying to think that had we been in that exact same place just a few weeks before the attack.

After leaving our bags at the hotel, we went out in search of lunch and chose a well-reviewed Vietnamese restaurant. The sights and sounds of Berlin were new to each of us and we gazed about in wonder. Dad was using all the cameras he had brought along, including his DSLR, point-and-click, GoPro, and iPhone camera. You can never be too prepared.

Having taken a university paper on German History many years ago, I was rather excited to see the Ampelmann in real life. The story goes that before the German reunification in 1989, West Germany had a generic "green man" on their pedestrian crossing lights, whereas East Germany had the Ampelmann, with a fetching hat and pointy shoes. Now you can see is popular figure on lights across the city, including in the West, as well as on an array of souvenir items. 

After our early morning flight and preliminary explorations, dad decided to rest in our hotel room for the evening, while Yannick and I popped out for a walk. We began by entering the Großer Tiergarten, Berlin's largest park.

Dare I say that the overcast sky threatening rain, tall spindly trees and signs written in faintly Gothic script had me feeling like a lost child in an old fairytale.

At one stage, the pleasant wooded path we were following spit us out onto a wide and busy road that led to an impressive monument with a golden lady at the top. This is the Victory Column, erected in celebration of Prussian success in the Danish-Prussian War in 1864.

Returning to the depths of the forest, we followed another leaf-strewn path for a time before leaving the park to visit the Kulturforum. Right before we reached the forum, we photographed the front of this old house, which featured bullet holes. The Kulturforum is a series of buildings designed in the modernist fashion, and to be honest we found them all exceedingly ugly. As we had no interest at the time in entering and of its museums, libraries, or musical centres, we hurried onwards. I'm sure, given a few more days in the city, we would have appreciated this collection of cultural offerings.

Moving further towards the centre of Berlin, we visited the Christmas market at Potsdamer Platz, which wasn't yet in full swing (apparently most of the markets properly take off in December). Though many of the stalls were not open, the market was decorated in a cute yet traditional way and all lit up.

Shielded from the drizzle, we sipped at a very strong-tasting glühwein (German mulled wine seems to be more spicy and less sweet than its French counterpart) and nibbled on fried apple rings. Then we passed by a few currywurst shacks, hoping not to catch a whiff of the dreaded specialty: bratwurst smothered in curry ketchup! Blech.

Along the glistening streets we strolled, finally reaching Checkpoint Charlie (one of the crossing points between West Berlin and East Berlin in the Cold War). We could see an old-fashioned army outpost with two actors dressed up like American soldiers who were posing for photos with tourists. By this time we too were growing weary, so we hopped onto the metro and found our way back to the hotel where we relaxed for a while before heading out to dinner at a nearby Italian restaurant. We all slept very well that night.

Today's post was almost called: Golden Ladies, Green Men, and Colourful Things You Should Not Do To Sausages