Sunday, 12 March 2017

Berlin weekend trip, day two: AmpelKitsch und Footal Glitch

Berlin, Germany (Berlin, Deutschland)
20 November 2016
We were determined to make good use of our single full day in Berlin, and set out early for the sights.
Our first stop of the day was the Reichstag, a stately building used to house the German Parliament until WWII. Only restored after the German reunification, it is nonetheless grand and very patriotically flying dozens of flags.

Across the street, the large Großer Tiergarten was full of life: children climbing on a lion statue, tourists bumbling about, and entrepreneurs selling bretzels from their bicycle-stalls.

Following the crowd just down the road, we found ourselves gazing up at the Brandenburg Gate. Built in 1791 on the site of an old city gate, it is a symbol of peace and is one of the most recognisable monuments in Berlin. Towering over us all, it was suitably impressive and neoclassical. It was around this time that I realised my poor choice of footwear and worried that my toes would become frostbitten and fall off once I removed said shoes. Clearly, the combination of chilly German mornings, my inherited condition of bad circulation and canvas sneakers was less than ideal. Luckily, dad came to the rescue and told me to alternately stamp my feet and scrunch my toes, and that helped blood return to my distraught extremities.

Another sight very nearby was the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe: a vast jumble of stone blocks in various heights that are intended to disorient visitors in a symbolic gesture.
At a nearby tourist stall a fluffy hat caught my eye, and as I had thus far been improperly prepared for winter, I went ahead and bought it! I immediately felt better as my ears were hugged by the warm material, and I felt able to continue the frigid ramble.

From there we took a stroll down the road and admired the German architecture. A personal favourite  of mine was this attractive overbridge linking two buildings across the street from one another.

The French Church was up next on our outing, and it stood out bright and shining against the frail, wintery trees that surrounded it. The church construction began in 1701 in order to accommodate the large Huguenot population in Berlin, and was modelled off a razed Huguenot church in France.

Funnily enough, an almost identical church lurked at the other side of the square: the German Church. This was where German-speaking worshipers congregated, rather than in its French-speaking twin across the Gendarmenmarkt.

For lunch we visited Das Meisterstück, where I was able to chow down on some excellent tofu sausages with mushroom ragu. The restaurant was decked out in cuckoo clocks and quirky layers of wallpaper, with a large flaming oven/barbeque tended by a bearded man in an apron.

While on our route to Museum Island, we found ourselves outside Humboldt University, where in 1933 over twenty thousand books were burned by the Third Reich. A plaque in front of the university quotes Heinrich Heine: "This was but a prelude; where they burn books, they ultimately burn people".

Also along the way, we popped our heads into a memorial building, where we saw a strange scene involving wreaths and a cheerless sculpture. 

Ahhhhh, the Berliner Dom. How beautiful, with its turquoise domes and stately statues. Surrounded on all sides by the river, it stands on Museum Island alongside some other respectable buildings (such as museums, hence the name). As dad had never been inside a European church before, we simply had to enter. The fee was reasonable (€7); it was practically cheap if you compared it to the ridiculous £25 that Saint Paul's in London tries to charge you!

Inside turned out to be even more majestic than the exterior. After gazing around and up in awe for some time (and I told a lady off for using the flash on her camera - a definite no-no indicated with many signs), we decided to undertake the courageous feat of scaling the many steps up to the dom. It took a fair amount of time and a small amount of resting, but eventually we made it, and boy was it worth it!

At the tippy-top, where we were able to walk around the dome, we snapped many photos and panoramas of the cityscape. Though still only afternoon, the sky was beginning to light up in sunset colours, which were the icing on top of the cathedral. You can also see a lovely angle of my brand new hat, which was keeping my head terribly warm and cosy.

The Ampelmann apparently did not just resonate with one foreigner (aka me) but many, and has amassed quite a fanbase around the world. As such, it is only fitting that souvenir shops full of Ampelmann products are readily available for the eager public. Ampelmann snowglobes, teatowels, drinking glasses and wrapping paper only scratch the surface of this kitsch wunderland.
Next on the itinerary was the Hackesche Höfe: a series of interconnecting courtyards within a shopping complex. Unfortunately it wasn't quite as interesting as it sounds (and nothing compared to the excellent courtyards of Lyon), and we had no need for food or designer clothing, so we moved on. Briefly scoping out the Alexanderplatz, we found that the central hub was almost completely covered with Christmas market stalls. Alas, most of them were not functional, and we trotted off back to our hotel to take a much needed break.

That evening, Yannick and I went for a stroll around the Schöneberg area, where we dined at the Israeli Restaurant Feinberg's. Crispy falafel, tahini, and tabbouleh! Also, why not throw in a little fermented cabbage á la Allemagne? It wasn't quite sauerkraut, but was very similar, and went very well with the dish. We had intended to walk a bit further into Schöneberg after dinner to see the Rathaus, but we were much too full and staggered back to our beds. The Rathaus is where JFK famously spoke the words "Ich bin ein Berliner". Three days after his assassination, the square on which the Schöneberg Rathaus sits was renamed John-F.-Kennedy-Platz.

We awoke dreadfully early the next morning in order to catch our flight back to London, and this time there were no beer guzzlers on the train.

Today's post was almost called: Spawn of the Ampelmann (the Danke Meme of Berlin)