Berlin: East, West and All OverSeptember 29, 2017 in Germany
Bratwurst, currywurst, schnitzel, these are a few of our favourite things .... and German beer. Perhaps we should have started with: our names are Jason and Ricky, we are alcoholics and have been sober two days (maybe not two consecutive days). But all jokes aside, Berlin is known for more than just sausage and beer. It’s famous for its festivals, diverse architecture, contemporary arts and (in)famous for its nightlife: Berlin the party city. Oh, and of course it’s known for lederhosen, which was evident from all the leather shops in Schönenberg. No cow would last long in Berlin.
But before we could join the party in Berlin, we had to get out of the chaos that is Lisbon airport. Check-in could be likened to a Disneyland ride with its long, snaking lines but without the option to get a fast-pass, and the ride was flying budget airline TAP Portugal. With a hive of activity everywhere, we were alert but not alarmed until we found a lonely bag sitting in the security line. Everyone kept looking at the bag, thinking that if we looked hard enough it might disappear and if we cleared it by a foot it might not explode. Turns out it belonged to someone who was just lazy and couldn’t be bothered carrying it. Crisis averted.
Travelling from the warm Mediterranean climate of Lisbon, the body had to acclimatise to the cool and rainy weather of Berlin. Unfortunately, we only had one and a half days of sunshine in the party city but that didn’t stop us. It provided a great excuse to party hard – plus it was Ricky’s birthday so double the excuse to miss our alcoholics anonymous meetings. One day, we were house-bound as hurricane winds and rain swept through northern and eastern Germany, devastating many areas and killing seven people. We watched as the nearby trees violently swayed, narrowly missing cars and buildings.
Before the storm broke out, we were able to brave the cold to visit some of the ironic monuments and places in Berlin. It started with a trip to visit Angela Merkel in the Reichstag (Parliament House) and the Brandenburg Gate, which didn’t seem as impressive in real life compared to the postcard, although it is a national symbol of German unity. Speaking of which, not only did the weather dampen our plans but so did German Unity day and Sundays, when there were no shops open. Oh well, time for another drink and wander around the city.
Even in the rain, the Berlin Wall is enigmatic and it is easy to see how it has shaped the ethos of the city. It conjures up images of desperate people trying to flee the East to gain freedom in the West, and the many people who never made it. The Berlin Wall Memorial and Checkpoint Charlie gave some insight into life during those turbulent years before reunification. The atrocities committed by the Nazis is covered at the Topography of Terrors and the Monument to the Murdered Jews of Europe but it could have delved deeper into the hideous acts of genocide to remind people and remind them never to repeat history. This may have been saved for the concentration camps, which we avoided.
On a lighter note (although still influenced by the divide between East and West Berlin) was the street art of Eastside Gallery and Friedrichshain straßenkunst. While East Berlin may have been officially cut-off from the West for four decades, nowadays it’s full of activity and creativity. The party doesn’t seem to end in Berlin. In fact, it seems most people don’t go out until 2am, which was the perfect environment to celebrate Ricky’s birthday, celebrations that seemed to last the whole week.
Schönenberg, where we stayed, was littered with all kinds of bars, clubs and other entertainment establishments, which made it easy to do the old pub crawl. The highlight had to have been a club in East Berlin, in between Kreuzberg and Friedrichshain, which is notorious for refusing people entry, including Paris Hilton. Admittedly there are different parts to the club and we managed to get ourselves into one of the sections that didn’t seem so selective or maybe we were just lucky. It certainly wasn’t anything that we had experienced before.
Another experience not had before was the luxury of the Waldorf Astoria, as a special treat for Ricky’s birthday. From heated-floor tiles in the bathroom to the TV built into the bathroom mirror, we had gone from rags to riches. Unfortunately Cinderella had to return back to rags after a night of luxury. Her pumpkin coach turned into a metro train/bus and her palace into a guesthouse - at least this time it wasn’t flowers in the attic.
Before living it up with the elite rich, we were stationed in the broom closet of a gay guesthouse in Schönenberg, with a bed that was positioned in the attic. For two men 6 foot+, it proved a challenge to get into bed without causing a concussion. While in bed it was difficult to block out the sound of sirens, as police, ambulance and fire engines sped past, playing an almost melodic tune that was slightly off-key and with a key-change midway. But we were in Berlin and nothing, not even the weather, could detract from the experience. Ich liebe Berlin.
Next stop: Venice
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