No time to write (or read) a proper travel blog, so I'll just use this and try for short updates.
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  • Day53

    Berlin - Red Berlin Tour

    September 22, 2015 in Germany ⋅ ☀️ 18 °C

    Having seen a lot of Nazi stuff the past few days, we wanted to see a little more of the history behind the Berlin Wall and Soviet control. So, another walking tour!

    The tour visited the Russian embassy (#1), still with the hammer and sickle emblem on it, and one of the few buildings that doesn't care about municipal building regulations, so it's very different from the rest of the street.

    We visited a "ghost station", where the entire subway station was bricked up (three walls per entrance!) and guarded to stop east Berliners escaping to the west. These routes were still used by the west because they started and ended in the west but passed under east-German territory in the middle.

    We also went to an interesting little museum that chronicled the beginning and end of the wall, including propaganda news from both sides.

    We of course saw the wall itself, or rather, some sections of it that are still around, mostly covered in graffiti. They also told us some interesting stories about the stasi: how at it's height, 1/6 of the population was giving them information; how they stole people's socks for a scent collection for tracking; how they meticulously kept records of minute details; how they shredded the records when being overthrown, only to put the shredded paper in huge plastic bags, allowing it to be slowly pieced back together (still going to this day); how released records later allowed people to find out their best friend, husband, or wife had been spying on them. Scary.
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  • Day53

    Berlin - More Food

    September 22, 2015 in Germany ⋅ ☀️ 15 °C

    One food I had to try in Berlin was the famous currywurst, apparently born from the mishmash/limits of supplies available during the Berlin Wall era. It's a sliced up sausage, doused in curry-ketchup, with curry powder sprinkles, quite delicious! Also a special fork was invented just for eating it.

    Next up, the ketwurst, which, as you may have guessed, is a ketchup-covered sausage (super inventive names going on here). What makes this one more interesting is that a hole is cut in the bun so the sausage, dipped in ketchup, can be inserted and ketchup doesn't leak out. This was actually invented by a special food ministry in east Germany during the wall era.

    Continuing my *wurst quest, bockwurst, served traditionally with mustard and bun.

    I also tried Berlin doner kebabs, made in a quarter pita-ish bread instead of a wrap. Cheap and tasty! (Forgot to take a pic).

    Finally, I tried Königsberger Klopse, a traditional dish of meatballs and potatoes in creamy sauce, yum!
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  • Day52

    Berlin - Sachsenhausen

    September 21, 2015 in Germany ⋅ ⛅ 16 °C

    After the slightly saddening walking tour yesterday, we decided to go full on losing-faith-in-humanity mode with a tour of Sachsenhausen concentration camp. This was one of the main concentration camps used by the Nazis, but you don't hear about it as much as others because instead of being liberated by the Allies, it was liberated and reused by the Soviets for their own political prisoners. The former administration for all concentration camps and the SS training buildings were nearby too.

    Sachsenhausen was a sort of experimental camp, where, in addition to various "medical experiments" testing the various limits of human bodies (oxygen deprivation, freezing, drugs, ...), they experimented with more efficient ways to lay out the camp (fanning out from a central point so a mounted machine gunner could see everywhere), and ways of killing people (an elaborate fake health check-up so they could efficiently shoot non-resisting people and minimise traumatising the shooter).

    I think it was the methodical planning and efficiency for murdering and torturing people that really got to me after a while. It was kind of disturbing, but will definitely be something I remember and appreciate having seen.
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  • Day51

    Berlin - Gyurme Arrives & Walking Tour

    September 20, 2015 in Germany ⋅ ⛅ 15 °C

    Gyurme arrived at the airport in the morning and I met him there so he wouldn't have to figure out how to get to the apartment / become lost and confused in a foreign city.
    After bringing his bags back to the apartment, and me having relatively little concern for whether Gyurme had had any sleep in the last 30 hours or so, we headed back downtown to do the main city walking tour.

    This tour started at the Brandenburg Gate (very pretty) and the guide pointed out that the statue on top always seems to be glaring at the French embassy (Napoleon took it to Paris after defeating Prussia. The statue was originally Eirene, the goddess of peace (wow, Mum, I didn't know your name fit so well!), riding peace into Berlin, but was later changed to be Victoria, the Goddess of Victory.

    The tour also went through the "Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe". Even just the name bluntly hits you a bit. The memorial itself is a lot of (2711) concrete slabs in a sort of undulating hill sloping up while the ground beneath them slopes down. Inside it is dim, quiet, and kind of eerie. There's no official explanation for what the slabs represent, as long as it makes you think about what happened.

    After leaving the memorial, we went on to see the former Luftwaffe HQ building (very huge and imposing), complete with soviet-era bright happy murals from when it was the East Germany House of Ministries (#4). In front, blown up to the same scale as the murals, is the reality of that era: a photograph of protesters during an uprising that was suppressed by military force.

    Finally, we visited Checkpoint Charlie (a fake tourist attraction now) and a lovely square (Gendarmenmarkt) with two churches (competing to be the biggest) and a concert house building.
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  • Day50

    Berlin - Food

    September 19, 2015 in Germany ⋅ ⛅ 18 °C

    Naturally, one of the first things I did in Berlin was to head to the supermarket. They have great freshly baked bread and a sort of strudel, very cheap too (35c each).

    I also found some... interestingly-named chocolates (I didn't buy them) and cola flavour red bull (nothing special, really just tastes like cola).

    Later I went in search of coffee and ordered a latte macchiato - hoping it was similar to a latte. Turns out it was this thing (#5) with hot milk and loads of thick foam, with an espresso shot poured carefully between. Might have been ok if it wasn't UHT milk, eww!
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  • Day50

    Berlin - Exploring Alexanderplatz

    September 19, 2015 in Germany ⋅ ⛅ 19 °C

    I had a glorious sleep in on my first full day in Berlin, and didn't want to do a walking tour yet because Gyurme would arrive the next day and would also want to go, so I decided to explore the shopping area called Alexanderplatz.

    It's a large area with open plazas between shops and food stalls, and a big indoor mall at one end. It also has some interesting fountains and sculptures like this huge clock that shows the time in cities around the world.
    It's also the home of the TV Tower, the tallest structure in Germany.

    I found amusing confirmation of the German love of simulation games (a whole row dedicated to them in the computer store) and also found a store clearly owned by one of my old lecturers.

    After walking around all day, I managed to buy a new pair of shoes, necessary because, at this point my shoes were leaking in water through the soles when it rained.
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  • Day49

    Berlin - Arrival

    September 18, 2015 in Germany ⋅ ⛅ 18 °C

    Arrived in Berlin, and tried to sort out a SIM card (my UK Three SIM works in every country I'm visiting except Germany and The Netherlands >.<). Turns out the best SIM cards for data/roaming are sold from Aldi supermarket chains.

    Oh yeah, the Berlin Hauptbahnhof (main train station) is very impressive: big, clean, and compact, packed with shops around the sides.

    I didn't have time to get a SIM because I was already running late to get to my accommodation - this time a more BnB style private apartment, where the owner was actually waiting for me to arrive so she could give me the key and information.

    I quickly worked out the Berlin public transit system (very straightforward and efficient) and headed for the apartment. Transit is mostly trust-based, so no barriers/checking except for getting on buses and apparently lurking plain-clothes ticket inspectors (I never saw any).

    The apartment was nice (outside photo stolen from Google as I forgot to take one), but had no WiFi(!!!), which, compounded with my lack of phone internet access, and being the only one there, made it feel very isolating all of a sudden. Especially after being at hostels. Also, it had the German sit-down-to-pee sign on the toilet - it's a real thing after all!
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  • Day49

    Copenhagen/Berlin - Vogelfluglinie

    September 18, 2015 in Germany ⋅ ☀️ 17 °C

    Taking the train from Copenhagen to Berlin (via Hamburg), I hadn't really bothered to analyse the route, so I was a bit surprised when the train stopped in a weird building that didn't look like a train station, with a truck parked alongside.
    Next thing, they told everyone to get off the train and I found myself in the hold of a big ferry. Upstairs, the ferry was really nice and I had a nice cruise across the (Baltic?) sea. Lots of wind farms :D
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