Berlin, On The Third Day

After a solid twelve hours of sleep, I awoke with the confidence that jet lag had been avoided. The day before I had seen a guy just down from the Trabi Museum who had set up a table on the corner and was selling old pins and uniform parts from the DDR (East Germany) and USSR (USSR). I spied two that I would like to add to my collection but was out of cash so I went a few blocks to an ATM and hoped to return and buy them. I got distracted and never made it.

When I awoke to no rain yet, as had been forecast, I decided to head back that direction and see if he was set up. It also helped he was across the street from the Air Service Berlin-Welt Balloon. It’s a giant tethered helium balloon that has a caged gondola suspended below it for the humans.

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The Giant Balloon

I had spied it the day before and was curious but was sold once I learned you got a discount with the Berlin Welcome Card. It was well worth it. I could have sworn they said it went up 350m, but the website says 150m. Either way, it was a great view.

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After descending, I crossed the street to buy my pins. I think pins and buttons make great souvenirs. They are small, inexpensive, and you can show off where you have been. I’ve got a whole box full of them. Now with a few from the DDR.

My plan after that was to go to the giant tower seen in one of the above photos: The Fernsehturm. It was built as a giant TV tower in East Berlin, but more than that, I think it was a giant communist middle finger to the West. I figured it would be cool to check out the view from there so I headed to Alexanderplatz.

As I popped out of the U-Bahn station I saw the tower right away.

Big Ol' Tower
Suck It, Capitalists!

Just one little thing got in my way: and Oktoberfest celebration at Alexanderplatz. German fair food and beer? I’m not made of stone! So I bought some German bread and cheese for dinner later and grabbed a beer.

After checking out the fest, I walked toward the tower but once again got sidetracked when I found the Neptunbrunnen, a great fountain with a Neptune-water theme.

Neptunbrunnen

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With apologies to this young lady, I don’t know her, but this was perfect.

Also, you notice how the patina is worn off of the statue’s left breast? Stupid tourists copping a feel. No class.

After taking way to many photos here, I saw a building off in the distance that I was drawn to. It turns out it was the Berliner Dom, a church built by the Kaiser to be a German version of St. Peter’s. Of course I climbed up to the dome. I really am to old for stuff like that, but can’t resist. My calves were feeling it the next day, but the view was cool.

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After huffing it up and down the stairs, it was time to enter the Hohenzollern Crypt. I love crypts. I love cemeteries and crypts are indoor cemeteries that usually have very interesting monuments. In the crypt are entombed scores of Hohenzollerns from kings and queens to princes and assorted other royalty.

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Whenever I’m in a big church and am wandering around the crypt, I can’t help but think that these aristocrats would be aghast if they knew a commoner like me was stomping about their final resting place. It just goes to show you that no matter what your status is in life, we are all gonna die and once that happens we are all in the same gang.

After the crypt, I hit my first Hit, a grocery store I saw earlier in the day. I love visiting grocery stores when I travel. It is fascinating to see what people buy in different places.

I grabbed a few items and went back to the hotel to plan the next day.

Berlin Day Zwei

My hotel is just around the corner from Tegel Airport (of Berlin Airlift fame) which means it is not in the center of Berlin so a 30-40 minute U-Bahn ride would take me to my first stop of the day. The U-Bahn was a bit confusing to me. (I think my experience with Tokyo’s subway this April has spoiled me on all other transit systems) I was able to purchase a Berlin Welcome Card at the station from a kiosk.

For 32.50 euro I get unlimited public transit lines for 4 days plus lots of discounts at tourist spots. If you plan on going to many sites that have fees, you will make your money back pretty quickly. There is an optional Museum Pass that you can get that gets you free admission to many of the big museums. Since I did not buy my museum pass with my Berlin Welcome Card, it costs more, but will still save me money once I’m done with seeing everything on Museum Island. You can order both in advance, but I didn’t due to the high cost of shipping to the US.

I decided to see the Brandenburg Gate first thing in the morning because I figured it would be less crowded. What I did not count on was the Berlin Marathon being this weekend, so while there may not have been as many tourists there were quite a few competitors and crew there getting ready. It was impressive.

B-Gate
Tourists!
Quadriga
Napoleon stole this. They got it back.

I walked around and then headed towards the Reichstag because it was so close. I did not tour it, but did take some nice pics. Walking back through the gate, I stopped in by the Berlin Tourism office there to get some info and buy a museum pass.

I headed east down Bundesstraße 2 to by some postcard stamps and get a few souvenirs. En route I came across a giant building that looked interesting.

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I grabbed my camera and took a few photos through the gate. It was while zooming in to the top I saw what this place used to be. The old Soviet embassy in East Berlin.

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You can change the signs, but these parts are a bit harder to change.

As I walked along it became clear that the old USSR embassy was now the Russian embassy. It only made sense.

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Russian Embassy

They had at least two rose bushes behind the walls. I was kind of impressed to see the softer side of Russia.

Russian Embassy
“Mr. Gorbachev, plant roses behind this wall!”

I decided that chocolate makes the best souvenir to bring to people back home so I went to Ritter Sport Bunte Schokowelt. It’s kind of like an M&M store but for Ritter Sport. You can get custom mixed bars that are done in about half an hour. Of course during that half hour you get to wander through the rest of the store and buy more chocolate. They do have Ritter Sport in the US, but this place had many types we do not see there and at a much better price.

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One of those is mine. White chocolate-cranberry-raspberry. It will be eaten.

Looking at all that candy made me hungry so my next stop was The German Currywurst Museum. I’ve never had currywurst before but had read about it and figured that was as good a place as any to have lunch.

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Three styles of currywurst. My first!

The museum was small but interesting and had lost of info on the food itself as well as convenience foods in general. The admission came with a sample of currywurst, but I ate before going into the museum so I passed.

I only recently learned about the East German auto called Trabant, or Trabi. Turns out there are Trabi fans out there and there is a Trabi Museum in Berlin. For the very resonable fee of only 2.50 euros (with the Berlin Welcome Card discount!), you can tour it. It has a few different models of Trabis to see and lots of info on the cars and thier place in East German society.

Trabi
They look like this.
Trabi Engine
Here is a view from under the hood.

 

I exited through the gift shop and noted a giant balloon across the street and made a note to check it out later. After strolling along one of the last remaining stretches of the Berlin Wall, I rounded a corner to see the last remianing East German guard tower.

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Here is the last DDR Berlin Wall guard tower.

I friendly lady at its base will tell you in German or English all about it and for 3.50 euros you can climb up the ladders inside to the top. I am old and out of shape, but decided that there may not be another chance to do this, so I paid my fare and up I climbed.

Today it is surrounded by trees and development instead of the barren “death strip” they were guarding so it is kind of hard to picture what they were doing up there.

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View from the tower.

Climbing up was one thing, but like a cat who climbed up into a tree, I was not sure I could get down.

Down
Don’t look down.

As I was descending all I could think of was slipping and meeting my grizzly death at the bottom. Killed by a desire to see what was up top and a total lack of climbing skills in what might have been one of the last and certainly the dumbest casualties of the Cold War. Obviously I made it since I don’t think you can blog from the afterlife.

I hopped the U-Bahn back to the hotel and too tired to go to dinner, ate snacks and drank German wine all purchased from the vending machine in the lobby. I do feel some shame about this, but it’s my vacation so if I wanna drink vending machine wine I will.

 

Berlin Day Eins

My flight landed at Berlin Tegel in the early afternoon and my anticipated meeting with German border guards never happened. Thanks to the Schengen Agreement, which I was aware of but did not quite understand, my passport / visa moment took place in Paris at the airport before I got on my connecting flight to Berlin. The guy there did not even look at me so that eliminated any chance of my long, gray beard causing an issues.  So I just grabbed my bags and walked right out of the airport and got a taxi.

With the possible exception of when I almost started a bar fight in Trinidad, I have rarely run into someone while traveling that has been unpleasant. My taxi driver is now on that very short list. I showed him the address for my hotel and he immediately said the one swear word I know in German and then sort of mumbled it a few times under his breath on the short trip to my hotel. Sorry guy, I’m almost as bummed as you that you are only taking me around the corner to the Holiday Inn and not straight down to Austria. Maybe next time. I tipped him well, because I believe in karma and I was not going to do anything to justify (in his mind at least) his anger.

I showered fully intending to go out and at least see one or two things before nightfall but my age and lack of sleep caught up with me. I ordered room service and went to bed. I envy people who can sleep on airplanes, I really do. I can’t and had been up for about 30 straight hours.  I convinced myself that 12 hours of sleep tonight would trump anything I would see in Berlin that evening and I stand by that decision. If I wanted to go out on the town just after arriving I should have come here when I was in my early 20s.

 

Paris Layover

I have about a 4 hour layover at CDG on my way to Berlin. Which is good since after deplaning I had to go through security and have a passport check. These I did not expect since I was just passing through and not leaving the airport. Maybe that’s normal, I’ve never had a connecting international flight before. On the plus side I did get a passport stamp!

Now coffee and fumbling through Le Monde before I go in search of cheesy souvenirs. I did see some macaroons on my way in to the lounge. I’ve never had any, but think I will wait until I come to visit Paris properly in November with some friends.