Friday, 7 June 2013

How to fill 5 weeks in Berlin

By Ellen

We steered away from the typical tourist trip to Berlin since both Alex and I have visited this lovely city before. At some point we decided to embark on an intense historical discovery trip, sucking up every juicy historical fact this country would let us have. We were surprised to realise how much of the German big picture we had either forgotten about or over-looked.

Looking like a bit of a tourist at Checkpoint Charlie
After reading every detail in the new open air exhibition at Checkpoint Charlie (along the Berlin wall), about what happened in Germany and what other countries it was involved with from the end of WW2 to the fall of the Berlin wall, for the first time I really began to take an interest in how I fitted into the whole picture. I began to consider the fact that the wall came down only days before I was born (sometimes when you read about history you feel it happened in another life time, in another world, but really the horror of the Berlin wall happened just around the corner). I also for the first time really thought about how my dad and my relatives lived in a divided Germany. Furthermore, how Jenny (my best friend from Düsseldorf, same age as me) was born into the "new Germany" and that her parents experienced the dramatic events of this time that shaped the world. Never had I really realised that such major historical events directly effected the people so close to me.

An interesting side fact: Checkpoint Charlie got its name because along the American sector there were checkpoints 'A', 'B' and 'C'. When the military referred to these they used 'alpha', 'bravo', and 'charlie'.

As our time in Berlin is now drawing to a close, I believe I should do a quick wrap up of our highlights from the last 5 weeks (I'll leave the art experiences to our professional on tour artist). So, we have..........

Visited the massive Deutsches Technikmuseum and looked at the first computer which took up one whole room. German trains from early 1900's to today, which included Hitler's own train which he used to travel between European headquarters. Old military planes, the first passenger plane made from corrugated steel, old cargo and war ships, and a historic brewery which explained German beer making with purity laws.

We saw Queen Nefertiti's bust in the Neues Museum. She's from about 1340 B.C. from Amarna, Egypt, and wow she is beautiful. I was driven to visit this museum because I had been before as a child. My mum was really excited to see the bust and paid a ridiculously high entrance fee for her, me and my brother to go. But due to our immaturity my brother and I wanted to touch everything in the museum which led my poor mother with no other option but to basically run through the museum, past the bust and straight out the back door before she was billed millions of dollars for a broken ancient artifact. So because I had been there but never really seen the bust I had to go back and see what my mum made all the fuss about, and I'm glad I did.

Ishtar Gate of ancient Babylon
We were also amazed by the Ishtar Gates of Babylon in the Pergamon. Before Athens flourished, Babylon was the capital of the empire Mesopotamia (6th century B.C). Situated on the river of Euphrates (where you now find Iraq), Babylon was a thriving metropolis, center for international trade and the abode of the god Marduk and his powerful priesthood. After the Persians conquered the country, the Romans conquered Europe, and Alexander the Great died before being able to reclaim Babylon as the capital, Babylon fell and was then on referred to as "The Babylonian Whore" (the city's name in the Bible). The city was slowly deserted.

The Processional Way and the Ishtar Gate are the most famous buildings of Babylon. The city was confined by walls and these buildings paved the entrance way. The glazed coloured bricks of the walls of the Processional Way, about 250 m long, and the gate depicted two rows of striding lions (symbols of the goddess Ishtar), dragons and bulls (symbols of the gods Marduk and Adad). Quite a site, and a warning, for anyone entering the city.

Totally obsessed with Ritter Sport
We've also been twice (and probably 3 times by the time we leave) to the Ritter Sport headquarters shop to buy stupid amounts of amazing pocket sized chocolate. Ritter's Sport Schokolade produced as a square tablet was launched in 1932 after Clara, Alfred Ritter's wife, suggested creating a chocolate bar that would fit into every sport jacket pocket without breaking. We agree, it was a good idea.

We have been lucky enough to see two free lunch concerts by the Philharmonie. They have this fantastic program where ever Tuesday lunch time they have a short free concert in their foyer so that people who can't afford to see their shows can still experience their talent. We saw one show with opera singers from the Philharmoniker academy and one show by a professional strings quartet. Of course watching these pros makes you feel like you should totally learn to play an instrument looks so easy...right?!

Street art in Berlin's clubs
Pretty much when we first arrived we went to an awesome flea market in a club. It's quite common in Berlin for places to be clubs by night then markets or events during the day because most clubs are in abandoned buildings so they can be practically used for anything. The club we went to was called 'der Kater' which we learnt means 'hangover'.

Wind surfing on the old Tempelhof runway.
When we lived in Neükolln we played around with the air-skateboarders and air-windsurfers at Tempelhofer park. Since there is not much ocean around Berlin but plenty of wind these guys improvised a little. Tempelhof was once an airport but has been converted into a massive inner city park. You can still run on the old runway.

We got the best view of Berlin twice, once from the top of the Siegessäule (or Victory Column, symbol of Prussian military victory from the 19th century and also the place where Obama made his US Presidential candidate speech to 200,000 Berliners on July 24, 2008 ) and the Reichstag (parliament). For any of you who are familiar with Berlin, the Siegessäule was originally located in front of the Reichstag but was relocated to the Tiergarten in 1938 by the Nazi's because it got in their way when they redesigned the city.
You can see all of Berlin from the glass dome on top of the Reichstag
From the Siegessäule you can see straight to the Brandenburg Gate
OK that is not really even near a full 5 weeks but enough information overload for now. More to come from Alex so keep on your toes till then.

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Busy in Berlin

By Ellen

We've been waiting for it for weeks and finally its seems that the sun is really coming out in Berlin now. Of course it's always after just buying a heap of jumpers and a big coat that the sun decides to instantly end the unusual long European winter that was going on!

Painting the Altes Museum in Berlin
With the gorgeous change in weather we now find ourselves picnic-ing daily in Berlin's MASSIVE city parks. Equipped with chocolate coated biscuits and a flask of tea, we settle in a grassy spot for the afternoon so that Alex can paint something and I basce in the sun like a roasting lizard.

Every morning we attend language classes (which I forced Alex to join with me). For 4 hours our crazy old German teacher attempts to teach 1 Japanese, 1 Mongolia, 1 Korean, 1 Frenchy and us 2 Aussies how to say things like "the cup is on the table", "the mouse is in the fridge" and "the bed is in the bedroom" - great conversation starters for bars, only problem is from there we can't continue the conversation because we've exhausted all our German and all we can do is continent to point out the position of simple objects. The best part of class is when our teacher leads off on to completely random tangents (happens often) and tells us in German about how the story of Hansel and Gretle portrays why witches were burnt to death or explains to us all the different beers and sausages we have to try. Then he teaches us the key German words from the story. Awesome!! So yes everyday Alex and I go to school with our textbooks, packed sandwiches, pens, highlighters and then we sit down and argue with each other about what's's like a normal day in highschool. 

 We have lived in Berlin for almost 5 weeks now. We lived for 2 weeks in Neukoln (south-east Berlin position wise but was part of West Berlin) which is the newest Surryhills of Berlin. Because the city keeps expanding, the "in" suburb keeps changing as suburbs are forced to undergo gentrification. Gentrification is the most hated word in Berlin, commonly referred to or written in the street as 'gentri-fuck-cation'. Because of historically cheap rent in Berlin, foreigners from all over have flocked to this amazing city. Quite rapidly the central city area filled and in recent years has begun to expand. Those suburbs historically lying on the outskirts, like Neukoln, were home for the poor and minorities. These groups could only afford to live in these suburbs and now for a couple generations have built lives there. Due to the influx of foreigners pushing city expansion, rent all over Berlin has been driven through the roof. Outlying suburbs like Neukoln are no longer on the outskirts and those who have always lived there can no longer as theses suburbs are done-up so that tourist prices can be set. 

 A great example is the area around Tempelhofer Flughafen in Neukoln. Tempelhof Flughafen was once a working airport on the southern outskirts of Berlin. At this time Neukoln was considered the 'pits' of Berlin (this is even how my dad remembers it). It was a rough, nasty area. The apartment blocks around the area had cheap rent if you could endure the daily noise of the airport. Those who were poor probably thought they were lucky enough to even settle there and build a life. The airport has now been converted into a massive inner city park and some of the most expensive apartments now surround it. Those who lived there before definitely can't afford it any more. 
How Berlin was divided by the wall.

 We then moved to Wedding (north-west Berlin and part of the former West Berlin). Another rough outskirts city undergoing gentrification. However there is one vitally important aspect of living in a Turkish concentrated area - unlimited supply of baklava!!!

I admit I am a little behind with our reporting (yes it's my fault because I promised Alex I would write the next entry) so more photos and reports of our adventures coming ASAP.