Tuesday 18 December 2012

I’m not normally too good at discretion. Consider me tickled discrete, then, to have got from the 23rd of October to today without telling MJEA that I was taking her to Berlin for her birthday. Well, I say that. I did tell her last night. But still I think it is a sterling effort. Well done me.

I tell you – if I go to Germany much more often I will start to develop clinical efficiency and a knowing sense of dry humour. This is the sixth time I have been to Germany in six years! Maybe fifth. Or seventh. Five seems more realistic. Let’s do it by cities: Stuttgart, Cologne, Hamburg, Dusseldorf, Munich and now Berlin. But Stuttgart and Cologne were in one trip so, yes, fifth seems about right. FIVE TIMES! In SIX years! And one of them was a double-header. So really it’s FOUR times in SIX years. With an average visit length of 2.5 days. Call me Herr Bruckenhausen.

If I hadn’t known where I was – and this is a silly hypothetical seeing as I arranged coming to Berlin and there are signs everywhere en route – it would have been quite easy to get it narrowed down to mainland Europe by the graffiti and the young women below the waist. That latter characteristic sounds a bit sinister. I don’t mean in a paedo-y way. This may be gross generalisation, but your female mainland European aged 15-30 is likely to wear very tight jeans and a walking boot.

The beauty of doing a mini-break is that you aren’t away for long. One of the drawbacks of this is there is quite a lot to squeeze in if you are somewhere interesting. We’d got to the hotel a couple of hours before check-in but they let us check in anyway. Great service – great energy. We were therefore able to hit the strassers of Berlin straight away – and be fucking knackered by tea-time.

Fair dos, though, we packed some stuff in. Straight off the bat we had some currywurst. MJEA had never had the pleasure (I know!) so I got to witness try currywurst for the first time. If you have never witnessed it – or tried them yourself – get to Germany sharpish and order some. I’d advise saying “one curry-worst” and maybe pointing at the sign. Does the trick for me.

Bang. From there we had a look at a really tall TV tower[PICTURE 1]. Bosh – a church [PICTURE 2]. Fair fucks – as an atheist the prospect of a church shouldn’t be that interesting. But…I like buildings and Christmas – and churches, ever keen to court popularity, don’t mind having a bit of a Christmass-y vibe about them. More often than not they will at least have a nativity and a tree. The whole atmosphere is generally ruined by lots of stuff about Jesus and pictures of him nailed to a cross – and this church in Berlin was no different on that score.

Biff – the first Christmas market was next. I found a hat I really liked. But at €15 I wasn’t about to part with my currency. I bet I will find a better one than that, I thought. And swaggered away with the self-assured footing of a man confident that he will definitely find a better hat. Then we hit a gallery – The Deutsche Guggenheim. It was only their Visions of Modernity exhibit. There was some good stuff in there: Cézanne, Kandinsky,Picasso.  And there is a  Van Gogh there – which the website doesn’t seem to admit is there, bit odd. My favourite one was this one by Robert Delaunay. Cultured to fuck, me.

Then: more walking and looking at buildings. We also did the gift shop for the traffic lights. Berlin has commercialised the red and green men you get on pedestrian crossings. You can get them on everything – pens, pencils, t-shirts, jumpers, flannels and light aircraft. The fact that these have become a brand isn’t the most peculiar thing about the pedestrian crossing – it’s that they are a fucking death trap. Red definitely means ‘don’t cross’. But ‘green man’ seems to mean ‘cross-but-cars-might-still-be-allowed-to-go-through-really-quickly’. Just seems an odd element of road safety to have a grey area in. What do I know? I can’t even tell the difference between red and green.

Then we walked down to the Brandenburg Gate [PICTURE 3]. It now stands as a monument to the new unified and democratic Germany. Yes, that is irony. In your face intended meaning of those who built it. Modern Germany has created a new second level of signification. Of course there is a Starbucks there as well. I couldn’t figure out if we were OK to go in a German Starbucks. They were definitely a lot busier than English Starbucks are of late. Were the Germans pumping money into the company that was not paying British taxes on purpose? Was this all some petty revenge because they lost TWO wars against us? Get over it Germany – stop going on about the bloody wars! We’re over it – we’re not living in the past. And why would we? We only WON them and it certainly wasn’t the last good thing we did. We did the Olympics this year.

From the B-burg Gate it was a short walk to the Holocaust Memorial [PICTURE 4]. It is a very poignant memorial. You could be literal and say it is just a load of slabs of concrete in Berlin. But, like most art, it is much more than its literal constituent parts and there was something quite meaningful walking around it. Of course I as the viewer am probably imbuing the meaning with significance because of my knowledge. Or something. Pete and Bernie’s Philosophical Steakhouse indeed.

Then we went to the Reichstag [PICTURE 5]. As the host of the German parliament it is clearly going to be an impressive building. But it would be one we would have to go and look at later as you have to book a viewing and there were no vacancies until half-past-five and it was ruddy half-past-three!  Yes, it was only half-past-three and we’d done all that stuff that I’d described above.

To kill some time – just time, that is all we were killing: no need to erect memorials to remind us not to do it again – we walked to Checkpoint Charlie. We took in the site of Hitler’s Bunker along the way. I wasn’t sure about this to be honest. I am interested in history and, as regular readers will know, The Dark Charisma of Adolf Hitler was a fixture of my Monday nights for consecutive weeks recently. I thought there might be something a bit gruesome (in a celebratory way) about visiting the general area of his death. I needn’t have worried, though. There was just some information on a noticeboard.

Checkpoint Charlie [PICTURE 6] was further away than we thought it was. I’d not had much sleep, liquid or food all day and was beginning to feel a bit light-headed. This was definitely the most unfortunate and weakened anyone has ever been in Germany. I carried on, though. Some might say this this was ‘my struggle’. Did you see what I did there? Yes, I got an Oasis song title in there. CC is still there – ANOTHER reminder of things ‘they’ did wrong in the past that they should have learn from. Of course there is now a McDonalds there – which I had two lattes in. And a cookie. I certainly now had a feeling how those in the East had felt under the communist regime. One of the Guards from CC came in for his tea [PICTURE 7] which made it seem even more like I was living in communist East Germany; what could be more reminiscent one that culture than a McDonalds next to a checkpoint soldier?

After energy levels had been restored it was time to make our way back to The Reichstag for to have a walk around. One of the best bits was after we got in and got to the desk where they hand out headsets for tour/information type purposes. The man handing out the sets said, “Spanish or Italian?” to us. I had to admit we were English but thanked him for the compliment. Or perhaps he just thought I looked racist. The Reichstag’s new bit – which is essentially the bit you go in on the tour – was designed by the British architect Norman Foster and is pretty fucking impressive [PICTURE 8]. However the bizarre vertigo I suffer from means I couldn’t appreciate all of it. I am fine with being high up and looking out over a city, so I was fine with much of the tour (“Stop and look towards the large tower you can see, this was built in etc.”) but the bits where you had to look inside and down…I was not OK with. If there is a possibility of me being able to fall down a space then I don’t like looking down. My head thinks “you could easily just fall over this ledge while you are looking down.” I don’t like it.

We had obviously exerted a lot of energy in the last few hours. We got back to the hotel for a quick stop and both fell asleep and didn’t get around to the going out for tea bit of the plans. Thanks Berlin: you interesting dick.

ChristAdventurous #18: Berlin Collage

Berlin

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