Berlin (Euro Trip 5; Thursday 25 September 2013)

After two days running ourselves into the ground in the name of culture, we planned an easier day today. We’d hoped to get out to Potsdam to visit the Sanssouci park and schloss, but the weather wasn’t in our favour so we decided to stay closer to home.

We started with a sobering walk around an outdoor memorial to the Berlin Wall. This was only a short walk from our apartment – the Wall itself ran along the end of our street – 25 years ago we would have been in East Berlin, literally a stone’s throw from the wall. So it was fascinating to imagine the Wall sealing off from the city centre what is now a main road, Bernauer Straße. (This map shows walking distance from our apartment to the memorial). There’s not a lot left of the Wall, already – some of the old fortifications are even being rediscovered by archeologists – but there was enough to give a sense of the Wall (actually two walls), guard towers and so on. An education centre had interesting videos and the talking platform erected on the Western side, enabling West Berliners to see over the wall and talk to their friends on the Eastern side.

After that we needed some light relief, and where better to get that than at (probably) the world’s only Ramones Museum….OK, the word museum is a bit of an exaggeration, it was really more like a fan’s personal archive of photos, posters, ticketstubs, set-lists and so on, but it was organised reasonably logically and there was enough there for a fan to learn more about the band (though probably not enough for a non-fan to see what the fuss was about). One poster brought back sad memories for me – it was the 1989 Australia and NZ tour, when the Wellington date was cancelled the day that we went to buy tickets for it. And so I never saw the Ramones (closest I came was having Dee Dee sign my t-shirt and book, but I couldn’t get into see him that night because he was sold out).

At this point Rhonda headed back for a rest, and I tried to find the Computer Games Museum. This took me on a walk out through East Berlin, Alexanderplatz and then Karl-Marx Allee. Both were incredible from an architectural point of view – huge open spaces with giant socialist office and apartment blocks. Some of these looked as grim as you’d expect (though none of them as bad as some of the housing in Elephant and Castle, say) but some of them looked perfectly pleasant, at least from the outside. K-M Allee was huge – I’m guessing it had been two parallel streets that were destroyed in the war, replaced by this single giant avenue. Impressive, but I’m guessing it wasn’t done just for show – it would be very handy to anyone who happened to want to quickly bring a large number of vehicles (tanks, say) up into central Berlin. I got lost and never found the museum, but the walk was worth it anyway.

Spent the evening trying to get into museums for free, as promised by Lonely Planet, but it looks as though they had their information wrong, because we couldn’t. Wandered around downtown looking at more giant buildings (Humbold university) as well as the French and German cathedrals guarding each end of a town square.

Finished the day with German tapas in Prenzlauer Berg. I went out for one drink in a local pub to see how the locals did it. Turned out that of 7 customers when I arrived there were four Brits and me, only two Germans. Wandered around the neighbourhood but all other bars were either too full or empty. Some interesting shops in the area though – lots of record stores and clothing shops with names like Paul’s Boutique, Who Killed Bambi? and Goo (complete with the Sonic Youth album cover art).

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About simonchamberlain

New Zealand librarian and music fan, living in London.
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