"A Public Transport System With Beer Dispensers!" Berlin by johngayton
Berlin Travel Guide: 6,887 reviews and 15,385 photos
I had intended visiting Hamburg on this trip, having just read Craig Russell's "The Valkyrie Song" - a thriller which is footsteppingly evocative of the city. Somehow I got sidetracked by chatting to people in various bars en-route (including our very own PJ whilst in Oldenzaal) and found myself firstly doing some serious beer tasting at the inimitable Bierspecialiteitencafe "Take One" in Maastricht where one of the locals sent me to Cologne for yet more beer (and of course sausages).
Despite the fact that Cologne was never part of East Germany for some reason the city brought to mind Anna Funder's wonderfully-written and human account of her visit to the former East Berlin, "Stasiland" - I love her opening paragraph: "I am hungover and steer myself like a car through the crowds at Alexanderplatz station. Several times I miscalculate my width, scraping into a bin and an advertising bollard. Tomorrow bruises will develope on my skin, like pictures from a negative."
Definitely my sortof gal and recalling the tales she tells of the people she met in the city decided me on Berlin instead of Hamburg.
I arrived at Berlin Hbf on a pleasant June evening after a relaxing four and a half hour train journey on the DB Intercity train from Cologne. Although the apartment I had booked was out at Adenhauerplatz I definitely needed a beer before continuing and the easy-to-find terrace bar at the Hbf suited me perfectly - purely to rehydrate of course and nothing at all to do with being able to have a cigarette ;)
Cigarette and beer (actually plural in both cases) were duly enjoyed and then it was off to buy a three-day travel pass. This proved to be more difficult than it should have been had I done a bit of pre-trip research. My first enquiry at the DB ticket office, having stood in a queue for about ten minutes, got me redirected to a travel agency who further redirected me to the BVG office - I've since discovered that I could have bought one at any of the S-bahn and BVG ticket machines.
But after that everything went swimmingly. I had to get the S-bahn from the Hbf and that arrived within a minute or so of me finding the platform and then my correspondance U-bahn at Wilmersdorferstrasse also arrived within minutes.
My mental hotel map for once proved accurate, although it does help when streets are well-signposted, and I was soon unpacking in my quite plush apartment on a leafy suburban side-street just off Adenhauerplatz.
The first thing that struck me about Berlin is how much open space there is with its parks, river, canals, public squares and even the busiest vehicular thoroughfares are often tree-lined with wide pavements. I also found the city far less hi-rise than I'd expected, though it does have its moments such as Potsdamer Platz.
The second thing that impressed me was the public transport system. Berlin is a very spread-out city without what I would describe as a city centre - rather it seems to be a collection of local foci and distinct neighbourhoods. Finding my way around though proved a pleasure in its own right.
The combination of the, mostly above ground, S-bahn urban light railway, the underground U-bahn, city-wide tram lines and local buses give access to everywhere and anywhere. The system is superbly integrated with well-signed interchanges and one ticket fits all forms of transport. My 3-day "City Tour Card" was invaluable as it allowed me just to hop-on and hop-off, sometimes just to see where I'd end up, and because services are so frequent you can always get back to where you started swiftly and easily.
In fact you could almost live on the system as many services run 24 hours, there are cheap snack kiosks and stalls for sustenance at most stations (which amazingly also sell beer!) and for entertainment there are often buskers and of course just riding around gives an insight into city life from very much a local angle.
The Berlin Wall became a free-for-all blank canvas for the west's graffiterio's and if you research some of the pics from the wall era you'll find some stunning artworks - google "berlin wall graffiti photos".
Modern Berlin is relatively graffitiless but still gets daubed here and there. The artistry however has gone, reduced to moronic moniker scribbling - maybe the disaffected youth of today have life too easy.
Now that I'm back home and going through my pics I'm trying to sum up whether I liked Berlin or not. It certainly is an interesting city and everyone I encountered was pleasant and friendly. However many of the main "attractions" and monuments come across as apologies for things that should be simply acknowledged as being part of the Country's past with the apologies implicit rather than explicit.
It's not that things like the atrocities of the Holocaust, the general German WWII attitudes and the post-WWII Stasi regime (and the wall itself) in the former East Germany should be swept under the carpet but rather that the acknowledgement and presentation of them should be less "in your face". Aplogise by all means, lay out the facts and make these accessible but don't turn them into "tourist attractions".
Ach well at least the punks and drunks in the park at Alexanderplatz seemed suitably unapologetic and when I return I might join them for a beer or three ;)
UPDATE 2012 - The East Side Gallery has become a fascination for me (see TL's below) and so a quick in-and-out visit was made to get pics of the rest of it. This is going to be my winter project this year - to see if I can produce the definitive guide.
PS I also combined my Wall visit with a mid-season tobacco run and so that was doubleplusgood :-)
PPS The park at Alex is being rebuilt and so there were no punks or drunks around ;-(
- Pros:A Very Open Spacious City
- Cons:Unartistic Graffiti
- In a nutshell:A City Still Getting To Grips With Its Past
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