Articles tagged with "germany"

East Side Gallery

East Side Gallery

The East Side Gallery is the longest surviving section of the wall, and it’s covered in some pretty historic murals, originally painted right after it fell in November 1989. It’s crazy to see what a pathetically thin slab of concrete separated two different worlds within the same city.

Sadly the murals are decaying. They were freshened up by the original artists in 2000, and so when I first saw them in 2002 they looked pretty good. By 2004 they were a bit rough-looking, and now in 2008 it was really depressing to see how awful they looked. In a city with no shortage of places to spray a bit of graffiti, I couldn’t understand why so many people would choose to spray it here.


Treptow

Treptow

The next morning I walked via the Hackescher Markt to Alexanderplatz, then along Unter Den Linden to the Brandenburg Gate. Beyond the gate, I walked along Straße des 17 Juni to a Soviet war memorial. This was what used to be West Berlin, but throughout the cold war Soviet soldiers stood guard at the memorial. Two tanks either side of the entrance were supposedly the first two Russian tanks to enter the city in April 1945.

I walked on from the memorial up to the Spree, and then along by the river banks as far as Bellevue station. From there I decided to head back east, to Treptow and another war memorial.

This one was far bigger than the one in the Tiergarten. The huge site was almost deserted. Berlin today is so exciting and dynamic that it seems impossible to believe what happened here less than a human lifetime ago. Eight million Red Army soldiers were killed in the war, and the Soviets built memorials to them all across the Eastern Bloc. I walked around the site, up to the giant statue of a Red Army soldier stamping on a swastika, and felt unable to comprehend what Europe at war must have been like.


Hauptbahnhof

Hauptbahnhof

I’d gone to the Hamburger Bahnhof last time I was in Berlin. To get there we had to go via the Haupbahnhof, which at the time was just an empty shell – a vast glass roof over bare platforms, cold and empty and covered by winter snow. The station had been finished in 2006, and today in the hot May sun it was unbelievably different, now that it was full of shops, fast food stands, people, trains, and activity.


Hamburger Bahnhof

Hamburger Bahnhof

The Hamburger Bahnhof is a great contemporary art gallery. I’d been there before in 2004, and loved most of it except the main exhibition. It was the same this time, with huge amounts of space devoted to stuff by Wolfgang Tillmans, which was mostly rubbish. But away from his work there were some excellent things. One installation that I particularly liked was an almost entirely dark room, with just an incredibly faint image projected onto the far wall. You had to spent at least ten minutes in there before the point of it became clear, and I liked that. Re-emerging into the bright gallery, I needed another ten minutes to be able to see properly again afterwards.


Holocaust memorial

Holocaust memorial

Another new thing since 2004 was the Holocaust memorial near Potsdamer Platz. It had opened in 2005 after years of planning and disputes, on what used to be no-mans-land between east and west during the Cold War. We walked among them, and I felt that as a piece of art it was interesting, but it was not much of a memorial, with no signs, names, explanations or anything. It took us a while to find the museum below, and that put things right on the memorial front, with detailed and shocking exhibits about the horrors of Nazi Germany. The more I travel in Europe the more I appreciate what devastation this continent suffered, and how fortunate we are to have peace today.


Back in Berlin

Back in Berlin

Berlin is probably my favourite city in Europe. This was my third trip, and the number of things that had changed since the last time was amazing. New buildings had gone up, old ones had come down, most dramatically the old GDR parliament building. The East Side Gallery was much more covered in graffiti than it had been, and the Dom seemed to have lost the very top of its dome. But towering above it all was the familiar sight of the Alexanderplatz TV Tower.


Potsdam

Potsdam

I went to Potsdam for a week to learn how to analyse a certain type of astronomical data. Unfortunately the weekend before was the Miglia Quadrato. I spent a Saturday night driving around the City of London hunting for clues until 5am, grabbed a couple of hours sleep and then headed to Stansted for a flight to Schönefeld. I got an S-bahn into Berlin, then another S-bahn out to Potsdam, finally arriving at my hostel at 1am. Each day’s work for the next week started at 9am, and it took me until about Thursday to recover from the weekend.

Working in Potsdam was great. Each morning I would get up at 7am, wander up through Babelsberg via a bakery to buy breakfast and lunch, meet a friend from work who was also here for the week, and then walk up through fields to the Astrophysikalisches Intstitut. The peace and quiet was great for the week that I was there, but by Friday I was missing noise and bustle. We headed for Berlin.


Gedächtniskirche

Gedächtniskirche

We went to West Berlin on our last morning in the city. Most of the cool things seemed to be in the east, and we walked down the Kurfürstendamm from Zoo station without finding much to detain us. But we did pass the Gedächtniskirche. I’d seen it in 2002 but only from a distance when I’d got off the train from Warsaw at Zoo station. This time we walked right up to the bottom of it. It’s a pretty shocking sight – the ruined shell of a church, left unrepaired since it was bombed in 1943.

We headed back east and went to an awesome club in the evening. This was the dual personality of Berlin – on the one hand you can’t get away from the fact that it was the epicentre of the most destructive war in human history. And on the other hand it’s hard to find a city more dynamic, progressive and exciting.


Hamburger Bahnhof

Hamburger Bahnhof

We went to the Hamburger Bahnhof art gallery. To get there we had to go to via Lehrter Bahnhof, still under construction as Berlin’s new main station, and eerily large and empty. It was snowing heavily as we arrived.

The gallery had some amazing things, and some stupid things, as is the normal way with contemporary art. Its main hall was filled with junk, literally and figuratively, but a lot of the rest of it was really awesome and we spent a long time there.


Dom

Dom

The Rammstein gig was fantastic. Anticipation built up hugely before the start, and there was a massive roar from the crowd as five people with torches came on stage. Was this the band? No, it was just the roadies, hyping things up yet further. They wandered off stage as a bass note began to play. Then, a curtain dropped, fireworks exploded, and Rammstein appeared. It was a stunning start, and the rest of the gig was all flamethrowers, fireworks, and immense tunes.

The next day we got up late. We had no particular plan in mind, and ended up going to the Dom. Nearby was a Christmas market, where lots of hot food was cooking. We felt like a snack, and we found the mother of all snacks at a stand selling half-metre bratwursts. This had to be tried, and between the five of us we ordered a ridiculous two and a half metres of sausage. By about 20cm in I was feeling pretty full, and by the end I felt grotesquely stuffed. I didn’t eat again until the following evening.


East Side Gallery

East Side Gallery

We went to the East Side Gallery. Two years ago, graffiti was beginning to cover the murals, and now it was a lot worse. It was so strange to think that this thin piece of concrete divided a nation for so long.


Berlin winter sunset

Berlin winter sunset

I’d passed through Berlin in the summer of 2002, on my way back from China. It had been hot, and amazing. Now I had to go back, because Rammstein were playing, and I had got hold of tickets. Four of us were going to the gig, and another friend was coming just for the trip to Berlin.

It was freezing when we arrived. Mist covered the city, and from the ground, the low sun was casting a shadow of the Alexanderplatz TV Tower onto the sky above. We went up the tower and saw the sunset shining through the haze.


Lübeck

Lübeck

I had an early flight back from Lübeck so I spent a night there. Hamburg had had an atmosphere of things happening – Lübeck had an atmosphere of nothing having changed for decades or perhaps centuries. I wandered around the streets of grand old buildings, and on a nicer day I probably would have quite liked the town. But it had been grey all weekend, and rain was now beginning to fall heavily. There was not much to do on a winter Sunday evening in Lübeck in the rain.


Hamburg

Hamburg

My flight to Lübeck was so early that my best option was to sleep at Stansted. My plan was that this would be a little bit less tiring than getting up at 3am, but then I met a fun bunch of people on the last train to Stansted, we played cards all night on the airport floor, and I was destroyed by the time I got to Germany.

I stayed in a hostel in St. Pauli, overlooking the docks. It was grey and cold, and an icy wind was blowing off the Elbe as I looked over the huge expanse of cranes. The bracing conditions at least woke me up a bit.


Alexanderplatz

The last thing I did in Berlin was go up the Alexanderplatz TV Tower. It is almost identical to the CCTV tower in Beijing, but 35 metres shorter. I had a snack in the rotating restaurant, watched Berlin go by far below, and felt like I was almost home. I had a ticket for the night train to Paris, and so in the morning I would be just two hundred miles from London, and five thousand miles from Beijing.


Reichstag

Reichstag

The Reichstag, burned down in 1933 and used as a pretext for Nazi repression, had been restored in the 1990s, and three years before I arrived it had become the parliament of Germany at the same time as Berlin had become the capital again.

In many cities throughout the world, if you want something glassy and modern to be built, you call in Norman Foster, and Berlin had done just that when they needed a new cupola for the Reichstag. The dome he designed was spectacular, and soon became a major attraction for tourists in Berlin. It was a blazing hot summer day when I decided to go and have a look at it, and I queued for about an hour to get in.

I hadn’t used Euros before this trip, and I was still getting used to their value. Under the glass of the dome it was incredibly hot, and there was a stand selling ice creams and cold drinks. I bought an ice cream and an orange juice for six euros, and I actually thought for a few minutes that this was a reasonable price.


East side gallery

East side gallery

I got a train to Berlin. The six hour journey went by in a flash, and I barely had time to notice the countryside. What I did see as we crossed into Germany was the Oder River looking scarily swollen and fast flowing. I had heard that there was severe flooding in countries to the south of me.

I liked Berlin straight away. It had the same atmosphere of a place heavy with recent history that Moscow had had. I grew up hearing about the Berlin Wall all the time on the news, and remembered watching the fall on TV when I was 11 years old. The first place I went to in Berlin was the East Side Gallery, the longest remaining stretch of the wall. After the fall, various international artists painted murals all along the stretch. What seemed most amazing was how thin the wall was. I always imagined it would be several feet thick, but a couple of inches of concrete was all that had physically separated East and West Germany.

Some of the works of art on the wall were very famous, like the picture of a Trabant bursting through, and of Erich Honecker and Leonid Brezhnev kissing. They had all recently been restored, but already there was a lot of inane graffiti on a lot of them. There seem to be a lot of Argentinians, in particular, who wish to record the fact that they have been somewhere.


Munich to Paris

Munich to Paris

The next day dawned bright and very warm, and seeing as it had been so pleasant the day before, I went back to the Englischer Garten. I couldn’t really afford to do much else.

But by the time I’d got out of the U-bahn, there were clouds in the sky, and it was getting cooler. Soon it had started raining. I thought I’d walk on through the park, in the hope that it would soon stop, but in fact just as I got to the point furthest from any shelter, the rain started really lashing down. By the time I got out of the park, I was absolutely sodden, and considerably less cheerful than I had been. I went back to the station to go back to Paris.


Paris to Munich

Paris to Munich

When I went to sleep I was the only person in my carriage, but when I woke up I was surrounded by commuters, who looked as if they felt far too respectable to be sharing a carriage with a shabby backpacker. After a 10 hour journey, we arrived exactly on time at München Hauptbahnhof.

I headed for the Englischer Garten, a huge park stretching along the east side of the city. There was a sudden heavy rainshower when I arrived and I hung around under cover in the Hofgarten. Eventually, the rain stopped and the sun came out, and a Ukrainian violinist appeared. He began tuning up. After a few minutes of scratchy unpleasant noise, he stopped, paused, and began again. I realised he was actually playing a tune, and left quickly.

I sat in the park in the evening sunshine. There was a group of percussionists playing nearby, and I could hear a brass band playing somewhere further away. I wandered off towards the sound of the music. It turned out to be a traditional Bavarian band playing, all in lederhosen and silly hats.

I stayed in the park until it was almost dark, and then wandered back into the city via grand streets lined with grand buildings.