04 – 11 August 2010
On the train trip to Berlin I met Anna who was traveling back home from where she studies in Bonn. Anna kindly gave me some advice on sights and attractions from a local perspective and even said that if she was free on Friday she’d show me some of the places she enjoys in Berlin.
On arrival at Berlin central train station (Hauptbahnhof) I found some internet access, booked a hostel and with a little difficulty made my way there with my backpack. In my room I met Pete, Ausi’s, their bloody everywhere, but Pete was a good guy despite being an Australian.
That first night in Berlin I had a quiet walk around the streets close to the hostel, checking out some of the bars and restaurants and enjoying being able to walk the streets with a beer. Beers are cheap in Germany, in a kebab shop for instance you can get a 500ml bottle of beer for €1.30, you’d get it for under a Euro in a supermarket. My favourite stop that night was a little bar with some lively table football action happening; seems they take football seriously in Germany. On my way back to the hostel I found Matrix bar/club which has about six different rooms with different DJ’s playing different music; the place stays open till sunrise seven nights a week!
On the fifth (Thursday) I enjoyed a good sleep in before heading out to tackle the Museum Island which houses a number of museums on an island formed by a temporary split in the Spree river. Famous museums include the Alte National Galerie, Altes Museum, Berlin Dom, Neues Museum and the Pergamon Museum which houses the famous Pergamon Altar; God knows why they couldn’t just leave this colossal structure in Turkey instead of putting it inside a building in Berlin.
Budget Backpacking Tip: Four hours before closing time on a Thursday many museums in Berlin offer free entrance, but be prepared for queues early on.
That evening Pete and I went for a walk around the local bars before heading back to the hostel where we played table tennis till around 3am!
The following day was Friday and I was pleasantly surprised to hear from Anna who was enjoying a day in the city with her university friend Lena. It’s so fantastic when people go out of their way to help you, I think too often in Western culture strangers will talk up grand plans of meeting up and doing something but seldom actually follow through. After a little difficulty I managed to find Anna and Lena and we spent the day walking Berlin’s streets and experiencing little cafe/waffle shops. Later that night we went to a rock bar that Anna knew had a live band playing, the place was called Wild at Heart. We had a fantastic evening, for me it was the real Berlin experience.
The following day (7th) after my usual Berlin sleep in I went on a Free Walking Tour around Berlin and saw main sights such as the Brandenburg Gate, Holocaust Memorial, Checkpoint Charlie and the site of Hitler’s Bunker. When traveling Berlin by backpack you need to take advantage of ‘free’ things when ever you can, these walking tours operate on a ‘tips only’ basis. Later that night Pete and I went on the 666 Anti-Pub Crawl, a tour of alternative bars and clubs around Berlin. Some of the bars were pretty cool, but it wouldn’t have been as good value as other pub crawls (in terms of free drinks) available as it was around the same price but only included around 3 weak shots over the night. We visited a table tennis bar, a gothic bar, an absinthe bar, and a couple of rock clubs however they did not have any live bands. After the pub crawl Pete and I went to a waterfront bar till dawn and then at close to 8am feeling somewhat zombie like we tried to get into the famous Berghain Club/Panorama Bar. Even at this ridiculous time in the morning there is a big queue to get into this place; people must think it’s something special. I understand the club pretty much goes on pumping right through the day and into Sunday night. Since we were there we queued, we queued for probably an hour to get to the front of the line; and then we were turned away. The bouncers appear to turn people away almost at random and since the whole thing looks mafia run no one argues; I think they just turn people away occasionally to maintain a sense of exclusivity. I found the whole ordeal highly amusing and was rather relieved to not have to pay to get in. Pete on the other hand was pretty pissed off which is also understandable after waiting for so long to see this acclaimed and mystery shrouded Berghain club.
On Sunday the 8th I had a longer than usual Berlin sleep in and then made my way to the East Side Gallery, the longest surviving stretch of the Berlin Wall.
The following day I changed hostel to another in Berlin, having checked in I headed into the Holocaust memorial but unfortunately it is closed on Mondays so I went to the DDR Motorrad Museum. Those who know me know that I own a MuZ Skorpion, a 660cc single cylinder motorcycle from the company MZ which originated in East Germany (the DDR). I had been looking forward to spotting some MZ’s in Germany but at the time hadn’t seen any. [I later spotted spotted one]. While in Berlin I certainly was not going to pass up the opportunity to visit the past of my beautiful machine. The museum was small but displayed many MZ’s which I never knew even existed all in meticulous condition; they also had a couple of beautiful classic Mercedes Roadsters on display. Oh how I wanted to drive one away!
On the 10th I got up early and caught the train to Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp which I will do a separate post on [Here]. I hired an audio guide and would have spent close to eight hours taking everything in. The Sachsenhausen camp location spans from pre WWII Nazi crimes against political undesirables, through WWII Nazi crimes and then continues on with use by Communist Russia against the people of the DDR. A long and terrible history.
On a positive note in Oranienburg I finally spotted the same model motorcycle as I have back home in New Zealand.
Overall I had a fantastic time experiencing Berlin by backpack. The following day on the eleventh of August I took a train to Warsaw; to be more precise I missed the train I had booked and ended up taking the second train four hours later which got me into Warsaw around 10.30pm. So I found myself walking around the outskirts of Warsaw with my backpack slightly later than I would have liked…