|Subject: Berlin travelogue - Way too long|
Itīs more than a week since I came back from my two weeks in Berlin. It has been a great time altogether, although at the end I was looking forward to the work life. I was needing a bit of a rest.
I flew over on the 20th of July, via Paris with AirFrance. Not a bad flight, and even with the short connection time my suitcase arrived at the same time as I did. My hotel, the Mark Hotel Berlin, was located off the KuīDamm (just next door to the Hard Rock Cafe :)) ), and I could have taken the bus 109 from Tegel into the city, but I prefered to get a taxi. My suitcase was a bit heavy, carrying dictionaries (that I didnīt use at the end). The price was 16 ?, and thatīs not so bad for the distance. I was in the hotel at around 16:00, left the luggage and headed out straight away.
First thing I did was to jump on one of these open-deck buses. I needed to get a taste of the city. There are plenty of companies, and most of them have stops along the KuīDamm. The price is around 9 ? for 1,5 hours, and I found it quite handy, specially afterwards during the week to know where I was standing. After this little tour, I remembered that I hadnīt eaten anything yet, and I became suddenly hungry. There is a slef-service restaurant nearby, the M#venpick. It is located in what once was one of the greatest cafes in Berlin, the Romanisches Cafe. In fact, they have kept a couple of the rooms. The food is OK, not gourmet, but fine if you want something quick and not very expensive. From then I went to the Maison de France. They have a cinema, and I could finally watch Huit femmes, the film with Catherine Deneuve, Danielle Darrieux ... Great and entertaining. And handy, because it was near the hotel and I collapsed in my bed at 11:00.
I intended the next day to do some serious museum sightseeing. I slept until late, and I had to buy a weekly transport card (22 ? for a week, there is a kiosk outside the Zoo Bahnhof, and you can pay with Visa). From then I went to the Martin Gropius Bau, a museum from the beginning of the century who survived on the border of the Wall. They were showing the Here is New York exhibition, with pictures taken by professional and amateurs photographers on 9/11 ( http://www.hereisnewyork.org/ ). After that, I went down to the nearby Topography of terror ( http://www.topographie.de/e/ ), located in the place left by the former Gestapo headquarters. An amazingly interesting exhibition (they have an audioguide in english, interesting because all the explanations are written in german), but open-air. The day was really, really hot, and by the time I reached the Postdamer Platz, the storm hit us pretty well. Lots of rain and wind, and a sudden cold ... I waited until it stopped for at least an hour. By then all my plans had disappeared, I had to be back at the hotel for the workshop introduction at 6 oīclock, so I went simply to the Pergamon Museum (the audioguide has a handy quick tour, if you are pressed for time, and it is included in the price), watched the biggies ( Pergamon Altar, doors of Babylon, ...) and rushed to the hotel.
The highlights of the next 5 days were the visit to various museums ( Hamburger Bahnhof, Neue Gallerie ... ), the visit to the atelier of an sculptor ( Felicitas Franck ) and the really outstanding labour of Barbara Hoffman, the director of the workshop. She could make the most abstract work of art alive and easy to understand.
I left for Hamburg in the early friday afternoon. I was going to meet a very good friend who is living there since last January. I had booked my train tickets in the internet using the german railways site ( http://www.bahn.de ), and I had picked them up at the Zoo Station. The train had a delay of half an hour and they had changed it to an old artifact, but it got me to Hamburg, and that was the important part. My friend was waiting for me at the station, and we headed up to the cafeteria at the top of Karstadt Sport (an sport dept store in the shopping district of Hamburg, non smoking and nice sofas to sit and have a chat). We talked for a long time, until her boyfriend arrived and then we walked for a while across the city in order to get our dinner. They took me to Sternschanze, a district between the Reeperbahn and Altona. Plenty of ethno restaurants (many portuguese ones), students, some shady characters ... but I had a delicious chicken with mango and basmati rice. It was really great, creamy and tasty (11 ?, including a big beer). The place is called Omaīs Apotheke, a bar-cum-restaurant. We ate outside, and then headed back into town to pick up the car and meet two friends of Bilbao who were also arriving that weekend.
On the next day we had an intensiv visit of Hamburg. Everything from walking along the Alster, eating Thuringer-wurst and drinking Alster-wasser (beer with lemonade) sitting by the Town-Hall, jumping on three public transport boats to reach Blankenesse, and sit down in the beach to watch the sun go down, while lots of people were enjoying their barbecues. There is a very popular bar called Strandperlen, just at the banks of the Elbe. With this fine weather, it was great being able to sit on the beach while having a beer. Afterwards we got a bus to Altona, and from the metro station we went with the S-Bahn 3 again to Sternschanze, and we ate at a different place (nice, but not so much as the previous day). The end of the night took us to a walk along the infamous Reeperbahn (just take care of your handbag), only to be able to say, yes, Iīve been there. There are more interesting places in Hamburg ...
We were lucky on Sunday. The sun was shining, and we decided to go to the beach near Kiel. Our german friends couldnīt believe that we hadnīt been able to go to the beach at home this year (in fact, there has been only one sunny day in July, the rest of the days have been overcast or full rainy days ...), and couldnīt believe our happy faces ... I had booked my return on the 15:00 EC from Hamburg, in order to be able to be back at the introduction meeting for next weekīs workshop, but really, really, the sun was so tempting. My friends changed my booking by phone, and we picked up the new tickets at the Kiel train station on our way to the beach. I was to leave from Kiel at 16:10. The train was OK, although as usual in Germany without AC, and I was looking forward to the ICE. Frank had changed my departure station in Hamburg from the central station to Dammtor, a previous station and much more quieter than the central one. My train to Berlin stopped in the same platform as the Kiel one, and I had 10 minutes to buy water and magazines for the travel back into the capital. It was a brand new ICE, really comfortable, and amazingly, I was on time in Berlin, at 20:00 ( I said this because the punctuality in german trains is not so usual during the latest years ...).
From the station to my hotel is only 5-7 minutes walking, and I was able to find the group still in the meeting room. I picked up the info for the next day, and I headed straight into my room to get a shower. I still had sand in my legs from the lovely day at the beach.
The second week in Berlin welcomed me with a heat wave. Not so nice when many of the places donīt have AC (including the Bristol Kempinski, a 5 star hotel who was celebrating its 50th birthday) and you will be out walking everyday. The workshop was called Actual Berlin, and some of its highpoints included a tour of the city, a walk along the former Wall from the Springer building to the Topography of Terror site, a visit of the Reichstag (including the dome), a visit of the Stasi museum in Normannenstrasse, Shakespeare in an open-air theatre, modern ballet in the Sophiens#le, the Jewish Museum, the works in the Postdamer Platz ... We ate typical german (so ... d#ner kebab, italian and indian restaurants...). It was interesting, and I would like to emphasize the Stasi Museum. We were guided by a former dissident. He was entertaining, and he wasnīt so bitter as one might expect from his time in prison during the Sixties. He was exchanged (for money, as usual) and sent to the Federal Republic. Afterwards, he was able to read in his Stasi acts that he was contacted during the Seventies to see if he could act as a spy for the USSR ... Amazing, but he said that it was quite normal on those times. I truly recommend a guided visit to this place. I have the address somewhere in my files, and Iīll post it later. I donīt know if they can give english guided tours, but they have some people who speak french ...
I came back on the 3rd of August. The trip to Paris was OK, although I was so tired that I slept all the way. But in Paris we had two hours delay to get on our flight home. I still donīt know what was going on, but there were delays in many of the flights.
After these two weeks I still donīt know what to think of Berlin. I would say that it exceed my expectations, but there is still a separation between the two parts. There are many interesting things, and Iīd love to see some of the buildings finished. Iīll be back, but if you gave me a free weekend in any european city right now, I have a couple of well-loved places to go before it ( Paris and Rome, anyone ? ). But I do believe that one has to see it. I was in Berlin 20 years ago, right now itīs a complete different place, not a big world city maybe, it doesnīt feel like that, but an interesting one, and a memory for good and bad things in our past. Of course, some of my doubts might come from the feeling I have of having missed things. Tonight I woke up suddenly remembering that I hadnīt been to the Berggruen Collection or the Egiptian Museum or Postdam or Die Brcke Museum ...
Kind regards, Covadonga Bilbao - Spain
NB. Practical details, such as hotel info and restaurants will follow in another message.