Category Archives: Berlin 2016

Looking Up and Looking Down

Berlin is blessed with lots of green spaces, but none ar as grand as the Tiergarten. An ancient hunting ground, the sprawling parkland was badly damaged during the Second World War but has since become a focal point for joggers, doggers and walkers. During. A mid morning stroll I see two of those (I won’t say which), before reaching the area’s biggest erection.


The Siegessaule or Victory Column commemorates those wars that Germany managed to win. It’s also at one of the city’s busiest road junctions, and although it looks inviting, I already have a date booked later on from an even higher vantage point.

But first, a train ride to the town of Postdam – technically the capital of the Brandenburg region, but these days effectively a large add on to Berlin with fast transport links for commuters. However, it’s bigger than it first appears, and it’s a somewhat confusing journey from the main rail station to the centre. Postdam has its own tram network, and without a map – or knowing what I’m looking for – my introduction is a combination of farce and fear.

Fear, because on every street corner there are police vans. Some static, some moving slowly – and around every junction they seem to be breeding. It’s only later I discover that many of Europe’s foreign ministers are in town for a summit, so security is at epic levels. Because of this, I’m reluctant to take too many pictures. BitnI can’t resist this one of Postdam’s own Brandenburg Tor.


Sunset – well, dusk and there’s just about time to ascend the TV tower. By day there are long queues and I thought that my pre-booked “priority ticket” might afford me some special attention. I did something similar at Chicago’s Hancock Tower – whose bar insisted on smart casual clothing and offered great table service. Berlin’s equivalent is a little less impressive; just a small cocktail bar in the 360 degree viewing floor, with the one bar tender saying barely a word to customers. But it’s all about the views here.


The district running North from the Hackescher Market has some of the loveliest boutiques and coffee shops around. But in an alleyway off Rosenthaler Street is a little bit of a Berlin that’s refusing to give in to progress. Haus Schwarzenberg is a collective of independent businesses and artists – including a cinema, a gallery and a funky bar.


There are customers here – but they were reluctant to be photographed. It could have been because they’re rebels of the mainstream, refusing to conform to society. It might have also had something to do with the light smell of weed in the air. There’s also some pretty good street art on the walls.

“You are a tourist and you found this place?!”

Uwe sounds surprised that I’ve dared to venture off the beaten track. But does he have a story to tell. He’s from the Dortmund region and works in local Government. His job is varied, but at the moment is concentrated on helping the hundreds of thousands.of refugees fleeing places like Syria and North Africa. It’s a result of Germany’s open door policy in 2015, where virtually nobody was turned away.


“You would help too,” says Uwe, with a sense of civic pride. Though his commitment to the cause is almost certainly connected to his own family history. Growing up in a divided country, where the Brandenburg Gate lay abandoned in no man’s land. His father worked for six years in Russia – but six weeks after returning home was killed because of a casual joke he made about the Stasi.

I’m touched by Uwe’s story – and his openness. I’m even more impressed that he’s told me all of this in English. And I probably wouldn’t have heard his story at the posh place next door.


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Posted by on September 2, 2016 in Berlin 2016, Travel Stuff


Der Muggelberge und Der Blues

Like many big cities, the best way to deal with Berlin is by treating it as a series of smaller towns and neighbourhoods. And the city is surrounded by a series of interlocking canals, rivers and lakes. Which gives the locals plenty of messing about on the water, and the tourist industry plenty of money making opportunities.

I’ve opted for one of the longer boat cruises today – Around The Muggelberge – which sounds like it might be a village just down the road from Balamory. At five hours, it’s a long journey to take in, especially on the open sun deck in the company of a generally older clientele. The first hour or so weaves through some of Berlin’s industrial heartland – and although it looks a bit grim, I learn some useful German phrases. “Zement werks” being just one.

But then, just beyond Kopenik the water opens wide into a network of lakes. And all manner of transport is using them today.

That’s the back end of a seaplane in the middle, with a barge to the left and a kayak to the right. After a circuit of a couple of the lakes (Der Muggelsee – not exactly creative) it’s up a canal flanked by impossibly beautiful waterside homes.

The sun is shining, drinks and Bratwurst are being frequently served (all at an additional price) and it’s a slow cruise back to town.

Kreuzberg is one of Berlin’s most diverse communities. Street carts dish out curry wurst and falafals, while Italian and Turkish influences are everywhere to be seen. And then there’s Yorcksclosshen, where tonight there’s just a little bit of New Orleans.


Well, the music may be from the Big Easy, but guitarist Michael Hardie is from Houston, Texas. Yet he plays and songs the blues as good as anyone in Louisiana. He’s been doing it for years, and although his set list is rooted in the Deep South, he tells me it was the Beatles’ Rubber Soul that first made him want to play.

Fifty years on, he’s still playing.

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Posted by on September 1, 2016 in Berlin 2016, Travel Stuff


A Home Fit For Heroes 

On an ordinary street in the Shoneburg district of a Berlin is an ordinary looking door. It sits among a row of run of the mill cafes and shops. But its door was used for a couple of years in the mid seventies by anyone other than ordinary. Because this was David Bowie’s home.

The great man wrote three albums here, including Heroes. And for a time, his flatmate was Iggy Pop. Just a couple of weeks before my visit, a memorial plaque was placed on the building. And, it would seem, Bowie’s death in 2016 has revived this place as a shrine. The neighbourhood itself wasn’t posh then and nor is it now.


They do history well here. In fact, there’s a whole island of museums. For €18 you can get a ticket providing entry to all of them, which lasts three days. Just as well as they’re huge affairs. Doing all in just a day would be exhausting – though a good option in wet weather. But there’s no rain today and the Berlin Cathedral is looking stunning in the sunshine.

But just a stone’s throw away, they’re extending one of the museums. On a pretty grand scale.

All of this sightseeing is thirsty work. Prenzlauer Berg provides plenty of choice, including Prater – a bar with a sprawling beer garden that’s straight out of Munich. The Pilsner is tasty, the Bratwurst good value. And today, a film crew apparently making a a documentary. About beer, obviously.

Heading back into the city centre is easy. If you can’t find a train station, there’s always an alternative. Even if the trams have no doors.


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Posted by on August 30, 2016 in Berlin 2016, Travel Stuff


You’re Very Wilkommen 

I’ve always tried to support my local area, using its services whenever I can. Previously I’ve praised the facilities at East Midlands Airport – which were never going to match anything that the big boys could provide – but at least the place ran efficiently. 

But no more. There must be a dozen early morning flights today, and while all lanes in the security area are open, it still feels like a cattle shed. The staff are doing their best to get everyone through, but the process takes around 45 minutes; not great when you’ve already got up in the middle of the night. And now, due to its growing popularity, an extra few gates have been added. Not in the main building but a 15 minute walk away. Given that the gate to Berlin isn’t even listed until 30 minutes before the flight, it’s hardly surprising that some people barely make it in time.

Still, that’s the price you pay for budget travel. And Berlin’s “second” airport – Shoenfeld – isn’t much better. Twisty corridors lead to a baggage area with just two belts for six current flights. But my case arrives promptly, and it’s a relatively easy 45 minute journey into the city thanks to the extensive S-Bahn rail network.

The Leonardo Hotel near Friedrrichstrasse has an air of modern and functional; more of which later. First stop, though, is a little entrance to the city.

Even on a cloudy day, with spots of rain in the air, the Brandenburg Gate is impressive. And like every other big ticket tourist attraction around the world, it’s surrounded by the sounds of many (mainly European) languages, and tour guides promoting walks, cycle rides, horse drawn carriage tours and just about anything else. But despite the cacophony, there is an air of modesty. The are no tacky cafes or souvenir shops crowding the immediate area – though you don’t have to go too far to find them.

In the shadow of the Holocaust Memorial, a collection of solemn stone blocks stretching out across a plaza, is a parade of cheap coffee bars, kebab shops and gift stores. But it’s a welcome change from some locations I’ve visited, where only the high end eateries get a look in near the big sites.

Just a short walk away is the infamous Checkpoint Charlie, the epicentre of divided Berlin in the twentieth century. No irony, then, that fake troops pose for photos next to one of the biggest symbols of a city occupied by unwanted incomers.


There’s also a Checkpoint Charlie Museum, which I’d thought was well worth a visit, until I discovered that another nearby project has plotted the key points of the whole story on the street – free of charge. And the hoardings marked another example of local enterprise reclaiming the neighbourhood, in the form of an urban beach.

Tacky much? You bet. But amid the curry wurst and bike hire is an ice cream van unlike any other. Here,they create your dessert right before your eyes.

That’s liquid nitrogen in the mixer. Instant. And delicious.

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Posted by on August 29, 2016 in Berlin 2016, Travel Stuff