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Ich verstehe nur ein bisschen Deutsch

July 14, 2010

… Aka, “The Berlin blog”.

Firstly, allow me to apologise for the delay. I have no excuse other than not dedicating any time to write this.  Reader beware, it’s a long one!

Back in May, Moods, Nicky and I got to talking about travel.  Moods was soon to be heading to Berlin for a small music festival called Friction Fest and he asked if I too would be interested. With two of my favourite bands playing and the lure of travel we began planning a short trip to Berlin. Nicky launched her preparation by downloading Deutsch instructional mp3s and practised them aloud in a way that only seemed to mock it’s strong American accent and the formality of its teachings. With Moods’ help, we narrowed it down to just “1, 2, 3, Please, Thank you, Schnitzel” and “Bratwurst;” what else was necessary?

A week before our planned departure, with flights, trains and accommodation booked and gig tickets in hand, Moods discovered that his credit card had been skimmed for thousands of dollars. These were his only funds and they were necessary to continue the travel lifestyle. This didn’t stop us though, Nicky and I decided to adopt him as our surrogate son and provide him with a daily allowance of Euros so that the trip would proceed as planned.

Navigating the trains

Wednesday afternoon on the 5th of May the three of us flew over to Berlin Schönefeld Airport where we began our battle with the public transport. Luckily we caught an express train, possibly by accident, and after a quick change, a fresh and successful attempt at navigating the maps and schedules, and a short walk we arrived at our hostel, The Odyssee. We were in Friedrichshain, the heart of the artistic quarter of Berlin where the streets were heavily populated by bars, clubs, and restaurants while featuring a rich and unique East-Berlin subculture that was home to its artists and students. Graffiti dressed almost every surface but in most cases it was artwork spawned from oppression and creativity rather than just boredom.

Remaining portion of the wall at Checkpoint Charlie

The following day we began our exploration of this grand city as we joined a walking tour, led by the English-speaking, Scottish born, Kenny. He was a naturally exciting story teller and a real treat to listen to. The tour was called the “Famous Walk” and it was run by Insider tours.  The 4 hour walk took us through many historical sites of World War II and the Cold War including (but not limited to) Checkpoint Charlie, the Brandenburg Gate, large remaining portions of the wall, the site of the Nazi book burning, the site of Hitler’s underground bunker and the Holocaust memorial.  This tour was an eye opener for me and a real valuable history lesson.

Inside the dome

There was, unfortunately, a dampener on the tour as it rained quite heavily for the whole day, and being a walking tour there really wasn’t much cover to take. The funny side of this is that I actually had packed my wonderful, waterproof jacket for the trip but I had misplaced it to the back of the lock-up chest under my bunk bed. I only realised where it was once we had returned at the end of the day, drenched from head to toe. After the tour we checked out the Reichstag (parliament building). Atop this building was a large glass dome which you could climb to get a 360-degree view of the surrounding city, albeit grey and gloomy due to the weather.

The following day saw more exploration and the weather was considerably better. We re-visited a restaurant that we had tried the night before and once again gave our very best attempt at ordering in Deutsch although, the waiters everywhere are quick to save you when you have that confused look on your face. However, today was about Friction Fest for Moods and I. It was a 2 day music festival, of which only the first day was of interest to us, held in a run down venue-hub salvaged from the disused buildings of an old train repatriation plant.

The rear of the venue viewed from the train station

This was home to an underground culture that seemed cold and intimidating from the outside, yet warm, vibrant and inviting once inside. We took a couple of minutes to explore the surrounding buildings before heading to the indoor venue of the Astra Kulturhaus. Once inside, Moods and I passed through dark curtains shrouding the entrance to the main foyer where they had set up the smaller stage. We quickly B-lined for the bar and with a purchase of 2 pints of Astra we were also given two plastic tokens. Not knowing what they were for, Moods placed them in his pocket. We didn’t realise until the second round that when you return your pint glasses to the bar with the token, there is a 50c refund.

Hacride, Friction Fest

Hacride, (a big reason why I came to the show) kicked off their set on the main stage. They opened with the 15 minute epic  “To Walk Among Them” and only had time to play 2 more songs after that to fill their 30 minute allocation. I was one of a handful of people in the small crowd that actually knew this band from France and was so ecstatic to see and hear them live. Between seeing the bands that we came for, Moods and I headed outside to grab some Bratwurst and rest our ears. There was such a cool vibe about this place and about the show.

The Ocean, Friction Fest

More beer, more bratwurst, more bands and soon enough The Ocean came on. These guys are quite an intelligent and talented group of musicians. Sporting a new singer (who in my opinion did a better job than their previous front-man, even on their old songs) and backed by a 3-piece string  section, a pianist and a wall of illuminated visualisations, The Ocean blasted out an hour long set covering their recent back-catalogue and new album. I had only a couple weeks of learning the new album before hearing it live but they sure as hell nailed it!

A couple of other stand out acts during the day were Entombed, who were just outright metal-rocking fun and the final act Bohren & der Club of Gore who’s minimalist, midnight jazz could put you to rest after such a collection of heavy music. The day was a great experience; I was in Germany witnessing such varied music that I would otherwise never get a chance to see. If you are at all interested in the festival, or metal music in general, head on over to Noise Road; Moods has written an awesome review that describes the whole show better than I ever could and at the risk of writing the same material I’ll leave it to him to explain.

Upon returning to the hostel the midnight clerk, Dean, thought we were strange for each buying a 1L carton of water to take back to our room. However there were no hangovers to be had the next day and we were ready to kick on.

Market Bratwurst

Saturday was market day and we viewed the local produce and sampled more Bratwurst. We used the day to travel around Berlin again on foot to take photos that, unlike last time, didn’t involve getting wet. We witnessed the aftermath of a German run/marathon where thousands of beer cups littered the streets. These Germans are hardcore, they wash down their exercise with gallons of beer. Later that night, instead of heading out to discover the Berlin night-life, we stayed in at the hostel. The night evolved quickly from a chilled drink in the bar to a riotous night as Dean joined us for the next 5 or so hours. He was a bald, gay, Canadian born dual citizen living in Berlin with a pessimistic attitude and travel experience that would rival the best! The night was hilarious and possibly one of my favourite memories of the city. We eventually went back to our dorm room and after many more laughs crashed at around 5am; good times.

Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church

Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church

With very little of the following day remaining after eventually getting out of bed, we headed to a Salvador Dali Exhibition at Potsdamer Platz; but you can’t view surrealist art on an empty stomach so we fueled up at a nearby restaurant. The food was fantastic and the exhibition wasn’t too bad either. Continuing on foot, as we had done so for the majority of the trip, we discovered more of the impressive streets and buildings of Berlin; one of which was the remains of a church, bombed in WW2, left as a reminder of the destruction of war. In contrast, however, one thing I loved about this city was the grand architecture and the incredibly wide streets and foot paths. I regretfully didn’t take any photos of what I mean here, but honestly, the whole city was very well spaced out. It made our return to London feel claustrophobic.

Ampelmann says "Walk"

I also came to love Ampelmann, the Stop/Walk traffic light man of East Berlin. There’s quite a story behind this figure which resulted in the public fighting to keep him after the reunification of Germany. He is said to be friendlier looking and safer for the children crossing the streets compared with the western figure. I just thought he looked funny from afar with his larger than life ‘member’; it’s actually his arm, but that’s not so apparent when you are looking at it from across the street.

Our final day arrived sooner than we had hoped and we spent it on our second walking tour: “Cold War Berlin.” We were taken to many sites and told of life behind the wall. This tour was just as informative but a little more sombre as we were shown sites of major oppression and even torture. We ended our part of the tour at Bornholmer Straße Station. This was the first border checkpoint that caved under the pressure of the people and allowed them to cross the wall (famous footage from 1989).   Whilst many of these destinations may not mean anything to some, what we can relate to is that some of this history is as young as 20 years ago. What that means is that people our age were part of this history. We weren’t just hearing dated stories of insignificant names of the past, with lives that wouldn’t even to compare to how we live our own.

BratwurstUnfortunately we never finished the tour as we had a plane to catch. There seemed to be so much more of Berlin that we never got to do and Moods even toyed with the idea of moving there to live. Berlin is a great city and I’ve realised how much I loved it since being back here in London. I hope I get another chance to explore more of Berlin and Germany but there are still many more countries nearby that I need to see, money permitting. I would definitely suggest Berlin to friends and other tourists, especially those who are into their history, or for anyone who enjoys a good bratwurst or bockwurst!


From → Music, Travel

  1. Nicky permalink

    I miss the wurst… *sniffs*

    Glad to see you’ve finally finished. The wait paid off, though. This is pretty awesome.

  2. martymoody permalink

    Awesome read, man. Felt like I was there. Hey wait a minute… I was there!

    A great capture of great times. I’m hoping that we can all travel again together soon.

    And many thanks for being by Northern Hemisphere parents. I wouldn’t have been able to go if it wasn’t for the generosity of yourself and Meow Zedong.

    Cheers please,


  3. Dad permalink

    The cost of your education was well spent. I felt I was with you in Berlin and yes, I am a Bratwurst fan. Keep up the amazing blogs.

  4. Mum permalink

    Wow, what a blog!
    I agree with dad, money spent on your education was well spent. Well worth the wait but please don’t take that long with your Scottish blog. Moods, you make me laugh! Keep traveling, keep blogging and enjoy your time.

  5. Solo Bass Player... permalink

    Very cool read man. I thought I’d have a quick read…then I had to get my glasses to finish this bad boy off. Good to see all is going well. Man that dog in bread looks good!

    Oh yea, you missed a great Om concert in Adelaide last night. I’d write about it on my blog, myspace, facebook and twitter…but I don’t have any of those things…I don’t know what the last one is…but the kids like it!

    Say hi to everyone for me and I look forward to reading your next blog!!!!


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