Sunday, 16 December 2007


Well one of my last postings certainly caused a flurry of commenting and I should really clarify that post. I don't actually think France is a 2nd world country I'm just totally addicted to the internet and any withdrawal results in uncontrollable rage. I do stand by my opinion that the people running the Franco-Britannique college are a bunch of incompetent slack-arses though. Anyway enough about France and the French, it's time for ze Germans!

I went to Berlin this weekend to visit a friend and check out this city before they leave next week. It was my first real time spent in Germany and I find it so strange that I can fall asleep on a train in France and the next morning I am in a different country, where the food, customs, fashions, people and the language are all completely different. You could drive for 6 hours in Australia and not even come across another town, let alone a completely different language.
It was so awesome to just jump on a train on Friday night and wake up in a different country on the Saturday morning, I'm certainly keen to try this a little more next year. Though the train driver on the way to Germany was a bit of a crazed maniac. I think he was a frustrated train racer as he sat on the brakes almost the whole way there, and really there is nothing more unpleasant than the sound of trains braking. So that made it a little hard to sleep, the trip back was fine though, a much more sensible driver was in control.

I was amazed at how different the Germans were to the French, for a start they dress different. They are a lot less fashionable than the French, though that could be due to the fact that it is a lot colder in Berlin and so people dress more for warmth/survival than to look good. I was also blown away by how well everyone spoke English, we actually had one waitress apologise for speaking German to us, or maybe she was sorry for us, you know because we were English speakers and thus unable to speak other languages. They are a lot more abrupt in Germany though, I don't think I had one shop-keeper smile at me the whole weekend. I wouldn't say that there are serious, rather I think they don't see the point in laughing or smiling unless there is something really worth it, that whole connection with fellow human beings doesn't seem to be that important to them.

They must also have a different Father Christmas in Germany to the one I grew up with. I'm used to Santa Claus being a jolly fat man who smiles, laughs and gives out sweets. The Santa Claus I saw at one German market carried a big stick and was more likely to give kids nightmares. I swear I was just waiting for one kid to start bawling their eyes out the way he was shaking his stick at them. He was really making those kids work for their one sweet.

The Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, like most of the old buildings in Berlin this one was damaged in the Second World War. Unlike most of the other buildings though this one was neither pulled down or restored but left damaged as a reminder to keep the peace. This was about 9am in the morning, notice the sun just rising.

Checkpoint Charlie, this was the single crossing point between East and West Berlin for foreigners and members of the Allied Forces. Here the photo is looking into the American sector of West Berlin. When the Cold War was on the Soviets erected a whole bunch of buildings on their side of the crossings, but the Americans always made do with just this little hut, apparently they never wanted to concede that the division could be permanent.

The Brandenburg gate, it is amazing to see photos of this from the time when the wall was up. Now this gate is surrounded by buildings and there are busy roads on either side of it with heaps of people all over the place. But back when the wall was up, the Brandenburg gate was caught in no-man's land and all around it there was just wasteland. The gate was built in 1791 (subsequently damaged in the Second World War and then rebuilt). The statue on the top was taken by Napoleon in 1806 when he defeated Germany, but then he had to return it 8 years later when he started to lose.

The Brandenburg Gate during the Cold War all those large empty fields are now full of massive buildings.

The Reichstag is Germany's Parliament House again also damaged in the War, though this was also damaged before the War. A fire broke out in 1933 and Hitler used it as an excuse to persecute the Communists and the Jews. The glass dome on the top was added in 1999 and I guess it's Berlin's Louvre pyramid, in that I think people didn't like it when it was first built but now they all love it. The Reichstag was built in 1894 mainly from money from France after France lost the Franco-Prussian war.

It is pretty funny to look at the last few major wars between France and Germany:
There was the Franco-Prussian War (Germany won, France lost)
Followed by the First World War (France won, Germany lost)
Then the Second World War (Germany lost, France abstained)

looks to me like these two countries need to hold a death-match to determine which one is really the best in Europe.

The other thing to notice though is that in each case it was the country which "started" the war which lost, I guess the message there is that you shouldn't go picking fights, maybe America could learn something from that.

I also visited the Jewish memorial, though the guide book I was looking at gave it the much more descriptive title of Memorial to the Murdered Jews in Europe. It was an odd sort of memorial, just this entire block filled with these gray rectangles, they are all different sizes and the ground is slightly undulating. When you see photos from above though it looks like a field of coffins, which perhaps was what they were going for when they built it.

I also visited the Jewish Museum whist I was there and it is well worth the visit. They have two installation pieces there, this photo is of one of them, it is a big room filled with these smiley faces made from metal and you are encouraged to walk on them. It is a bit disturbing to be walking over a whole stack of smiling faces and also because they are made of metal they obviously make a big racket when you do it as well. It was really good to visit, but I guess I was hoping for a bit more on the holocaust and the Second World War, like what were the circumstances in society that made people behave that way. I mean it was only 50 years ago and some of the war criminals and victims are still alive, they are people just the same as us now, so how could they behave the way they did? But perhaps it is not so different to what is going on in Guantanamo Bay and we all seem to accept that, perhaps it is really out-of-sight out-of-mind?

I would have also like to have seen some mention of the Israel and Palestine situation, but I suppose the museum was more going for the overall history of the Jews rather than just focusing on particular instances. Overall though it was a good museum and they obviously had stuff on the holocaust, but maybe I have to visit a concentration camp to really find out about the society back then. So that is certainly something I would like to do whilst I am over here, a project for next year perhaps.

Whilst I was in Berlin I had to make sure I had some currywurst, this is apparently Germany's main contribution to world cuisine, it's the red sausage stuff not the bread roll. It was not bad, not all that curry-y though.

The Berliner Dome was a bit of a highlight, again another thing which was damaged, poor old Berlin really took a pounding during the war. It was also built in 1894, probably with more of France's money. All the domes were missing their little crowning bits and so the tops of the dome had the picturesque crowning glory of blue plastic bags. This had to have been the least sacred feeling church I've ever been in. Most times when you go into a church to have a poke around you feel a bit out of place, it's normally dark, with people praying around the place or lighting candles. But here the electric lights were blazing, there were tour groups right down the front and pictures were expressly ALLOWED, so for once I could snap away inside a church.

I had to include this picture, it is of the Town Hall, but it is called the Red Rat House, literally that is how they pronounce it, obviously it is spelt a little differently :). That's one thing I found interesting was the differences between German and French. I find French is kind of easy to read (for an English speaker) as a lot of the words are basically the same, they are just pronounced completely differently. Whilst German looks like a real foreign language to read, but when I hear people speaking it sometimes sounds like they are almost speaking English.

This is the Eastern Gallery, it is the longest section of complete Berlin Wall, and it used to be covered in paintings, now they are either worn away or covered in graffiti. This section of the wall seemed a lot higher than the bit around Checkpoint Charlie, it was much more imposing along here. It was whilst walking around this area of Berlin that I really felt like I was in Soviet Russia. There were hardly any people about, and on the other side of the road from here there is just a vast expanse of desolate wasteland and abandoned buildings. It was a bit spooky as if you were expecting the Russian mafia to drive up and kidnap you and that the authorities would never even look for you.

Berlin really did have this odd feel to it, as if there were still two cities in the one area. The centre of the city is all built-up and new with people around the place. But when you go out to areas like this one it still felt like you had stepped back 50 years. It still also felt a bit like a war-torn city too, there were vacant blocks where buildings had obviously been damaged by bombs and pulled down but nothing had been built to replace them. I think because of the war damage it also feels like a young city, I guess most of their old buildings were destroyed and whilst they have tried to recreate some of them, there are a fair few concrete monstrosities around as well, though I think the Soviets have to answer for most of those design flaws, I think they had a real thing for grey concrete.

The second day I was in Germany I spent touring Potsdam, which is an outer suburb of Berlin, where the friend I was visiting has been living for the last 3 years. It was a really pretty little town, and just out of the centre there is Park Sanscoucci where there are a whole stack of castles. This one is the Neues Palace or rather the New Palace, which the emperor built as a guest house, because his own castle wasn't impressive enough. Unfortunately we couldn't take photos inside, as there were some really impressive rooms. The best one was the grotto room, which is basically what you would imagine a mermaid's cave would look like. I've never seen anything like it, it was like something straight out of a disney movie. There were shells and crystals all over the ceiling and walls. The floor was also covered in designs of shells and dolphins and that sort of thing.

The emperor actually lived in this castle until 1919, when I think he retired/abdicated from the position. That blows me away that Germany had an Emperor until so recently, though I guess by the end he was kind of like Australia's Governor-General. I think it is just the connotations that go along with Emperor which get to me. The fact that he was living here until 1919 also means that this was one of the only castles I've seen where a lift has been installed. The emperor also put in electric lights, though he installed electric switches to call his servants first. I suppose why do you need lights when you can just get a servant to make a fire for you.

The park where all these castles were was called Park Sanssouci, which if you add a space means "No worries" in French. That was another thing which surprised me in Germany, just the amount of English and French that was on random street adverts or menus or even shops. In France they are so worried that English will take over that they have made a law that if English is used on any billboard or any advert, like Nike's "Just Do It", they have to have a French translation somewhere on the sign. I don't know if they are not as worried about losing their language in Germany, but English and French did seem to just inter-mingle with the German. It surprised me when I would open a menu and there would be a Hot Chocolate listed in English, but then the description was always in German. I kind of wish they had just done it all in German, as when you see the English you feel a bit of excitement because you think you are going to be able to understand the menu and then every time you are disappointed.

This was one of the many Christmas markets we saw in Berlin, this was a bit of a special market though. It was held in the Dutch quarter of Potsdam and is only held once a year. Apparently people from the Netherlands come across to sell their wares. We saw Dutch people dancing in their clogs and had gluwhein, that stuff is yummy, as well as an assortment of sausages and sugar-coated treats. They sure do love their Christmas over there, there were lights up all over the place and markets on nearly every street corner, I guess when it is so cold and dark as it is in Berlin, you have to do something to cheer yourself up.

Strange Dutch dancing, there weren't any young people though, so I think this custom may be lost pretty soon. They were all wearing their clogs too, I suppose they are useful in winter as they would be waterproof, I imagine, but I'm not sure how warm they are.

This was one of the more elaborate Christmas markets I visited, with a full on toboganing ramp set-up, a lot of them had ice-rinks but this was the only ice-slope I saw. The Germans, they can't get enough of Christmas. I'm not sure how they survive the rest of the winter though, really Christmas occurs right at the start of winter, so you have almost 3 whole months of cold and dark to survive before spring comes round. It seems to me you might have used up all your happiness and now have to slog through those long dark days, with no more Christmas to look forward to.


Anonymous said...


The guy you mistook for German Santa was "Knecht Ruprecht". Santa's Little Helper, the dog in German Simpsons is called so as well.

Our Santa is overweight and dressed in red too!
Knecht Ruprecht is there to make the kids behave, he carries something like a cane.

I am no expert on all this stuff though...

Currywurst isn't really all that curry tasting and the quality should depend highly on the shop you go to.

Having it with fries instead of a bun and with lots of mayonaise is the (cholesterol) way to go anyway! yum

have a good trip!

Nasty German

Annabel said...

Ah I see how it works now, old Santa employs someone else to do his dirty work, poor old Knecht Ruprecht, hated by all the kids, just because Santa wants to make himself look good.

Anonymous said...

That's right!