Time for another over due blog – we’ve actually done lots of things since the last one, so not sure why we haven’t blogged. Could be the cheap beer here in Berlin. In fact, yes, that’s the brunt of the blame. Why blog when yummy German beer is available for about $4 Australian a pint?
In fact I have 4 in me now…
Anyway, reaching back through the last week – Paris!
When Jodie last blogged we were had just gone to Versaille on boxing day. The day after we went to the Louvre for the day. It was massive. To be honest it wasn’t exactly what I expected, either. I expected mostly paintings, but it was actually a lot closer to a ‘museum’ than a ‘gallery’. There were a whole lot of sculptures, and a lot of antiquities – fragments, artifacts and history, largely European, but spreading into the middle east and some of Asia.
If you were to pick any room at the Louvre, even a room in the back corner of the basement, it would be the basis for so many other museums in the world – it is FULL of collections, both private and public, all brought together here in the last few hundred years. From Egyptian artifacts over 4000 years old, to a Lady Gaga exhibit (we (Sam) avoided that one).
We got evacuated around lunchtime, which was good fun, especially given all of the announcements saying “please leave the building” were in French, and the staff were pretty ‘meh’ about the whole thing. We left, and came back and hour later… apparently there was a possible fire. I’m picking a kid flicking a button he shouldn’t have.
Trying to get reception with all this stonework about is hard…
And Sandy – hopefully this will make up for the last blog?
After the Louvre, we met Gio for dinner. Still good fun, still very French, and now has grand ideas of a republic where he is the very particular minister for immigration. Good to hang out for a while!
To follow up our day of culture, we went to Disneyland!
This was almost exactly as we expected – a giant Disney theme park. Very fun, though we both agreed it would be more fun to go as a kid, or with a kid. Things are always more fun with someone who’s right into things. We somewhat expected dress up Mickey, Mini and Donald’s walking around waving their arms all day – nope, that’s a ride you line up for photos with them. Fun rides, and I managed to get Jodie onto two roller coasters!
The next day we thought we’d better climb this old thing.
Turns out thousands of our best friends wanted to meet us there… A few hours later we got up there. Jodie managed to climb the steps, which were semi-see through metal things up to the second level – I’ll get her bungee jumping soon.
The lift up to the very top was interesting – it just seemed to keeeeeep going. We’d get through a darker section, and you’d think “oh, we’re here”, then keep going another 10 seconds. It’s higher up there than it looks!
A not-so-busy-on-Sunday street. Parlez vous Francais?
No proposals up there – been there, done that :D.
After the Eiffel tower we had a late lunch/early dinner with my Aunt, Uncle and cousin, Sue, Rob and Sienna. It was good to catch up, they had arrived that morning, so hit a wall somewhere through the afternoon, what with it being somewhere around 4AM at home. It was our our last planned contact with people we knew until we get home – 6 weeks of just the two of us to go! 😛
Our next stop was Berlin for New Years, via an overnight train. Overnight trains are an interesting one, especially with suitcases. I think we offended someone by putting our cases under the bed… they didn’t talk a lot past hello… as always, I didn’t have a lot of trouble sleeping, even if I was in boots and the bed meant I couldn’t actually straighten my hips, but Jodie had a bit more trouble. I found the rocking almost soothing to sleep with.
Berlin seems a cool city. Our first day we dropped off our bags and wondered around the city a bit, beelining toward the Brandenberg Gate, where the New Years party was to be held the next night. We wondered through the and came to Tiergarten, a large garden/forest type thing to the west of the city and came across the Victory Column which we climbed for a look around.
Afterward we found a German pub and had some Weiner Schnitzel and beers. That was definitely a win.
On the way back to the hotel we decided to get some German beer for our hotel – this stuff is cheap! This is about $20 worth… we compared some prices and it didn’t look like we bought the gutter beer, either…
New Years Eve we went on a guided walking tour of the city which was really good – one of the best value things we’ve done for about $18 AUD. It went around a whole bunch of the things to see in Berlin, with talks about the history, and how what we were looking at fit into the history.
Obviously a lot of the history around the city falls around World War 2 and the Cold War, so things like the Reichstad (still a centre of German government), the Berlin Wall, the centres for the SS and 3rd Reich command featured heavily.
One site that did stand out in an entirely non descript way was the bunker where Hitler retreated, and eventually died at the end of the war. It was a dodgy, unsealed carpark behind some grey, boring communist flats. There was a single sign there describing the site in very simple terms, erected by the council as the locals were tired of being asked about it. Somewhat fitting, we thought.
New Years was a good night – fireworks are legal here, and boy do they make the best of that. We headed down to Brandenberg Gate area, where a Christmas Market like setup was set up. All the way down there were a few bangs and cherry bombs about, as we got closer some larger works went up. By the time midnight came around, there was just a constant explosion going on around us – we tried to film some of it, but I think I may have put my finger over the microphone for the second half (or possibly this computer isn’t playing it well…). Also, not a cameraman, boom operator or fledgling director. None of these are the ‘official’ fireworks, either.
Anyway, we both enjoyed the night, and came home to our hotel and watched some more fireworks from our hotel window.
New Years day was… spent booking our next few weeks – flights, beds, etc, and generally pretty quiet. We ventured our for breakfast (champagne, ugh) and dinner, and that’s about it.
Having enjoyed the first general walk, we went on another walking tour with the same company, this time out to the Sachenhausen concentration camp. Our guide was an Irishman, Barry, who had a good knowledge of German history, recent and further back. A few things he said did stick, including a couple of his closing statements – “I know enjoy is probably not the right word, but I hope you all got something out of today” – this was definitely the case. Enjoy… no, but I do enjoy learning, and it was an… interesting visit.
Sachenhausen was not one of the ‘big’ concentration camps, or one of the ‘extermination’ camps, like Auschwitz, but around 10% of the 200,000 people sent here didn’t come out. Rather, it was more of a central hub for the camps where quite a few horrible things were tried for the first time, and it provided labour and supplies (from counterfeit money to shoe repairs) for the centre of Nazi dominance in Berlin.
Similar to the other ones, though, the people sent there were sent there for less than justifiable reasons – race, religion, sexual preference and political disagreement or alliance. The stories and conditions were, without bandying words, horrific. The psychological and physical abuse, and even treatment after death were beyond anything I would ever want to see happen again, even more so than I had previously believed.
I’ll skip ahead here, rather than coming back to the subject. We ended up visitting another exhibition today – ‘The Topography of Terror’, which is built on the site where the old SS headquarters was.
Another really good visit, if not ‘enjoyable’ per se, this exhibition had a lot of photos, with plenty of information to match, which were somehow a bit more ‘real’ than visiting the camp, and honestly quite distressing in a lot of ways. The crossover from photos of soldiers holding guns to civilians, to ‘good old boys’ drinking scotch in a bar, to proud soldiers with their starved, desperate captives, then back to well dressed gentlemen posing for a photo on a bridge with their girlfriends. So many of the photos just looked like ones you’d see on mantelpieces of peoples grandparents, great uncles and relatives from during the war, interlocked with these horrible images of cruelty.
Jodie and I have had quite a few conversations about just who was recruited here – Jodie is of the belief that there was a very definite decision on the type of person recruited. While I agree there was a definite archetype, I’m not so certain it was exclusive. It was a different time, with a lot of factors in play. Again, something I, along with many others, hope to never happen again.
Today we started on a somewhat lighter note, and visited some museums – Berlin, being a European centre for some time has some great artifacts from the past. The museums included Roman, Greek and a lot of Egyptian items, including the bust of Nefititi, a 3000 year old sculpture of the Egyptian queen which was found in almost perfect condition.
From there we wondered back to Checkpoint Charlie – the crossover point over where the wall stood – where there was a panoramic mural setup that we’d planned to go back to. It was a 2 story high stitched together photo of life next to the wall.
For people in the West, living in Berlin, the wall was just a part of life – some tourists came to see it, some people painted on it, some people had family on the other side. At the end of the day, though, it was a wall in the city you wouldn’t cross. The panorma showed this well – looking one direction you could have been looking at Fitzroy in the 80’s, then, the wall, and over it the dead zone, then the typical, grey communist apartments. Really well done, we thought.
From there we went onto the other exhibition mentioned earlier, then dinner. More beer, more meat, more German hospitality!
On the way back we found an Australian theme pub – I had to have a Fosters, while Jodie had a Bundy. Hum.
So, Berlin has been an interesting visit – I’d say we have enjoyed it, despite the earlier quote. Learning is fun!
Our next blog will probably be either from Helsinki, or way up North in Ivalo. Until then… (I haven’t learnt the German word for ‘bye’ yet)… Au Revoir!