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Baxpaxing in Berlin

GERMANY | Saturday, 2 July 2011 | Views [708]

Brandenburg Gate - the only remaining gate of a series through which Berlin was once entered & one of the most famous landmarks in Berlin & Germany

Brandenburg Gate - the only remaining gate of a series through which Berlin was once entered & one of the most famous landmarks in Berlin & Germany

I arrived in Berlin after a long train trip from Copenhagen, the most exciting part of which was when the entire train drove aboard the ferry and we were able to disembark to sit up in the ferry café for the 40 minute crossing. I walked to Baxpax Mitte through the rain that had followed me from Copenhagen and really liked the look of the hostel – amazing murals covering the walls of the corridors (mine was a trippy jungle scene) and each room a different theme. I was in the “Garden of Eden” which had a green roof, fake “grass” and flowers on the walls, and big “dandelion” light fixtures hanging from the ceiling. Another nice surprise was how much cheaper food was compared to Scandanavia – I’d grown used to the higher prices and was stoked to see the lower German prices. The hostel common room was pretty busy, with a small bar serving cheap beer, so I soon met up with a bunch of Aussies and English backpackers. We ended up heading out in a group of about 15 people, including 7 Belgian girls and a deaf Italian called Luigi who was one of the most social people I’ve ever met - certainly didn't let minimal English and difficulty hearing stand in his way of having a good time! Unfortunately that size of group is too big for the small bars and, since we didn’t know the area well (I’d just arrived) we blew out when it came to finding a club. So we ended up just taking a night tour of the city before heading back to the hostel for a few drinks.

I joined the 10am walking tour from the hostel and took an immediate disliking to the American guide who had the arrogance to get grumpy with us because we were running late due to the fact that HE was late as he’d locked himself out of his house. We finally arrived at the meeting point outside the Brandenburg Gate (city entrance) and joined what seemed like 200 other people there. Damn. Fortunately I was sent to another group with a lovely Australian guide who had German family in the area. We spent the following 3.5 hours wandering around town in the gloomy drizzle, with a couple of downpours sending us scuttling for cover. I was glad I’d packed my umbrella.
From the gate we walked down Potsdamer Plaz and the Holocaust Memorial which is designed from over 2000 blocks varying in height from 10cm to 14ft, with the ground undulating so that when walking through the memorial you end up surrounded by towering blocks of granite. It was pretty surreal. The designing architect also refused to explain a “meaning” to the design thus leaving it open for interpretation. We then headed over to “Checkpoint Charlie”, the US checkpoint made famous in many a cold war movie. We also passed a section of the Berlin Wall and could see where the barbed wire had been replaced with smooth rolled concrete to make it more difficult to climb. I hadn’t realised that the Berlin Wall was actually 2 walls separated by the “death zone” of no-man’s land where it was “shoot to kill” orders for any trespassers. From there we walked through the “book-burning square” Bebel Plaz where thousands of “unacceptable” books were burned by the Nazi regime, and over to Museum Island, where we checked out the beautiful old cathedral. I had been planning on checking out the Sunday flea-markets, but instead decided to escape the rain in a little café with a few of the tour members and ended up spending the rest of the afternoon there with a couple of the English girls. The café is connected to the GDR Museum and we ended up accidentally visiting it for free (should cost E6) as we had to walk through it to get to the café toilets, and didn’t realise there was a fee at all!

I ended up catching up with Heath, an Aussie I’d met at our hostel who was now staying at an affiliated hostel - Baxpax Downtown is a bigger more modern version of Baxpax Mitte, with a restaurant and rooftop bar. I was immediately jealous. We walked into town where we checked out Brandenburg Gate, Checkpoint Charlie and Memorial Square as Heath hadn’t seen the sites yet. After a day wandering around town in the rain we headed back to Heath’s hostel for dinner and met up with a couple of other Aussies – everyone seems to be from Melbourne on this trip! With a nice outdoor area and good bar there was no need to head out into the rain and we had a great evening hanging out.

The following day the weather was slightly better but it was still a bit cloudy, so I ended up spending most of the day in the Pergamon and German History Museums. The altar and Babylonian Gates at the Pergamon are amazing, and the amount of stuff to see/read at the GDR can keep you occupied for hours. I ended up learning a lot about both World Wars, and finally understood how insidiously Hitler managed to take over the country, gaining power by inches until he was practically unstoppable. Eventually I had enough of museums and decided to walk over to the East side gallery to check out the Wall. Unfortunately I had underestimated how far it was and after fifteen minutes walking decided I’d better head back as I was due to meet Heath and the others when they got back from their daytrip visiting the concentration camp just outside Berlin. A couple of other guys from my hostel joined us for a drink at Heath’s hostel, and then we headed out to an Indian restaurant just down the road that made amazing cocktails and had an “all day happy hour”. Good times.

I had an easy-going day after the previous late night and visited a section of the wall near my hostel that had a display area set up around it before heading over to the “cooler” hostel to spend a couple of hours with Heath and Max, an American guy we’d met the day before, enjoying a rare bit of sun. The rooftop bar was complete with barbeque and paddling pool, which turned out to be trouble as a few backpackers ended up taking unplanned swims. Luckily I wasn’t one of them. We finally got motivated to head out to a Reggae Bar by the Eastern Wall around 9pm and were joined by a couple of other people from the hostel. It was a pretty cool, laid back outside bar with a giant sandpit “beach” set in front of it complete with volleyball net, which would have been much nicer had it not started to rain. So we huddled at a covered table and imagined what it would be like on a sunny day.

Tags: baxpax, berlin, checkpoint charlie, german history museum, pergamon

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