Berlin

Bright, colourful, hip and happening Berlin. It is one city which I always wanted to visit. So on this trip, I decided to set aside a few days to make a special trip to this amazing city. I also have a good friend who now lives there (and has the most amazing apartment in Kreuzberg!), so I added that to my list of excuses as to why I must finally visit B-town. That and all the amazing art, architecture, nightlife, food, flea markets, history, culture… the list goes on and on and on.

I knew my visit to Berlin was going to be amazing from the word go. Meeting-up with my hyper-excitable and crazy friend Amanda at Schonefeld airport set the tone for our weekend in Berlin. We also had two other good friends from Australia coincidently visiting Berlin over the same weekend (what are the odds of that?). So there was no chance of our visit being boring. But I guess we were in Berlin, so how could it be anyway?

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Here is a list of things we did and saw in over the three days we were in Berlin:

East Side Gallery: Quintessenially Berlin, the Berlin Wall is one the city’s most visited attractions. For those who don’t know the history of Berlin, the Berlin Wall once divided the city into two – the communits East Berlin and the capitalist West Berlin. This heavily fortified barricade ‘protected’ East Germany from facism for almost 30 years, until it was destroyed in 1990. Today, the longest stretch of what remains of the wall, known as the East Side Gallery, which is located near Ostbahnhof train station, is now a highly decorated mural paying tribute to the days of East-West Berlin.

Holocaust Memorial: A somewhat unusual memorial to the Jewish victims of the Nazi genocide during the 1940s, located in downtown Berlin, is another attraction to add to your list. Designed by the architect Peter Eisenmann and engineer Buro Happold, this memorial consists of almost 3000 concrete slabs, symmetrically arranged over 19,000 square metre space. Each slab is the same width and length, but their heights vary and the alley ways between each slab is uneven. According to Eisenmann, the memorial was designed this way to create a confused and uneasy atmosphere, representing the ordered system which has lost touch with human reason. Walking through the memorial, you get a bizzare and almost uneasy feeling. No matter how tempted you are to practice your ‘planking’ on the concrete slabs, please refrain from doing so – or the guard will happily (or more forcefully) remind you.

Check-Point Charlie: The original checkpoint site was the crossing point between East and West Berlin. During the Cold War, Checkpoint Charlie became a symbol of the separation between East and West, between communism and capitalism. The checkpoint building which is now on the site is a reproduction, with the original one being demolished after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Checkpoint Charlie continues to attract countless numbers of tourists, who take their cheesy holiday snapshots with the ‘border guards’.

Tempelhof Airport: Being one of only a few airports in the world which are located with the city centre, Tempelhof Airport is one of Europe’s few iconic pre-WWII airports. Originally built in 1927, it was reconstructed during the Nazi years of Germany. Hilter intended it to be Germany’s gateway to Europe and a symbol of his ‘world capital’. The airport was greatly utilised by the Germany military during WWII and it was the access point for the Americans into West Berlin during the Cold War. The airport was officially closed in 1998, due to a drop in air trafffic, since Berlin now had other, more modern airports. Today, the grounds of Tempelhof airport are used for picnics and the tarmac a perfect surface for going for a leisurely bikeride and enjoying the summer sun (as we did). The airport has also become a tourist attraction, with organised tours organised. The airport building is well-preserved example of Nazi architecture and interior design.

Mauerpark Markets: If you’re lucky enough to be visiting Berlin on a Sunday, don’t forget to head to Mauerpark Markets. Located in the north of the city (take the U-Bahn to Eberswalderstrasse and just follow the crowds) it is the perfect place to indulge in a little souvenir shopping. At Mauerpark, you can find almost anything – bric-a-brac, used designer clothing, emerging designer clothing and jewellery, shoes, bags, bikes, gourmet food products, cameras, suitcases…the list goes on and on and on. Get there early to grab the best bargains, or get there around lunch time to enjoy a tasty organic vegie burger (so delicious!). Don’t forget to take into consideration your luggage allowance if you’re travelling – it’s rather difficult not to go overboard and have an extremely weighty and overflowing backpack as a result.

Bike Hire: Do what the locals do, grab a bike and discover the streets of Berlin. It seems as though everyone in Berlin has a push-bike. There are almost more bikes than cars on the roads. The city is extremely well-adapted to cyclists – there centre is flat and there are designated bicycle paths along almost every street. Bike hire places can be found all over the city, with bike rental being about 10 euros per day. We took a lovely ride from Kreuzberg, along the majestic tree-lined River Spree to Templehof Airport. Perhaps one of the best days spent in Berlin.

Berlin’s Clubs & Bars: Berlin is well-know for its colourful nightlife. No visit is complete without visiting a few of its many bars and clubs. Here are a couple which we loved…

Club der Visionaere: Located in the hip and happening neighbourhood of Kreuzberg, this funky little club is hidden away on the shores of the River Spree. Half tree house, half boat house, this Club der Visionaere is full of atmosphere. Its timber construction gives it a funky little, teenage clubhouse feel. Sit on the terrace, enjoy a drink or two whilst looking out on the twinkling evening lights magically reflected onto the river.
Watergate: We didn’t manage to actually get into this place – the line was almost a kilometre long. But we had fun chatting to some people in the line whilst we waited almost an hour before we decided to go. But this seems like the place to be any night of the week. So if you don’t mind the line-up, I’d say you should check it out and see what all the fuss is about.
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Essentials

Getting There:
Easy Jet has direct budget flights to and from Berlin Schoenefeld airport and a number of European capitals. We flew from Split to Berlin and from Berlin to Barcelona for approximately AU$150 for each flight. The train station, which connects the airport to the city, is only a short walk from the terminal. If you’re not sure from which platform to catch the train, or have difficulty using the automatic ticket machines, the friendly station attendant (you won’t be able to miss him in his grey and red uniform and hat) will be more than happy to assist you.

Eat:
There are so many amazing cafes and restaurants to eat at in Berlin. You’ll be so spoilt for choice. And in comparison to other European capitals, the prices are very reasonable. Here are a few of my favourites:
Il Casolare, located at Grimm Strasse 30: A fantastic little family run pizzeria making amazing pizzas. We came here on a recommendation by my friend Pete (it’s one of his favourite restaurants), and he wasn’t going to miss out on his favourite pizza, quattro fromaggio, so he insisted on joining us for dinner. It’s extremely popular, so get there early or you’ll have to wait around for a table. They have a wide selection of pizzas and pastas, which go down nicely with a schooner of beer or a bottle of Apfelschorle (sparkling apple juice).
Goodies, located at Warschauer Strasse 69: We didn’t start a day in Berlin without heading to the organic/vegan cafe for a scrumptious breakfast. All the food looked so amazing, that it was a struggle to chose something – fresh fruit smoothies, quinoa & blueberry porridge, banana bircher museli, date bread, delicious bagels, robust veggie salads, homemade brownies, a selection of yogurts… the enticing menu goes on and on and on. We could have eaten here for breakfast, lunch and dinner. We found the prices very reasonable and were pleasantly surprised to find soy lattes, like the ones you buy in Sydney.
Mirchi, located at Oranien Strasse 204: On our second night in Berlin we stumbled across this enormous Singaporean restaurant. At first we weren’t sure whether it was a night club or a restaurant, with the ostentatious decorations and the impressive size of the premises. They had a vast selection of dishes, from stir-fries to noodles, curries, salads, rice dishes and a range of entrees. Cocktails are only 5 euros each, so we couldn’t say no to one, or two, or maybe three mojitos. We were shocked at what great value for money Mirchi was – for us four girls, we each had a delicious dish, plus rice, plus two or three mojitos each… and the bill only came to 60 euros. We almost thought that there was a mistake in the calculation, it seemed so cheap.

Stay:
Eastern Comfort Hostel: After a bit of uncertainty about where we’d stay in Berlin, we stumbled across this interesting hostel. The hostel consists of two old river cruisers, moored side by side, that have been cleverly converted into an interesting hostel. The cabins serve as rooms, sleeping either two or four, with two rooftop bars overlooking the Oberbaum Bridge and the River Spree. I was lucky to have a good friend living in Berlin who gave me the thumbs up for selecting this hostel. The hostel is extremely well located, being within easy walking distance of both a U-Bahn and a S-Bahn station, close to the Kreuzberg district (which is full of restaurants, clubs and bars) and located right next to the East Side Gallery of the Berlin Wall – perhaps the most visited and most impressive attraction in Berlin.

 
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Buenos Aires, Argentina

Buenos Aires. Everyone knows this South American capital as the home of tango. But there is much more to this chaotic metropolitan city than tango. During the few days I spent in Buenos Aires, I have to admit that I didn’t even go to see a tango show (I’m sure one of my good friends, who is an amazing tango dancer, would be shaking his head in disgust whilst reading this). Rather, my time in Buenos Aires was filled with perusing through the San Telmo Markets, wandering through La Recoleta Cemetery, visiting the botanical gardens, ravelling at La Boca and just simple meandering through the streets of Buenos Aires, with a bit of shopping and ice-cream eating thrown in.

The highlight of my stay in Buenos Aires was by far the Sunday markets at San Telmo. San Telmo is a neighbour of Buenos Aires, located roughly between Av. Independencia, Av. Caseros, Piedras and Av Ing Huergo. It is the oldest and one of the best preserved neighbourhood in the city. It was originally an industrial area of the working class, which became increasingly popular in the mid 19th century amongst the middle class. An epidemic of yellow fever swept through the neighbourhood in 1871, which resulted in many of the well-to-do relocating to other areas of Buenos Aires. This resulted in many homes being left vacant, which were filled by British, Italian and Russian migrants arriving in the late 19th and early 20th century. In the mid-20th century, the neighbourhood’s bohemian atmosphere began to attract local artists, which resulted in growing cultural activity in the area. Today San Telmo characterised by its colonial building, cobbled streets, bohemian atmosphere, tango halls and of course their famous Sunday antique and arts markets.

The markets are on every Sunday, I’m assuming, rain, hail or shine. The markets are concentrated around Plaza Dorrengo and run the length of Calle Defensa. Plaza Dorrengo is where to head to first, especially if you’re after antiques and vintage collectables. There is everything and anything you can imagine. From vintage soda bottles, to stamps, match boxes, cameras, jewellery, porcelain, glassware, clothing, silverware, vases, phones, clocks etc, etc. The quality is good and the prices are dear. But the selection is amazing, at atmosphere un-matchable and looking at all these items makes one think of all the people who, over the centuries, have lived in this amazing city. Whilst ogling over the antique markets, the sound of tango could be heard. Right beside the antique markets was a tango orchestra – complete with pianist, cellist, and hand accordion players – who’s playing was absolutely superb. I guess I’m no authority on the matter, but from my own subjective viewpoint, I thought they played extremely well and I found it difficult to remove myself and continue up Calle Defensa to see the rest of the markets. The atmosphere in Calle Defense was somewhat different that of Plaza Dorrengo. Storeholders were selling their goods literary on the streets, instead of in well set-up stalls, antiques were put aside in favour of hand-made items, bric-a-brac, leather goods, CDs (the general things you find at markets), the cultured atmosphere was replaced by haggling and crowds and the sound of tango was overtaken by that of contemporary rock and rap music. Although this part of the markets was vastly different from Plaza Dorrengo, it still had it’s own charm. The best of which was big tubs of dulce de leche. If you haven’t been to South America, you may not know about this sickly sweet spread. It’s basically a caramel made from condensed milk. I first tried it in Peru, where it is called manjar, and instantly fell in love. I was amazed to see that they were selling big tubs of it at the San Telmo markets, or even better, served in ice-cream waffle cones for about US$1. Yum-my at a bargain! Of course I had one, or maybe two.

One of my best loved places in Buenos Aires was La Recoleta Cemetery. Like Pere Lachaise Cemetery is Paris, which I absolutely adore, La Recoleta has an unusual charm, even though some may think spending an afternoon is a cemetery rather morbid. Especially since  there are many coffins which you can actually see and touch. I was rather disturb and uncomfortable at seeing this – as you can see by some of the following photographs, there are a number of coffins which have been exposed to the elements, due to the wear and tear, as well as perhaps the odd vandalism of a number of the mausoleums. It was interesting to see how these tombs were constructed – many were build above ground, but a few of which I peeped into, seemed to have stairs leading downwards, beneath the ground. Some were simple and plain, and others were very ornate, lined with gold and marble. Many mausoleums appeared to be well maintained and lovingly cared for, whilst others were obviously forgotten and have fallen into disrepair. La Recoleta cemetery was inaugurated in the mid-19th century, taking up 14 acres of land in the middle of today’s cosmopolitan Buenos Aires. The cemetery contains many elaborate and decorative mausoleums, fashioned in may styles including Art Deco, Art Nouveau, Baroque and Neo-Gothic.  These mausoleums, which usually house the remains of multiple members on one family, are arranged in sections, similar to city blocks, which wide tree-lined avenues, fanning off into little side streets. Many notable Argentine personalities are buried in the cemetery, the most famous of which being Eva Peron. On weekends, the parkland in front of the cemetery is home to some amazing arts and crafts markets (I have to admit I spent a bit of money and bought a beautiful stone tea set) as well as some local street food – not forgetting the famous Argentine BBQ.

Although La Boca is extremely tourist focused, I rather enjoyed spending an afternoon amongst the hoards of tourists, tango dancers, Argentine BBQ restaurants and the sound of tango being played as you stroll down the street and marvel at all the sights, sounds and smells around you. This neighbourhood of Buenos Aires, located in the city’s south-east near the old port, was originally home to migrants from Genoa, Italy. Today, the neighbourhood is well known for La Bonbonera, the home of the Boca Juniors football team, it’s colourful architecture and its pedestrian street, The Caminito. I was initially somewhat apprehensive about visiting La Boca, especially after reading my Lonely Planet travel guide warning about frequent muggings in the neighbourhood, as well as some fellow travellers relating stories about others being held-up a gun point for a digital camera or a wallet. So I grabbed a fellow traveller I met on my adventure, who looks rather scary anyway, to come with me to La Boca. But surprisingly, the neighbourhood seemed rather safe and full of life – that is to say, along El Caminito and the surrounding streets, which we didn’t stray far from, getting a taxi to and from there. The area was full of life, and full of tourists too. After taking a few typical Buenos Aires shots with my camera, we sat down to an Argentine feast of BBQ meats of every shape and form. These people sure do love their meat and take great pride in cooking and serving it to perfection.

This is only a sneak peak of Buenos Aires – there are many more things to see and do in this big and vibrant city. I only had a few short days there, so I was unable to see it all.

Words & Photography by Jade Spadina