If all goes as planned you will be reading this about the same time as my “last” blog post, as I am relying on sketchy internet cafes, and have to find ones that actually have USB access. I’m not typing these longwinded things when I have to pay for time. That’s not to say these take me a long time, though. You know I don’t care about quality, editing, or anything like that. [Insert something funny to win them back]. That being said, I thought rather than stop writing posts, just because I don’t have the internet, I’ll just keep writing them and then post them as if it were the day I intended them to be posted. So, when you read this, imagine me writing it Monday night after dinner… I can’t promise when you’ll read it, but I hope that it finds you eventually. Enough of that. Let’s have another postcard!
That’s right! May 1 st was Labour Day in Germany, and so of course everyone celebrated by taking the day off, most things were closed, and the best thing to do was to go outside and enjoy the beautiful weather, which I did. I found a nice stretch of grass by the Spree and read a book (one of my recovered ones I told you about…days ago…wink wink) for a few hours, fighting the local flies. It seemed strange to me that it was a holiday, because it was also a Sunday, and I always (in my Canadian manner) assume most things to be closed or in limited service on a Sunday anyways. Apparently, it is not so in Germany. Except for the Kaiser’s grocery, which is, in fact, closed on Sundays regularly. Oh Kaiser’s.
I thought I’d talk a bit about some of the things I’m figuring out about Berlin as I go. For instance, I’ve discovered that most of the shopping centres offer free wifi, which is a huge plus. I’ve been carrying around my iPhone and using it basically as a wifi iTouch. It’s alright if I only plan to check my email, etc. once a day. It’s a bit of a pain as I’ve been wanting to post my blogs every couple of days and internet cafes, as mentioned above, are either hard to find, ultra sketchy, or don’t use USBs (my primary way of transferring my Word doc and lovely photos to share). If it gets really bad, I’ll just start hauling my laptop with me to the nearest shopping centre. So far, I figure that Schoenhauser Allee, two stations away on the S-Bahn, might be my best bet in that regard. I just don’t feel like carrying my laptop all day, so it’s probably not going to happen on a day where I plan to do a lot of running around town. I’ll try my luck with finding a reasonably unsketchy cafe nearby. If you are reading this, I have succeeded (presumably).
For those that are curious, I’ve purchased a cheap unlocked cellphone (or “Handy” as they call them) and a local SIM card. If for whatever reason I run out of credit, they have shared multi-company top-up machines throughout the city, especially at S-Bahn and U-Bahn stations.
Speaking of the S-Bahn, I’ve been motoring around the city now like a regular commuter after a few days of acclimatisation. Basically, to explain the transit system here to a stranger, there are multiple ways to travel, all part of the same public system, so you can use the same ticket on different ways to go. The S-Bahn is the big commuter train that can get you long distances in a short amount of time. It actually shares its rails with the intercity and cargo trains, in a smart German sense of planning. They use intervals between S-Bahn trains to send the intercity trains through (or vice versa). Then there are the U-Bahn trains, which often run underground (though not exclusively) and are more designed for shorter, more urban trips. The S-Bahn and U-Bahn each have numerous lines with different routes. At major stations, both S-Bahn and U-Bahn lines come, though they use different platforms and you have to do a bit of figuring out which ones to go to. Luckily for me, there are lots of signs everywhere. Two key words to know are “Ausgang” (exit) and “Eingang” (entrance), as they are found throughout pretty much every large building, not just the stations.
To give you a taste of the routes I’ve been on, there has been the S41 and S42 (both are called the Ring lines, as they go in a ring around the centre of Berlin, with one travelling clockwise and the other counter), the U2 (an underground line that runs through the heart of the city), and the U6 (quickest route from my flat to Friedrichstrasse, basically the central hub of the entire network and walking distance to many of the attractions). Getting tickets is really easy, so long as you know what you are looking for on the self-service machines (as far as I can tell the machines are either only in German or I am too blind to find an English button). The network is broken up into three zones, but for whatever reason zones A & B aren’t separated in price fares. I’ve been told that unless I plan a daytrip to Potsdam (which I might) or a trip to the “other” airport, Schoenefeld (unlikely), I’ll never need an ABC fare. So, with that in mind, my choices are really simple. A single trip AB fare costs 2.30 euros, while a day pass AB costs 6.30 euros. With the exception of the bus/train ride from the Tegel airport to my flat, when I used a single trip ticket, I’ve only been using day passes, though some days it is worthwhile and others I might have saved a couple euros by just doing the singles. Once a ticket is bought, you stick it in a validator and off you go.
Now, throughout the system it is largely an honour system, something I discovered five years ago the last time I came to Berlin and was mostly riding the S-Bahn four stops only. However, the last thing I want to do is be the guy who gets caught, and I have now actually witnessed others being caught. Forget the uniformed fare checkers on Translink in Vancouver; in Berlin they have plainclothes officers. A “dude” (either in reality or his costume) got on the U6 Monday evening, looking all nonchalant (or the German equivalent), waited until the train started rolling along and then flashed the badge. I pulled out my day pass. No problems, he moves on and finds a very clean-cut looking group of middle-aged adults and catches them without fares. At the next stop he tells them to get off. As far as I know he didn’t give them a ticket, though I did see him give a different gentleman a ticket once he was on the platform. I’m not sure what the exact penalty is, but I’ve heard forty euros, which isn’t awful, but I could afford to keep my money.
Beyond the S-Bahn and U-Bahn, there are also RE (regional) trains (similar to the S-Bahn, but more longdistance and require ABC fares), buses, and trams. I might take a RE if I go to Potsdam for a daytrip. I have no wish to ride on any more buses than I have to (it’s the lowest form of public transport), but I might hop on a tram this week, just for the heck of it. Trams are basically just as bad as buses, but have a mystique to them, and I don’t mind experiencing a bit of that.
It’s called the Fernsehturm, or TV Tower, and it is meant to show the DDR (East Germany) means business. Despite the Communist regime cracking down on religion, the guy in the sky, or the sky itself, had/have the last laugh as at a certain time of the day when the sun hits the spire, it actually creates a cross. I don’t have a picture of it, but I hear that it really got the Stasi’s blood boiling.
Built on the site of a pre-war cinema, but delayed until reunification (something about a wall), the Sony Center at Potsdamer Platz is a pretty, well-designed public space (with free wifi). It certainly worked out well for Sony, who purchased the land agreement almost after the ink dried on the reunification of Germany. It happens to have a massive megaplex cinema that features a lot of English-language films without subtitles. I had the, um, “pleasure”, of seeing X-Men III there in 2006. I also hear there is an art film house here, too. No word yet on whether it will show the true avant-garde director’s cut of “Wolverine”…
Walking through the streets of Berlin, one comes across a lot of randomness. It’s good, as I happen to love randomness.
One of three German universities I have considered if I were to pursue a PhD. in the future, Humboldt Universitat is one of Europe’s most storied institutions, the home of many great thinkers, including Schopenhauer. It also happened to have a lovely book sale on Saturday.
This is just a fun scene here. This is along the Spree, where there is a long row of riverside cafes, right by the DDR Museum, across from the Berliner Dom.
In Pariser Platz, the open square at the foot of the Brandenburger Tor, that leads to Unter den Linden, there are a bunch of street performers. It’s a bit like Las Ramblas in Barcelona (where many of you may know I did NOT hit it off with a fake Che Guevara). This guy here was basically just sitting still, covered in sand. Impressive? Sure. But, was it amazing? No. I’ll tell you why. Take a look at that picture again and tell me that you don’t think the guy walking around in the Tiger suit isn’t the ballsiest man on the planet. It was 25 degrees in the scorching sun!
I had a ton to write about my visits to some museums, so let’s try that as a separate post.