258. A Club on the 20th Floor

(lighting made it near impossible to get good photos)

We had been tasked with visiting two “must see” clubs in Berlin. One was called Watergate, and wasn’t open while we were there, and one was apparently found sandwiched between corporate offices, on the 20th floor of a building. We didn’t have any other information, not even a name, so by the time we made it back to Berlin we had forgotten about it.

Thanks to the great deals that often pop up on booking.com, we were in hotels in Charlottenberg, instead of the usual hostels. Cheap ones, but still, it’s nice to have your own room every once in a while, especially when it is the same price as a grotty backpackers! Sadly that is usually the only perk of a cheap hotel. The Holiday Inn Charlottenberg, however, seemed to really pride itself on its “concierge” service, with signage everywhere going on about it. So naturally we took advantage, and asked them for advice on places to go out. The poor wee guy looked a little stressed, told us he didn’t get out much and went to find the guy in the back room for clubbing advice. Guy number two also didn’t seem to have many ideas, but suggested maybe we head to one nearby called Puro and gave us some incredibly vague direction.

As we wandered through the leafy green streets of Charlottenburg, we really got the feeling we were on a wild goose chase and decided to let go of that plan. Every 100m there was a brightly lit sign for some Irish pub, so we thought we’d just give up and head there. Strangely enough, it seemed to be on a basement floor of a shopping mall – we went past a bunch of closed up shops, down escalators and found a pretty packed Irish bar. How bizarre. After a snakebite or two (I know, we could only have been more stereotypical if we were drinking Guinness), we eventually thought we’d call it a night and head home. As we tried to find our way out of this confusing mall situation, we spotted another set of escalators and a big banner that said “Puro” – we had finally found this mysterious bar, in a shopping mall of all places!

As we went up the escalator to check it out, all there was was a desk where ID’s were being checked. It was kind of like a registration table at a conference. As in, trestle table covered in cloth in the middle of a huge open space type thing. Once we were given the all clear, we were walked over to an elevator, where another person inside escorted us up to the 20th floor. None of these antics were at all expected! Upon exiting the elevator, there we were in a packed club, with floor to ceiling glass windows around the entire building providing amazing views of Berlin.

When we tried to get to one of these windows, which were lined with lounge chairs in a booth-type arrangement, we were instantly met with hostility! Apparently all of the seating areas lining the glass windows can be booked out by groups, which then seemed to have the ability to block access to the view. When we pointed out that don’t worry, we don’t want to steal your seats, hit on your girlfriends or drink all your bottles of champagne, we just want to check out the view, it seemed all was well and we were met with “OK well you guys are cool, but no-one else is allowed up here.” Ummm OK, sure thing buddy…

All in all it was a fun and unique spot, if very crowded and full of people asserting some pretty strange rules to dominate what little space they could find. (I seriously wouldn’t have been surprised if the guy informed us he had peed around his seating area to mark his territory, he was that adamant).

257. Photos from Munich

Not gonna lie, we had a very brief period of time there so I didn’t get to see much, but wandering around the city was quite fun, with lots of bavarian looking buildings, and important looking business people in fancy cars.

256. Inner City Surfing

In the middle of Englischer Garten is a man made standing wave in the Eisbach which has been a popular surfing spot since 1972

Stumbling across a bunch of surfers in the middle of an inner city park surely is a perplexing site, but most entertaining. Especially as most of them were really talented – there is even a sign that reads: “Due to the forceful current, the wave is suitable for skilled and experienced surfers only”

254. Englischer Garten

Englischer Garten was a really beautiful, incredibly green, and HUGE park in the middle of town. It actually took us about 40min to walk through it to find the Chinesischer Turm Beer Garden!

253. A True German Beer Garden

In Englischer Garten we found ourselves at the “Chinesischer Turm” (Chinese Tower), the second largest beer garden in Munich.

The history of the Beer Garden, so I’m told, is that brewers were only allowed to brew in winter (in the early 19th century). In order to keep their beer cool for sale in summer, they stored it in cellars along the river Isar under the shade of the trees. These areas soon became popular drinking spots, and a law was enacted in 1812 to allow/encourage the sale of food, thus bringing to life the beer garden.

Whilst there are self service beer/food kiosks at the beer gardens, you can actually bring your own food/drink and have a wee picnic at the tables.

At the Chinesischer Turm, named after the Chinese Tower in the middle (which is actually modelled on the “Great Pagoda” in the Royal Botanic Gardens in London), we were delighted by an Omm-pah band as well as a lovely leafy green area full of tables and chairs, and a little self service kiosk full of Hofbrau beer and bretzels, among other famed (clichéd?) German delicacies.

214. Berlin to Prague in Stop Motion

When driving over the Swiss Alps, I was trying to get some good shots of the scenery around me, but we were whizzing past them all so quickly that I ended up holding down continuous shutter to see if I could catch them. When flicking through the photos really quickly the effect was really cool! I’d just recently seen some amazing stop motion videos made by my friend Marc and thought maybe I could give it a go too.

My attempt was not at all planned, just a few bursts in some more interesting places, and when we hit town I passed my camera around and it came back with some pretty hilarious shots! If I were to do another such video it would be good to have the camera properly mounted on the dashboard of the car, but nonetheless it was a fun experiment, and an efficient way to share my road trip snaps!

213. Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp

Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp is just outside of Berlin. What sets it apart from the others is that after the war it continued to be used to house Soviet Prisoners of War. It is now open as a memorial/museum.

Only a few of the buildings remained, but the size of the place was quite astounding – it was absolutely massive. When we arrived we all got audio guides, which were quite essential as most of the sites are simply an outline on the ground of what used to be there. There was so much information on the guide – you could spend all day listening to it. There was a lot to learn about what life was like, how many people were crammed in, and some of the horrible things that went on. For instance, I learned that there was a specially created running track, where prisoners who were being punished above and beyond the norm were sent to test the durability of shoes for the military by running around and around in circles and over different types of terrain until the shoes were worn out.Roll call area. Prisoners had to attend for the roll call three times daily, often standing for hours in the snow, and doing the "Sachsenhausen Salute"

The camp was primarily a work camp, with gas chambers only added later. They manufactured a great deal of furniture there, which lead me to wonder how far/wide the products of concentration camps spread around Germany and the rest of Europe, You would have to be so careful if you were buying antique furniture, for example, because it would be hard to know just how many lives were lost in the production of your chest of drawers.

There was also a quite horrific account of some young Polish boys who were infected with hepatitis, and subject to a number of test to determine the symptoms, including having a liver biopsy taken with no painkillers or anesthetic.Preserved Barracks

The audioguides were great, and quite necessary in a place like that, though I did feel that the information overload (it was all very factual) depersonalised the experience a bit, compared to a later visit to Anne Frank House, where you got a real sense of just how much the war affected the individual.

On learning about prisoner’s arrivals to the camp, and the ordeal they went through (including the “Sachsenhausen Salute” whereby prisoners were forced to squat on their knees with their arms outstretched for hours on end. If they faltered slightly they would be beaten), the thing that got me the most was that so many of the soldiers in the lower ranks seemed to take such delight in abusing the prisoners. It is easy to accept that Hitler, Goebbels et al were horrible and absolutely crazy for orchestrating such atrocities, but a concentration camp of that size requires such a huge amount of administration, and so many staff/soldiers to run it. Given the accounts of their behaviour I don’t think it is at all possible to say they were (all) just following orders or that they had their own consequences to be fearful of. Site of the gas chambers

In contrast, however, there were a few touches of hope and humanity throughout, particularly in the basement of the kitchen were prisoners had to prepare vegetables. The walls had some amazing murals painted on them, so I assume there was a bit more down time for them there, and a bit less supervision.Original mural in the cellar