204. Berlin Pub Crawl

After our previous going out experiences, we caved and decided to go on one of those tousristy pub crawls. I had originally written them off as being yet another tourist trap, but we were a bit sick of the admin that is working out where to go and how to get there. There was one run through the same company that ran the excellent bike tour we had just been on, and we thought at the very least, we have just as much fun in our own company if no-one is there, and it was really good value, for the amount of free drinks you get.

Our guide

As it turned out, it was really fun! The first people we met were some guys from London who informed us they were planning on going on a big eurotrip but on their first night out in Berlin had spent 1500 pounds, so they couldn’t afford to go any further. That particular fact absolutely blew my mind! Even on my most wreckless nights of spending, with cocktail drinking and loads of food I would still struggle to spend more than $100. I just don’t know how he managed that.

I have no idea who that guy on the right is…

Other notable attendees were a hilarious bunch of dutch girls, who definitely were not in Berlin to soak up any culture. They informed us that technically they were in Berlin for 6 days, but it was really three because they spend every second day in bed with a hangover. Good laughs, those girls! Definitely could NOT keep up with their drinking though.

All in all it was a really great night, and we may not have been at the most popular bars/clubs, but every spot had a rent-a-crowd that filled the place up and were nice and chatty, and we went to some quite cool, quirky bars. My favourite was a Cold War Propaganda themed bar, in an alcove under the railway with loads of original posters and signs.

At the end of the night the boys needed a kebab stop, and damn good kebabs they were too! Everything we had been lead to believe about kebabs in Berlin, and more. It seems like competition is so fierce between the stalls that they are all trying to out-gourmet eachother!

192. Clubbing in Berlin

Our first nightclub attempt, Berghain, had failed, but that wasn’t to deter us! This was, however, our first realisation that when someone says “Go out in this area, that’s where all the bars are” it actually isn’t that useful. The other difficulty in Berlin is that given it’s history of being so divided, there really is no main centre or one area to go out in.

We were told by our helpful hostel receptionist (which later would prove to be a rare luxury compared to other hostels and hotels) that Friederichshain was the place to go. So we headed off in that direction. The problem when we arrived was that it was a lot more spread out than we had anticipated. Given the advice to just head there and we will find the bars, we were envisaging it being a Courtney Place type scenario where they were all quite central. But alas, it was a really spread out area, and it was quite difficult to tell if the bars were any good. Especially when they all had cover charges so you don’t want to part with your euros for a crappy bar. We sat down at one that had a cocktail special, but it was pretty average and we were getting tired, so decided to call it a night. As we were headed back to Westbahnhof station, however, we stumbled across what seemed to be an old railyard, with bars in all these old wharehouses, many of which were covered in really cool graffiti, political statements and art. It turned out to be quite the find, with loads of cool bars and beer gardens with novel themes and far more reasonable prices. We stopped in at a few of them, and it was just such a cool, laid back and novel atmosphere compared to most cities which try to have the classiest bar or compared to really intense clubbing districts.

66. “Are They Drunk or Are They Swedish?”

On our first night in Sweden we decided to venture out to a bar in town called Sturehof that our friend had recommended we go to. It definitely wasn’t anything you’d find in a lonely planet guide – we had to go through a bar, a restaurant, past another bar and up a mysterious stair case to find it. The look of intrigue on the bouncer’s face when we showed our various international driver’s licences confirmed it wasn’t the usual tourist hotspot.

The bar was pretty cool, good music, and more of a chat and dance-a-little vibe – halfway between a lounge bar and a dance club. This was our first real encounter with Swedes, other than those studying on exchange with us. It was like a David Attenborough documentary, as we observed the behaviours of the herd! We certainly noticed that a huge part of the mating ritual was wearing very expensive designer labels, and blatantly being very carefully put-together, despite trying to appear as if they ‘just woke up and threw this on.’ The view from our perch in the raised seating area was almost like flicking through an editorial photo shoot in a fashion magazine.

Given we had had introductory lectures in Denmark about the social norms, behaviours and cultural value of Danes, we were ever so curious as to whether the behavioural patterns we had learned about were similar with the neighbouring Swedes. For example, we had been told (and obversations of the native’s behaviour confirmed) that Danish people are initially considerably more shy and stand-offish than those of many western cultures. One need only see the look of great discomfort on a Dane’s face as he is greeted with kisses by an Italian to have this confirmed. Put a beer in his hand, however, and everything changes, even before he’s taken a sip!

One thing I have certainly noticed, is the difference when you come across someone in the street. In New Zealand it is common to wave and say hi or smile if you are walking past someone and you catch their eye. If you are going for a run and come across another jogger, even more so. You share that mutual look of “I’m pretending to be fit, but really I’m dying inside too.” In Denmark, however, I still haven’t fully gotten this habit out of my system, and everyone looks at me like I’m a total creep when I smile or say hi.

As for Swedes, my friend from Sweden had had a few complaints about Danish behaviour, describing walking through hallways at University as “the laws of the jungle” – I seem to be the only one at school that routinely holds doors open for people as they walk through, and am constantly met with looks of surprise. Ride a full bus and you’ll see them all race for the door at the same time as though someone just pulled the fire alarm. With her surprised reactions at how Danes interact with eachother, we had quite the impression that Swedish people would be much more like what we’re used to (Canadians, it seems, have much the same behavioural patterns and common courtesies as New Zealanders, Americans more of a mixed bag but on the whole pretty polite).*

However, this particular bar turned out to be a terrible place for scientific observations. We arrived close to midnight and hadn’t had much to drink ourselves so most people in the bar where on a whole other. Buying a drink was like being in a moshpit, and there were plenty of scantily clad girls choosing really inconvenient places to dance. However, our one major interraction with native Swedes was when a very drunk one climbed up on the bench a friend was sitting on, lost his balance and landed completely on top of her, before falling on to our table and smashing all of our glasses in to pieces. We were already feeling a little sensitive about how much we had just paid for the drinks (apparently a slice of lemon in this bar makes your drink a cocktail, so stick to the beer and cider). Drunk people fall over all the time, so it wasn’t the fall that gave us the terrible impression. When we pointed out in no uncertain terms that it was neither funny nor endearing to flatten an unsuspecting californian and throw a round of drinks across the bar, instead of the apology you would generally expect in such a situation, the response was an aggressive “What? What do you want?” like he was going to fight me, or paying us off was the solution. I would have been happier with an apology than the most expensive bottle in the bar, to be quite honest. We all commented about how in almost every culture we have experienced, such a reaction would never have occurred, but profuse apologies would have been made instantly.

The most expensive round we never had

After many more observations in order to answer the question of the night – “Are they drunk or are they Swedish?” everyone else we meet in our time in Sweden proved the hypothesis that yes, they were drunk, and sadly fell into the unfortunately large category of people that are arseholes when they drink.

Unlike the Danes, it was a lot harder to pigeonhole any particular behavioural patterns of Swedes, apart from the fact that they all dress immaculately.

*Comments about first impressions of Danes are not to be taken to mean Danes aren’t lovely people. Once the ice is broken, Danish people have, in my experience, proved to be incredibly kind, helpful, loyal and friendly!

64. Gamla Stan

Gamla Stan, or the Old Town, in central Stockholm is quite possibly one of the most beautiful spots in all Stockholm, and if I’d been to more places I reckon I’d be extending that area quite considerably. Until then, I’ll stick to what I know.

Stockholm has been called the Venice of Scandinavia, and it is easy to see why in Gamla Stan. The city is made up of a number of islands, one of them being Stadsholmen, where Gamla Stan is found. Every square inch of land on Stadsholmen is taken up by stunning old-style architecture, with the buildings as close to the edge of the island as possible, with only the minimum amount of cobbled pathways separating them.

Gamla Stan dates back to the 13th century and includes the Royal Palace, the Stockholm Stock Exchange building and the Cathedral. Unlike the Old Town in Aarhus, Gamla Stan isn’t an open air musuem or collection of relics and replicas, but instead many of the medieval buildings are still in use as cafes, restaurants, bakeries, antique stores and bars. There is something very romantic and magical about walking through the town in the evening and seeing the cafes full of people, enjoying the music at candle-lit tables. It is like being transported back in time, but with hygienic streets and food safety standards.

26. Dance on a table

In the middle of Aarhus there is a German bar called, you guessed it, Heidi’s.

At Heidi’s, it appears that the dance floor is on the tables. After about 10pm or so, all of a sudden almost everyone at the bar jumped up on top of the tables and spent the rest of the night there! It was bizarre, but also hilarious.

Supposedly, that’s what they do in Germany, though I’m not too sure if that’s actually what they do or just what the Danes think they do.

Life can be tough for tall people, unable to dance on tables…

I’m on top of the world! Wait, no just the table…

I also had a bit of a cultural barrier issue. I got really excited when I saw Rekorderlig cider on tap. It is the most amazing Cider I have ever tasted, especially the Winter Cider, which is Apple, vanilla and cinnamon flavoured. I discovered it in Brisbane, but only ever saw it in bottles and at super hipster places like Kerbside. Imported from Sweden, it is pretty expensive in Australia, but worth every cent.

I asked for a pint of cider, and the guy behind the bar made what I thought was a ‘tall glass’ gesture. I took that to be him clarifying what strange foreign girl meant by a pint. Yet another moment where assumptions proved wrong. The lederhosen wearing bartender put the biggest Oktoberfest sized glass of cider I have ever seen on the bar. Bastard had already taken my money too!

It was bigger than my head. And I needed two hands to hold it. As much as I wanted to savor every drop of delicious Rekorderlig strawberry Cider, it was too much for me to finish and had to be shared around!