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).

230. The Hot Game

Warning, serious idiocy follows…

It started as a pretty classic prank. We were driving along the Autobahn (as you do) in our rental which happened to be a pretty flash VW with accessories that did all kinds of things. Don’t ask me about the engine or any of that car crap, I’ll be hone I care about the accessories. One such handy feature was the seat warmers. The driver of the car decided to play a wee joke on the poor gentleman in the passenger seat, and put the seat warmer on, on what was already a stinking hot day. It took him ages to notice, hilarity ensued.

Then some bright spark had the idea that we should play what was dubbed “The Hot Game” (clever name). The way the hot game works, is you put ALL the seat heaters on, and blast the heating as high as possible, and see who cracks first. The problem is, we had a car load of really stubborn people and it went on for quite a while. Eventually we all agreed that we didn’t want the driver to pass out and kill us all (you can just see the headline on the Otago Daily Times “5 Kiwis found dead in stinking hot mess in Czech Republic”). However, the kicker that really made us all give up, was yet another flashy feature of the car. There was a wee screen on the dashboard that counts down how many kilometres you can travel with the remaining fuel on the tank, and it started dropping very quickly.

There were no winners in the Hot Game, just a car full of sweaty idiots.

A few nights later we met a British Couple, and for some reason the Hot Game came up. Possibly because the bar we were in was very reminiscent of those few minutes in the car. Instead of the expected “gosh you guys are stupid” our new friend Rosie said “Ohhh yeah we play that too! But we call it ‘Car Sauna’. Have you guys played ‘Air Brakes’?” Believe it or not, there are people more stupid than we are – air brakes is when everyone opens the doors of the car at once and as the name may suggest, it slows down. Sorry Rosie, don’t think we are going to play that one!

222. Michael Jackson being offensive… again

Having already seen the hotel in Berlin where Michael Jackson dangled his baby out of a window……we weren’t expecting to see more of his antics so soon. As it turns out, the Prague Metronome, which stands on the hill on the opposite side of the river to the city, just to the right of the Prague Castle, used to be home to a giant, imposing statue of Stalin, reminding the citizens who was boss. After the fall of communism it was replaced with the metronome.

When Michael Jackson played in Prague in his ego seems to have been at its peak. Not only did he rent out the entire top floor of the Hotel Intercontinental, but he also put a giant inflatable statue of himself on the very spot where stalin used to be. Is that not the definition of innapropriate?!

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

211. Topography of Terror

Categorized as an “outdoor museum,” the Topography of Terror is a visual display on the site of the former Gestapo and SS headquarters. It is also immediately below a chunk of the Berlin Wall, that people were starting to destroy (they wanted it all gone) until they discovered it was above some underground torture chambers used by the Gestapo, and thus was a protected site.

It is also the largest remaining chunk of the outer wall (i.e. visible from West Berlin), as the East Side Gallery was one of the inner walls.

The display was really interesting, especially with the Gestapo torture chambers as an immediate backdrop. It attempts to explain how all of the atrocities of the war came to be, but to be honest I still don’t really understand how it got to such a ridiculous state…

210. The Most Interesting Pile of Rubble

It is easy to think a lot of Berlin’s darker history is all over, all done and dusted. And while there are museums and memorials everywhere of a more formal nature, it isn’t until you see casual remnants of the past, lying around and still waiting to be dealt with that you realise there is still a lot of work to be done.

Walking over the bridge on the way to Warshauer Straße station I snapped this photo. Just a few casual chunks of the wall, looking like they were waiting to be cleared off. It was impossible to know how long they had been there, reminding passers by that the city still hasn’t recovered.

209. The Best Kebabs in Berlin

We’d been told about a place just round the corner, Moustafa’s, that had the best kebabs in Berlin. I thought it was probably a bit of an overstatement – there are too many kebab shops to count.

Berlin has the highest Turkish population outside of Turkey, after the Gastarbeiter (guest worker) program in the 60’s and 70’s where dozens of immigrants from Turkey were bought in to deal with labour shortages (a huge one of them was the creation of the Berlin Wall). The original plan was for the workers to come in short term, but many of them have stayed. Leading to delicious kebabs everywhere.

It seems that with such high competition, they are really trying to out-gourmet eachother. And one particular wee stall in the middle of the street is winning by miles. Most times we went past there were huge queues – one guy at our hostel said he lined up for almost 2 hours to get his. We swung by just as it opened at about 10:30 am, which was perfect timing to avoid lines. And we were NOT at all disappointed.

Not only is it a tasty kebab, but it comes with amazing grilled vegetables, the most fresh looking salad you have ever seen, and is topped with crumbled feta and a twist of lemon. All for about €2.90. Our expectations were most definitely exceeded!

*I’ve been sent a link to their website – its awesome! http://mustafas.de/

208. Berlin Fashion Week

Whilst hunting down a train station to head off and do some sightseeing we stumbled across one of the Berlin Fashion Week locations, which was kicking off the very next day. The catwalks were having the finishing touches applied – some seemed to be cutting it very fine, still applying layers of paint the day before (MAC, I’m looking at you); others were already cracking into the champagne (Armani).

We spied an entrance to the showroom for commercial buyers which had a very convenient lack of security, and wandered straight in. A lot of people were buzzing around, hopping out of taxis straight from the airport, frantically setting up, dressed quite casually being the set up day, and roughly our age, so we slipped right in unnoticed. We were also aided by the fact that all the really fashionable types were FAR too cool to wear their ID lanyards.

It was quite fun to stroll around the stands set up to attract commercial buyers – they were so elaborately designed! From one that was set up to look like a beach (sand and everything) to another in an old double decker bus and some beautiful displays of the clothes and shoes, it was rather quite entertaining. I wish I could have taken more photos, but that would definitely have given the game away.

Final lesson of the day was to brace yourselves for an onslaught of pastel coloured jeans, shoes, chinos, shirts, everything. There was just so much pastel.