Tag Archives: Germany

Mini trip in Eastern Europe

This week I travelled from Berlin to Kathmandu the long way round – via Budapest and Belgrade. The past week has been a whirlwind, living out of my suitcase and catching sleep on trains and planes wherever possible. Not surprisingly, I’ve caught a cold. This combined with the fact that Mum and Dad have been delayed by two days, leaving me alone in Kathmandu for three nights, means I’m having a chilled out time in Nepal so far despite the constant noise and motion that is Kathmandu.

I left Berlin on Friday night with Bec and we caught a 14 hour train south-east through Germany, The Czech Republic, Slovakia to Budapest, Hungary. The train wasn’t too bad and we managed a few hours sleep although were awoken at 2 a.m. with a creepy man watching us sleep. He soon left us alone and the rest of our trip was much more relaxing. We kept the history to a minimum and spent most of our time swimming in the Szechenyi and Lucasz baths, eating great Hungarian food, drinking chilli coffee and champagne frappes in New York Cafe, and generally admiring the beauty of the city. After being so long in Berlin, which makes up for in cool what it lacks in beauty, we were both in awe of buildings such as Fisherman’s Bastion and St Stephen’s Basilica, especially lit up at night. We also went to the Szechenyi bath party (Sparty) on Saturday night – think thermal pool plus DJ plus 500 drunk backpackers. Crazy fun but crazy gross by the end of the night. The one museum we visited was Hospital in the Rock, which was an underground hospital and nuclear shelter kept secret from the Soviets until 2002.

On Tuesday Bec and I left Budapest headed in opposite directions – she home to Berlin and I on another train south, this one to Belgrade, Serbia. Figuring on a lack of bread in Asia, I left her with my jar of Vegemite but the airport security staff took it away from her! I guess they wanted it for themselves, they’re only human.

With less than 48 hours in Belgrade I had to be choosy about what to do. On the morning of my first day I took a walking tour which was a good way to see a lot and learn about the city in three hours. Then I walked the length of the main road of the city to the biggest Catholic cathedral in the Balkans, Saint Sava temple. The outside is white and majestic, but the inside isn’t finished – not even close. It’s all concrete but I found this interesting in itself. I also met an ancient Serbian woman and we had a broken conversation in which we somehow managed to exchange names, nationalities and the fact that Christianity is common in Australia but I’m not religious. Amazing!

Belgrade has been voted the best nightlife in Europe, so luckily I was staying in a social hostel called Hedonist where we soon had a group of about 10 people wanting to go out, including an American expat who wanted to take us to his favourite bars. So all of us – Aussies, Swedes, Yankees and Canadians had a beer in a bar along the Sava river and then crossed a bridge into Novi Beograd (New Belgrade) which has a bunch of boats and barges converted into bars and clubs. We went to one that played the strangest mix of music from the ’80s to now of every genre imaginable and in no logical atmospheric order. Prince would become Kings of Leon would become a South American dance song.

It was a late night and the next day I packed up on about three hours’ sleep and said goodbye to my new friends. I could easily have spent more time in Belgrade and the rest of Eastern Europe, but was due to meet Mum and Dad in Nepal. I flew to Kathmandu via a 10 hour stopover in Qatar bringing my travel time to almost 24 hours. As mentioned Mum and Dad’s flight was delayed so they are currently spending two nights in Kuala Lumpur.

As soon as I landed I recognised the familiar smells and heavy, humid air of Asia. Kathmandu is as chaotic as expected. Dumplings, curry, spices and chilli. Electricity blackouts every day. Incense, temples, hippie pants (regular clothing will be my biggest readjustment back in Sydney). Watching every step to avoid giant holes in the road. Endless car horns and motorcycle horns. Three months in Europe was awesome but Asia feels like coming home.

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The architecture of Belgrade: Communism meets early 19th Century meets modernity

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Looking over to Novi Beograd with the boat bars in the Sava river

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The Saint Sava temple

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Bec may call me the Map Queen but maps were no help to me here.

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Auf Wiedersehen Germany, off to Eastern Europe

Tomorrow I leave Berlin, and I’m delaying the daunting prospect of packing by writing a blog post. Having been nicely settled with my own bedroom for three months (with a wardrobe – the first one in months!), the thought of fitting everything back into my bag is overwhelming. I’ve had to make a new music playlist as a packing soundtrack just to motivate myself – and to put it off further.

One job that I’ve finished is to clear space on my camera for the coming months by moving photos onto a USB stick – my third one of the trip. I’m not looking forward to sorting through all those photos when I get home, at a rough guess there’s probably well over 2,000 now. I think it will have to wait until the post-travel depression hits and I need some escapism.

It’s been a while since I updated about my own trip rather than singular events in Berlin. I think there’s some family members who are unsure of where I am and why and where to next and when the hell I’m coming home.

Yesterday was nine months since I left Sydney, and tomorrow I leave Berlin. I’ve been working as an au pair for 11 weeks, living with a German family who have two girls aged four and six. Au pairing has been difficult but a great job for travelling – I’ve worked 20-30 hours a week and have had free time to explore and socialise. I’ve picked up a decent amount of German out of necessity, and travelled to some nice towns out of the city. Berlin’s such a cool city, full of fantastic events, open-minded people, art, music and culture. I read a great quote about the large number of people who move to Berlin because of the lifestyle etc, and it was along the lines of: ‘Don’t stay in Berlin. Re-create Berlin in your own city’ and it’s really stuck with me. So don’t worry, I am coming home!

But not just yet. Tomorrow I’m catching a 14-hour overnight train to Budapest, Hungary with a Kiwi friend, Bec, who I met here in Berlin. We’re going to a club night at a public pool, among other surely amazing things. We just couldn’t resist the promise of ‘As long as you intrigues by the idea of a laser bath disco party’ [sic]. After three nights there I have a seven-hour train to Belgrade, Serbia where I’m spending two nights. I wanted to travel overland from Europe to Asia but it wasn’t possible given time, travelling alone and the riots in Turkey. So I’m flying from Belgrade to Nepal.

Mum and Dad join me the day after I arrive in Nepal, then Meg a few days later and Julia a week after that. I can’t wait to see them all! The family are staying for two weeks and Meg and I will travel for two months. I plan to return home in September.

Hopefully this gives the family and friends who are following the blog an update on my whereabouts. Berlin’s been fantastic, but I can’t wait to get back to Asia, to see my family and to keep on travelling.

The 10 best free activities in Berlin

Note: this article doesn’t really cover the obvious tourist attractions, which most people already know about. I’ve covered some lesser-known, interesting and authentic Berlin experiences that are f-r-e-e!

Living in Berlin for the past two months on a tight budget, I’ve investigated pretty much every possible option for saving money while still experiencing the city. Luckily, Berlin is full of people like me (such as travellers, students and those doing never-ending unpaid internships) and the powers that be have taken pity on us.

Aside from the well-known free attractions like Brandenburger Tor, East Side Gallery on the Berlin Wall and Unter den Linden, there’s many essential Berlin things to see and do that are completely free. It’s especially easy to save money if you’re in Berlin for more than a few days, because you’ll be able to plan your schedule around the times when certain attractions have free entry.

In no particular order, the ten best free activities I’ve discovered are:

1. Memorials
Situated mainly around Brandenburger Tor and Tiergarten are touching memorials to groups who were persecuted by the Nazis. There’s the endlessly photographed Holocaust memorial, the homosexual memorial and a memorial to Sinti and Gypsy people. There’s a memorial for the book burnings, and you’ll also notice the gold plaques in front of apartments throughout the city to recognise the former homes of Jews who were killed by Nazis. Each memorial is designed in a beautiful, meaningful way and all are free.

2. Parklife
‘Gartens’ are a very popular leisure activity for Berliners in spring and summer. As soon as the sun comes out the parks are full, even during business hours (I’ve come to the conclusion that not many Berliners keep normal working hours). In the absence of beaches, people bring blankets and swimmers to the park. Tiergarten is the largest and most impressive, but each has its own atmosphere and typical crowd. For example, Görtlitzer Park turns into an outdoor party every weekend for the hipsters of Kreuzberg.

3. Museums
The best known museums and galleries such as the Pergamon are expensive, and if you want to do a few of them, definitely buy the three-day pass for €24. With most of the popular museums charging €10 each, you can save about €30 by visiting two each day for three days. Keep in mind that most are closed Mondays and some are closed Tuesdays, and plan your time around the locations, some of which are quite spread out.

By the way: I can recommend the Pergamon, Alte and Neue Nationalgaleries, Museum Berggruen, Museum für Fotografie and Sammlung Schaff-Gerstenberg Museum. I found the Alte Museum overpriced and a little boring.

But if you can’t even afford that, there’s two other options. The first is to visit the free museums, like Berliner Dom, German-Russian Museum, Sachsenhausen Memorial and the Topography of Terror. Secondly, many have free entry one day a week or one day a month. Ephraim-Palais, Maerkishes Museum and Nikolai Church all offer free entry on the first Wednesday of the month. Get your free (!) brochure ‘Museums to Enjoy’ by Visit Berlin from a tourism office, which lists all the major museums along with a description, directions, opening hours and cost (as well as which days, if any, are free).

4. The Bundestag/Reichstag
The huge and beautiful parliament building in Tiergarten seems to be part functional and part tourist attraction, with its glass dome on top that looks out over the city. The building has an interesting history and you can take a free 90-minute guided tour in English. Or if you’re too lazy for that, you can just go up and look out of the pretty dome. But: for security reasons, you must book a time slot online, usually at least two weeks in advance. Give ’em your details, they’ll check you’re not a likely terrorist then send you a lovely invitation letter. Apply on the website here: http://www.bundestag.de/htdocs_e/visits/kupp.html

5. Berliner Philharmonie
Fancy some Beethoven with your currywurst? Lunchkonzerts are daily classical music concerts held in the foyer of the Berliner Philharmonie at Potsdamer Platz. They last about an hour and the performers are young but very talented. They begin at 1pm, arrive early if you want a good view. This little known freebie is worthwhile if you want to experience the venue in an authentic way, but don’t take it too seriously. You’ll need a lot of tolerance to put up with the crying babies behind you and the twelve years olds flirting and playing gameboys in front of you (this actually happened to me). Mothers must figure this to be a great time to expose their kids to some culture without disrupting people who have actually paid for music. But hey, it’s free!

6. The City Library
The Staatsbibliothek on Unter den Linden is the main library of Berlin. Because I’m a massive book nerd, it’s a beautiful building and there’s some interesting history from World War 2 associated with it, I wanted to visit. Alas, when I arrived I was turned away. Apparently without being a resident of Berlin and becoming a member, the only way you can enter is with their free 5pm guided tour, held Tuesdays – Fridays. And that tour is only offered in German. But I did it anyway, and while I mostly had no idea what was being said, I did get to see the impressive building, some very old manuscripts, and a staff-only storage area that made my nerdy little self and my nerdy fellow tour-ers very excited. Recommended if you’re into that sort of thing (especially if you can sprechen die Deutsch).

7 and 8. Sony Centre roof and film premieres
The Sony Centre at Potsdamer Platz looks like it should be in glitzy New York rather than dirty, ‘alternative’ Berlin. The building is famous for its roof, which is apparently some kind of architectural landmark. I’m no design expert but I know it’s fun to pose below the pretty lights. The Sony Centre is also known for its cinema, where major Hollywood films are premiered – Brad Pitt is there right now, in fact (WHY am I still sitting here?). You can wait around by the red carpet for free, and there’s a list of upcoming premieres at Berlin Sidewalk: http://berlinsidewalk.com/tag/sony-center/

9. Festivals
There’s always a celebration happening in Berlin, especially in spring and summer. Last month we had Carnival of Cultures and in June alone there’s the Gay Pride festival, Neukölln festival, Vintage festival and All Nations festival. Each one has free events like street parties, parades, performances and workshops. Search for upcoming events by date at http://www.visitberlin.de/en/experience/events/event-calendar

10. Nightlife
Last but definitely not least, the Berliners love their nightlife. It’s not a night out unless you’re crawling home as the sun comes up, counting on one hand how many hours of sleep you’re going to squeeze in before work. You can minimise your spending by using public transport (it’s so frequent that you’d be crazy to pay for a taxi), choosing from the great selection of venues that charge nothing or only €5 entry, and that teenage favourite tactic, pre-drinking. Spätkaufs are a Berlin institution – bottle shop and convenience store in one, ubiquitous throughout the city. Every good night starts with a beer run to the späti.

I’m the first to admit that I split the point about Sony Centre into 7 and 8 because I couldn’t think of a tenth addition. If anyone knows of any others, please comment below. I have three more weeks in Berlin and plan to see and do as much as possible while spending as little as possible!

Two weekends in Falkenberg (Mark)

It’s funny, the places you end up when you leave home with no particular route in mind. The past two weekends I’ve had excursions out of Berlin, fifty kilometres to the north east to a little tiny town called Falkenberg (Mark). No, the town is called Falkenberg (Mark). I’m not sure what the brackets are for. It’s very East German and less than fifteen kilometres from Poland. Forest, farmland and grey communist towns, rather different to Berlin.

I went with my au pair family because of an art exhibition showing the work of the father of the family and the mother of family friends of theirs, also an artist. The exhibition was in her home-studio which is inside a hundred year old bahnhof (train station) that’s no longer in use. Not a bad place to hang out – it has three levels and any number of doors and passageways that divide it into a kind of maze, scattered throughout with artworks.

To give me a break from the chaos of two families with four children I was staying in a hostel on the Saturday night. The first weekend, I was booked into a hostel built from an old German flour mill in the nearby town of Bad Freienwalde. It was a Saturday night, and the hostel was at the very end of a pot-holed road with few houses in the vicinity. It was in the middle of a forest. And I was the only guest in the entire place.

I was in a room with three single beds, two built-in heaters and not a lot else. Having been dropped off at 9pm Saturday night, I had twelve hours to kill before my breakfast and collection by Silvian. First of all I tested the mattress and decided it could be more comfortable. I pulled down the mattress of the top bunk and put it on top of mine before making the bed. The princess and the pea, but actually I was just killing time.

It was cold in my room and my only entertainment was my iPad, so I brushed my teeth, put my pyjamas on and spent the next three hours listening to music, writing and reading eBooks. I had pulled the curtains closed and the creaking of the old house was quite terrifying, given the circumstances. I thought about whether it was fair that my family had taken me out of Berlin on a Saturday night (that’s a night I could have spent at Berghain!) and put me up in a cold, empty mansion. At least it was better than spending the night with the four kids.

The following weekend I politely asked not to be put into another horror film situation so I was booked into a Pension, which is like a little apartment complex that is popular with sixty year olds who rent long-term. This was much more comfortable, decorated like the house of a grandmother in the seventies, all animal statues and floor rugs. It even had a TV, but what with the German way of dubbing everything I had to flick between an MGMT concert on a Kultur station and Donnie Darko in Deutsch.

I did enjoy both weekends – we had sunny weather so it was great being outside all the time, my accommodation was fine apart from the emptiness and it was interesting being at the exhibition. It was nice to get a taste of East German towns. But I was very glad when the train pulled into Berlin on Sunday afternoon. This may not be the ‘real’ Germany but it’s much more liveable.

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Flour mill turned abandoned youth hostel (actually I got the feeling the whole town was abandoned).

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The dorm room, all to myself.

The Wrinkles of the City

Last week I had the anniversary of seven months since leaving Sydney. So far I’ve spent the 26th of each month at…

September – arrived in Kuala Lumpur from Sydney
October – Thailand
November – Cambodia
December – Laos
January – Thailand
February – China
March – China
April – Germany

I’m settling into my au pairing work in Berlin (although seriously reconsidering whether I ever want kids). The girls are sweet, the parents are fantastic hosts to me. Berlin is a very cool city and I’ve been enjoying the parks, museums and vintage stores (I went to a five-level charity store yesterday, the top level was entirely vintage clothing from the 50s to the 90s. I love that they can now charge high prices for 90s clothing. Ridiculous). I have my own bike which really completes the Berlin experience, the bike lanes here are fantastic and life is just better on a bicycle.

Yesterday I went searching for The Australia Store on said bicycle because I’m craving some vegemite. Didn’t find it, maybe it went out of business, can’t imagine why. The journey wasn’t a waste of time though for three reasons: I worked off my Belgium Chocolate ice cream, I found the five-level vintage store and I saw another two pieces of the Wrinkles exhibition.

The Wrinkles of the City exhibition is a series of street art pieces in Mitte (my suburb) at the moment, by French artist JR. They’re huge black and white photographs painted onto buildings, photographs of Berliners that represent the historical buildings of the city. The nice part about it is I keep unexpectedly coming across the different artworks.

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The last one isn’t part of the exhibition but I saw it while I was taking a photo of the hand and it’s real cute.

Nudists and swans on Rügen Island

A story in photos, because I’m too tired to write. Just returned from an overnight trip to Rügen Island in the north of Germany with my au pair family.

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In summary, the trip went like this:

I got to the beach and was reminded that Aussie beaches are the best in the world – wearing scarf, coat, beanie. Then, we went to another beach which was signposted FKK = watch out, naked people about! (In this case just one old man braved the wintry Baltic Sea in his birthday suit). We fed the seagulls and please also note the photo of the swans, yes swans swimming in the Baltic Sea! Ah the things you see when you leave Australia. Then, we visited an abandoned building that was formerly a Nazi holiday resort. Then a quick photo at the famous chalk cliffs. On the way home we stopped at another creepy building, this one a cathedral. Finally I look a photo of a cool tree and then it was back to Berlin.

It was actually a lovely island and would be even better in summer, but two days straight of work has left me exhausted! I’m off to sleep…

Hamburger Bahnhof Gallery

Today I went to the Hamburger Bahnhof, a museum of modern art inside a former railway station. I wanted to check out an exhibition of a German artist called Martin Kippenberger. He shared my birthday and would have turned 60 this year except for the fact that he died aged 44 due to ‘a life of excess’ (sounds exciting, must look up how he actually died).

I walked through the whole museum and really enjoyed it. The building as well as the art was impressive. Like any modern art museum it had its fair share of works that let’s just say I didn’t really understand (read “art wank”) but much of it was meaningful and thought provoking. Some pics below…

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Quote and art of Martin Kippenberger – ‘Berlin must be repainted’

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Quote and art of Dieter Roth