10 April 2012

Sibling Rivalry

So my brother has been traveling.  He actually got a passport and has ventured outside of our home and native land, taking advantage of his vacation time, visiting London, and, starting tonight, Berlin.  Except for his trips to Quebec, this will actually be his first time (since visiting Israel with our family when he was 8) visiting a country where they don't speak English.  No, England English doesn't count as a different language.

He's also been blogging on his travels daily, which kind of makes me want to keep up with him.  However, since my daily existence at this point consists of trying to "when i get sick, I just stop being sick and be awesome instead,"* not much is going on except trying to ride out the sick.  I do have a rehearsal with Euro-KlezFactor today.

Now, I actually won't be in Berlin for most of the time my brother is.  I'll be up in the north coast of Germany in the city of Rostock giving a guest lecture at the Music Conservatory there (the Musikhochschule).  My bro arrives in Berlin tonight and leaves Saturday morning, and I leave for Rostock at 8:45 tomorrow morning, arriving back in Berlin on Friday around 1:15pm (German trains are nothing, if not punctual).  Since I can't be around to show baby brother around Berlin (and translate for him), here are Mike's tips and recommendations for Avi's Big Adventure.

1. Berlin is not really Germany.  Like New York does not really represent America, and London does not really represent England, Berlin is an urban, cosmopolitan centre that doesn't reflect "traditional" German culture.  The fact that Berlin is hundreds of kilometres from Bavaria, the place that has become the stereotypical representation of German-ness is irrelevant.  Berlin's cuisine is exemplified by the great Vietnamese and Turkish eateries (had a great bowl of Pho yesterday -- the Vietnamese answer to chicken soup), and by the Doner Kebap in particular.  In the "touristy" areas, the Doner Kebap can go for as much as 3 Euros, but is significantly cheaper in the Turkish areas (Kreuzberg, Neukolln).  Anyways, if you do want "Bavarian-style" eateries, there's a place called Hofbrauhaus near Alexanderplatz on Karl-Liebknecht-strasse.

2. There's ALWAYS something going on in Berlin.  Berlin, unlike London (which likes to delude itself in thinking it), is actually a 24 hour city.  I know of a club that's open from Thursday night until Monday morning (haven't actually been in it though).  Buses run 24 hours, and on the weekend, the trains run 24 hours too.  I HAVE had a falafel at 4am.

Whether it's cool things to see during the day, or cool things to do at night, Berlin has become a party Mecca for Europeans looking to drink all night.

3. Don't let your Canadian sensibilities scare you.  People drink EVERYWHERE here.  On the streets, in the parks, and particularly, on the subways.  It is legal.

4. Unlike Toronto, Montreal, and London, the transit system works on an honour system (mostly).  You buy your ticket, validate it, and then have to present it when asked by transit officials. There are no gates that open when swipe or scan a ticket. In about 4 1/2 months, I've been asked to show a ticket about 5 times.  The fine is 40 Euros the first time.  I HAVE seen people caught and had to pay the fine.

5. Berlin has a lot of history, ancient and recent.  Ok, ancient is kind of stretching it.  But Berlin has been settled as early as the 12th century, and a regional capital as early as the 15th century.  While most of the city was destroyed in WWII, there are loads of places to go to check out the Imperial, Fascist and Communist eras of Berlin.

     5a) Schloss Charlottenburg - This is a palace that was used by the Hohenzollern Prussian dynasty.  I still haven't been yet.
     5b) Tiergarten - This huge park is has my favourite monument in Berlin - the Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven Gedenkstatte (monument).  This 3 sided statue not only celebrates 3 of the greatest composers hailing from German speaking lands, but the photos at the information board has an amazing picture of the monument as it was in 1945 after the war.  It wasn't fully restored to it's early 20th century splendour until about 2005.
     5c) Siegessaule - this large monument (in the Tiergarten) was built to commemorate a German victory over France in the late 19th century.  Basically this was the last victory monument you'll see in Germany. Also supposedly very impressive is the Soviet monument in Treptower Park.  Been to the park.  Didn't see the monument though.
     5d) Brandenburger Tor - The Brandenburg Gate is THE tourist site of Berlin.  It's pretty impressive.  It's at the end of the Unter den Linden Promenade.
     5e) There are plenty of Nazi museums and tours (although I haven't been to any).  You can go to Sachsenhausen (concentration camp) outside the city.  Near Checkpoint Charlie, there's the "Topography of Terror" museum, there's also a monument to the burning of books by the Nazis on Bebelplatz off Unter den Linden.
     5f)  I would also highly recommend the Jewish Museum (also fairly close to Checkpoint Charlie).  I HAVE been here, and the museum looks both at Jewish life in Germany historically (since Jews settled here), as well as the destruction of the Jewish community during the Holocaust.
     5g) If it's more recent history you're interested in, Berlin has many memorials and museums to commemorate the communist history of half the city.  I'd recommend the DDR Museum (just off the Museumsinsel (museum island)), although it's not a particularly big museum.  I also recommend the Stasi Prison.  A bit tricky to find though.  They have excellent English tours.
     5h) The Berlin Wall.  This icon of recent history can be found in several places.  I would recommend the Bernauer Strasse memorial in Prenzlauer Berg.  Here, you can get a good idea of what the wall looked like with its watchtowers, and "death strip".  You can also walk the Mauerweg, a kind of park that traces the entire length of the wall (all 170 kms of it) around the city.  There's the kitschy, touristy piece of the wall that they've put at Potsdamer Platz, along with the guy in an East German uniform to go along with it.  Finally, there's the East Side Gallery on the East side of the Spree River that extends from Ostbahnhof to Warschauer Strasse S-bahn stations.

6.  You don't need German in Berlin.  The city is so international, but also so tourist-oriented that German is not needed at all.  It is helpful, but not necessary.  English rules!

7. The aforementioned transit system is excellent.  If you're only here for a few days, you'd probably want to buy day tickets.  They're about 6.30 Euros for a day and allow unlimited travel on all S and U bahns, trams, and buses.  Unlike London, the transit system follows LOGIC.  And, the transit was built first, not haphazardly as it was needed to relieve over-flowing and over-burdened subway lines like in Toronto.

8.  I'm sure you'll discover more cool stuff about Berlin on your own.

So there it is.  Welcome to Europe, Avi/Adam, or whatever your name is.  See you in about 12 hours.


*bonus points if you can spot the reference.  Another excellent line from the same place is "I'm fine.  My nose is just overflowing with awesome and I had to get some of it out."

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