05.12.2016 - 08.12.2016 2 °C
We landed in Berlin with a thump, and then a long long long taxi to the airport. Nothing like a temperature of -2 to welcome us to a new city! We disembarked, started breathing smoke immediately, and then joined the queue to be allowed into the country. The official that scrutinised my passport did so with what I can only assume was a Germanic level of detail, and after what seemed an eternity, the sound of my passport being stamped echoed through the entrance hall and I was in.
We claimed our luggage and found our way to the train station, where a helpful attendant picked up on our faces of mild confusion and made sure that we got tickets to where we needed to go. We mastered the train AND the underground, and all the stairs associated with them, and found our way to our apartment for the next few nights. There was an undersized and very stealthy lift, which made getting our luggage to the 4th floor a slow but easy process. We made ourselves at home, found a nearby supermarket and got supplies for the evening. We had the fairly un-German meal of spag bol for dinner, and before we knew it, it was time for bed.
The cold weather continued on Tuesday, but we rugged up and faced it head on. We wandered into town and came across some Christmas markets, where we indulged in bratwurst, pretzels and doughnuts. The cold weather meant we ate as quickly as possible so that we could return our hands to our pockets as soon as possible.
Crossing the road was a bit of a highlight, with East Germany's ampelmann to help us out, and we managed to cross all the right streets to get us to the starting point of a free (tips encouraged) walking tour.
Franziska took us through the streets of Berlin, showing us the Holocaust monument, Checkpoint Charlie ('Cold War Disneyland' - on account of everything there being fake, apart from the frame that held up the sign), the carpark above where Hitler's bunker had been, the book burning memorial at Bebelplatz, the Berlin Wall and the shopping centre that had missed the opportunity to have the greatest name of all but instead was called the Mall of Berlin. So damn close. It was all very informative and interesting, but obviously didn't include quite enough toilet stops for Crawford, who had slept through the start of the tour. Let's just say he relieved himself in a location that would not have been an option for any of the adult members of our group.
We trundled home in the dark, enjoying the festive lights around the city before enjoying dinner and calling it eine nacht.
In the morning, we totally owned the public transport system of Berlin, getting ourselves out to the section of the Berlin Wall known as the Eastside Gallery. This is the section of the Wall that is covered in artwork and graffiti - sometimes it is hard to know which is which. Obviously there have been problems with graffiti encroaching onto the art territory, because much of the Wall was protected by a fence. Ironic, no?
Team Dunn headed back to our apartment from there, while Team Buccas enjoyed a bratwurst at the markets, and then found our way to Tranenplast - the palace of tears. This former train station had acted as a gateway between East and West Berlin, and now acted as a museum. It had lots of interesting information on how the division in Berlin affected people, and the section that contrasted news stories from either side about the same events was particularly powerful.
We met up with Paul and Clare at the Holocaust Memorial Museum, which was another fairly sobering experience. It brought home to me just how much of Europe was affected and how many people were targets of Nazi persecution.
We topped up our energy reserves with hot chocolate and pretzels before moving on to Topography of Terror, an in-depth look at the Nazi rise and fall. The thing that struck me most there was how many officials were not punished for their actions. Some were not tried at all, some were given light sentences, and it seemed that most of those who were given lengthy prison sentences were released early anyway.
We boarded the train for home, but were quickly snapped out of our reflective moods when Clare discovered that her wallet was missing. Not the absolute end of the world (holocaust museums do tend to put things in perspective) but definitely more of a crisis than Simon's lost Corangamite Shire hat.
We promptly retraced our steps, found the cafe was closed and there was no wallet to be found at the museum. We walked back past the cafe with plans to go to the police, return in the morning, cancel bankcards and whatnot when we saw a person in the cafe. We attempted to play charades through the closed door to indicate that we were searching for a wallet, but his blank look and refusal to open the door indicated that we had been entirely unsuccessful. At that point, a woman driving out of the staff carpark saw us and stopped - she understood our requests and Clare was soon reunited with her wallet. Triumph! And in the midst of all this hullabaloo, some tourists approached me and asked to be directed to the Berlin Wall, which was conveniently located across the road. Triumph #2!
At Simon's insistence, we linked arms and skipped joyfully in the direction of the train once more, and returned home to find that both Jazzie AND Crawford had been behaving themselves in our absence. Quite the achievement! A celebratory meal of leftovers and toasted sandwiches was appreciated by all.
On Thursday the forecast for Berlin was 9 degrees, a huge improvement on the 2 degrees we'd had earlier in the week, but alas, alack, we were not sticking around to enjoy it. We bundled ourselves off to the tram stop, only to watch our tram depart from the other side of the road. No stress though - the next tram was only ten minutes away.
Twenty five minutes later it arrived, and with much mumbling and grumbling about so-called German efficiency we were on our way. We transferred to the airport bus (which actually seemed rather tram-like on the interior) and arrived in plenty of time to check ourselves and our baggage in. I was rather alarmed to see that our tickets said 'hand luggage only', but apparently that's code for '1 piece of checked luggage' in the magical world of Lufthansa. Weird.
We sailed through security with a minimum of fuss, and were pretty excited to get a chocolate biscuit sandwich snack onboard. Crawford put us all in our place when he pointed out that we were not in Germany, we were actually on a plane. Pretty hard to argue with that logic. Once we arrived in Munich, we grabbed lunch at the markets (at the airport - well done Munich) and then we discovered that we were still not in Germany, because now we were on a train. If anyone ever does get to Germany, do let me know what it's like.