Part 2 finds our heroes in Berlin, thoroughly scarred from their travails in Amsterdam after encountering a potential stalker in a darkened park and being educated by graphic exhibits on 18-inch male genitalia. But they’ve made it past the first hurdle otherwise unscathed. Read on to find out if Berlin managed this too…
31st August 2013: PLUS Berlin Hostel, Berlin, 01:16
I arrive in Berlin a televised Countdown champion! My newfound celebrity status was somewhat negated by having to sit on the floor of the train for hours, right next to the toilets, as we played cards and occasionally shuffled out the way to let someone open the bathroom door and gas us with piss fumes, but was improved by being inundated with Facebook messages of congratulation upon our arrival at the PLUS Hostel, a few minutes from the remnants of the Berlin Wall.
However, I did drag myself away from the WiFi for long enough for us to go out and experience East Berlin. We walked past a hefty stretch of the East Side Gallery and admired the graffiti, spent an age wandering the supermarket aisles (we’re both fascinated by foreign supermarkets) and buying essentials such as Pom Bears, Red Bull and a tiny, adorable bottle of Jaegermeister, and having cocktails at a nearby bar. Emily didn’t enjoy her Melony cocktail (turns out it’s not a good idea to choose your friend’s cocktail based on it being an anagram of her nickname), so I selflessly drank it for her once I’d finished my Baileys Colada, which took all of two minutes. You just can’t beat a Colada.
Haven’t seen enough of the city to judge it, but I like it so far. It’s less picturesque and more industrial/grimy than Amsterdam, and the buskers are far superior to English ones thanks to their preference for amps over acoustic. But we’ll find out more tomorrow, when we’ll spend a busy day visiting all the World War II/Cold War monuments, going out on the lash in the evening, and no doubt making more colossal discoveries about life in general – though none can be as eye-opening as today’s revelation that the German title of ’99 Red Balloons’ isn’t, as I thought it was for so long, ’99 Luftwaffe’. Proof that you can win Countdown, but still be a blithering idiot.
Minor daytime celebrity Jen
Later: McDonalds by Checkpoint Charlie, Berlin, 15:05
Bit of a disastrous day. It started off small (plans for an early morning swim in the hostel pool impeded by it not opening until 10, and my water bottle proving to be incontinent), but intensified at lunchtime as we ate lunch in a park opposite the Holocaust Memorial. Our plans for a peaceful meal descended into chaos as a wasp started stalking us, at first taking a liking to Emily and, after she’d run around in a circle screaming, using me as a rebound. No sooner had we decided to risk the wrath of its family by swatting it (they release pheromones that attract their relatives) than it thankfully disappeared, possibly to ogle a nearby woman who was sunbathing naked.
Just as we’d settled back down, two deaf and mute guys waved clipboards in our faces that informed us they were raising money for a deafness institute. We signed and, feeling awkward that previous entries had listed €20 and €30 Euro donations, handed over 50 cents (Emily) and €1 (me). They wandered off to bother other parkgoers, leaving us to bask in the glow of our good deed for the day.
Minutes later, more pre-teen boys with clipboards came along. We tried in vain to signal to them that we’d already signed and donated, but they were persistent; I signed it again to get rid of them, but gave no money, while Emily wavered awkwardly, not keen to go through the rigmarole of signing again. She then noticed that her bag had mysteriously opened, and that her purse was empty of notes. The boy bothering her had been slipping notes out of it while the bag had been hidden by the clipboard. Fortunately she saw his fistful of notes, and snatched at them, at which point he dropped them on the ground behind his back and made absolutely no show of repentance. She gave him the ‘Ginger Look of Death’ (even I was scared) and shouted at him until they both nonchalantly mooched off, leaving us feeling very unsettled and desperately double-checking that all our valuables were intact. A kind German woman came over to warn us, slightly too late, that their disabilities and petitions were a con. We couldn’t relax and left soon after, clutching our bags with iron grips and treating just about everyone with some amount of suspicion.
Aside from that, a productive day. We’ve wandered a long way from our starting point of Friedrichstraße station: we passed the Bundestag; circled the Reichstag; seen both the Sinta-Roma and Holocaust Memorials (the latter, in spite of its solemnity, would make for a fantastic game of Hide and Seek); traipsed round the Brandenburg Gate; looked at the exhibition at the Topography of Terror; and, most recently, got touristy pictures at Checkpoint Charlie. All in all, a very educational few hours – it’s easy to quickly condemn Hitler and the Nazi Party but forget how truly despicable their laws, ideology and atrocities were. I do admire how the Germans don’t try to gloss over or whitewash such a destructive era in their history, though – any other country whose belligerence has inflicted scars on so many could learn a lot from this. Hint hint, British Empire, hint hint.
The hostel has good facilities, but the common room closes disappointingly early and the toilets in the room don’t have locks on them. I suppose it means you have to communicate with your roommates (currently three girls from Reigate and a Spanish boy) even if you don’t want to, lest they walk in on you.
Off to Bebelplatz (where the Burning of the Books took place in 1933) before returning to the hostel for some much-needed R&R. Hopefully we’ve fulfilled our disaster quota for the holiday, but somehow I suspect not…
A very paranoid Jen
3rd September 2013: Hard Rock Cafe, Prague, 3:15pm
Been a bit lax on the journal front recently due to: tiredness, no table on the train to Prague, grumpiness, business, and having hostel computers WITH chairs (a step up from Berlin, even if the internet is several steps down due to having the speed of a dying snail. This outdated version of Firefox is enough to make me long for Internet Explorer. THAT’S how bad it is). Excuses, excuses – I know.
I’ll summarise each day individually:
SATURDAY EVENING (31st August): We finally made it to a pub crawl! Taking 4 days to get round to going on a night out would no doubt horrify more hedonistic 20-somethings, but Amsterdam was too expensive to go out on the lash in (20 Euros for a pub crawl populated by spotty adolescents labouring under the misapprehension that a pub crawl t-shirt is the epitome of cool? Fuck off…) and we were too tired the night before.
Fortunately, the Berlin Alternative Pub Crawl (otherwise known as the Anti-Pub Crawl or the 666 Bar Crawl) had no spotty adolescent boys and there was not a commemorative t-shirt in sight. A snip at just 10 Euros, with free shots at every place en route, we met people from all over the world: a German guy who seemed frightened by my enthusiasm when classic German tune ‘Moskau’ by Dschingis Khan came on, a lovely Canadian couple who were off to London next and sought our advice about it, and a load of Americans.
The Yesterday Bar, first on our list, was adorably kitsch. [Note: It was too dark and dingy for decent photos.] Its ceiling was adorned with ladybirds, mushrooms and flowers, and it hosted a kick-ass 60s playlist. Overwhelmed with joy to find cider at long last, I indulged in some while Emily opted for the dirt cheap beer (one Euro twenty!! For a proper drink!!). Several Euros were donated to the Jen Losing Her Pinball Machineginity fund, although it lacked the sound effects that make the Microsoft game so fun. Then the shots came out and, well, these were also donated to me. Five consecutive shots and the dregs of Emily’s beer could have ended disastrously but the walk to the ping pong bar, Dr Pong, thankfully remained chunder-free.
Dr Pong was a bit of a dump: self-consciously bare of decoration, instead a homage to harsh concrete walls, graffiti-filled toilets and leather sofas, it should have been crap – especially given my sheer incompetence at ping pong. But a lengthy and pleasant chat with the Canadian couple ensured that we avoided any pinging or ponging there and had a good time.
It was quickly followed by a trip to Rammstein’s metal bar, Last Cathedral, filled with “hardcore” Goth cliches like skeletons, skulls and, er, a giant dildo incorporated into the bannister – which Emily only realised after she’d put her hand on it. The confusion only heightened as the barwoman stood on the bar, wearing just a corset and tiny tutu, shimmying and spinning some glowing balls on strings. Wow, getting a ‘sexy Goth’ to table-dance – how very “hardcore”.
The anarchy only continued when we got to the Rock Bar and, slightly worse for wear, I swaggered out the toilets shouting “DO YOU EVER HAVE THOSE DAYS WHERE YOU LOOK IN THE MIRROR AND THINK GOD, I’M A SEXY BEAST?? I’M HAVING ONE OF THOSE DAYS!”. Awkward. The Rock Bar one-upped the Rammstein bar by playing good music (i.e. not death metal) including, unexpectedly, The Subways, although I’m sure the red-blooded males we got chatting to were disappointed by the lack of table-dancing Goths.
We’d been informed at the beginning that we would end up at a club that was having an LGBT night. We gamely went along, not knowing what to expect. What to expect turned out to be a fairly underwhelming experience, with one exception: a group of us mooched about the place to explore it, and wandered into a dark room. Unfortunately, it wasn’t so dark that we couldn’t see a bed and “writhing bodies” around the room (Emily’s description). Needless to say, we scarpered and called it a night soon after.
SUNDAY : Following all the educational wandering in the daytime and bar crawling in the evening, Sunday began lazily – just as well, since the night’s festivities had ruined my legs for the entire morning. Eventually we ventured out and ate like kings on insanely cheap but delicious pizzas from a local pizzeria (€3.80 for a calzone?? €3.30 for a margherita?? What is this, Poland?!) before heading off to the East Side Gallery and trotting off in search of a station so we could get to the Olympia Stadion and then Charlottesburg palace. Unfortunately it was about a mile to the nearest station and this extra walking crippled my already shaky feet; while we made it to the Olympia Stadion fine – it was hosting another event, so we could only walk around the outside – the trip to Charlottesburg was quite literally a step too far, so Emily explored alone while I was incapacitated on a park bench outside.
We’d planned to go to the light show at the Bundestag, but ultimately were too tired to be bothered, instead heading back to the hostel to try some local cuisine; Emily having some disappointing wienerschnitzel to satisfy her craving, while I tried the ubiquitous German delicacy currywurst. It wasn’t terrible, but also wasn’t something I’d necessarily try again. Following a bit of a moody day, sleep was desperately needed so our trip to Prague could begin in greater spirits.
TO BE CONTINUED IN PRAGUE… STAY TUNED FOR PART 3!