01 Jan

Germany, pt. 1: Arrival in Berlin + Christmas Market Hunt

At the Alexanderplatz Christmas Market. Probably the most 'touristy' of them all but it had this huge contraption thingy!

On December 21st, Tiana and I flew to Berlin to begin our Christmas holiday. We begun our trip together in Germany and then Tiana flew back to Nottingham on the 30th to go back to work while I am staying in Germany to start a German immersion language course in Berlin at the Goethe Institute from the 5th-29th. It’s currently New Years day and I am at a pub in Berlin called Roots. The free Wi-Fi sticker on the door drew me in, not to mention the designated smoking room in which to enjoy a cigar. In addition to a nice Erdinger on top, the lovely bar person served me up a Dju Dju beer. It’s an African beer that she then poured into a coconut shell — really good!  So that is where I am and now: onto where we have been.

German breakfast in Berlin at our couchsurfing host's place. It is served on little cutting boards.

We arrived in Berlin and ‘Couchsurfed’ at a place in East Berlin. The host’s name is Hanna and she was extremely nice and hospitable, and expressed her enthusiasm for her part of Berlin. It reminded us very much of the kind of areas of cities that Tiana and I are drawn to: Ocean Beach, City Heights, Normal Heights, and Hillcrest areas of San Diego, for example — areas that are full of culture, cuisine, and the arts, and not so interested in the touristy aspect of city living (however, you kind of have to do some touristy things when you visit a new country!). On our first night we walked around a bit on our own and happened upon a random bar called Bretterbude which is a place whose aesthetic is basically heavy metal + pirates. It seemed like they couldn’t get enough of AC/DC, Motörhead, and Iron Maiden while on the hunt for One-Eyed Willy’s ‘rich stuff’, if you catch my drift.

Enjoying some Glühwein.

The next day, we went to the East Side Gallery, which is about a 1km stretch of the remaining section of the Berlin wall. It is covered with murals for the whole length, and it gets repainted with new murals every decade or so (at this point: twice, 1989, and repainted in 1999, 2009). Then, we checked out a bunch of different Christmas Markets (Weinachtmärkte) all over Berlin. Tiana really likes the markets, and I enjoy the Glühwein (mulled wine) and taking pictures. Some of the markets were better than others that were more touristy whereas others were more quaint and intended for families. At one of the smaller ones we saw a little booth that wasn’t a booth at all but it was a place to warm up: it consisted of seats made out of heaters with big warm jackets draped from a frame where the ‘operator’ would come and secure you in all warm and snug. It looked like this:

Weinachtmarkt Human Defrosting and Heating

Weinachtmarkt Human Defrosting and Heating

We did a ton of walking that day (as well as extensively using the Underground and S-Bahn systems). We even went to some area called Karl Marx Allee where the architecture was all very big, blocky, and symmetrical. It looked cool in its own way, although it wasn’t my thing. The nearby tourist sign reads:

Symmetry and Harmony:

The architect Richard Paulick made many marks on the boulevard. His designs included the German Athletics Hall which was demolished in 1971. Typical of his blocks in section C are symmetry and harmony. With their façade arrangements and well-proportioned structuring they rank among the boulevard’s oustanding architectural highlights.
One of Paulick’s most interesting designs was the Karl Marx Bookshop in Block C. He not only successfully integrated a large-scale retail store with over 1,200 square meters on two floors in a residential building, his design also reflected the store’s social significance in the GDR where reading was very popular. Many people met in this bookshop for readings by authors and for critical discussions, especially in the final years of the GDR.
In 1994, after extensive restoration and detailed reconstruction, the Berlin Chamber of Architects moved into the main section of the fomer bookshop premises. The idea was to link up with the spirit and significance of the former bookshop by creating an “open house of architecture”. In 2008 the bookstore had to be closed down. Its name on the façade, “Karl-Marx-Buchhandlung,” has been put on the list of buildings and monuments to be preserved.

Yeah, it’s a bit of a dry description, but the translated prose itself gives a sense of the dry architecture on this block. Our host Hanna said that it’s one of those areas that you pass through, look at, take a picture, and move on. So with that, I will follow up with a description of our experiences of our next day in Nürnberg in the next post.

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