Travel Diaries: Berlin (Part 1)

First of the three part series.

Posted by Manjil Saikia on July 15, 2016

(Images are missing, due to importing from a different location. This will probably never be fixed. Sorry about that.)

While talking to a friend yesterday, she remarked half-jokingly that I should write some travel logs. I though about it and realized that I have never written a travel log or a travel story before, partly due to the fact that I had never traveled a lot while I was growing up. But somehow it seemed a good idea for me to keep an account of what I remember from the last one and half years of my travels. And as it happens, I am at the moment in Berlin for three days due to some work commitments. But I would also like to take this opportunity to see a bit of the city. My travel log idea is quite rusty, as the only thing that I have written previously which resembles a little to a travel log was about my rendezvous with Da Vinci and some of his works.

Anyway, to get to the point; I am in Berlin for the Discrete Mathematics Symposium at the Freie Universitaet here. It would take a long time to write about the symposium, so I leave it for some other time (which, considering me will never likely happen). Instead I shall write about my impression of the city that it had on me, today. Having lived in Vienna for the last one year (approximately), Berlin is not too alien for me. I can speak rustic German (think about how you spoke English when you were 12, maybe not an objective example; but my English was terrible when I was 12) and it comes in handy when everything is written in German, after all this is Germany. I took a night bus from Vienna to Berlin and reached here at 6 in the morning. It was a bad idea to take the night bus, the same day that the symposium was starting. I could not get any sleep on the bus and that now makes about 6 hours of sleep for me in the last 50 hours (my normal quota is 8 every 24 hours). So, I was a bit tired (I, still am as I am typing this) when I reached Berlin and a few hours of mathematics was sufficient to make my mind ever more lax. I decided to skip the last session of the symposium today and see a bit of the city.

The first impression of Berlin, was not too great to be honest. There are cities, with whom you fall in love the first time you set yours eyes – Paris, Vienna, Bordeaux and possibly New Delhi come to my mine. Then, there are cities where you have to live a certain amount of time to truly appreciate them – Trieste and Vancouver comes to my mind about these type of cities (more about this in a future post, I am making too many promises today). I felt that Berlin belongs to the latter class of cities. Coming from Vienna, it is nothing extraordinary, but I think given enough time the city will grow on one. This was evident to me today; when I arrived here it took me some time to figure out the nearest U-Bahn station, but once I got an idea, it was easy sailing from then on. As a side note, U-Bahn is the underground railway system (metro) in German speaking cities (‘bahn‘ is rail in German). The good thing about the Berlin public transport system is that one ticket works for all types of public transport (bus, tram, U-Bahn, S-Bahn), in Vienna with my ticket the S-Bahn is out of limit (S-Bahn is the sub-urban railway system, something like the local trains in Chennai or Mumbai, but much better in quality and less crowded). I bought a ‘tageskarte‘ (daily pass) and traveled quite a lot today.

Since, I was tired and didn’t want to heckle a lot so I decided to just go to the Reichstag building today and see the surrounding areas. The Reichstag was the German Empire up to the world war I, after which it was dissolved and this building which used to be the parliament went into disuse. Now it stands as a testament to the days of yore. The building is quite impressive and the architecture is solid. However, it has not been cleaned probably for a long time and this shows even in the pictures. There is a dome in the building and it is possible for visitors to go there, unfortunately today they did

not allow individual visitors to go to the top of the dome, so I could not enter the building. I also saw the largest national flag that I have seen in the building. The central flag of Germany in the picture is quite large compared to the other ones, but this is not so apparent in the picture here. In the corner, there is a place where the German and European Union flags are put at half mast, possibly due to the attacks in Nice yesterday. I took a picture of that as well. There are a few more impressive pictures I took, but I let them pass for now.

Before I went to the Reichstag, I also saw the Brandenburger Tor (‘tor‘ is gate in German). The gate itself is pretty amazing, however nothing like the Arc di Triomphe, but it is pleasant. Today, the view was not good as there was some festival going on and the view was suppressed by a makeshift stage in front of the gate. This gate is one of the most widely known landmarks of Germany, something like the Eiffel Tower of Germany if you may. I normally enjoy the sculptures of neoclassical objects, there were some good ones at the top; I managed to take a decent photo of that as well.

These visits were followed by a slight detour near the Reichstag to the Spree, one of the two main rivers that flows through Berlin. Since my childhood I have been fascinated by rivers and if there is some water in the places I visit, I make it a point to see them. I sat down for a while near a canal of the Spree and watched as tour boats guided along, a light drizzle however alarmed me and I quickly made my way back towards the Brandenburger Tor. The canal was calm and it seemed a nice addition to the landscape, there was a big open square with grass in front of the Reichstag building which complemented the canal very well.

I would have loved to take a beer near the bank and sit and think and drink, unfortunately I could not find anything very close to it. However, near the Brandenburger Tor, there is a brewery and on an impulse I went there and ordered a weissebier (White/Wheat beer), this is my favourite kind of beer, and the one that was served in the brewery was really good. I also tried their natural brew and it was even better, the name of the brewery is Brandenburgerbraeu (‘braeu‘ is brewery in German). It would have been a much more pleasant sight in the night with the lights on, but the sun sets at about 9.30 pm and I did not have the energy to stay so late today.

After all this was done, I had to eat and I made my way towards the place where I am staying, which is also pretty amazing. It is an Airbnb rental and the girls who own the place are so kind and nice, I am going to leave a very nice review for them. I found a little Italian restaurant in the corner near the place where I am staying. In my humble opinion, all Italian restaurants outside of Italy are really good, and this one was no exception. I had *spaghetti aglio *(it comes with chilli, olive oil and little bits of cheese if you ask for it) and another weissebier. The service was excellent, so much so that I left a 20% tip on the bill, I usually leave only 10% and maybe 15% if I am in a really good mood. This also gave me an opportunity to practice the little Italian I still remember. It was fun and I enjoyed the food. Now I feel stupid because I did not even read the name of the place properly, I will go tomorrow and make a note. The manager has already asked me to try out their grappa (an Italian liquor used as a digestive drink, somewhere between 40-60% alc. by volume) next time.

Tomorrow, after the symposium I am planning to visit the Berlin Wall, see the Checkpoint Charlie, then head towards the Rathaus (town hall) and finally the Victory Column. In that way, I will have the entire Sunday to visit two museums that I really want to see. Hopefully, I will not feel too lazy tomorrow to write about my day again. If time permits, I am also planning on visiting a palace nearby, let’s see.